How can you be positive about a team after that? Answer: with difficulty.
But we are going to look at the positives of this Southampton performance. We have to. Otherwise this is won’t make for great reading.
In order to avoid being brutally negative, we’re going to focus on the first 44 minutes. You’ll remember them, they were the ones where the Saints were winning.
In that period, they looked so assured of their roles. Embedded in the manager’s plans and up for the fight, they were by far the better side. What was key to note from their approach was their understanding of weakness. They knew where to hurt Tottenham, from what angle in and what manner.
That comes down to preparation and planning, something Ralph Hasenhuttl had clearly worked hard on in the build up.
Knowing Matt Doherty will venture more into a right wing-back/right midfielder role, this area was targetted by Moussa Djenepo and the overlapping runs of Ryan Bertrand. With Bertrand tucking infield to draw Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg out of position, Djenepo caused havoc.
On top of that, the uncertainty in the Tottenham midfield was exploited too. Hojbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Winks have not played together often enough, so Hasenhuttl instructed one of either Danny Ings or Che Adams to drop deep into the hole to gather possession.
Dividing this responsibility among themselves, they disrupted the centre-half duo of Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez, who couldn’t work out between them who would push up. These runs from the Saints forwards could have, and probably should have, brought more goals. Hugo Lloris made some key saves and Spurs were at sixes and sevens.
Dier’s lack of pace was key to their opening goal, with the ball in behind used effectively as Ings hovered in between the central defenders. Diagonal passes across the back four came in from the right hand side, and it looked like being just a matter of time before a second goal would come.
Taking advantage of other sides’ weaknesses adds panache to their productivity. In terms of work rate they can’t be faulted (at least for those 44 minutes), closing down the Spurs players on the ball and pressing in central areas through both Adams and Ings. Everything was going so well. How did it all unravel?
Naivety, that’s how.
Neither Jan Bednarek or Jack Stephens are quick. The full-backs either side are to some extent, but the two central defenders are borderline useless when they’re playing a high line against pace on the break. Sure, this approach can work if the midfield offer cover and can retain possession, but against someone as quick as Son Heung-min it’s tactical suicide.
They got away with it for most of the first half as the long balls Spurs were feeding the front men were directed toward Harry Kane, but as soon as Son moved centrally and became the outlet, they got torn apart.
Once, okay, you can learn your lesson, but it happened time and time again – I say four but those were just the times they conceded. Getting caught cold like that so frequently demonstrates a frailty that stems from naivety. Realising the danger and altering your shape to accommodate should be clear, but instead Southampton persisted and the centre-backs were left hanging out to dry.
Finding a balance between their fresh, innovative attacking groove and offering adequate cover for when the opposition turning over possession should be the first, and probably only, point on Hasenhuttl’s checklist come Monday morning.
Solve that (big) issue and Southampton have reason to be optimistic.
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