Tottenham Hotspur-Southampton Preview
Tottenham Hotspur missed a great chance to jump into the Premier League's top four with a loss to a very questionable opponent. If Southampton don't turn things around soon, they too will fall into that classification.
A week after their lengthy unbeaten run in the league came to an end against a club that figures to be in a relegation battle for some time, Spurs visit St Mary's Stadium Saturday hoping to recover and send the Saints to a fifth loss in six games.
Fully expecting Tottenham (6-8-2) to run their unbeaten streak to 15 matches on Sunday, fans at White Hart Lane instead watched a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United. That flips Spurs into a three-match winless streak with a nine-point gap between them and first-place Leicester City, while Manchester United remain three points clear of Mauricio Pochettino's club in fourth despite plenty of turmoil at Old Trafford.
They led on Eric Dier's 39th-minute header until the Magpies equalised in the 74th, and the winner came in the third minute of stoppage time.
"You always need to learn and this is a good mentality," Pochettino told the club's official website. "We need to assess why it happened. In football, sometimes it's difficult to explain. I thought the first half was fantastic and it's difficult to understand why we lost control in the second half."
While losing at all had been a foreign feeling with their last league defeat coming on opening day - and a far more excusable one at Old Trafford - relinquishing a lead is not something Spurs' typically sound defence has dealt with in even longer. The previous top-flight defeat in which they'd scored a goal was Feb. 10 at Liverpool, and the last time Spurs gave away three points after leading was Jan. 10 at Crystal Palace.
"We are disappointed with the last game because of the final result but we are confident that we can change our luck against Southampton," Erik Lamela said.
That hasn't been a problem since the Saints' most recent promotion prior to the 2012-13 campaign with Tottenham winning the first five meetings before a 2-2 draw at St Mary's on April 25. It was Spurs coming from behind in that match - twice - after Graziano Pelle gave Southampton leads in the 29th and 65th minutes. Lamela equalised first just before the interval, and Nacer Chadli netted in the 70th.
The Saints' last win over Tottenham came in 2004-05 at St Mary's before being relegated for the first time in the Premier League era, and it figures to take an attacking breakthrough to change that nearly 11 years on. Spurs haven't conceded more than two goals in 23 matches across all competitions, and their 14 allowed in the league ranks tied for third behind Manchester United (12) and Arsenal (13).
The Saints (5-6-5), meanwhile, have two goals in their last four league matches, settling for a point at home to Aston Villa with losses to Stoke City, at Manchester City and most recently at Crystal Palace last Saturday. Add in a 6-1 home loss to Liverpool in the League Cup, and it's a minus-9 differential over the last five matches.
The Palace defeat came with Pelle unavailable because of a knee injury, while first-choice goalkeeper Maarten Stekelburg was sidelined with a toe problem. Manager Ronald Koeman then elected to go with a 3-5-2 formation and was pleased with the defensive organisation despite the 1-0 reverse.
"We know we can play different systems," Koeman told the club's official website. "We have the experience with this system also from last season."
It's hard to find any tinker surprising at this point. The league results have dropped the Saints 12th in the table on 21 points, with both north London sides headed their way in a week's time as the Gunners follow Spurs south on Boxing Day. It's quite the fall after a 4-2-0 span that had the Saints again targeting Europe.
"I know we're going through a bit of a sticky patch, but the desire and the fighting spirit is there and for sure we'll try and get six points from those games to show that we can compete against anyone," defender Jose Fonte said. "We're not scared of anyone, so we'll try to do that with three points first against Tottenham."