The FourFourTwo Preview: Tottenham vs Southampton
Pochettino's princely pressers take on sassy Sherwood's struggling Spurs. Europa League slots still available.
Can Southampton push up the table and propel themselves closer towards this weekend's opponents Spurs in the Europa League places? Can Tim Sherwood keep his cool (and his gilet) long enough to inspire his side to a much-needed victory? Sunday's game will reveal much about the general direction the Saints and Spurs are marching in as the season chugs towards its climax.
- Benfica 2-2 Tottenham (EL)
- Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Tottenham 1-3 Benfica (EL)
- Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham (Prem)
- Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- So'ton 4-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Palace 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 So'ton (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 So'ton (FAC)
Southampton currently sit eight points and three places below Spurs. A mid-season slump briefly halted their upward trajectory, but having occupied the higher echelons of the Premier League table for much of the early part of the season, thanks to a refreshing brand of entertaining football inspired by Mauricio Pochettino, the Saints travel to White Hart Lane with a highest league finish since 2002/03 (8th) firmly in mind.
Far away from the survival football on display at many a Premier League team, Southampton's expansive style this season has been riveting to watch. While the high-energy, high-pressing, attacking game plan has been carried out by foot soldiers of mainly English descent - much to Roy Hodgson's delight, if nobody else - the mastermind is Pochettino, so perfectionist in nature that the Argentine refuses to utter a word of his adopted land's tongue in front of the cameras for fear of misinterpretation, despite reportedly having a very good command of the language.
"There's only one Pochettino" has been a regular terrace chant at St Mary's, in stark contrast to White Hart Lane, where both Andre Villas-Boas and Sherwood have been welcomed far more coolly.
Former Blackburn captain Sherwood continues to wear all the icy disposition of a minefield, and with three defeats in their last four league games Spurs' chances of a top-four finish have diminished enormously - they now sit seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, who have three games in hand. If Sherwood wants to keep up the fading hope of staying at Spurs as head coach beyond the end of this season, points and performances are vital.
Spurs are without Michael Dawson, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue and Erik Lamela and also have fitness concerns over Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul and Mousa Dembele, though the latter trio may be available.
Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren are minor doubts for the Saints but could recover from niggly knocks in time to feature, while Jack Cork and Kelvin Davis remain on the sidelines.
Key battle: Kyle Walker vs Luke Shaw
The battle of the England full-backs should be an intriguing one. If fit, Walker has the legs and lungs to cause Southampton trouble down the right hand side, making overlapping runs to support either Andros Townsend or Aaron Lennon, two more domestic players looking to find their way onto the Brazil-bound Boeing.
Teenage defender Shaw has been one of the revelations of the season at left-back and will surely be in contention for the Young Player of the Year award when the envelopes are opened later in the year. Having made his England debut in the recent friendly against Denmark, Shaw is another one hoping to make an unarguable case for inclusion in the 23-man squad for the World Cup, and a performance here against one of England's top five teams (at present) would do him no harm at all.
Shaw offers much going forward, a fine touch as well as great energy and athleticism, but does tend to leave space for teams to exploit on the counter and isn't yet the best at tracking back. With Walker around, and given how high up the field Shaw gets, Spurs have a useful weapon to exploit the space in behind.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 2-3 Spurs (Prem, Dec 13)
- Spurs 1-0 Saints (Prem, May 13)
- Saints 1-2 Spurs (Prem, Oct 12)
- Saints 1-0 Spurs (Prem, Mar 05)
- Spurs 5-1 Saints (Prem, Dec 04)
Sherwood has the upper hand on his managerial counterpart thus far, winning 3-2 in their only previous meeting earlier this season. That said, he seemed a lot calmer back then. A string of sub-standard displays, sprinkled with a handful of tactically questionable decisions and garnished with a fairly foul temper, have seen him come under increased scrutiny of late. A result against one of the league's finest tactical minds on Sunday would do his long-term managerial credentials no harm at all.
Facts and figures
- Spurs have lost just 1 home match since 2009/10 having lost their previous home game (W9 D4 L1).
- 7 of Spurs’ last 11 home matches against teams placed 5th-11th have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Saints have won only 1 of 15 trips to top-half teams since the start of last season (W1 D5 L9).
- 6 of Saints' last 8 trips to top-half teams have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Spurs have won all 3 of their matches against Saints since the start of last season.
An early kick-off on the back of a tricky tie in Lisbon hands Southampton a bigger advantage than they might ordinarily have at the Lane. Honours even. 1-1.