Chelsea’s draw with Brighton earlier in the day gave Tottenham just a little more to play for at St. Mary’s Stadium, with the title race a glimmer more open. They started the day with two changes from the group that took the pitch earlier this week at Norwich: Juan Foyth and Giovani Lo Celso remained on the bench after being substituted in the Norwich game, and were replaced by Moussa Sissoko and Lucas Moura, respectively. Spurs needed to continue into this match as they ended the last, because the first half against Norwich, in which they conceded first, put them at a deficit that they ultimately could not overcome in a game that they needed to win. That being said, today’s lineup seems much more conventional, helped by Moussa Sissoko’s return to availability after a one-game suspension for accumulated yellows. Today’s setup was a back four, with Sessegnon getting more time at left back, then a Sissoko-Ndombele pivot, and Eriksen, Moura, Dele and Kane ahead of them.
Spurs started well, shaking the malaise that plagued them against Norwich in the first half, but saw their momentum shaken as Southampton got on the scoresheet first by a Danny Ings masterclass. In space, but with no clear shot on goal, Ings flicked the ball back over Alderweireld’s head—almost as prime-form Harry Kane might—and firing comfortably past a flat-footed Gazzaniga. Southampton defended with numbers after their goal, and weren’t afraid to put in hard tackles up and down the pitch. The first half showed promise, and all that remained was to find a way to turn good final-third moves into a goal. The second half showed everything that is wrong with Tottenham these days. With a few occasional exceptions, for most of the half they seemed content to play at 80% effort, hoping that something might fall to them. Against a parked bus by Southampton, nothing did. Fundamental problems that have plagued the team continue to, and a kind of malaise seems to be settling about them these days.
0’ — Southampton start on the front foot, getting a blocked shot in Tottenham’s box.
1’ — Sessegnon leaves Cedric in space, who gets on the end of a searching cross and heads wide of the net.
2’ — Tottenham earn their first corner after a speedy team counterattack, but Eriksen hits it straight to Alex McCarthy, who’s between the sticks for Southampton today.
7’ — Tanguy Ndombele, sporting a newly shaved head for the new year, is brought harshly down by Moussa Djenepo. Nothing significant, but an occasion to comment on Ndombele’s new look. I’m a fan.
10’ — Consistent pressure around the Southampton box by Spurs is a welcome sight. Beginning today better than the first half at Norwich was essential, and at first glance they appear to be succeeding.
12’ — Nathon Redmond finds an inch of space against Toby Alderweireld and gets a shot off low to Gazzaniga’s right. The Spurs keeper gets down fast enough but can’t hold it, and Toby Alderweireld mashes the ball out of bounds before a Southampton player can get on the end of the rebound.
13’ — A blistering break from Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen ultimately comes to nothing, but another sign of possibility for Spurs.
17’ — Southampton 1 - 0 Spurs. Trying not to curse as Danny Ings receives a long ball over the head of Jan Vertonghen, leaves Alderweireld in a heap with a clever turn, and half-volleys coolly pass Gazzaniga.
19’ — Lucas Moura brought down at speed, giving Spurs a free kick that Eriksen fires into the wall and out for a corner.
22’ — Kane and Dele break into space, but Kane is forced out wide, and the attack comes to nothing, though Dele is on the ground for the second time this match, callin for a penalty.
23’ — Tanguy Ndombele looks like he can’t continue after a crunching tackle ten minutes earlier by Moussa Djenepo. He’ll be replaced by Lo Celso, but a disappointing end to what has looked like a good battle developing between Ndombele and Djenepo. Still, better to keep him healthy.
30’ — The game has hit a bit of a lull in the last ten minutes, which is disappointing from a Tottenham perspective. They started with so much optimism, but lost momentum after Ings capitalized on the Saints’ only break against the flow of the game.
31’ — Southampton nearly score again after confusion in Spurs’ defense, but Alderweireld manages to get a lucky foot in and knock Nathan Redmond’s shot just over the bar.
36’ — Better from Spurs: Christian Eriksen chips a lovely free kick over the Southampton defense, and Harry Kane nearly gets on the end of it, but he’s offside regardless.
38’ — A lot happens in the span of two minutes: Kane fires powerfully at McCarthy, who can’t catch the shot. As it spills wide, he brings down an onrushing Dele, who gets up quickly and high-fives the keeper. VAR confirms no penalty, but on the resulting corner, Eriksen pinpoints Jan Vertonghen for a clear shot. Vertonghen fires over the bar. No luck.
40’ — Moussa Djenepo spends a period down on the ground before being walked off the pitch by trainers.
45’+1 — Though Tottenham are the side in need of a goal before the half ends, it’s Southampton who find the best chance of the extra time period as Stuart Armstrong gets on the end of a cross and heads directly into Gazzaniga’s gloves. He looked offside regardless.
45’+2 — Lucas Moura has one last go before halftime from the edge of the Saints box, but it was always going wide. He hasn’t been terribly involved so far.
HALFTIME: Spurs had a better first half today than a few days ago versus Southampton, but they’ve got work to do in the second half. The game seems ripe for a Mourinho intervention, as the path to scoring seems nearly complete. The last step could be smart tactical move, perhaps creating a little more space for Dele or Eriksen to play creatively and marshal possession behind Harry Kane, rather than always sprinting down the sideline, or it could be a substitution of fresh legs, like Lamela for Moura. Presumably Southampton will try to hold on as they have been, playing hard on defense and trying to capitalize on their few counterattacking chances. A musing: Tottenham have been asked to come from behind often this season. If they ever find form that puts them ahead in the first half of games, it will be easy for them to see those out.
45’ — Southampton are again the first team of the half to get a shot, though really only a half chance on the volley for Nathan Redmond.
47’ — The entire Southampton team is appealing for a penalty after Alderweireld sticks his arm out and blocks a cross. Hard to hope that this will result in anything other than a penalty.
48’ — No penalty. Alderweireld’s arm was in an ambiguous position, but after the thin-margin calls that have been made so far, giving a penalty here seemed more justifiable than other recent decisions.
51’ — Dele was in with space, and generously tries to play a short pass in front of Kane, but it’s cleared out for a throw in.
65’ — There has been a long quiet period in the match. Tottenham started this half with a job to do and at the moment they seem content wishing for a teammate to do it instead. Of course it doesn’t help that all but Danny Ings are back behind the ball for Southampton. Still, not good enough.
68’ — Jan Vertonghen gets on the end of another free kick, and meagerly rolls it into the hands of McCarthy.
72’ — God must be laughing. Harry Kane injures his hamstring scoring a goal that’s disallowed for offside, adding injury to insult for Tottenham. He’s off for Lamela with an injury that is hardly a surprise after Kane plays 4 games in ten days.
76’ — Jose Mourinho sheepishly receives a yellow card after having words with the Southampton bench.
82’ — A statistic flashes on the screen: Southampton with 18 fouls to Tottenham’s 9. It’s no excuse, but they’ve certainly run Spurs ragged today.
85’ — Shane Long beats Vertonghen in the air to win a header at Spurs’ 6-yard box. Tottenham are lucky, though, as he fires wide.
86’ — Tottenham can’t catch a break: Moura gets on the end of the ball after a scrappy period of play in Southampton’s penalty area, but it deflects wide off of a Southampton back.
90’+4 — Aurier shows his quality (cough cough) by crossing Spurs’ final chance of the game out of bounds.
- It’s hard to say any Spurs player is in form at the moment. Another lackluster performance by the squad. Dele showed glimpses of his quality, but looked tired by a team with little energy about it. Vertonghen is beginning to show his age.
- Tottenham haven’t played well in both halves of a game in recent memory. Today they came up embarrassingly short at a moment when they had a chance to define a different narrative. Southampton didn’t dominate, by any means, but being played even by opponents of the Saints’ mediocrity isn’t good enough.
- Kane, Moura, and Eriksen looked unwilling or incapable of giving even 60 minutes’ worth of decent effort. Lo Celso isn’t playing like he wants to earn a spot. There are arguments against benching your starters, of course, but surely there are players who could and would play harder than these three if given a start—I’m thinking of Lamela and Parrott (at least in the absence of Kane and Son).
- Put your preferred expletive in front of “frustrating” and you’ve summed up Tottenham in recent weeks. Heck, in this whole season. It’s demoralizing.
- Playing for draws against bottom-half team is just not good enough!