Tottenham Scout Report: Saints More Bark Than Bite?

Southampton's Jay Rodriguez (Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)
Southampton's Jay Rodriguez (Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images) /

Tottenham will take on a Southampton team just beginning to find its footing after another clearing house summer transfer window.

This most recent gutting was not unlike the one the club suffered through when Mauricio Pochettino left for Tottenham and virtually all of the talent found greener pastures.

There was, as there seemingly always is in the ebb and flow of Southampton’s existence, a silver lining to that previous mass exodus. Ronald Koeman was given his first shot in the Premier League, and several savvy purchases and Academy promotions made the Saints the Cinderella story of 2014/15.

Koeman left this summer for Everton, while Sadio Mané and Victor Wanyama left for Liverpool and Spurs respectively. New manager Claude Puel used the Saints’ resources to bring in talented and promising replacements, and there’s the beginnings of something here — though what exactly is hard to say.

Currently sitting in 8th ahead of Tottenham’s visit on Wednesday, clearly something is clicking within this Southampton squad. New additions Nathan Redmond and former Spurs target Sofiane Boufal are finding their feet. Jay Rodriguez seems to have returned from an extended injury none the worse for being out of the game for so long. Even injury to Charlie Austin — the striker on which Saints’ leaned heavily for much of the start of the season — doesn’t appear to take the wind from their sails.

Put together with an impressive defense that ranks third in goals conceded behind Chelsea and Tottenham, and Puel’s made a Southampton team that seemingly takes the best of Pochettino and Koeman’s tactics and applies them to a new crop of players.

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What holds Southampton back from breaking into the Europa League or perhaps even Champions League conversation is actually not altogether different that what’s holding Tottenham back from the title conversation. Despite a wealth of talent on the top end of the pitch — Austin, Redmond, Boufal and Rodriguez in particular — Southampton consistently struggles to convert the chances they create.

Despite notching 15.4 shots per game according to WhoScored — more than both Chelsea and Arsenal — while also managing 5.2 shots on target, Southampton have only scored 17 goals. That’s a single goal per Premier League match they’ve played — the worst such record of the top 13 teams in the table.

Tottenham aren’t quite so anemic, though their top-of-the-league figures for both shots and shots on target would suggest that they should have scored more than 29 goals so far.

How Southampton manage this level of creation — however fruitless it might be — is worth noting. Unlike Spurs, who tend to crowd the area right in front of the opposition’s goal with playmakers, thereby ensuring that shots are created often in very dangerous places, Saints prefer wider areas.

That’s down, in part, to the talents of the players at Puel’s disposal. Neither Redmond nor Boufal — who of late have served as the wide men in a front three of sorts — are playmakers in the mold of Christian Eriksen or Érik Lamela. They prefer to stay closer to the flanks and play a direct game, one that might not involve loads of goals but does tend to stretch play.

It’s not surprise, then, that no team in the Premier League attempts more crosses than Southampton. That they manage to connect a good amount of those crosses — 6.1 per match, enough to put them third in the league behind Swansea and Crystal Palaces — should worry Tottenham.

Pochettino knows how to handle wide teams and crosses. In a way it’s advantageous that Danny Rose might be injured for this match — Ben Davies remains the better option for defending against wingers like Redmond. Meanwhile, Jan Vertonghen holds one of the better aerial records among centre-backs in the league. The Saints, in sum, won’t find stretching Tottenham apart all that easy.

Next: Who Starts for Tottenham at Southampton?

As ever, Tottenham will need to be wary of counter-attacks. With Austin injured and Jay Rodriguez playing in his place, Redmond and Boufal have shifted to a more transitional game. Spurs can expect a good amount of Saints’ chances created from balls played out of the center of the park forward into the path of those wingers.

Combating this will require that a good amount of pressure be applied to both Oriol Romeu and Jordan Clasie, should they play. It’s quick, long balls from those two who stand to do the most damage to Tottenham.