If Spurs are to keep in touch with the top four then a win at St Mary’s on Wednesday night is simply a must. With all of those in the positions directly above in the league table already recording wins, as well as Manchester United directly below them, dropped points here could prove harmful and decisive when it comes to the chances of Tottenham breaking in to the Champions League places. The time is now for Spurs to make their run, as they did at a similar stage last season, and it begins with three points against Mauricio Pochettino’s former club.
If Spurs can take 6 points and momentum from games in the next five days against Saints and then Watford, they can greatly strengthen their position before the mouth watering derby against runaway league leaders Chelsea just days later. Anything less than two wins from the next two sets them further back in the pack, at a time when Tottenham can no longer use the excuse of Champions League fixtures getting in their way and scuppering their league form. This is the time that all teams are on a (relatively) even keel, as the fixtures come thick and fast for each. There is no traveling to far flung regions of Europe, just game after game in England and fortunately for Spurs, mostly in London.
The draw for this post-Christmas period is challenging for all, yet it has been relatively kind to Spurs. Tottenham have had a 9-day break leading up to the Southampton encounter, and have another four days before staying reasonably close to home away at Watford. The challenge should and will arrive with a shorter break than Chelsea leading up to that fixture, but this is counterbalanced by the fact it’s played at White Hart Lane. Pochettino must know too that this is a golden opportunity for his side to pounce.
The time for excuses has been and gone, the time to return to the intensity and marauding, high pressing style is now. Only Erik Lamela of starting eleven players remains out of the squad, with Alderweireld and Kane back and with enough time to have found their feet and form. A 9 day break and almost a full squad, yet Spurs will once again need to be more incisive in front of goal. As Liverpool and Chelsea continue to strike gold in front of goal, it is still this seeming lack of penetration that looms the biggest worry to Tottenham’s chances of taking all three points.
Southampton are a danger, especially at home, and the feeling must be that to beat them will require two or more goals to be scored. 1-0 looks unlikely to suffice, with Saints offering a threat of their own in familiar conditions. More is needed from the attacking midfielders for Spurs, with Eriksen’s return to form having covered the missing influence of Dele and Son in recent weeks. All three must create and, along with Kane, ensure that shots at goal are more relevant and likely to find the back of the net. At the least their shots must provide a challenge to Fraser Forster in front of goal.
It has been obvious to those paying attention that Spurs simply don’t offer enough threat when shooting, and the diagram below (with Spurs bottom right) highlights just how extreme this in fact is. Improving the quality of shots whilst potentially reducing the quantity seems the most obvious solution, yet it is also known that Pochettino’s game plan involves an encouragement for his players to shoot. If not shoot on sight then at the least to back themselves in and take the responsibility themselves. It is an admirable concept, but it clearly needs some tweaking.
It is all before this Tottenham side now to make the most of this opportunity, to beat two difficult sides in Southampton and Watford. To execute in front of goal, and to prove they deserve to be amongst the conversation for if not the league title, then at the very least the top four. Just a little bit off the pace they have been, a little more than off in front of goal, and that is enough in the Premier League to see them drift further down the table if the form does not pick up. It starts with 3 points Wednesday night.