Ahead of Spurs vs Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane we look at the strengths and weaknesses of Claude Puel’s team.
Fresh from a 15-day layoff, Claude Puel brings his team to White Hart Lane for Spurs vs Southampton. The Saints have won back-to-back games on the road and will aim to complete a hat trick in North London. Ahead of the game, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of their side.
Weakness: centre backs
Southampton have struggled with defensive injuries this season. Both starting full backs have missed major time, as have the men in the middle. Virgil van Dijk has been absent since January with an ankle injury. A double blow saw starting partner Jose Fonte leave in the same month for West Ham.
This has left Southampton short of quality centre back cover. Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens have tried to fill the void, but are a much more porous pairing. Stephens is a good prospect, but inexperienced. Yoshida is slow to recognise danger and respond to it.
As a result, Southampton’s opponents have been able to open them up by attacking this pairing in two ways.
Firstly, by going straight through the middle. Secondly, attacking their spacing from wide.
Everton were arguably the best exponent. The Toffees ran out comfortable 3-0 winners and went straight through the middle at this weak spot.
Similarly, West Ham ran out 3-1 winners against Southampton and they too had success by attacking the centre backs directly. Andy Carroll opened the scoring by running in-between Stephens and Yoshida to latch on to Pedro Obiang’s pass.
Opponents going straight through the middle of them haven’t just exposed Southampton’s centre backs. Their spacing has also been susceptible to crosses.
The best, or worst example, was the crushing late winner in the EFL Cup Final at Wembley. Remarkably, the most dangerous player on the field, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was left unmarked to head home.
In the Saints’ last match, Watford also exposed this spacing. Troy Deeney opened the scoring by getting in-between the centre backs. However, Stefano Okaka grabbed a second by nipping in front of Jack Stephens. What’s more, Abdoulaye Doucoure then struck a late consolation as he ghosted in from the back post where Southampton had left a number of players unmarked.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Southampton should aim to attack the centre backs. Without Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min is the best exponent of the space running through them. Dele Alli is most of all likely to take advantage of any spaces between them on crosses. Therefore, we should see Mauricio Pochettino continue with the 3-4-1-2 we saw against Millwall with Dele and Son up top and Christian Eriksen behind.
Strength: front four
Plundered in the summer once more, Claude Puel has had to go through another Saints rebuilding job. In reconstructing the attack, Puel has assembled a speedy and tricky front four that now has the finisher it has craved.
Dusan Tadic has been revitalised as a number ten. The nippy Nathan Redmond plays in from the flank as a wide forward to compliment the excellent deliveries of James Ward Prowse from the other side. They all combine to provide structured service to the predatory Manolo Gabbiadini up front.
The front four combines extremely well together and they have licence to switch positions and thus roles. This sees them operate a fluid attack that can be tough to pick up as they like to get down the sides of teams and play low crosses.
Southampton have attempted the most crosses in the Premier League. Earlier in the season these were higher balls as they looked for the towering Charlie Austin. With the arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini, these are now played much lower, often on the floor or as cut backs or pull backs across the penalty area.
Southampton likes to use their speed to get down the outside of teams. This sees them go down the sides of the centre backs to keep their crosses narrow and closer to their target, giving the delivery a greater chance of success.
Southampton often uses their wide forwards to do this. Nathan Redmond has the pace and trickery to fly past his marker. Given any kind of space, James Ward Prowse can land the ball on a sixpence.
The full backs also get involved. Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand both get up in support of the attack. The pair can deliver from wide, but also drive in to the penalty area.
The contentious offside goal ruled out in the EFL Cup Final highlighted the full backs’ aggressive positioning. Cedric bombed forward, dribbling in to the box to square for Manolo Gabbiadini to prod home, only for opposite full back Ryan Bertrand to be given offside.
Bertrand and Cedric are a threat. They have attempted, and completed, the most crosses among Southampton players in 2017.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Southampton should focus on mitigating this threat. Using higher positioned wingbacks should curb the full backs’ threat to get forward. What’s more, a back three matches up on the Saints’ trio of Redmond, Ward-Prowse and Gabbiadini.
Weakness: Fraser Forster
Fraser Forster has been a clean sheet machine in seasons past for Southampton. However, this term, a few of his basic faults have been exposed.
The first has been his reluctance to come off his line. Forster is not by any means a sweeper keeper, sprinting from his line to clear up any danger. By staying back in his goal, he often invites opponents on who should’ve had no right to run on to through balls.
Staying on his line has a secondary issue, command of the penalty area. Despite of his size, Forster lacks a presence to deal with crosses. Given how opponents are exploiting the spacing between their weaker centre back pairing, this has been a real issue.
Secondly, with his sizeable frame he can be slow to move and take off. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s free kick in the Capital One Cup Final highlighted this perfectly. Forster often relies on his colossal wingspan for reach rather than his footwork.
Weakness: vulnerable to pressing
With speed and trickery in abundance, Southampton are a dangerous team on the break. This can often make opponents worried to leave space in-behind and so they drop off. However, with such a small front line, pressing the Saints forces turnovers as they have little hold up presence to capture any long clearances out.
Southampton will often try to play through a press. Consequently, the Saints can get caught and give up chances through their porous centre backs, just as Everton do here to score.
Everton closed down aquickly and then moved the ball directly at the Saints’ centre backs before they could recover their positions. A perfect way to attack this Southampton team.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Southampton should see us press high. Firstly, to win any long clearances sent downfield. Secondly, to create turnovers if they try to use their speed to play out.
Spurs vs Southampton outlook
Claude Puel’s team have blown hot and cold this season. However, since signing Manolo Gabbiadini they have looked like they have solved a big piece of the puzzle. In the midst of a good run, Southampton are a danger to score on anyone.
Without Harry Kane, Mauricio Pochettino will need to assess how he goes about restructuring our attack. Focussing on exposing Southampton’s weak centre back pairing should form the basis of any decisions.
Spurs vs Southampton prediction: Spurs 2-1 Southampton.