Focus: How Dele Alli could provide the spark in a defensive Saints-Spurs clash

Alex Keble thinks the midfielder's more advanced role could help break down the Saints defence in a battle between two solid backlines...

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Given the excellent defensive records of these two sides and their stodgy, constricted attacking lines in recent weeks, this match will most likely be one of few chances. Both teams are consistent in their tactical model, although Tottenham’s Dele Alli has recently been moved into a more advanced role and could be the player to break through Southampton’s tight defensive model.

Jose Fonte (5.4 per match) and Toby Alderweireld (6.2 per match), both rank amongst the top five outfield players for accurate long balls played

Long balls are increasingly a feature of both Southampton and Tottenham (32.7 and 31.1 per match respectively) thanks largely to the distribution of Jose Fonte (5.4 per match) and Toby Alderweireld (6.2 per match), both of whom rank among the top five outfield players for accurate long balls played. As a result, both managers will be wary to ensure that their backlines are slightly deeper than usual, creating a potentially nervy and constipated football match.

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Alderweireld long balls vs Newcastle (left) and Fonte long balls vs Villa (right)

Neither side is likely to be offered the opportunity to counter-attack (limiting the impact of Sadio Mane and Erik Lamela), while both sides’ long passes – towards Graziano Pelle and Harry Kane – are unlikely to be successful against the strong and aerially dominant centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Jan Vertonghen. Patient build-up play will feature for both teams, and this could also lead to a stalemate given the superb overall shape of both teams defensively.

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Van Dijk aerial duels vs Sunderland (left) and Vertonghen aerial duels v Liverpool (right)

However, Spurs have a new weapon in Alli, who has made seven key passes in his last three games from a Frank Lampard-esque advanced midfield role. His goal against West Brom was the result of a late run in behind the defence, something that could prove decisive in piercing Southampton's this weekend. Oriol Romeu will be tasked with tracking those runs.

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Alli passes received vs WBA (left) and Romeu defensive dashboard v Watford (right); diamonds = interceptions, crosses = tackles, triangles = fouls

Spurs make the third-most tackles in the division (22.3 per game) thanks to their high-pressing game, and this could create chances for Alli to burst forward – Southampton make more unsuccessful touches (13.9 per match) than any other Premier League club. In a match of such fine margins, their head-to-head could be decisive.  

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