With the joy of an international break just around the corner, Tottenham Hotspur’s last action was a potential banana skin of an away trip to St. Mary’s. As a favorite for relegation, one might have expected a match against Southampton to yield a routine three points, but Tottenham had found ways to fall apart against lesser opposition on other occasions this season - and today was no different.
Antonio Conte opted to start an unchanged lineup from the win against Nottingham Forest, and that consistency nearly paid immediate dividends, with a fantastic long ball from Pedro Porro finding Heung-Min Son breaking into the box. Son’s shot was shanked wide (though he may have been looking to square it) and Southampton immediately countered, with Saints unlucky not to have the ball in the net after a number of attempts from the top of the box.
There were a number of half chances for Southampton and Spurs through the first half, as both sides patiently probed at their opposition’s defense: Spurs’ defense looked shaky but Southampton’s attack lacked quality; conversely, Tottenham’s forwards looked more dangerous but Spurs at times struggled to exit their half. The deadlock was eventually broken early into the first half by Spurs’ January signing Pedro Porro. A great ball from Son on the left found the Spaniard streaking into the box, completely wide open. Porro took a touch to settle himself and thrashed the ball past Bazunu in goal.
Goal aside, the main story of the first half was really injuries, with players from both teams dropping like flies. Richarlison was the first to come off, after apparently being injured in the warm-ups. He cut a distraught figure as he made way for Dejan Kulusevski. Soton’s Armel Bellat-Kotchap soon followed, pulled for Mohammed Salisu with what looked like a dislocated shoulder.
The carnage didn’t stop there, with Jan Bednarek and Ben Davies both forced to leave the field. Davies had a potential hamstring injury and was replaced by Ivan Perisic, while Bednarek suffered some heavy contact during a set piece fracas and was reportedly taken to hospital with broken ribs. With Saints missing both their starting center backs, Spurs began to turn the tide in their favor and took the 1-0 lead into half-time.
Spurs got the second half off to the worst possible start, with Southampton striking back immediately. Arsenal alum Theo Walcott broke in behind, with Perisic completely losing his run. Walcott squared the ball to Che Adams, who did just enough to bundle the ball in off the post and even the scores.
It wasn’t long though before Tottenham restored their lead. Porro played Kulusevski down the left, and Deki cut back onto his stronger foot before curling a cross into the penalty area. The ball was inch-perfect, landing around the six-yard box, and Harry Kane rose highest to power a header into the Southampton net.
Southampton used their final subs with a triple change. Adams, Stuart Armstrong, and Mohamed Elyounoussi exited for Carlos Alcaraz, Sekou Mara, and Kamaldeen Sulemana, as the Saints searched for an equalizer. It was instead Tottenham, though, who further extended their lead. A headed clearance came to Ivan Perisic outside the 18-yard box, who struck it first time on the volley. The attempt was sweetly hit and bounced once into the Saints’ goal.
The goals continued to flow, with Southampton quickly striking back. James Ward-Prowse delivered a cross to the head of substitute Mara, outjumping both Perisic and Oliver Skipp. His header fell to Walcott, completely unmarked, and he swept the ball past Fraser Forster to narrow the gap to a solitary goal once more. Southampton were looking extremely dangerous, and Antonio Conte looked to stem the flow of pressure with some substitutions of his own. Emerson Royal entered the fray for goal-scorer Porro, and Pape Matar Sarr came on for Kulusevski (himself a sub), signifying a switch to a 3-5-2 formation.
The changes however weren’t enough to stop Southampton from snatching an equalizer. Ainsley Maitland-Niles threw himself in front of Sarr at the top of the box, with the Senegal international attempting to clear the ball, and went over under minimal contact. The referee pointed to the spot, and VAR opted not to overturn the referee’s decision. Ward-Prowse lined up the penalty and struck it past Forster to tie things up at three apiece. A late headed chance for Clement Lenglet was the last act of the match, and Spurs dropped 2 points.
- Oh boy. What to do with Tottenham Hotspur? Seriously, sometimes it feels like we’d all be better off if we threw the whole club in the trash.
- Defensively, Spurs were terrible today. There were acres of space in midfield, Saints runners broke in behind all too easily, and free men in the box were routinely not picked up. It was only due to a lack of quality from Southampton’s attackers that they were not in the match (or even ahead) earlier.
- That said - that penalty call was ridiculous. Sarr barely touched Maitland-Niles, and he absolutely sold it to the extent it could have been a yellow for embellishment. A bizarre call, and it hurts all the more that it was an Arsenal loanee that won the call.
- Pedro Porro was probably the bright spot for Spurs today. His passing and crossing were excellent and he created space for his own shots with his late bursts into the box. The counter to that is Spurs’ right defensive channel was repeatedly exposed today, with Saints regularly breaking into the space behind Porro.
- Speaking of rocks and diamonds wingbacks: Ivan Perisic’s strike was gorgeous, but boy, did he need to redeem himself after getting absolutely toasted on Southampton’s first goal. That, plus his contribution on Southampton’s second, and we’re at a point where he probably actively makes us worse. Not great when your other options are now both injured.
- The international break can’t come at a better time. Antonio Conte will be sweating on the new injuries from this fixture in the hope they will be healed and rested for the resumption of the season against Everton.