Tactical Watch: Refocus for the run-in


Sam Tighe looks ahead to Southampton's Premier League trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with

Wednesday brings a swift opportunity to put Wembley disappointment in the rear-view mirror for Southampton, as they’re plunged back into Premier League action against Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs enter the game without both star man Harry Kane and José Mourinho, who they parted ways with on Monday morning, adding an extra layer or two of intrigue and unknown to the tie.

Here are the three keys to ensuring three points for Saints.

Ryan Mason and Chris Powell will take charge of Spurs’ first post-Mourinho match. Powell has some experience managing in the EFL but none in the Premier League, while Mason, still just 29 years of age, only has Academy coaching to his name.

It makes Spurs’ setup for Wednesday’s match impossible to predict. With barely any clues to go on and with Kane’s injury clouding the forward line selection, it’s very hard to know what to expect.

What we do know is that Mason has spoken publicly of his bond with Mauricio Pochettino, a man who he takes inspiration from. It wouldn’t surprise if Mason attempted to take the first-team back toward Pochettino’s style of football – which, in some ways, is the opposite of Mourinho’s.

That doesn’t mean they’ll magically revert to being a high-pressing side with adventurous full-backs and a steely midfield spine, but we might see elements of it. Southampton still have three players who played under Pochettino at St Mary’s, so should be familiar with what that entails.

Kane is suspected to miss a few weeks due to an injury, and while nothing has been confirmed, Spurs seem unlikely to field him here. If they’re to risk him for any game, it will be against Manchester City next weekend.

His absence makes Spurs a different animal in attack. He leads both the goal and assist charts in the Premier League – a true marker of his overwhelming quality – and not only does his injury soften their threat slightly, it makes them a little bit more straight-forward to plan for.

Kane’s value this season has come not only from the shots he takes, but the shots he sets up. His ability to drop in off the forward line, receive the ball to feet and then play brilliant passes in behind for runners to latch onto has hurt many – Southampton, back in September, among them.

That hold-up threat will still be present if they opt for Carlos Vinícius to lead the line, while Son Heung-Min’s threat in behind will carry forward regardless. The difference is no one can combine the roles and present the dual threat that Kane does – and that makes the centre-backs’ jobs a lot simpler.

There’ll be less hesitation in stepping forward and following Vinícius into deeper positions because you won’t fear the clever pass as much. The penalty box will be easier to defend without Kane’s late runs following up his passes.

As a result of an alarming injury crisis, Southampton’s league form has tailed off since the turn of the year. For that reason the focus of the season shifted to the FA Cup, but with that dream now dashed, a refocusing back to the league is required.

Starting with Spurs, there are seven games left in the season and the goal must be to regenerate some momentum. Bouncing into the summer and then onto next year’s preparation on a high is the first building block to a strong start in 2021/22.

Perhaps Ralph Hasenhüttl and co. can take some inspiration from last year’s run-in, where after the coronavirus-enforced pause, Saints totalled the third-highest points tally in the league over the final stretch – behind only the two Manchester clubs.

That laid the foundations for a positive break and real optimism and momentum heading into the beginning of this campaign. The same can be done again.