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Teams’ Playing Styles: Southampton

In the first of a series looking at Premier League teams’ playing styles, Gavin Nolan takes us through the style of play which Ronald Koeman has got his Southampton side playing this season.


In 2007 Southampton were in fear of relegation to League Two. Last Saturday, they solidified their second place position in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Hull City; leaving them two points ahead of last year’s champions Manchester City.

They only returned to the top flight in 2012 and have made a few headlines since then. After a woeful start to the 2012/13 season, they were everyone’s early favourites to go down seeing as they conceded 24 goals in their opening eight games and had just four points on the board. Nigel Adkins was then sacked in January, just as he was pulling the Saints out of the relegation zone and replaced with relative newcomer Mauricio Pochettino.

Pochettino’s arrival directly coincided with an upturn in Southampton’s results and performances, with the club finishing comfortably clear of relegation. The next season heralded even more success in the club’s form, with them finishing 8th in the league and notching up some impressive results, including a victory over Liverpool at Anfield.

There was fear for Southampton from across the board going into this season as they lost their manager plus five of their star players from last season to other Premier League clubs.

However, Ronald Koeman has taken the gaffers’ chair at St. Mary’s and used the money from the players’ departures to bolster his squad with the likes of Graziano Pellè, Shane Long, Ryan Bertrand and Dušan Tadić. These new signings along with Koeman’s style of play has made the Saints one of the early pace setters in the league this season.

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The formation

Koeman always starts games for Southampton with a 4-3-3 formation – a flat back four, three central midfielders and two wide men playing either side of the lone striker but noticeably ahead of the three in the centre.

The full-backs aren’t as adventurous as we’re used to seeing nowadays. They will get up to provide width and support their winger ahead of them, but not at the same time. If one goes up the other will come slightly infield and support the two centre-halves.

The midfield is composed of box-to-box midfielders who are comfortably getting up and down the pitch to attack and defend. One midfielder will always hold his position in front of the back four but there is no set player who does this, and this rotates throughout games.

The wide men stay high and wide most of the time. The striker operates around the width of the box and will lay the ball off either to onrushing midfielders or out wide so that he can get in the box for the cross.

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The attack

They like to go forward very quickly. Possession of the ball is not seen as a priority for this Southampton team, when they have the ball they try to move it quickly and toward the opposition’s goal.

The wingers try to stay as high and wide as possible. This is so that they can isolate the opposition’s full-backs and also to stretch the opposition so that there will be space left in between the midfield and defence.

The crossing is never really done by the wingers as they tend to cut inside and look to interact with the more central players. Tadić, in particular cuts inside the majority of the time and tries to get a shot off or play a through ball. On the odd occasion that they do cross the ball it is usually from positions close to or inside the box. Deep, long crosses are not seen as much.

The midfielders are all highly energetic and try to go beyond the forward a lot, trying to get on the end of balls played through. This is helped by the fact that Pellè, their main striker is only happy to drop deep and pull the opposing side’s centre-backs out a lot.

High energy is key to their attacking approach. When they win the ball back they flood forward and usually catch the other team off-guard. Everyone in the team seems to buy into this belief as they get a lot of goals using counter-attacks.

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The defence

Southampton’s defence has been their most impressive feature this season. They lost a starting full-back and centre-back in the summer and replaced them immediately with players who are of the same quality if not better, albeit both of them are on loan so if they stay past this season we will find out in due time.

Koeman’s influence can be seen most evidently in the way the Saints defend, with his side having only conceded five goals in ten games this season. When they lose the ball, the whole team bust a gut to get back into their defensive shape and when they’re all back they set about closing the opposition down with great gusto.

Southampton keep a very deep defensive line, leaving little space in behind them. From there they proceed to pressure the other team with great intensity, all the while moving up the pitch.

There is a drawback to this high pressure approach as they do concede a lot of unwanted free kicks to the opposition. When they do have to defend a set piece, they defend zonally for free kicks and man mark against corners with no-one on the front post.

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Best team and formation

Forster; Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand; Davis, Schneiderlin, Cork; Tadić, Pellè, Mane.

4-3-3 has worked for the Saints so far this season so there is no need to change it. The back four has only conceded five goals this season so they stay put. In the midfield Morgan Schneiderlin and Steven Davis pick themselves through their performances, the only name in doubt there could be Jack Cork.

One could make a case for Victor Wanyama to be in there but the former Celtic man has not been at his best for some time now so Cork gets the nod for the time being.

Tadić has been nothing short of phenomenal since his arrival in England, while Pellè has scored eight of Southampton’s 21 league goals this season, so they are in the best team. Sadio Mane is picked ahead of Shane Long as he has been more productive than Long as the Irishman has yet to hit the ground running and is lucky to get into the team at the minute.

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So what do you think of my assessment of Southampton? Do you agree? Leave any opinions you may have in the comments section below.

Next week we will take a look at West Brom.

Gavin Nolan, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

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