Gareth Bale looms down on the Tottenham High Road from an advertising hoarding the size of a house. The Welshman dominates the Tottenham team in much the same way. "Game-changer" is the copyline on the advert, and its accuracy was shown again on Saturday when he embellished a moderate match with a stunning 85th-minute goal to maintain Spurs' push for Champions League qualification.
As ever, Andre Villas-Boas was at pains to emphasis his is not a one-man team. "Most of the big teams have players who can make the difference," he said. "Chelsea has Frank Lampard, Mata and Hazard, Man United have Van Persie and City have Yaya [Touré]." The team, he added, provided the platform for Bale.
It is true that the likes of Hugo Lloris – who made a key save from Rickie Lambert during a first half that Southampton controlled – Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe, Jan Vertonghen and others have been influential this season. But without Bale, Spurs would at best be jostling with Liverpool and Everton, not threatening Chelsea and Arsenal.
It was telling, too, that Villas-Boas was able to reel off a trio of Chelsea gamechangers. Halting them, and Oscar, Demba Ba and David Luiz, is his next task, with Wednesday's showdown looking ever more significant. For once the build-up will not be about Bale, but that offers no consolation for Villas-Boas because it will be about him instead. This is his first return to Stamford Bridge since being fired last February after less than eight months as manager.
"At the moment it means absolutely nothing," said Villas-Boas. "Chelsea is just another opponent in our quest to get the nine points we have to play for. It's about the result. Hopefully at the end there can be a little bit more satisfaction." The Portuguese was bruised when Chelsea axed him but indicated the subsequent managerial turnover at the club, including his promoted assistant Robbie Di Matteo being fired despite winning the Champions League, had left him more sanguine.
"I'm not sure if I was there long enough [for it to be emotional]," he said. "I was another manager who just passed by. Chelsea is going through the same turmoil of managers. It makes me a little calmer to understand how they work."
Spurs then play Sunderland and Stoke, as do Saints, whose need for points remains equally urgent after Saturday's unfortunate defeat.
Goal: Tottenham Hotspur Bale 86.
Substitutions: Tottenham Holtby 6 (Dembele, 35), Adebayor 6 (Lennon, 60), Sigurdsson (Dempsey, 72). Southampton Mayuka 5 (Do Prado, 65), Puncheon (Lallana, 80).
Booked: Tottenham Assou-Ekotto. Southampton S Davis.
Man of the match Bale. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Tottenham 58%. Southampton 42%.
Attempts on target: Tottenham 1. Southampton 6.
Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham). Att 36,190.Reuse content