Southampton 2-2 Spurs: high line and attacking the left back

A dubious high line puts us on the back foot, but resilient attacking of their left side sees our Premier League clash finish Southampton 2-2 Spurs at St. Mary’s.

It’s not often that teams have gone to St. Mary’s and had 64% possession against Southampton. The last side to win there in the Premier League, Liverpool, who had 74% of the ball away to West Brom this weekend, had just 40% when they beat the Saints.

The home team usually dominates in this department as they control the opposition. They do it through a combination of pressing and forcing opponents out to the side line whereby they can hem them in and regain the ball. What dictated a lot of this game here was each team’s respect for each other, our high line and Southampton’s willingness to look for the ball up to and off Graziano Pelle.

Spurs high line

We’ve seen Mauricio Pochettino sporadically go with the high line this season and it was back in effect for this game. In theory it was a sound idea with Southampton’s Graziano Pelle having size but no real speed to run in-behind. The problem with it was that Federico Fazio has no recovery pace and Southampton were looking to run Sadio Mane off Pelle and in to the spaces behind.

Whilst a high line can be very effective, it is often broken down by not having pressure on the ball. We’ve seen us press high infrequently this season and here we kept a compact distance from back to front in our team shape, but often didn’t pressure the ball.


Spurs high line and short distance from front to back.

As you can see above, this lead to Southampton’s centre backs being free to send the ball up to and off Graziano Pelle or for Sadio Mane in to space. Above, Sadio Mane is calling for the ball and Jose Fonte delivers it for him to run on to and force a corner.

Whether Ronald Koeman saw Fazio’s name on team sheet and decided there and then on his tactics to look to get in-behind or whether this was his plan all week is unsure. What was known was that from the off Southampton were looking to get the ball up to both Pelle and Mane extremely quickly. This of course resulted in reduced possession as the ball was often cleared away by us. However, when it was completed, the results were effective.

Mane, Pelle, Davis

The trio of Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Steven Davis were key players in Southampton’s game plan. Pelle and Mane were working as a one-two punch, whilst Davis drifted off and inbetween them and found himself with three excellent chances to score.

The combination of Pelle and Mane were highly influential on Southampton’s opening goal, aided by a slip from Ryan Mason and some awful defending by Ben Davies.

The ball was sent forward from the back for Graziano Pelle who had drawn Jan Vertonghen with him. Sadio Mane immediately burst past the Italian striker and Pelle’s neat one-touch layoff set the speedster on his way.


Mane runs off Pelle.

Mane was forced inside where Federico Fazio made a good recovery tackle and Ryan Mason picked up the loose ball as he outmuscled James Ward-Prowse.

As Mason tried to turn, he slipped and in panicking during getting to his feet sent the ball backwards towards Ben Davies. The Welshman then tried to shepherd it to Hugo Lloris by getting himself between the ball and Graziano Pelle. He wasn’t strong enough, leaned the wrong way and the Italian snuck a foot in to poke it past a helpless Hugo.

Southampton had taken the lead through yet another defensive error, making 9 of our goals conceded from miscues this season, the fourth highest in the Premier League.

The combination of Pelle and Mane was causing us trouble and Steven Davis drifting off the pair would provide a further headache. The Northern Irishman was floating in from the left and popping up in good scoring locations, often between Pelle and Mane. He had three excellent chances to grab a second goal, two at the start of the second half, which he should’ve taken.

The first came from a long ball played up for Sadio Mane to run on to. The Senegalese speedster, who covered a lot of ground through both running and throwing himself to the turf, laid the ball inside to Davis who had ghosted in from the left. Our defence was wide open from this simple movement of Pelle and Mane splitting to allow Davis in, but he could only shank his shot wide.


Steven Davis drifts in between Pelle and Mane unmarked.

A few minutes later and Davis was in again. He started the move by sending the ball up to Mane who had drifted out to the left once more. Davis made the pass and then headed straight towards the penalty area untracked by any Spurs defender. Mane then drove up to the edge of the box, passed the ball in to Graziano Pelle who flicked it first time back to Davis, who then fired high and wide.

Steven Davis had got himself in to some excellent positions between the splitting Pelle and Mane as Southampton threatened to add a second. However, it was Ronald Koeman’s change to introduce a higher playing wide forward that saw them get their next goal. Shane Long came on for James Ward-Prowse and immediately played higher up alongside Mane and Pelle to create much more of a front three. Ward-Prowse had been delivering some excellent crosses and free-kicks, albeit from deeper positions.

The change didn’t take much time to pay off and again it involved a long ball up to Graziano Pelle. The Italian tried to flick it off to Sadio Mane once more, but Ben Davies partially headed out. It was a reactionary clearance by the Welshman, but sending the ball back in to the middle spelled trouble.

Sadio Mane was first to react and scooped up the loose ball, then dribbled towards the right. He drew two defenders, including left back Ben Davies, which was his cue to feed it out to the open Shane Long. The Irishman was immediately higher up than Ward-Prowse and therefore able to deliver a cross first time as Mane darted towards the middle to get another body in the centre.


Shane Long forms a front three to cross for Pelle.

Long’s cross was pinpoint, as was Graziano Pelle’s header past the once again helpless Hugo Lloris. Federico Fazio, who was out jumped by Christian Benteke against Aston Villa, once more failed to get off the ground.

Spurs attack the left side

Twice Southampton took the lead and on both occasions we saw a rapid Spurs response, highlighting a resilience that has been the undertone for much of this season.

Each time we got back on level terms, both goals came from getting Eric Dier on the ball on our right to play aggressive passes in to or towards the Southampton box. We’d looked at getting beyond their full backs as ways to score in the keys to Spurs vs Southampton and getting the ball in-behind the left side here did the trick.

Erik Lamela bundled the first home with the use of an arm, but the build up play highlighted good movement and rotation by us to create the crossing situation.

Harry Kane, who had to drift out a lot in to the wide areas to escape the attention he was getting, received the ball out on the Southampton left. He passed it back inside to Christian Eriksen and in moving back towards the penalty area, took both wide Southampton players with him. Steven Davis and Ryan Bertrand, who had picked Kane up when on the ball, were suddenly drawn away, leaving Eric Dier with acres to step forward and deliver his cross.


Kane takes 2 defenders away.

Kane got the slightest of touches to flick it on and the ball pinged in to Lamela’s body/midriff/arm somewhere and ended up going past Kelvin Davis. The keeper’s mobility was something mentioned in the match preview and a more agile goalie may have kept it out.

After going behind again, we got back on level terms as Dier was the provider once more. His pass through for Nacer Chadli was absolutely perfect. The Belgian had been drifting in often during the match and raced in to the channel between Ryan Bertrand and Maya Yoshida.


Dier puts Chadli in-behind the Saints left side.

Dier’s pass dissected the two Southampton defenders and Chadli slid home from the tightest of angles to make it Southampton 2-2 Spurs. Kelvin Davis’ reactions were again called in to question with the Southampton keeper slow to get down.

Two goals, both from getting the ball in-behind down Southampton’s left. This was an area we didn’t exploit enough throughout the 90 minutes given this is where both our shots on target came from.

Southampton 2-2 Spurs overall

Much like up at Newcastle, this was another performance where we took something from a game that we didn’t play that well in.

It would be easy to find and pick faults in this performance. The high line played in to Southampton’s hands through their use of Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane. Individual players also had an off day, most notably Federico Fazio and the unfortunate Ben Davies who left the game early.

However, there were also some good points. The resilience to come back twice against a very strong side away from home was one. Controlling possession was another. Although this doesn’t always translate in to incisive attacks and shots at goal, to dominate the ball against a side that usually hogs it on their patch was encouraging. The performance of Eric Dier was a third, especially after his struggles at right back earlier in the season. He is still better at centre back, but when needs must, and they will over the coming weeks with our lack of fit full backs, he proved more than capable here.

 Final score: Southampton 2-2 Spurs.

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5 Responses to Southampton 2-2 Spurs: high line and attacking the left back

  1. Dan 27th April 2015 at 12:31 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    great article and some insightful analysis. A few questions:

    1. Why do you think Ben Davies didn’t kick it out for a corner? Given that only around 2% of corners result in a goal do you think that this is just a heat of the moment mistake, or do you think it is indicative of a tactical plan to try and keep possession that has been misinterpreted?

    2. What was the role of Bentaleb? Shouldn’t he have been keeping an eye on Davis?

    3. The partnership of Mason and Bentaleb confuses me. They are supposed to be there as they have the energy to link up the game, but I felt they were caught in no-man’s land. Our forwards seemed very isolated (especially Kane), but the defence also didn’t seem to get a lot of protection. Do you think that this was solely because in attack we were trying to keep possession too much (and therefore were too deep), whilst in defence the balls over the top to Pelle meant they were neutralised?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th April 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      Hi Dan, some good questions. I think it was a heat of the moment mistake. I personally believe Davies thought that if he could shield off Pelle then Hugo would clear it. I think Mason thought in the moments before that if he could get it to Davies then he would clear and then Ben just compunded this by not taking charge of the situation. Pochettino does like us to move the ball around at the back, but i think this was just bad decision making.

      As for Bentaleb, he has to watch a lot of what is happening in front of the back four. He did pick up Davis from time-to-time but this wasn’t always possible as he was having to deal with others. He needed help from Mason and Lamela to deal with Davis’ movement and the three chances that Davis got were from blown coverage. It’s very difficult to deal with infield drifting wide players, a reason why Chadli does so well, and better defensive communication is key.

      Bentaleb’s partnership with Mason looked very good earlier in the season but i think both are tired right now and opponents have figured out that you can go over the top of them eg Fellaini in Man Utd game, as neither are true holding midfielders. Southampton did the same here – often missed out this zone to get the ball up to Pelle and Mane. I’m not convinced of the two as a partnership at the minute, but I think it can work in the longer term given this is their first full season of consistent playing time. I do think we’ll see someone else in here next season though.

  2. Studentay 27th April 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    Love your articles as always well considered.

    Given we now have MoPo & Mitchell at the club did any of the Saints players impress you enough to be on our hit list of potential signings (if we had infinite money)? Particularly interested in those we’ve been linked with i.e. Clyne, Alderweireld, Schneiderlin & Ward-Prowse.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th April 2015 at 4:06 pm #

      Thanks for reading Studentay. I’m in two minds whether we should dip back in to Southampton given Liverpool’s struggles with Lovren, Lambert and Lallana. I think they have players that suit there system and may not be as good fits elsewhere. As for your question, then players i like in their system at the minute are Bertrand, Clyne, Schneiderlin, Rodriguez, JWP and Alderweireld.

      Of those players, those that i think would be good in our setup, I would only go Bertrand, Clyne and Schneiderlin. JWP certainly won’t be available and i’m unsure how Rodriguez will rebound from injury and if he is any upgrade on Chadli. I just get the feeling that the Alderweireld links are agent PR to flush out bigger clubs that can offer Champions League. Who would you take?

      • YouShubes 28th April 2015 at 11:21 pm #

        The whole point of a high line is that is near 100 % straight, yet both Davies and Fred seem to love their lines Zig Zag for some odd reason.

        Neither Mason nor Bentaleb know when to sit and when to move forward. The lack of a proper DM is a concern that the very slow Benji is doing little to alleviate. I think this is where a player like Schneiderlin would earn his corn, assuming he would want to come to us.

        I did like the way the wingers in the 3 acted as second strikers and supported Kane but there was simply not enough of it, as we did not attack both flanks well enough.

        To score two goals at St. Mary’s is quite an achievement this season. If Poch can next season prevent the all too often comedy of errors at the back he will get us in the the top 4 I feel.

        We have 3 players who have double figures in the league for goals, Incredible when you consider Kane only started to feature in November, and both Chadlie and Eriksen experienced dips in form. To put in perspective Hazard (last season) was Chelsea’s top scorer in the league with 14 goals. They have obviously been able to add to their goal tall while maintaining their incredible defensive solidity. I think someone like Alderweirled could do well for us but Like I you feel a smaller CL club would come in for him. That said the wages we could offer him while not PSG or City like could trump those of our smaller non English CL rivals.

        With so many players needing to be moved on I feel it is imperative we move early and bring in players that Poch can slot into his system.