Christian Eriksen scores during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Vertonghen opens up the middle

Tottenham used their width and a narrow Jan Vertonghen to open up the opposition as it finished Spurs 2-1 Southampton at White Hart Lane.

A game of two halves at White Hart Lane saw Spurs open up the middle of an initially compact Southampton team. Tottenham stretched the pitch and then used Jan Vertonghen to step up in to the spaces created to fashion chances. It saw us race in to enough of a lead to hold on to the Spurs 2-1 Southampton score line.

Southampton’s central numbers

Opening up the game with three central midfielders, Southampton was looking to congest the space we love to play in.

Saints central midfield trio crowd out the centre during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Saints central midfield trio crowd out the centre.

Opting for a 3-4-1-2 formation, Mauricio Pochettino had Christian Eriksen working as a number ten behind Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min up top. Eriksen was solely faced with a crowd of three Southampton central midfielders in the initial stages, as Son and Dele were occupying the centre backs. It made the opening of the match very narrow and congested.

Spurs stretch the play wide

Instantly recognising just what we were up against, we reacted by stretching Southampton as wide as possible. To escape the Saints central trio, Christian Eriksen drifted out wide to the right. Wingback Ben Davies also got himself increasingly forward down the left. This allowed us to pull Southampton out and open up the middle to attack their centre back pairing.

We’d looked at the how opponents had opened up centre backs Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens in the Spurs vs Southampton match preview. The movement of both Eriksen and Davies allowed Son and Dele Alli to go at this pairing and exploit their spacing.

Son Heung-Min was the first to profit. Christian Eriksen drifting to the right stretched Southampton, allowing Son to run off and in-behind the slower Maya Yoshida. However, Son couldn’t find the finish or an angle to beat Fraser Forster.

Eriksen stretches Saints wide and finds Son's run in-behind during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Eriksen stretches Saints wide and finds Son’s run in-behind.

Over on the left, Ben Davies was the outlet valve down this flank as Southampton struggled to get across.

As a result, Davies frequently received the ball in the first 20 minutes. We often got it to him over distance, as we moved play quickly out to him. This can be seen from the length of the passing lines. Davies attempted several crosses in the first 20 minues, creating a good chance for Dele Alli.

Ben Davies passes received 0-20 minutes during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Ben Davies passes received 0-20 minutes.

Jan Vertonghen steps up

The movement of both Christian Eriksen and Ben Davies created a pocket for Jan Vertonghen to step up in to.

Davies and Eriksen stretch to allow Vertonghen forward during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Davies and Eriksen stretch to allow Vertonghen forward.

Vertonghen is revelling in this back three as it allows him to move forward in to the attack. He is comfortable on the ball and a remarkably good dribbler for a centre half. The more we continued to stretch Southampton, the greater factor he became.

The movement of all three players played a large part in us taking the lead. Davies wide left and Eriksen right stretched Southampton to create two pockets for Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele. Consequently, Vertonghen could stride out of defence and deliver the ball easily to Dembele, breaking the first line of Southampton’s defence.

Saints stretched allows Vertonghen to move forward during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Saints stretched allows Vertonghen to move forward.

Dembele then shielded the ball beautifully, spun and laid it off for the inside cutting Christian Eriksen. Out-to-in runs are a feature of Mauricio Pochettino’s attack and Eriksen was making another.

Driving inside, Eriksen was aided by the movement of strikers Son and Alli. Matched up on the Southampton centre backs, their movement opened up a huge lane for him to dribble in to and shoot. Fraser Forster had no chance against a wonderfully guided finish in to the far corner.

Dele and Son draw the CBs to create a lane for Eriksen during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Dele and Son draw the CBs to create a lane for Eriksen.

A minute later and Jan Vertonghen was at it once more as we almost doubled our advantage. Width from Davies and Eriksen had stretched Southampton out. Vertonghen could step forward and fire his pass in to Dele Alli’s feet in-between the poorly spaced centre backs.

Vertonghen moves forward and finds Dele between the CBs during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Vertonghen moves forward and finds Dele between the CBs.

Dele tried to take in the pass, turn and shoot in one motion, but ended up tamely scuffing the ball in to Fraser Forster’s grateful arms.

Ten minutes later and we did add a second from the penalty spot. Southampton were again stretched out by our width, allowing Jan Vertonghen to move forward once more and attack the centre backs through his passing.

Vertonghen looks for Son's run off the Centre Back during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Vertonghen looks for Son’s run off the Centre Back.

Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min were occupying the Southampton centre halves. Dele’s movement towards the ball and Son in-behind gave Vertonghen the space he needed.

No pressure on him allowed Vertonghen to clip the ball over the top for Son’s run. The South Korean chested the pass down, but a series of poor attempted clearances followed. The ball pinged around as it deflected between three Southampton players before Dele Alli nipped in-front of Steven Davies to be tripped in the box, penalty.

Without Harry Kane and backup taker Vincent Janssen on the field, Dele Alli stepped up and unconvincingly dispatched the spot kick. Fortunately, Fraser Forster went the wrong way.

Southampton had the intention to try and play compactly to shroud the centre of the pitch. However, the movement of our players was stretching them out. Jan Vertonghen was being afforded space to step forward and allow us to attack their centre backs. He was a major influence in the first half and the opening two goals. After the interval and he almost set up a third.

No pressure on Vertonghen again allowed him to step up and look for a player attacking the Southampton centre backs. Once more it was Son’s run in-behind as he drifted off the unsuspecting Maya Yoshida.

Vertonghen finds Son's run beyond the Centre Back during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Vertonghen finds Son’s run beyond the Centre Back.

Son cushioned the ball down and with the goal seemingly at his mercy, he pondered, allowing the centre back to recover and block a certain goal.

Southampton crossing

The Saints have been a highly dangerous team on crosses, as we looked at in the Spurs vs Southampton match preview. They have attempted the most in the Premier League this season and it was their greatest threat to our goal.

The Saints best chance of the first half arrived from one such ball into the box. James Ward-Prowse whipping in a high cross to the back post for Nathan Redmond. His exquisitely cushioned touch found Dusan Tadic yards out. With the net waiting to bulge, Tadic somehow fired over. However, his blushes were spared as Redmond was adjudged to have taken the initial ball out of play.

Having made that cross, Ward-Prowse was on the end of the next one to get his side back in the match.

After a fairly passive first half, Southampton were much more aggressive in their pressing during the second. Claude Puel pushed Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse higher up to play as a three against our centre back trio.

Saints front three press our centre back trio during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Saints front three press our centre back trio.

It worked well for Puel. The move stopped us playing out and building from the back as we had to hit longer passes, which were often gobbled up by their midfielders or centre backs.

Southampton would get back in the game from combining their pressing with crossing. Hugo Lloris was unable to take his favoured short goal kick as Southampton had marked all three of our centre backs. He was then forced to go long. Maya Yoshida won the initial header and then Ryan Bertrand could move the ball in to Dusan Tadic.

Bertrand didn’t rest and burst off Tadic and in-behind the slower to react Kyle Walker. Employing a front three, Southampton now had their attackers in higher positions, with two on in the box.

Bertrand gets behind Walker with two targets in the box during Southampton 2-1 Spurs in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Bertrand gets behind Walker with two targets in the box.

Eric Dier was unable to get over and Bertrand swung in a first time cross. Toby Alderweireld somehow managed to jump over it, allowing the ball to shoot through to James Ward-Prowse at the back post. He calmly chested down, swivelled and fired home to make it Spurs 2-1 Southampton.

Southampton running in-behind

Playing with a high defensive line, we’ve seen several of our opponents try and run in-behind it, the most recent being Everton.

Southampton were opting for a crossing based approach in this game, but the introduction of Shane Long for Manolo Gabbiadini saw them look to play to his strengths. Long wanted to use his pace to jet in to the spaces beyond our centre backs.

His intentions were good, but his timing wasn’t. Long was caught offside a staggering six times, out of Saints total of seven, during the second half as he failed to beat the trap.

Offside during Spurs 2-1 Southampton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Southampton offsides.

Southampton were looking for Long, whilst Mauricio Pochettino was eyeing up how he could change the flow from the bench. Harry Winks came on as a number ten, but the biggest impact came from Vincent Janssen. The Dutchman’s hold up play was required against Southampton’s press and once he entered the action we became increasingly comfortable.

Janssen earned three fouls in high positions out on the flanks to break the flow of the game and clear our lines. Fittingly, time ran out after he earned a free kick and the match finished Spurs 2-1 Southampton.

Spurs 2-1 Southampton overall

Spurs were quick to stretch a Southampton side that wanted to play narrowly and congest the centre of the pitch. Ben Davies and Christian Eriksen were key in extending them out wide, which allowed Jan Vertonghen to step up and play a pivotal role in creating chances. Vertonghen could get the ball in to our front players to attack the weak Southampton centre back pairing, crucial in our two goals.

A great day with Grosvenor

A group of bloggers were fortunate to be able to enjoy the match courtesy of an event organised by Grosvenor Casino in Piccadilly. We spent many good hours in the company of Spurs legends Clive Allen and Darren Anderton, hosted by Iain Macintosh.

The event was an excellent chance to talk about all things Tottenham from their times playing through to coaching. Darren Anderton provided some brilliant insight in to what it was like to play with Sheringham and Klinsmann, under the management of the legendary Glenn Hoddle and to deal with Alan Sugar.

David Pleat’s legendary team of 1986/87 was one of my first as a Spurs fan. Ardiles, Hoddle and Waddle made up a third of an absurdly talented five-man midfield feeding the predatory Clive Allen to a 49-goal season. The inspiration behind the story of this Spurs blog was ignited by the playing style of that team and started my love of tactical analysis.

Talking with Clive about that team and season was an amazing experience with plenty of behind the scenes stories of the highs, lows and frustrations of what might have been. It was a truly memorable day and fantastic experience thanks to everyone at Grosvenor Casino, Iain, Clive and Darren.

Legends Clive Allen and Darren Anderton.

Legends Clive Allen and Darren Anderton.

Final score: Spurs 2-1 Southampton.
MOTM: Jan Vertonghen.

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13 Responses to Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Vertonghen opens up the middle

  1. Matt 20th March 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    You called the team, tactics and score perfectly I believe! I was over optimistic with 3-1. I thought we coped well in Harry’s absence and the now usual outstanding display Victor. It’s noticeable how clogging the middle of the park which used to stump us before 3 at the back is now far less of a problem. Glad to see you mention Janssen, you’re right he provided an outlet that probably no one else is currently able to provide. Excellent win.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th March 2017 at 7:07 pm #

      Good points Matt. The back three really does solve a lot of issues that opponents used to be able to bog us down with. Its also given a new lease of life to Vertonghen to get forward and join attacks. He is an underrated passer and dribbler – remember his goal from a marauding run up at Old Trafford in our 3-2 win in 2012?

      Janssen did well for the brief time he was on. I think we’ll need him in these next few weeks without Harry Kane. Especially agianst a Burnley side that don’t allow space in-behind. His hold-up play and being a focal point up front, rather than Son who runs in-behind, could be key to beating them.

  2. GD 20th March 2017 at 7:18 pm #

    Spot-on analysis as usual. Must have been really cool meeting Clive and Darren! Keep up the great work mate

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th March 2017 at 11:18 pm #

      Yes a really great day! Thanks

  3. Toby4eva 20th March 2017 at 9:57 pm #

    Hi Mark

    As GD says – another great read by you and the correct score as icing on the cake!

    But for an even more serious dessert, it looks like you had a great time with our legends. I’m sure all your readers will see that as just reward for your fine efforts on this site.

    Agree re Verts. Some early Ajax footage of him had me really hankering for us to buy him as he loved getting forward with the ball on a string.

    These elite Belgian players are all so good on the ball – and can fire a pass!

    So I’m particularly pleased that Jan is getting forward again and becoming an integral component of our attacking play. As you opine, the currently favoured formation is the key.

    Also agree with Vinnie to play up top at Turf Moor.

    He will have to put in a serious shift there and it will be a real test for him.

    The green shoots are there and most of us are willing him on.

    I haven’t lost faith yet.

    He scored goals for fun last year and if he can get a few under his belt in the next few games we might see him fully bloom.

    Great results elsewhere – so it was a massive three again.

    It would indeed be a fitting tribute by the players to bow out of the Old Lady unbeaten in its last season.

    Very do-able.


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th March 2017 at 11:30 pm #

      Thanks Toby4eva. A really surreal experience to watch a game alongside two pros, seeing what they pick out and watch for.

      Belgium does have quite the production line of talent. One thing about this back three system is that Jan is getting the chance to express his attacking side, something we’ve really not seen since his first season with us. Agree about his Ajax days. I do remember seeing a couple of games where him and Toby were spraying long diagonals to the wide forward in the opposite side. Jan from left to right and Toby from right to left, super impressive. This system I think allows both of them to showcase their passing and be aggressive with it more than in a back four.

      Janssen seemed a bit more confident to me. He’s looked a bit flat when introduced in to games, but last weeks goal seems to have but some jump in his step. If he can get another goal or two, we may just see the player that scored all those goals in Holland.

  4. Erik Zen 21st March 2017 at 10:45 am #

    Perfect analysis as always. Sure it’s only a matter of time before the powers that be start picking your brain. Is it apocryphal that AVB got his start after slipping some match analysis under Bobby Robson’s apartment door? I’m sure the perspective of Anderton and Allen was fascinating. Would be interesting to hear what kinds of things they were noticing.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st March 2017 at 5:42 pm #

      Hi Erik Zen, it was fascinating to hear Darren’s insights on playing wing back given he did so under Glenn Hoddle for both Spurs and England. He was excellent at describing where they need to be on the field and when they are too high or too low. He’d already called Kyle Walker out of position several seconds before Ryan Bertrand had darted in-behind him to cross for Southampton’s goal. Darren also gave some great insight on playing the number ten position and was even calling Dele “clever” for winning the penalty before he’d even hit the turf!

      Given he has coached and developed a number of the players, Clive could tell all the strengths and weaknesses of the ones he’d worked with. “Anytime we concede a goal from the right, look to see how close Kyle Walker is to the centre back, as he’ll often be too tight to him” was one that will stick with me.

      It was a truly amazing experience!

  5. YouShubes 22nd March 2017 at 6:39 am #

    With us playing a back 3 do you see a role now for Kevin Wimmer, who while capable last season is not really as much of baller as SuperJan…

    I would like to see if we could bring in Theo Hernandez who is an athletico product but on loan at Alaves…he is a leftback but quite tall for the position and could match Jan closer than Big Kev…as well as have the speed to more closely match Danny Rose.

    I think having a back 3 that can pass so well makes it harder for teams to press us up as high,,,

    and to be fair to Toby, that error in judgement will not be seen till Hailley’s comet swings round again

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd March 2017 at 7:04 pm #

      I only see Wimmer as a backup. And to be honest, if Rose is fit then I’d have Ben Davies ahead of Wimmer to fill in for Vertonghen.

  6. Toby4eva 22nd March 2017 at 7:19 am #

    Lol Shubes!

    That assuming you see a picture of my hero on the Spurs web site with the Gaffer (sartorial as always in sharp navy THFC off the peg suit and tie over a crisp white business shirt) draping his right arm around Toby, breathlessly announcing that the great man has just penned a 45 year contract extension, driving his market value up to a more realistic 950 million pounds!

    “The soo-porters must haff be-leef” etc, etc.


  7. FreeFlow12 22nd March 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    It would be great if you can write about your whole experience with Clive and Darren. Will you?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd March 2017 at 7:18 pm #

      Hi FreeFlow12. I will try when I have a moment. Alcohol clouds the mind though!