Southampton made it 10 points from a possible 12 over the festive period with a well-earned victory over Tottenham at St. Mary’s.
Danny Ings’ first-half goal was enough to seal the points for the Saints, who outfought Spurs in just about every area on a poor afternoon for Jose Mourinho’s men.
Tottenham’s midfield issues were prominent again while Ings continued his fine form by finding the net against yet another ‘Big Six’ side. But how, exactly, did those problems manifest for Spurs? And just how impressive is Ings’ current run in front of goal?
Mourinho still searching for a functional midfield
Mourinho’s quest to find his best midfield combination – or at least a balanced set-up that will serve Tottenham until they buy a new defensive midfielder – saw yet another partnership tested at St. Mary’s. But once again, the Spurs boss was left with more questions than answers.
The visitors started in a 4-2-3-1 with Tanguy Ndombele and Christian Eriksen linking the defence and attack. Moussa Sissoko pushed up onto the right flank but dropped deep to fill in for Eriksen when necessary. Ndombele began the game reasonably well after an eye-catching display at Norwich City last time out, but a first half injury brought his afternoon to an all-too-early end.
Concerns over Ndombele’s fitness are showing no signs of dispersing. He missed Spurs’ Boxing Day win over Brighton through fears of picking up another muscle problem, and it seems he currently cannot play more than one game every few days. The Frenchman’s situation is ridding Tottenham of any continuity in midfield, leading to more changes that simply aren’t working.
On this occasion, Mourinho replaced Ndombele with Giovani Lo Celso, who did his best to provide more drive but ultimately failed to make Spurs more incisive or accurate. Instead, the change made the Londoners even more susceptible to Southampton’s counters; the hosts might have won by more with a better final product in the opening 45 minutes.
Finding solutions on the day, and generally, has been made harder by other pertinent problems. Tottenham are still struggling defensively, with a first clean sheet on the road remaining elusive in the Premier League this term. What’s more, the inconsistency in attack – now made worse by Harry Kane’s hamstring injury – is not helping matters.
Mourinho’s main problem, though, is that of midfield balance. It’s impossible to predict the combination we’ll see next.
Ings bettered only by Aguero against the ‘Big Six’
Danny Ings’ remarkable season continued with a superbly taken goal, a moment of quality that favourites Tottenham failed to replicate in any way.
Latching onto a lofted ball through that sailed over the head of Jan Vertonghen, Ings flicked the ball inside Toby Alderweireld and finished clinically past Paulo Gazzaniga; a double-whammy insult inflicted on two former Southampton players.
Significantly, the strike saw Ings close in on an impressive record set by Sergio Aguero. Per Opta, since the start of last season Aguero (9) is the only player to have scored more league goals against last season’s top six than Ings (8). Not just last term’s top six, but the ‘Big Six’ – Ings clearly isn’t phased by opponents that intimidate other strikers.
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On top of that, it was Ings’ thirteenth goal of the campaign, meaning he has now scored more goals than all other Southampton players combined in the Premier League this term. It’s a statistic that truly emphasises the former Burnley and Liverpool man’s importance to the Saints.
If Ings keeps up his current form, Southampton should have no trouble in continuing to pull away from the danger of relegation.