What to Watch for in Tottenham-Southampton Match on Sunday

Mike Miller@mwmiller20Contributor IIIMarch 21, 2014

What to Watch for in Tottenham-Southampton Match on Sunday

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    When Southampton travels to White Hart Lane on Sunday, the Saints will face a Tottenham Hotspur side that will be desperate for a win. Spurs were knocked out of the Europa League by Benfica on Thursday and sit seven points behind Manchester City for the final Champions League qualification spot.

    The Saints have lost the last three matches against Spurs and don't have much to play for, sitting six points behind sixth-place Everton and three points behind seventh-place Manchester United.

    But Southampton will go into the match hoping to get a share of, if not all, three points. Here are five things to watch for on Sunday.

Battle of the Back Lines

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    With Tottenham winning the first meeting of the season 3-2 at St. Mary's back in December, one might expect another end-to-end encounter.

    But that meeting has been more of an anomaly for the two sides this season. The Saints and Spurs are among the league leaders in fewest shots allowed, proving their back lines are hard to break through.

    Southampton lead the Premier League in fewest shots allowed, allowing only 9.6 shots per match, according to WhoScored. Tottenham doesn't concede many chances either, allowing 11.2 shots per game. That ranks Spurs fourth in the Premier League.

    If either team can put two past the opposing keeper, it will most likely take all three points.

Will Spurs Dribble Around the Saints

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    One advantage Tottenham does possess offensively is the ability to beat opposing teams on the dribble. With players like Andros Townsend, Mousa Dembele and Aaron Lennon, Spurs rank third in the Premier League with 11.9 dribbles per match, according to WhoScored.

    While the Southampton midfield is pretty solid defensively, some of its players are a bit susceptible to being beaten on the dribble. Morgan Schneiderlin is beaten on average 1.4 times per match, according to WhoScored. Midfield mates Adam Lallana and Steven Davis are beaten 1.1 and 1.0 times per match, respectively.

    The Saints back line fares much better against dribbling runs. Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Jose Fonte are only beaten 0.6 times per match. Dejan Lovren is even better at just 0.5 times per match. And think again before trying to go against Nathaniel Clyne, who has only been beaten eight times in total this season. 

    If Southampton can keep the pace of the game down and control the dribbling skills of the Tottenham midfield down, its chances of victory will greatly increase.

Can Southampton Stay Onside?

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    Southampton aren't afraid to take chances offensively, but that often backfires when a player drifts into an offside position too soon. The Saints rank third in the Premier League, straying offside 2.7 times per match, according to WhoScored.

    That should play right into Spurs' hands, as Tottenham is known to play the offside trap. Michael Dawson wins 1.5 offside calls per match just on his own, according to WhoScored. That ties for the best rate in the Premier League, along with Dejan Lovren. Jan Vertonghen is pretty good as well with 0.9 offside call wins per match.

    It will be up to Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert to show some patience and hold their runs. If they don't, the Saints will squander away more chances than they create.

Who Will Keep Their Composure?

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    If the match is a close-knit affair as anticipated, the team that keeps its composure the best could have the edge.

    Tottenham have received 57 cards this season, including three red cards, according to Squawka. That total ranks as the fifth-worst disciplinary record in the Premier League.

    Southampton has yet to have a player issued a red card on the field this season. That doesn't mean the Saints are total choir boys though. The South Coast side has received 52 yellow cards, according to Squawka. Most of that is from their physical play, as Southampton rank third in fouls committed with 12.0 per match, according to WhoScored.

Saintly Set Pieces

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    If Spurs fail to keep their composure, they may very well be punished on set pieces.

    The Saints are currently tied for fourth in the Premier League in set-piece goals with 14, according to Squawka. Nine of those 14 goals have come via corner kick or crossed free kicks, as Southampton has used its aerial prowess. 

    Tottenham isn't the strongest team in the air. Only three Spurs regulars, Dawson, Vertonghen and Emmanuel Adebayor, average more than 2.0 aerial duels won per match, according to WhoScored.

    Spurs do have 12 set-piece goals this season, but that total is a bit misleading. Four of the goals came via penalty kicks and another two were direct free kicks, according to Squawka.

    If Tottenham can stay level with Southampton in terms of set pieces, the home-field advantage may push Spurs toward all three points.