Tottenham blasted out of the gates, but failed to continue attacking in wide areas as it finished Spurs 1-2 Southampton at the Lane.
In the intense heat at White Hart Lane, Spurs wilted as the match wore on. Blasting out of the gates, the tempo understandably dropped and the team fizzled out. Southampton on the other hand were set up for the longer run. They played to the conditions and came from a goal down to edge it with the game finishing Spurs 1-2 Southampton.
Did the intense 28-degree heat at White Hart Lane influence Ronald Koeman’s tactics or was it just out of respect? The Southampton coach set his team up to be content without the ball, they had just 30% possession, but to work in two distinct phases.
Without the ball, Southampton were content to play depending on where we had it. If we were passing it around at the back, they would send their front four of Shane Long, Sadio Mane, Steven Davis and Dusan Tadic to close down.
They would then leave the other six to drop off deep. Victor Wanyama and Jordy Clasie would play a destructive role, rarely attacking and just screening their back four. This left a huge space between their front four and back six that we could get players in. This was key on Son Heung-Min’s opening goal.
If we were progressing the ball forward much quicker, Southampton would drop off and just leave Shane Long up. This would see ten players behind the ball and they would look to go quickly to Shane Long with an out pass.
The system turned out to be effective. It allowed Southampton to conserve energy and grow in to the match after the initial tempo we had set dropped.
Spurs success out wide
In spite of what Southampton were doing, we raced out of the traps and got off to a quick start. This hinged on two factors. Toby Alderweireld’s long passing and our ability to get at the Southampton full backs 1v1.
We’d looked at the Saints’ vulnerability to teams that could get at their full backs in the Spurs vs Southampton match preview. The first half saw us create a number of opportunities by getting at them 1v1 or beyond them.
It started with just four minutes on the clock as a raking Toby Alderweireld diagonal pass was planted perfectly on to the chest of Danny Rose. The speed, trajectory and precision of the pass saw right back Cuco Martina get caught underneath and late on it.
Rose took the pass in-stride and laid a perfect ball across the box to Christian Eriksen. He slid in to send it goalwards, but Fraser Forster made a diving save low to his left.
The signs were there though and the quick ball from Alderweireld to players out wide continued to feature. He found Kyle Walker who beat left back Ryan Bertrand and sent a cross in that saw Harry Kane just fail to connect with it. Son Heung-Min then gathered the loose ball, beat right back Cuco Martina and rifled it back through the box, as everyone again missed it.
Later on and Alderweireld found Walker beyond Bertrand once more. Walker’s low, quick ball in to the box was flicked over the bar by Harry Kane as he ran across the near post.
If only to serve notice of where the space was in the full back zones, another long ball forward was cushioned down between Eriksen and Lamela. The Dane found himself on the edge of the box, but elected to shoot with Son Heung-Min in acres to his left.
Just before the interval and the most clearcut chance of the half presented itself, as Harry Kane was sprung beyond the Southampton right back. Having got behind Cuco Martina, Jose Fonte seemed in control of the situation. However, Kane out-muscled and shrugged off the Saints skipper.
He danced along the by-line to keep the ball in, but could only see his shot ricochet back off the legs of the Southampton goalkeeper.
The attack in wide areas was working and in-between all these chances, we took the lead. Two factors combined. Firstly, exposing the area between Southampton’s front four pressing and their back six dropping off. And secondly, getting in to the space occupied by their full back.
The passage of play started at Hugo Lloris. He sent the ball to Toby Alderweireld and Southampton’s front four pressers closed in to stop us playing around with the ball at the back. This left a huge area of space between their front four pressing players and the other six, which was filled by Son Heung-Min.
The South Korean took down Alderweireld’s pass and raced forward in to the space. He quickly moved the ball in to Erik Lamela and set off on a looping run around the outside of the Argentinean. Lamela had drifted inside off the line, which sucked left back Ryan Bertrand with him.
Had Lamela seen Harry Kane’s run and tried to pass to him or did he know where Son was headed for? Kane was offside, but didn’t interfere with play. Son, however, continued his run as Lamela laid the ball off in to the space that Bertrand had vacated.
As everyone appeared to pause, Son continued to motor after the pass and got to it just before Fraser Forster could come off his line. Son rounded him, took his time and rolled the ball in to an empty net, 1-0.
Tadic in the inside channels
Southampton were on the back foot. They had set up more reactively to conserve energy in the heat, but were in danger of being blown away in the short term for the sake of tactics for the 90-minute long haul.
Spurs had flown out of the traps, but after 25 minutes our tempo dropped. Southampton came back more in to the match through Dusan Tadic working the inside channels.
Tadic had been given licence to drift by Ronald Koeman and he started to pop up in the channels between our centre backs and corresponding full back. He gave us a warning as he drifted in to the inside right channel between Toby Alderweireld and Kyle Walker. His pull back went right through the penalty area, when Steven Davis was much better placed for a tap in.
After this warning, the pair would combine to level the scores. Tadic ran in down the inside left channel between Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose this time, hooking the ball back for Steven Davis to squirm his shot under Hugo Lloris.
Tadic running the channel was key, but so too was an injury to Kyle Walker in the build-up. With Walker down, Toby Alderweireld was split between marking Steven Davis and Shane Long. He ended guarding neither and Southampton were level.
Second half slow down
After a fast-paced first half in the searing heat, the interval saw Southampton change their tactics as the second half slowed down. The Saints virtually dropped their four-man press and went in to their holding ten men behind the ball structure, leaving just Shane Long up field.
This made them difficult to play through. When they recovered the ball, they would look to send it quickly forward for Shane Long to race after or hold up. Long’s collision that flipped Hugo Lloris up in the air was a prime example of what they were looking to do.
We compounded this problem as we went away from attacking down the sides. We got away from the tactic as we tried to increasingly go through the middle. When we did try to move it wide, our ball movement was so slow that Southampton could just shift their ten man defensive shape across.
After our initial 25-minute burst in the first half, we slowed down and errors started to creep in. Miss-controls of the ball, such as Danny Rose twisting and turning back in to trouble on the edge of our box, became worryingly common. It was one such error in possession that saw Southampton take the lead, along with Dusan Tadic getting in to an inside channel.
Ryan Mason, who was in for the much stronger on the ball Mousa Dembele, saw himself easily stripped of possession on halfway by Oriol Romeu. Mason didn’t appear to see Romeu coming and the ball was sent towards the sideline.
Jan Vertonghen was first to the loose ball, but his pass back saw Hugo Lloris shank his kick clear out for a throw-in instead, a second sloppy error.
The resulting throw was worked across the park to Steven Davis. As Ryan Bertrand burst beyond him, this left Kyle Walker with a decision to make. Walker was 1v2 with no help from Dier or Mason. Compounding this was Erik Lamela being late on his defensive rotation and Southampton suddenly had an overload.
Seeing the carnage being caused, Dusan Tadic ghosted over in to the inside right channel. The linkup between him and Davis was good all afternoon and they pair were at it again. Davis sent in the pass to Tadic, looked for the 1-2 and retrieved the ball in a much more central shooting location.
With Eric Dier late to him, Davis sent a very tame shot towards the corner. Jan Vertonghen, scared of scoring an own goal, pulled his foot away when he could’ve easily blocked it. The shot ended up trickling in to the corner of the net with Hugo Lloris late on his dive due to the ball coming through the traffic in front of him.
There were about five errors on the goal, all caused by sloppy play and concentration lapses. Suddenly from a position of strength it was Spurs 1-2 Southampton and we had to find something in reserve to respond with.
Failure to get in the wide areas
Fatigue was a major factor by this point, as was Southampton’s deep lying set up. We had been quite successful at getting at their full backs 1v1, and beyond them, in the first half, but we got away from doing it in the second.
We continued to run in to the central block of Wanyama and Clasie, then later Oriol Romeu when he came on for the Dutchman. Despite having 70% possession of the ball, we rarely created after the interval. Set pieces were one avenue, as Jan Vertonghen saw his header from a corner flicked over by Virgil van Dijk’s intervention. Later, a foul on Erik Lamela as he tried to run beyond Wanyama and Romeu, saw him fire the resulting free-kick over the top.
As the match entered stoppage time, the best chance of a leveller arrived, also from a set piece. We’d got the ball out wide to Harry Kane in Cuco Martina’s right back zone. A foul on the striker saw Christian Eriksen whip in the resulting dead ball. However, Nacer Chadli couldn’t convert the guilt-edged chance as it rebounded to him off Victor Wanyama. The game, and the three points, was gone.
Spurs 1-2 Southampton overall
Intense heat isn’t often a condition we have to worry about here, but adapting our tactics for adverse weather is part of the reason this game got away from us. Fatigue set in, as we couldn’t maintain our usual pace. This saw both physical and mental errors creep in to our play and it ultimately cost us.
The other factors were not taking our chances and a failure to continue attacking in the wide areas. Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics are to overload and overrun teams in the centre, but without the energy, we ran in to a red and white striped wall.
Harry Kane talked before the Chelsea game about how they knew that we would press high, overrun and outwork them and it was up to them to stop it. This shows our power that many can’t live with, but also a certain naivety that there isn’t a backup plan when it runs in to trouble.
This has been an excellent season, but we do need a plan B when factors like weather or an opponent is set up to counteract our tactics. Admittedly, we were without the highly influential Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli, with very few reserve options to replace these two. Our starting eleven is arguably the strongest in the Premier League; it’s the depth of both personnel and range of tactics that need to be addressed this summer.
Final score: Spurs 1-2 Southampton.