Christian Eriksen worth to Spurs underlined in drab draw at Southampton
SOUTHAMPTON -- Mauricio Pochettino cited "many different reasons" for Tottenham's frustrating 1-1 draw at Southampton on Sunday but Christian Eriksen's absence must have been top of the Spurs manager's list.
Eriksen was one of the more badly affected by the virus that swept through the Spurs squad last week and he was too unwell to feature at St. Mary's, along with captain Hugo Lloris.
A number of other players, including Son Heung-Min, were also unwell but Pochettino said all those who played on Sunday had fully recovered and he refused to use it as an excuse for dropped points at his former club, on the five-year anniversary of his first match in England.
Heavy rain, a stodgy pitch and wildly inconsistent refereeing from Kevin Friend did not make for easy conditions for both sets of players, not least anyone who had been ill mid-week, but Spurs' lethargy and lack of fluidity were as much do to with Eriksen's absence as the circumstances. It was the first league game he has missed this season and it showed.
Moussa Sissoko was a surprising choice as Eriksen's direct replacement in attacking midfield -- suggesting that Erik Lamela, a 71st-minute substitute, was also among those affected by the virus -- and the Frenchman was typically abject in possession, contributing only in the final 15 minutes when the game was stretched.
Lamela is the most like-for-like alternative to Eriksen at Spurs but even they are not particularly similar and, after the game, Eric Dier hinted at a worrisome reality: "We have a great squad but obviously there are not many players like Christian," the England international said.
"Christian is a fantastic player, who plays an important role in the team," added Dier. "He is one of the links between phases of play and is key in that regard. He can create chances and score goals.
"We did not control the game the way we wanted to. Southampton defended well but obviously we would like to create more chances. We did not create enough."
Controlling the game and creating chances are so much harder for Spurs without Eriksen, who is responsible for quietly setting the tempo and makes as many key passes as anyone in the Premier League outside of Manchester City.
For all his quality on the ball, Spurs also missed Eriksen's energy. Sissoko covered the fourth most ground among the Spurs' players -- 10.69km -- but Eriksen is usually top, often covering close to 13km.
In the first minute, Saints created a two-on-one on the left flank, leaving Serge Aurier exposed, and it was no surprise their goal came from another doubling-up on the Ivorian. Sissoko simply did not get back in time.
Kane's equaliser, a header from Ben Davies' corner just 197 seconds after Davinson Sanchez's own goal, should have dented Southampton's already-fragile confidence and provided Spurs with a base to win the match but they were too slow and too disjointed without Eriksen. Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli and Son all held on to the ball too long in promising positions, while Sissoko always looked desperate to get rid of it.
"His quality, he has a lot, but one of his best is he links all the players," Pochettino said of Eriksen on Friday. "He has this capacity to link everyone on the pitch -- that is the principle one for me but he has a lot of good qualities. For me, he's a very important player for us."
Amid all the talk about Kane's long-term future and Toby Alderweireld's new contract, it went relatively unnoticed last week that Eriksen said he was open to renewing his own deal at Spurs.
"It's up to the club whether they want to renegotiate or not. I know they've talked about it so it's going the right way. Of course, I'm not uninterested. I'm happy to be in the club and there's nothing negative at all," he said after the 4-0 win over Everton, in which he scored the fourth goal.
The 25-year-old signed a contract worth around £70,000-a-week until 2020 -- a year or two less than most of his teammates -- in September 2016 but he has long been aware of interest from elsewhere, including Spanish giants Barcelona.
If Sunday's match was a glimpse of life without Eriksen at Spurs, then tying him to a new long-term contract should be among the club's top priorities.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.