If Antonio Conte was seriously hoping to limit expectations on this North London side, that was the wrong way to start.
With goals pouring in and Conte players in a hungry, menacing mood, punishing Southampton’s frailties and clinically seizing their good fortune, Spurs have started this season as they finished last.
Ryan Sessegnon, Eric Dier and Dejan Kulusevski were on target after James Ward-Prowse struck first, although the crucial third came courtesy of a comedic own goal from Mohamed Salisu.
Tottenham beat Southampton 4-1 at home in their Premier League opener on Saturday afternoon
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side took the lead thanks to James Ward-Prowse’s superb volley after 12 minutes
The impressive Ryan Sessegnon (above) put Tottenham level through Dejan Kulusevski’s superb cross in the 21st minute
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
Spurs 343: Lloris 6; Romero 6.5, Dier 7.5, Davies 7 (Lenglet 86); Royal 7 (Doherty 86), Hojbjerg 6.5, Bentancur 7 (Bissouma 86), Sessegnon 8 (Perisic 66, 6); Kulusevski 7.5 (Moua 86), Kane 6, Son 6.
Subs: Forster, Spence, Sanchez, Gil.
Scorers: Sessegnon 21, Dier 31, Salissu OG 61,
Reservations: Sessegnon, Bentancur, Bissouma
Coach: Antonio Conte 7
Southampton 352: Bazunu 5.5; Valery 6 (Stephens 46, 6), Bednarek 6, Salisu 5; Walker-Peters 6 (Redmond 90+), Ward-Prowse 6.5, Lavia 6.5, Romeu 6 (Diallo 75.5), Djenepo 6 (Perraud 72.5); Aribo 6, A Armstrong 5 (S Armstrong 46, 5).
Replacements: McCarthy, Adams, Elyounoussi, Bella-Kotchap
Scorers: Ward-Prowse 12
Coach: Ralph Hasenhuttl 5
Ref: André Marriner 6.5
“A very good start,” said Tottenham boss Conte. “Really important to get that reaction because we were 1-0 down despite having a good start, with great personality and good possession to create lots of scoring situations.
“We stayed calm, we continued to play as we know it. We won three important points, but the most important thing is that we won them with very good football, with the ball, without the ball, with great pressure.
It looks like the second stage of Conte’s transformation will revolve around his team’s attitude and physical power.
“The characteristics to play intense football, to play this type of modern football,” replied the Italian when asked what he tried to add with his business in the transfer market this summer.
“It’s normal for a player to have quality but at the same time he has to be physically strong, a good engine, endurance because this championship is very, very difficult, totally different from other championships.
“We need the players to have quality but be physically strong and run.” Run a lot. Bring intensity because I like pressing but you need a strong player to play this type of football with high pressure.
Tottenham took just one point from two games against Southampton last season and may have feared the worst when Ward-Prowse struck in the 12th minute.
Moussa Djenepo twisted Emerson Royal inside and out and returned the ball to Ward-Prowse, unmarked at the edge of the penalty area, who applied a clean and accurate volley that skidded into the turf and spun beyond the dive of Hugo Lloris.
Conte has an array of options at right-back and it was not an ideal start for Royal, whose next contribution was a desperate dive in an attempt to win a penalty at the other end. Referee Andre Marriner had none of that, and rightly so.
Another chance fell on the visitors as Spurs searched for their rhythm. Cristian Romero’s poor defensive header fell on Adam Armstrong on the half volley. He grabbed it, pushing it wide.
It was not an easy chance but Armstrong was upset. He understood the value of a two-goal lead. Ralph Hasenhuttl, dressed in his wedding reception finery accessorized with tennis shoes, thought the same thing judging by his anguished reaction on the sideline.
Tottenham took the hint and took control. Sessegnon equalised, sneaking in to beat Kyle Walker-Peters through the air at the back post and heading Dejan Kulusevski’s wonderful teasing cross past Gavin Bazunu, making his debut in the Southampton goal.
Defender Eric Dier put Tottenham ahead with a header from Son Heung-min’s cross just after 31 minutes
Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu guided the ball into his own net to extend the hosts’ lead 61 minutes in
It was his first Premier League goal for Spurs and he produced perhaps his best performance for the club, always threatening in attack, although that wasn’t enough to stop Conte replacing him with his first substitute, Ivan Perisic.
Bazunu saved from Heung-min Son on the half hour before Southampton slipped behind the resulting corner, which they cleared to regain recycling possession for the home side. Son curled in a cross from the left and Dier slipped past his marker to peek a header into the net.
From there, Tottenham walked away, along with Conte. Bazunu made saves from Ben Davies and Harry Kane before the break and Sessegnon saw a goal ruled out, just offside, seconds after the restart.
Royal made excellent use of their room for improvement in the second half, redeeming a chance then forcing the third after a deft counterattack.
Dejan Kulusevski added a fourth with a great finish in the bottom corner just two minutes later
Salisu chased as Royal moved forward, trading passes and smashing a low cross from the left, and the Saints defender looked certain to ward off danger with a simple side foot, only to cheat and the ball and slice it off his heel and in the net.
Tottenham accepted the gift and quickly added a fourth. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg took Royal out on another raid down the right. The Brazilian went for Kulusevski and the Swede relied on his left foot and curled a shot inside the far post.
The points were sure, although Conte’s side got careless as the parade of late substitutes continued. Romero was lucky to escape a yellow card for a typically reckless tackle on Oriel Romeu and the visitors created and squandered good chances in the closing stages of the game.
It was an afternoon to forget for visitors as they returned to the south coast. One to fuel Spurs’ dreams but next week at Chelsea will provide a truer measure of their progress.
“Last season we played three games at Chelsea in 12 days,” said Conte. “We lost three games and didn’t score. They showed that they were much better than us. Realistically, we have to wait before passing judgment on this season.