As Spurs continued their fine away form by beating Southampton 3-2 at St Mary's, here are three things we learned from the game.
1. Sherwood searching for balance
The first thing you want to do when you walk into a new job is make your mark. Tim Sherwood hasn’t signed on the dotted line yet in terms of replacing Andre Villas-Boas in the Tottenham hot seat, but he’s been given a chance to shine in the interim and his first task was to reinstate over 40 million pounds of talent in Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela to the starting XI, with young prospect Nabil Bentaleb on the bench.
- Crace: Adebayor proving point
Tactically, one never quite knows what to expect from a man who hasn’t taken the reins of management before, but Sherwood’s assertion that Spurs would try to play attacking football came on the back of a decision to play 4-4-2 with two traditional strikers. Taking up a position in the director’s box himself, Sherwood may have been looking to see the bigger picture but managed just 17 minutes before bolting out of the nearest door and onto the side of the pitch to bark orders.
The former midfielder was known for his forays into the box during his playing career and he will win over large sections of the Spurs support if he continues to laud the attacking game. However, a better balance has to be struck if he has designs on keeping the job. Although Saints switched to a 4-4-2 late on when they were chasing a goal, a lack of a defensive midfielder was clear when Spurs lost control of the ball throughout the game, and that could hurt them further down the line. The expectation of a top-four finish is clear. Nothing else will do.
2. A new partnership blossoms
With Jermain Defoe left on the bench, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado were given a chance as partners up front for the first time. Rarely do Premier League teams come out in the old 4-4-2 these days; more rarely still do two strikers play together up top -- usually one will drop off while the other hangs on the shoulder of the last defender looking to exploit space in behind.
But the physical presence, speed and agility of the Togo and Spain internationals saw the pair link up well with their mix of attributes. After Adam Lallana’s early goal, Adebayor played a long one-two with Soldado -- which almost went astray -- and ran on to acrobatically convert a terrific deep in-swinging cross from the former Valencia man for the equaliser on 25 minutes. Not exactly a traditional example of interplay between two strikers, but one that was certainly effective.
Coming out with real intent in the second half, Spurs’ attacking players made sure to get bodies in the box at every opportunity. That will be a key factor in turning around a woeful goal return so far this season -- 15 in 16 games before today -- and the presence of both Adebayor and Soldado behind him may well have contributed to Jos Hooiveld’s indecision for the own goal.
Adebayor’s second came as he made a nuisance of himself from a long throw and pounced on a ricochet in the box and, only a few minutes later, he showed his aerial prowess to produce a flick-on that Soldado should have been buried. The Spaniard then had two chances in quick succession which were wasted as Spurs started to tick but, having shown what they are capable of, this partnership leaves Sherwood hoping more of the same is to come.
3. Saints’ lift comes from Lallana
Ahead of the game, Lallana was quoted as saying that Southampton were after “something special” from this Premier League season, with the top four a realistic aim if they could keep up their early form. But it has already been one to remember for the midfielder who began his career in the youth ranks at St Mary’s back in 2000 and won his first England caps versus Chile and Germany a few weeks ago.
Even though he lost his place for the Newcastle game (eventually coming on as an impactful substitute), the 25-year-old has certainly shown enough to suggest that he should be at the forefront of Roy Hodgson’s mind when thinking about who makes the plane to Brazil this summer, and a fourth goal of the season put Saints in control early on. A great turn from the skipper found space behind the Spurs midfield and he hammered the ball into the bottom corner for the opener.
Lallana’s class on the ball makes him a dangerous opponent, but he also leads by example. Convening a meeting in the middle of the pitch shortly after Spurs made it 1-1 ensured that his teammates kept their focus, while with their backs against the wall in the early part of the second half he was happy to put his foot in and defend. Just a few minutes later, he was back to doing what he does best -- a quality run, then a brilliant pass, which took out four Spurs players -- to set up a goal for Rickie Lambert that made you wonder if he has eyes in the back of his head. Hodgson’s eyes will certainly be wider after watching this performance.