Tottenham Hotspur-Southampton Preview
Tottenham's defensive frailties continue to be a source of frustration for Jose Mourinho, but the more intriguing subplot entering the new year and their match Wednesday at St Mary's versus Southampton is whether they will be players in the January transfer window.
Everything but the title is in play for the Lilywhites (8-6-6), who are sixth in the table ahead of Wolverhampton on goal difference and five points back of Chelsea for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Mourinho was not thrilled with a squandered opportunity to keep pace with one of his former clubs Saturday, when they needed a late penalty by Harry Kane to rescue a point with a 2-2 draw at relegation-threatened Norwich City.
"It's a bit deja-vu," Mourinho told Tottenham's official website. "We played so well, we created, we played beautiful football, we scored goals and we conceded goals that are difficult to digest. We started the game so well, so dominant, good chances.
"I remember clearly Sessegnon's shot blocked, Dele facing the goalkeeper over the bar, then we conceded a really bad goal. Then we conceded a really bad second goal that was offside. We go to the second half and we take all the possible risks you can take. The team accepts that, accepts the responsibility, we scored and had 30 minutes to win - and then the second goal comes."
While Spurs are 5-1-2 since Mourinho's arrival in mid-November, the defence continues to be a sore spot. Once heralded for being able to create some of the stingiest defensive sides in all of Europe, Mourinho has watched Tottenham concede twice in five of those matches while recording just one clean sheet.
For Kane, it was his 136th goal in 200 Premier League matches and his 11th of this term. The England talisman has scored in back-to-back league contests for the first time since bulging the net versus Leicester City and Southampton in September, and the prospects are good he can extend that run to three matches.
Kane has tormented the Saints in recent seasons with eight goals during a six-match scoring run against them, highlighted by a hat trick in a 5-2 romp on Boxing Day in 2017. Four of his eight goals in that stretch have been match-winners for Tottenham.
With this being Mourinho's first transfer window at Spurs, no one is certain if Daniel Levy will open the pursestrings to aid the chase for a top-four spot as well as the knockout rounds of the Champions League. But as opposed to buying players, the most intrigue around north London is whether Spurs will find a buyer for Christian Eriksen.
The Denmark international has rebuffed offers by Levy to stay with the team beyond the season, but with a reported £40 million valuation for a player who can negotiate with a new team now entering the final half-season of his current deal, that price tag could scare away potential suitors.
Spurs' defence could be in for a challenge against a rejuvenated Southampton side, who are looking to run their unbeaten stretch to four matches. The Saints (6-4-10), who have come off the bottom three and are in 15th place on 22 points, have two wins and a draw in their last three after a 1-1 stalemate at home versus Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Striker Danny Ings continued his fine run of form with a 74th-minute equaliser, giving him eight goals in Southampton's last 10 league matches. It also gave him a career-high 12 Premier League goals, topping the 11 he tallied for Burnley in 2014-15 as he enters this match riding a huge wave of confidence.
"I graft every day to try and be the best I can be," Ings told the club's official website. "I try to look out for defensive mistakes, I've got quite a few of them this year where I've been switched on. It's a mixture of things. I'm here and enjoying my football again. I feel absolutely loved by the fans and my team. So all of that helps altogether.
"To get back in it the way we did, and then to almost go and win it at the end I thought showed great character. Unbeaten in three now which is huge for us as a team so we're moving forward with that."
After claiming just one point in their first six matches at St Mary's, Southampton has seven in the last four, but a clean sheet has still eluded them there over 15 league matches since a 2-0 victory over Fulham in February.
Kane's goal in the 43rd minute proved decisive in Tottenham's 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture in September. Tanguy Ndombele staked Spurs to a lead on 24 minutes before Ings pulled Southampton level in the 39th. The Lilywhites have been a bogey team for Southampton since returning to the top flight in 2012, with the Londoners going 11-2-2 in league matches.
Updated December 30, 2019