Tottenham were lucky to escape their clash with Southampton with one point in Mauricio Pochettino's return to St. Mary's on Saturday. Saints manager Ronald Koeman will be frustrated his side did not capitalize on their superiority.
Saints have a deserved reputation for an attractive playing style but they created the best chances of the match against Spurs by direct football. Almost all of their chances featured the same pattern: a long ball to the forwards, recovery of the second ball in the zone in front of Spurs defense, and a quick cross or shot before Spurs regained their defensive shape. The three examples below illustrate why this was such an effective tactic.
Southampton Big Chance 40'
As we pick up in the fortieth minute, Saints right back Nathaniel Clyne plays a long ball forward to Graziano Pelle, who wins the ball easily under no pressure from Jan Vertonghen or Federico Fazio. Vertonghen is wary of pressing Pelle because doing so would leave Sadio Mané free to run behind Spurs defense, so Nabil Bentaleb presses Pelle instead. Ryan Mason fails to close the passing angle and Pelle is able to play a square pass to Stephen Davis, who passes it back to James Ward-Prowse
As Ward-Prowse plays a lovely first time pass to Ryan Bertrand, Spurs are slow to recognize how poor their shape is. Neither Bentaleb nor Mason has tracked Stephen Davis. Bertrand plays a simple cross to Davis, who is unmarked at the edge of the 18-yard box. Luckily for Spurs, his first time shot is well wide of the goal.
Southampton Big Chance 50'
Here, Clyne plays a long ball to Mané, who beats Fazio. Mason is even with Davis at the time the ball is played but completely switches off and fails to track Davis's run. Davis recovers the ball and shoots unmarked from the edge of the 18-yard box as Fazio and Eric Dier track Mané's run to the left channel. Again, Spurs are lucky to avoid conceding.
Southampton Goal 65'
In the buildup to Southampton's second goal, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen press Southampton's keeper and center backs. Mason senses a pressing opportunity when Morgan Schneiderlin receives the ball while facing his own goal and sprints after him. He is too late and Schneiderlin finds Clyne near the right touchline.
Clyne's pass forward bounces around before falling into the zone that was vacated when Mason attempted to press Schneiderlin. Mané recovers and dribbles past Bentaleb before playing a pass wide to Shane Long, whose cross found Pelle for the goal.
Though Spurs managed to come away from the encounter with a point, the organizational issues that have plagued the team all season were nonetheless apparent against Southampton. The first wave of pressing failed to prevent balls being played in towards Saints forwards, Spurs center backs failed to win the first ball, and, most importantly, Spurs midfielders failed to win the second ball or shield the defense effectively. Should Spurs wish to challenge for the Champions League places next season, purchasing a holding midfielder is paramount.