Two of the league’s top three defences faced one another at St. Mary’s in the remaining match of gameweek 18. Mauricio Pochettino returned to his former club with added pressure as the four teams above his side had already won, leaving Tottenham 13-points off leaders Chelsea prior to kick-off.
Claude Puel’s Southampton, meanwhile, came into the fixture having kept four clean sheets in their previous five league games at St. Mary’s.
The French manager changed his entire midfield three following their win at Bournemouth while club captain Jose Fonte returned to the side in place of Maya Yoshida.
For Tottenham, Harry Winks was replaced by Moussa Sissoko as Pochettino reverted to their more common formation of 4-2-3-1.
Fast start and high press
The home side got off to a flying start as Virgil van Dijk headed in James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick after just over a minute’s play. It was another set-piece goal conceded by Tottenham who still have issues when defending crosses into their box.
The Saints went on to pin their opponents back through high and intense pressing. Spurs’ frustrations were evident as Mousa Dembele received a yellow card for dissent. But Southampton’s dominance subsided once Dele Alli scored a header of his own in the 19th minute.
The England midfielder profited from a deflected cross off Nathan Redmond which allowed Alli to find the top corner unchallenged.
Harry Kane then completed the turnaround early in the second half as he made it three headers for the night from a Christian Eriksen corner.
But the most controversial moment arrived soon after when Alli was adjudged to have been brought down by Redmond as he went through on goal from the angle. Referee Mike Dean ensured everyone knew where the penalty spot was before belatedly deciding that Redmond should be sent off having not made a genuine attempt to take the ball.
Southampton fans and players protested with the initial contact taking place outside of the area and the awarding of a penalty alone seeming harsh enough. Fortunately for them, Kane missed the spot-kick as his standing foot inadvertently raised the loose turf, triggering the skied effort.
But that all but killed the game as Pochettino’s men controlled proceedings and managed to extend their advantage in the closing stages.
Son Heung-min showed great composure as like Alli, he too benefitted from a deflection on the assist. Oriol Romeu failed to intercept Eriksen’s through ball which found the South Korean who slotted past Fraser Forster in front of the travelling supporters.
The gap substitute Son exploited was a result of Southampton’s late attempts to find an equaliser. Eriksen’s 40-yard diagonal pass ensured his teammate was able to take advantage of being 10-yards goal side of right-back Cedric Soares.
Alli then added more gloss to the victory as he grabbed his second two-minutes later with Southampton’s defensive line penetrated with ease.
Despite the possibly unfair sending off, Tottenham were worthy winners as they bounced back from a difficult start. Analysing the three telling periods – prior to Alli’s equaliser, then pre-and post-red card – validates this.
Compared to the other two periods, from the start to the 18th minute, Southampton had 62.5% of their total attempts at goal in just 20% of the total game time.
Unfortunately, Puel’s side’s numbers only increased in the defensive areas (clearances, ball recoveries, interceptions and tackles) from then on. Furthermore, they managed less than half the number of attacking third passes and crosses per minute during the remainder of the match compared to their fast start.
Their opponents on the other hand really got a grip of the game once they drew level. In fact, that led to their best period of the three, despite playing against 10 men for the last 33 minutes.
From the 18th to the 57th minute, Spurs had more passes, attacking third passes, crosses, ball recoveries and tackles than the other periods.
Tottenham’s suffering during the opening exchanges was apparent by their 0.44 clearances per minute. That was a game high across both sides during the three periods as Southampton racked up the most crosses per minute within that same phase.
Interestingly, the post-red period from the 57th to the 90th minute failed to produce any game high stats. This was most likely due to Spurs using their extra man to take control as players began to tire. Of those starting, only Hugo Lloris and Kane – the two end points of their formation – were out passed by any Southampton player.
Eriksen and van Dijk
Eriksen appears to be hitting top form as he racked up another two assists. The Danish playmaker finished top for attacking third passes (32/38) and chances created (five).
For Southampton, van Dijk was the standout performer despite being at the heart of a defence that leaked four goals. The Dutchman has recently been linked with a move away and his performance would do his value no harm as he finished top for attacking aerial duels (4/4), defensive aerial duels (3/4), ball recoveries (nine) and interceptions (three) in addition to his goal.
Any win at Southampton is a notable result but to bounce back from a difficult opening 18 minutes was particularly impressive. No doubt Pochettino will be happier with the game management and patience than the three-goal victory.
To lose 4-1 after such a strong start will be disappointing for Southampton who fell foul to a few fine margins. They’ll hope to return to winning ways at home to West Brom on New Year’s Eve.
Spurs’ fans can look forward to their side building on this momentum away at Watford. But they’ll naturally be keeping an eye on their following match against Chelsea on Wednesday 4th January as they seek revenge for the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ from last season.
EPL Results (Gameweek 18):
Watford 1-1 Crystal Palace
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom
Burnley 1-0 Middlesbrough
Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth
Leicester 0-2 Everton
Man Utd 3-1 Sunderland
Swansea 1-4 West Ham
Hull 0-3 Man City
Liverpool 4-1 Stoke
Southampton 1-4 Tottenham