Southampton will be hoping their Premier League clash with Tottenham this weekend proves to be a turning point in their campaign.
While recent history and form this season suggests that won’t be the case, there remains an underlying feeling that this Southampton side boasts far greater quality and experience than their position of 17th in the Premier League table before this weekend implies.
At some point, Southampton will surely find the results to steer themselves clear of the drop zone, but will it be this weekend? Our expert, Southampton-mad Jack Rosser from London Evening Standard, shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of Sunday’s 4pm kickoff.
Recent history makes tough reading for Saints supporters. Since returning to the Premier League in 2012, Southampton have claimed just one victory over Spurs from eleven games, losing nine and drawing one, and even that solitary win came during the second-last matchday of the 2015/16 season after Tottenham had lost the title race to Leicester City.
What lessons need to be learned from those games?
Jack:“I think especially in recent years, aside from the win at White Hart Lane (the last time Tottenham lost there), heads have dropped once Spurs take the lead. That was certainly the case at Wembley on Boxing Day. Tottenham took the lead and it seemed there was only some form of reaction when Dusan Tadic and Manolo Gabbiadini came on in the second half and it was already too late. It’s worth pointing out, though, that facing Harry Kane when he has a point to prove or a record to break, as he does again this weekend, is almost impossible.”
Speaking of lessons, this season has been something of a learning curve for both manager Mauricio Pellegrino, enduring a tough first season in the Premier League, and Southampton as a collective. The Argentinian was expected to breed attacking football into St. Mary’s after Claude Puel’s defensive tactics drew criticism last season, but Pellegrino has struggled to provide both entertaining football and the right results – Southampton now just a point above the relegation zone.
What are the main factors behind Saints’ slump this season, and is Pellegrino completely to blame?
Jack: “It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for the failure this season. There was an assumption that simply because the manager was changed over the summer, attacking football would be back for the new season. However, with no investment in the attacking side of the squad, Pellegrino has been left with the same players Puel had and therefore largely the same problems. The last two managers have been setting up defensively because, in the main, they don’t have the players to go out and play on the front foot.
“That said, the manager must of course shoulder his fair weight of the blame. He’s taken a lot of flak recently for substitutions which aren’t deemed to be game changing while also being accused of tactical ineptness. Those accusations have, for me, been rather exaggerated. Performances against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have shown that the Spaniard does have the ability to set a team out effectively.
“However, when opponents begin to tweak things it goes wrong. Far too often this season, a couple of substitutions from the opposition have been the undoing of Saints – there’s simply been no reaction and little ability to cope with a new challenge.”
If there’s a clear positive for Southampton to take into this weekend’s game though, it’s that Tottenham aren’t quite as formidable a prospect when compared to recent seasons. They’re hoping for a top four finish at best this term, have struggled against big six rivals and have already lost the same number of away games as last season – four.
What Tottenham weaknesses should Southampton look to take advantage of?
Jack: “I think it has taken some time but Spurs are now back to where fans expect them to be in terms of performance levels. The defeat at Manchester City in December hurt Mauricio Pochettino and his side and their reaction since has been remarkable. Wembley has been their only real sticking point this season, and they appear well over that ‘hoodoo’ everyone was talking about a few months ago.
“City have been the only side to make Spurs look bad so far this season. They really struggled to cope with their intense pressing at the Etihad Stadium, but to ask Saints to do that this weekend may be a little too much. That said, if Pellegrino’s side can put together a rigid defensive display and look to frustrate Spurs, they might be able to steal a good result.”
Aside from Harry Kane, the Premier League’s top scorer, who do you see as Tottenham’s biggest danger man?
Jack: “Heung-min Son, without a doubt. The South Korean has been hailed as the most underrated player in the Premier League for weeks now, which probably means he’s been rated quite enough. However, his importance to Pochettino’s side now cannot be measured. With Alli struggling earlier on in the season and Erik Lamela still not back to full fitness, Son has dramatically stepped up. He’s one of the few in the Spurs side who is happy to run at a defence whenever he’s presented the chance, and he’s rarely stopped. Certainly the one to keep an eye on.”
And finally Jack, let’s hear your score prediction…
Jack: “I’d love to be positive, but I just can’t see Saints getting anything. 3-1 Tottenham.”
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