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Spurs produce wrong type of ‘sick performance’ by the south coast with too many players having off days

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 January 2018

Southampton's James Ward-Prowse (left) exchanges words with Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen (right) during the Premier League match at St Mary's (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images).

Southampton's James Ward-Prowse (left) exchanges words with Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen (right) during the Premier League match at St Mary's (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images).

PA Wire/PA Images

Eric Dier and Michel Vorm both admitted Tottenham Hotspur failed to create enough at Southampton in Christian Eriksen’s absence

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match at St Mary's (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images).Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match at St Mary's (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images).

For some young people, a “sick performance” would be a good thing – it would have been one way to describe Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-0 victory over Everton last Saturday, for example.

The phrase should be used more literally, however, to describe Spurs’ display in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Southampton.

Too many players had off days and, with Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen both missing the match due to illness, the suspicion quickly became that they were not alone; that some of the players on the field were feeling a little peaky too.

Mauricio Pochettino confirmed as much after the match, stating: “Players were affected last week but that’s no excuse. Our performance wasn’t the best.” That is an understatement.

The state of Southampton’s pitch was a second mitigating factor, slowing Spurs’ passing and making it harder to outmanoeuvre opponents in tight areas.

But some of the Lilywhites’ problems had little to do with the surface, and a number of players became the worst versions of themselves.

Davinson Sanchez looked like a 21-year-old adapting to his first season in the Premier League rather than a powerful club-record signing. Manolo Gabbiadini turned away from him to get a shot on goal inside the opening 20 seconds, setting the theme – although the Colombian made a crucial block late on.

Serge Aurier struggled to get his positioning right in terms of the balance between attack and defence – a consistent issue earlier in the campaign. He was too slow to retreat when Heung-Min Son got into trouble and lost the ball early on, giving Dusan Tadic a big headstart when the ball was immediately played behind into Spurs’ right channel.

Spurs escaped on that occasion but the Ivorian was then outnumbered, getting no protection from Moussa Sissoko, when Southampton doubled up down his flank and scored the opening goal.

Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Sissoko (left) and Southampton's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (right) battle for the ball during the Premier League match at St Mary's (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images).Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Sissoko (left) and Southampton's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (right) battle for the ball during the Premier League match at St Mary's (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images).

In midfield, Mousa Dembele took one step backwards after his fine outing against Everton, looking clumsy and ponderous rather than strong and skilful, and the Saints got plenty of chances to run at Spurs’ back line despite the supposed protection offered by Eric Dier.

Further forward, Son flitted around ineffectively and Dele Alli appeared unable to beat a man, being repeatedly dispossessed. Harry Kane scored as usual but missed a big chance to hit a crucial winner late on.

There was a collective malaise throughout the squad so the disappointing draw cannot be blamed on any single person – including Sissoko, who remains generally unpopular among Spurs fans and often bears the brunt of their frustrations.

Yet one player’s absence seemed particularly important – Eriksen missed his first Premier League match of the season and witnessed one of the worst performances.

Pochettino had discussed the value of the Dane’s contributions only two days previously.

Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Pochettino said: “For me, he’s a very important player for us. He has a lot of qualities, but one of his best is he links all the players.”

It is hardly a coincidence that Spurs’ manager used the same word to explain what his side were missing during their disjointed draw at Southampton: “I think in possession we must link better,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes in possession that allowed them a lot of transition, chances, and allowed them to feel comfortable on the pitch.”

Eric Dier added after the match: “Christian’s a fantastic player. We have a great squad but obviously there are not many players like Christian.

“He plays an important role in the team. He’s one of the links between phases of play and is key in that regard. He can create chances and score goals.

“We started slowly. Then going a goal down sparked us into life, but we need to be on it from the first pass. We did get into the game afterwards but we didn’t control the game the way we wanted to.

“Southampton defended well but obviously we’d like to create more chances. We didn’t create enough.”

If Spurs miss out on a top-four spot then Pochettino, his players and the club’s supporters may look back on Sunday’s trip to St Mary’s as one of the costliest results of the season.

With Liverpool visiting bottom side Swansea on Monday evening, Spurs could be five points outside the Champions League places by the time they begin their crucial run of heavyweight league fixtures against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Goalkeeper Michel Vorm, who deputised for Lloris at Southampton, said frankly: “We were a bit unlucky but if you want to compete with the top four you need to win these kinds of games, and we didn’t.

“It’s so close between the teams in the top five or six. They wait for us draw or lose, and visa versa. We still play at home to Manchester United and Arsenal so we have it in our own hands.

“A few were already ill this week, and Hugo and Christian were out. It didn’t help but it’s about the guys on the pitch. We had a strong enough side to win.”

Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs and visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BenPearceSpurs/

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