Hard to imagine a final three months of a season going any better than last spring did for Tottenham Hotspur. Starting with the unforgettable win over Manchester City, Spurs won 11 of 16 to close the season, jumping Arsenal for fourth place to secure Champions League qualification. This led to a productive summer which saw the squad strengthened immensely, while just as importantly keeping Antonio Conte in North London.
Expectations are much different than they were 12 months ago, with another top-four finish now the baseline and strong showings in the league title race and Champions League knockouts an optimistic, but not impossible hope. Interestingly, the starting XI may look somewhat familiar at the season’s onset, but additions like Ivan Perisic, Richarlison, Clement Lenglet, and Yves Bissouma should all have at least some sort of impact sooner rather than later.
If Tottenham wants to actually make a run at the title, the biggest opportunity is securing all six point against clubs who sit much further down the table, such as Southampton on Saturday. Whether it be due to struggles breaking down defensive blocks or lack of intensity against lower teams, this has been a consistent issue for Spurs that Conte must find a way to overcome this season.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton
Date: Saturday, August 6
Time: 10:00 am ET, 3:00 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA)
Southampton is the perfect example of a club against whom Tottenham must dominate. The Saints finished just 15th last season, landing in the bottom six for the fourth time in five seasons, yet Spurs could only muster one point across the two fixtures. Aside from Chelsea and Manchester United, this was arguably the club they performed worst against, at least in terms of results. It has to be noted, however, that both fixtures infamously included multiple called-back goals that would have significantly changed the narrative.
2022/23 looks to be another tough year for Southampton, with relegation a legitimate possibility. James Ward-Prowse is still around and Kyle Walker-Peters has really blossomed, but otherwise there are not too many names on the teamsheet to fear. Former Manchester City youth keeper Gavin Bazunu replaces new Spurs backup Fraser Forster in net and should be making his Premier League debut against the home side’s deadly front three.
Neither of the two matches last season featured Tottenham’s best back three, and it is possible that none of the wingbacks or central midfielders that started either contest will reprise their role this weekend (though injuries may limit some availability in the middle). This should help strengthen a defense that led the charge for Conte down the stretch, and once again that should be one of the team’s defining characteristics.
It appears that Ralph Hasenhuttl is hoping to inject a little energy into his pressing mentality by bringing in some younger signings, but this is the type of setup that should play into Spurs’ hands. One thing the squad still lacks is a relative creative type who can unlock a well-structured defense, but do not expect Southampton to set up this way despite the talent gap.
Should Tottenham struggle to go ahead, however, it will be fascinating to see how Conte utilizes both his revived depth and two additional subs. With options like Richarlison (assuming Dejan Kulusevski keeps his starting role) and Lucas Moura available to jump in as needed, Spurs should be flying to kick off what hopes to be a promising year.