Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton: 5 Things We Learned in Premier League Clash

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2013

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton: 5 Things We Learned in Premier League Clash

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    Tottenham Hotspur left it late to keep their hopes of a top four Premier League finish alive, beating Southampton 1-0 thanks to Gareth Bale's latest entry for the goal-of-the-season competition.

    Bale's stunning strike ensured his old club are not safe from relegation just yet. Meanwhile, his current team now prepare to face London rivals Chelsea this Wednesday, in a crunch clash for the remaining Champions League places.

    Some will argue Spurs were fortunate to come away with three points at the expense of an impressive Saints side. Looking into that and more, we examine some of the lessons learned from Saturday's match.

Bale Showed Why He Is a Most Worthy Winner of His Player of the Year Awards

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    Paul Merson and Mark Lawrenson have been among those in football chiming in with their views as to why Gareth Bale should not have won the three player of the year awards he received this past week.

    The opinions of those former pros are valid. But while they may believe Robin van Persie should have been voted by the players and football writers ahead of him, Bale showed against Southampton why he cannot be deemed an unworthy winner.

    The Welshman had a largely quiet game up until his goal. Saints worked hard to deny him time on the ball, and Tottenham struggled to get it to him.

    But with the clock running down and Spurs on the verge of dropping crucial points, Bale rose to the occasion. Like the goals he scored against West Ham United and Norwich City, he chose his moment perfectly to take the game by the scruff of the neck, shaping it to his will.

    It reiterated why Bale is worthy of the individual recognition he is receiving. Spurs would not be where they are without him.

Tottenham Need More Creativity in the Final Third

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    Tottenham needed something as special as Bale's goal against Southampton, as they were looking unlikely to score otherwise. As the table below details, they created by far the least amount of shots, and shots on goal, that they have in the last five games (source: BBC Sport).

    Opponent Shots Shots on goal
    2-2 Everton (H) 7 April 19 10
    2-2 Basel (A) 11 April 17 12
    3-1 Manchester City (H) 21 April 11 8
    1-1 Wigan Athletic (A) 27 April 14 7
    1-0 Southampton (H) 7 4

    Particularly disconcerting for Spurs will be the amount of shots they fired off against Southampton. Seven is way below their season average of 17 per game (source: WhoScored.com). A lack of creativity at this stage will certainly be a concern for Andre Villas-Boas.

    Mauricio Pochettino's side worked hard to deny Spurs space in the final third in the first instance. When they did slip through, the Saints defense was just as diligent in closing them down. Even so, there was little real incisiveness to worry them.

    One solution for Villas-Boas might be to utilize one of his better passers further forward. Though they do not possess an out-and-out playmaker, Spurs certainly have players who might instigate a more thoughtful approach higher up the pitch.

    Tom Huddlestone has rarely been deployed in an advanced role, but it would be intriguing to see how his passing range fared in a more confined, but potentially more productive environment.

    Either Lewis Holtby or Tom Carroll might be better bets given their greater mobility, not to mention their constant hunger for the ball. The likes of Bale and Jermain Defoe would almost certainly benefit from having someone with a greater understanding of where they like to receive the ball closer to them in the decisive positions.

    The upcoming Chelsea game would seem a problematic occasion to try something a little different. But it might just be what Spurs need to avoid being predictable versus a side well capable of hurting them.

Holtby's Passion Could Make a Difference for Spurs in Run-in

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    Lewis Holtby was the first to congratulate Bale after the latter scored against Southampton. The German is often keen to celebrate with his teammates, a trait that is in keeping with his passionate personality.

    The more important aspect of this passion is in how it translates during the game. Holtby wants the ball from his teammates, and when the opposition has it, he wants it even more. This was certainly on show in Saturday's game after he replaced the injured Mousa Dembele.

    Since joining Spurs, the midfielder has been in and out of the team. There is an argument to be made he should have seen more playing time, but there have been mitigating circumstances (his adapting to a new league, how he fits into a team midway through the season, the form of others) why it has not worked out like that.

    Now, though, would seem like a smart time to take this fiery performer off the reins. Holtby is no loose cannon, but his commitment is the kind that it could inject a useful urgency into his side.

    Considering the importance of the points at stake in the remaining games, Holtby could prove very useful indeed.

Southampton Must Beware of Complacency

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    It seems a little harsh to accuse Southampton of complacency off the back of their performance against Tottenham.

    Pochettino's side were in charge for large periods of the game, and when Spurs took over they defended well. They could have taken the lead in the first half too. Nathaniel Clyne was unlucky to shoot wide after good work breaking into the box. A Rickie Lambert free-kick hit the post after Hugo Lloris just got his fingertips to it.

    Having lost 1-0 though, Saints sit only four points clear of the relegation zone following Wigan Athletic's win at the weekend.

    There has been some back-slapping around the club. Just like several of the teams around them, the Saints thought themselves to be safe off the back of certain results (in their case, wins over Chelsea and Liverpool in March).

    While it is true Pochettino has done some fine work since replacing Nigel Adkins as manager, the congratulations have been premature considering they have not yet become mathematically safe. The losses to Spurs, and West Bromwich Albion last weekend, have brought that situation home.

    Southampton face fellow bottom-half clubs Sunderland and Stoke City in their remaining two games. They must not for a second become complacent, not until they have definitely survived.

    Anything less than that, and they might come undone against teams just as desperate for points. If they play as well as they did against Spurs that should not be a problem.

The Chelsea Game Really Does Mean Something Now

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    Stating the somewhat obvious, but we know for certain that Tottenham's game with Chelsea this week really does mean something for the North London club.

    Had they lost to Southampton and Chelsea beaten Manchester United on Sunday (this article has been written prior to then), Spurs would have been six points behind the Blues. Even with that game in hand against them, getting into the top four would have become a long shot at best.

    Having beaten Southampton, Spurs went level with Chelsea on Saturday night and are just two points behind Arsenal in third.

    So much is riding on Wednesday's game, especially if Rafael Bentiez's side go into it having lost to Manchester United.

    Tottenham have not beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1990. What with Villas-Boas returning to his former club for the first time since leaving, there are so many elements contributing to making this game one of the most exciting occasions of the season.