If it is going to be the season that Tottenham finally live up to the lofty expectations of their long-suffering supporters then this was some way to start. A superb comeback instigated by the dazzling feet of Dejan Kulusevski ensured that Antonio Conte’s side recovered from the shock of falling behind to an early strike from James Ward-Prowse to record a convincing opening day.
Goals from defenders Ryan Sessegnon and Eric Dier steadied Spurs by the break before a comical own goal from Mohammed Salisu and the outstanding Kulusevski rounded off a perfect afternoon for the hosts.
There has been plenty of anticipation in this part of north London in recent weeks after a summer of early acquisitions, although Antonio Conte opted to leave five of his signings – Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Clement Lenglet, Fraser Forster and Djed Spence – on the bench. They and the suspended Richarlison were paraded on the pitch before kick-off to much adulation from the home supporters, who are still riding the wave of euphoria that rounded off last season and qualification for the Champions League.
A solitary point from their last six matches in the previous campaign meant there has not been quite so much positivity among Southampton fans, although Ralph Hassenhüttl included three new faces – goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and midfielders Romeo Lavia and Joe Aribo in his starting lineup.
While a bronzed Conte looked relaxed down on the touchline in his polo shirt, his Austrian counterpart opted for the waistcoat, tie and trainers with no socks look. A nervous moment in the opening exchanges when Bazunu – a 20-year-old signed Republic of Ireland international who spent last season on a loan at Portsmouth from Manchester City – was almost caught out by Jan Bednarek’s back pass will not have done much to settle his nerves.
Yet Tottenham’s much-vaunted front three struggled to find a way through despite some early pressure and instead it was Ward-Prowse who struck first. Moussa Djenepo seemed to have squandered the opportunity at first but his cross picked out the England midfielder, who hammered his volley into the ground to leave Hugo Lloris grasping at thin air.
A few murmurs of discontent from a section of home fans were just about audible but their mood was lifted within just eight minutes as Sessegnon powered past Kyle Walker-Peters to head home a brilliant cross from Kulusevski and his first Premier League goal for Spurs.
Tottenham immediately grew in confidence and Bazunu had to be alert to save Son Heung-Min’s effort when he was played through on goal. He could do nothing, however, to stop Dier’s deft header to divert Son’s cross when the resulting corner wasn’t cleared properly. It could have been even worse for Southampton had Bazunu not reacted quickly to deny Ben Davies and then Harry Kane from close range, while Son was uncharacteristically wasteful on the stroke of half-time following a mistake from Yan Valery. A clearly irked Hassenhüttl brought on Jack Stephens to replace the French defender after the break, while forward Adam Armstrong made way for namesake Stuart.
A second goal from Sessegnon within 60 seconds of the restart was correctly chalked off for offside but – with Kane continuing to find space at will – it seemed like only a matter of time before Tottenham extended their lead. Emerson Royal saw his header just drop over the crossbar while Sessegnon’s attempt to round off a flowing counterattack was denied by a goal-saving challenge at the back post by Walker-Peters.
The goal eventually arrived via an unexpected source when Royal’s weak effort was inexplicably passed into his own net by the unfortunate Salisu. Barely a minute had passed before Royal notched another assist, cutting the ball back for the outstanding Kulusevki to slam past Bazunu and put Tottenham out of sight.
Sessegnon left the pitch to a standing ovation to be replaced by Perisic, with the Croat among those protesting for a penalty against Stephens when the ball appeared to strike him on the arm late on. But while that call may have gone against his side, there remain plenty of reasons for Conte and Spurs to be optimistic.
August 6, 2022 at 10:00PM Ed Aarons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium