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Men’s football Spurs start new season with swagger after summer of intent

by Dom Smith

ROLL UP, roll up, the Premier League is back. And the main attraction this season might just be Tottenham. For Antonio Conte, this summer felt like a turning point in his tenure. Funds were freed up, six players were signed, and Harry Kane’s desire to get the hell out of there seemed to abate, as it always seems to. This is a club on the up.

All change then? Not quite. A handful of those new acquisitions were expected to start, but in the end all of Tottenham’s starters were at the club last term. And just as they did so many times last term, they wobbled early on.

For Ralph Hasenhüttl and Southampton, the clock restarts once more. Back in the hunt for a prosperous season. Heck, maybe even Europe. But all with the sobering prospect of a relegation battle lingering in the back of the mind.

There are so many unknowns at the infancy of a new season. But some things never change. James Ward-Prowse remains Saints’ captain, leader, talisman, human metronome etc. And as he so often does, he showed his worth with a downward volley which bounced up and into the far corner, beyond the reach of Hugo Lloris for an 11th-minute opener.

Was this the opening scene of another season of Spurs melodrama — making a meal of matches they ought to be winning? Not a bit of it. Conte’s team turned the screw, leading Southampton by half-time, thrashing them by full-time.

Ryan Sessegnon made the most of a rare start on the left to level ten minutes after Ward-Prowse had opened the scoring. Dejan Kulusevski chopped back onto his favoured left, crossed for the left wingback, and Sessegnon planted a header through Gavin Bazunu, much to the home fans’ delight before they’d had the chance to start fretting.

Sessegnon was an unlikely scorer of Spurs’ first of the season. Eric Dier joined the party shortly after, stooping to glance home Son Heung-min’s precise delivery from a recycled corner.

Southampton were industrious throughout. But you sense visiting teams will need more than mere graft to leave the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with points in their back pocket this season. Their industry was not enough.

This sunny afternoon looked like it was turning into an ideal one for Tottenham when Sessegnon slid his second past Bazunu just seconds after the restart. The Englishman would rightly be denied by the flag, but there was no denying Spurs.

Son fed Emerson Royal whose square ball forced an unfortunate own goal by Mohammed Salisu. If Spurs were a tad sheepish to celebrate the Ghanian defender’s misfortune for the third goal, they were animated in congratulating Kulusevski when he fired in an excellent fourth of the afternoon.

Royal provided once more, setting the Swede free on the right. Just as when assisting Sessegnon for the equaliser, the 22-year-old switched to his left foot and whipped the ball meanly into the corner. A cracker.

Kulusevski, Royal and Sessegnon had been Spurs’ surprise stars of the day. Now they made way for players Conte hopes will be Spurs’ stars of tomorrow. Ivan Perišić from Bayern Munich, Clément Lenglet from Barcelona and Yves Bissouma from Brighton came on for their debuts as this non-contest drifted towards the finishing line.

When Son berated referee Andre Marriner for pulling his quick free-kick back because the ball had been moving when he’d struck it, you sensed a microcosm of the hunger and the intent that Spurs might well show all season long. Son is a fighter. Perhaps Spurs will be now too.

Ward-Prowse’s opener felt a distant memory by the time Marriner blew his final whistle. Foolish is the person who places Tottenham in the title race on the first day of the season. But foolish is the person who rules them out.

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