ANTONIO CONTE’S summer buzzphrase whenever he has been asked about Tottenham’s target this season has been: “To be competitive”.
The Italian wants his side to go toe to toe with whichever team they face and be in the mix for every competition they enter.
But he also may as well be talking about his heavily-bolstered squad.
Because the competition for places now in it suggests they could be genuine contenders for honours this term.
Conte started none of his six summer signings in this rout.
But their influence on the team was still clear with the improved displays of those given the chance to play.
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After the shock of falling behind to a James Ward-Prowse volley, it was Ryan Sessegnon who began the recovery with a powerful header on 21 minutes.
Spurs’ beefed-up wing-back has been put under pressure for his position by the arrival of Ivan Perisic, who made his debut off the bench, and raised his game in response.
Spurs completed a quick turnaround when Eric Dier – one of a handful of guaranteed starters in Conte’s XI – headed home his first goal in three years.
Then they pressed home their advantage after the break as Mohammed Salisu’s weak attempt at a clearance went in his own net for 3-1.
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Within seconds three became four thanks to Dejan Kulusevski, whose own spot has come under threat following the £60million signing of Richarlison.
It was the perfect start to a season that promises so much for the hosts and one that underlined just why ambitious Conte was happy to stay this summer.
His starting XI looked very familiar but it was the strength of the bench that showed why Tottenham should be taken seriously this season.
Even without the suspended Richarlison, punished with a one-game ban for throwing a flare into the crowd while celebrating a goal for Everton last season, it was impressively deep.
New-boys Clement Lenglet, Perisic, Djed Spence, Fraser Forster – who left Southampton for Spurs this summer – and Yves Bissouma were all named as subs.
The contingent waved to their adoring new fans as they were paraded before kick-off.
Spurs started brightly but found themselves behind on 12 minutes when their former transfer target Ward-Prowse expertly fired Moussa Djenepo’s cross past Hugo Lloris.
There was no panicking though. This team is now so familiar with Conte’s system after nine months of it being drilled into them, they always looked confident of coming back.
Sessegnon was the man to restore parity, powering into the box to head Kulusevski’s delivery past Premier League debutant Gavin Bazunu.
Ex-Fulham man Sessegnon told reporters during the tour of South Korea last month how he had hit the gym in the summer to help his game this term.
That extra strength certainly seemed to help him as he made a superb start to his stated new-season resolution to score and assist more, after failing to net at all last term.
Within ten minutes, Spurs were ahead through an unlikely source.
Last year’s golden boot winner Son Heung-Min supplied the cross for Dier to flick a header into the far corner.
The centre-back punched the air with delight, experiencing that goalscoring buzz for the first time since his last goal against Everton in 2019.
Southampton were struggling and if it were not for new keeper Bazunu, they would have been further behind at the break.
First, the £10million summer signing from Manchester City repelled Ben Davies’ long-range fizzer.
Then he beat away Harry Kane’s near-post effort, minutes after Son had blazed high and wide.
Ralph Hasenhuttl made two half-time changes with Jack Stephens and Stuart Armstrong introduced, but it made little difference.
Sessegnon had the ball in the net again within seconds of the restart but was offside.
It seemed only a matter of time before the killer third goal went in, and just after the hour, the moment came.
A flowing attack saw Son squeeze the ball through to Emerson Royal, whose cross was somehow diverted into the net by Salisu.
The Ghanaian was trying to clear it with his stronger left foot when a hack away with his right would have sufficed, and got it completely wrong.
Saints under Hasenhuttl have a history of imploding, as two 9-0s defeats underline.
They looked in danger of another hiding here when two minutes later, Royal cut back to Kulusevski who curled into the corner.
That was the end of the goals but Spurs fans did get to see Lenglet and Bissouma in action late on – with the latter copping a booking for a poor challenge on Romeo Lavia.
Many Southampton supporters were already worried about what this campaign may have in store for them, and there was little on show here to make them feel any better.
But Tottenham followers could hardly have asked for more from their curtain-raiser.
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Just think, their side hit four and neither Kane nor Son were on the scoresheet.
Conte’s squad definitely looks as if it will be competitive this season – in every sense of the word.
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