Tottenham 4-1 Southampton: Kulusevski shines in opening-day win
Tottenham vs Southampton recap: Spurs fell behind early but scored the next four goals to open the 2022-23 Premier League season with a win in north London on Saturday.
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James Ward-Prowse gave Saints the lead after 12 minutes, then came the goals from Ryan Sessegnon, Eric Dier, Mohammed Salisu (own goal) and Dejan Kulusevski as Antonio Conte’s side picked up where they left off at the end of last season.
What we learned from Tottenham vs Southampton
Tottenham much more than just the Kane and Son show (goal video)
Spurs scored four goals on the opening day of the season, and all Harry Kane and Heung-min Son contributed to the cause was one measly assist between them. After combining for 40 goals and 16 assists between them last season, Spurs’ dynamic duo took a comfortable backseat on Saturday, as Kulusevski largely ran the show from the right side. After conceding the early goal, Tottenham were a constant threat to win the ball high up the field and create scoring chances off one or two simple passes. Typically, Kane and Son gorge themselves on goals and assists in that scenario, but perhaps this season they’ll be a bit more balanced and multi-faceted in their approach.
Quick start, but then Southampton heads drop after goals conceded
For 15 minutes, Saints were comfortably the better wide while Spurs took their sweet time settling in. Once they did, though, it was as if a switch had been flipped (on both sides), as wave after wave of pressing and attacking came at them. 20-year-old goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu had a solid debut from a shot-stopping perspective, but the Irish international gave the ball away too easily when trying to play out of the back. From the moment Tottenham equalized, everything Saints tried to do was done under extreme duress. The midfield had no time on the ball, and as such the forwards were denied any kind of service bar the occasional counter-attacking opportunity.
Spurs’ first two goals came via crosses from very wide areas, with Kulusevski and Son doing as much creating out wide as combining in the middle. Maintaining width, whether through the wingers or overlapping full backs, is hugely important in Conte’s system. Anytime you play three at the back, there’s a risk of becoming far too narrow in possession, which results in very little build-up in the final third. Son and Kulusevski are most dangerous in the channels and running off Kane, but they’re both equally willing to stretch the field to put someone else into a dangerous area. Spurs will struggle to break sides down when the midfield and attack get too compact and narrow and the wing backs are forced deeper defensively (read: against Manchester City and Liverpool).
Stars of the show
Dejan Kulusevski - Watching him play, it’s very easy to forget that the Swedish international is only 22 years old and only been at Tottenham for eight months.
James Ward-Prowse - The more everything else changes, the more he stays the same and remains the one consistent constant for Southampton. His goal to give Saints an early lead was nothing short of brilliant.
Up next for Tottenham is their first London derby on the season, as they’ll head to west London to face Chelsea next weekend.
As for Southampton, next Saturday’s visit by Leeds United could be key for Hasenhuttl as early-season pressure mounts and the fixture list gets no kinder the next few weeks.