Saints hold out for the win in deep block 

Denying Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool a first victory under their new manager was a good performance from Southampton, particularly their structured defensive approach which forced Liverpool to play out wide more than they’d have liked. This week the Saints face a lesser team than Liverpool, as they play against South-Coast rivals Bournemouth.

Bournemouth come into this one on the back of 10 goals conceded in their last 2, both 5-1 losses. The Cherries actually started the season pretty well, defying expectations by avoiding the relegation zone, mostly thanks to striker Callum Wilson’s fantastic form in the league, Bournemouth are without Wilson for the rest of the season however, following a horrible cruciate ligament injury to the forward. Eddie Howe’s men travel the short trip to Saint Mary’s hoping to rectify their recent poor form. 

Ronald Koeman lined-up with an identical team to the one which faced Liverpool last weekend. Stekelenburg, Soares, van Dijk, Fonteand Bertrand was the main defence. In front of them was a double-pivot of Wanyama and Clasie. Despite retaining the team, Koeman rotated the positions of his attacking midfielders, Mane started wide right making movements infield to arrive in the box alongside Pelle, Davis played as a 10 and Dusan Tadic played more like a traditional left winger than we have seen him before. Graziano Pelle was up top.

Bournemouth made 3 changes to the starting 11 which was thumped 5-1 by Spurs last week. Adam Federici came in for error prone Boruc in goals. Daniels played as right-back, while Francis and Distin were at cent respectively-back. Adam Smith made run down the wing from left-back to help provide width and receive long diagonals. Protecting the defence as a 6 was Surman, just in front of him both as 8’s were Harry Arter and Dan Gosling. Matt Ritchie started on the right-wing but often looked to cut inside onto his powerful left foot, Pugh was on the opposite wing. Glenn Murray had a difficult taks as lone striker.

Saints in Attack and Pelle’s Dominating Performance 

Last weekend against Liverpool, in order to make the most of Pelle’s hold-up play and Davis/Tadic’s through balls, Sadio Mane started as second striker to make penetrating runs in behind Liverpool’s defence, today however Ronald Koeman swapped Mane and Davis. Davis played far more like a tradiotnal 10 than Mane and Mane made far more powerful runs out wide than Davis. 

Again, Southampton used a pattern of play which involved Pelle laying a long pass off, this time though Southampton got even more success. At times, particularly when holding the ball up, Graziano Pelle looked unplayable, Bournemouth’s centre-backs looked to struggle massively when the big Italian was playing with his back to goal, as did their centre-midfielders who’s men benefitted hugely from Pelle’s hold-up play. Against Liverpool, Pelle’s lay-offs only really brought Davis and Mane into the game, whereas today we saw all three attacking midfielders and both full-backs brought into play not just by simple lay-offs but also ’round the corner’ passes to the wide areas. It was an excellent performance from the Italian who not only benefited himself from his hold-up play (Pelle scored following a lay-off by himself in the build-up) but also the player who were around him when attacking and pressing without the ball. 

Here is an image of Pelle about to play ’round the corner’ to Bertrand in the build-up to the first goal. Gosling’s lack of concentration allowed Bertrand time and space to cross.

I’m More Intensity in the Press

Another change we saw in Southampton’s game was the intensity  in their pressing. The only type of pressing we saw against Liverpool was ‘gegenpressing’, while Southampton preffered to remain in positon and restrict space for Liverpool centrally. Against Bournemouth however, Southampton pressed more, Wanyama and Clasie even vacating their 6 positions to press Arter and Gosling at times, this was a big change from their roles last week where they man-marked Lallana and Coutinho for the majority of the game. The height of Southampton’s press was at times very high, this was decided on by Pelle as he was the first line of defence. Pelle sometimes even pressed the goalkeeper if he noticed that the lines behind him were vertically compact, this was very good tactical awareness from the big striker. 

Below we can see Pelle communicating with the players behind him to ensure that his press is backed-up and that he isnt causing poor vertical compactness.

Bournemouth’s Attacking Struggles

One of the downsides a defensive 4-5-1 may have is the lack of a distinct number 10 who is able to create chances from centrally, particularly using Zone 14, this was an issue Bourenmouth suffered with. The only sort of threat Bournemouth ever posed was from long shots, which is a worry when you have a striker (Murray) who relies so heavily on crosses into the box.  

In order to avoid the centre, where Bournemouth struggled to create chances high up the field, Distin and Francis played lots of high diagonal passes to Ritchie and Pugh. This too, didn’t manage to create anything due to Southampton’s full-backs excellent ability in one-on-ones and Ritchie and Pugh were often left isolated against a player whom they were beaten by in qualitative superiority.

60-90 Minutes

After playing in a relatively high block for around 60 minutes, Southampton switched to a far deeper block and pressed less intensley and high up the field, restricting the quality of Bournemouth’s chances rather than the amount and lowering the risk of being caught out by pacy striker Joshua King who came on as a half-time substitute. For the last thirty minutes or so, it was rare to see Southampton attack other than on the counter or following a successful gegenpress high up the pitch.


A dominating performance by Graziano Pelle, really hurt Bournemouth when defending but also when in the build-up phase due to his excellent pressing and maintain meant of vertical compactness. The isolation of Ritchie and Pugh against Soares and Bertrand was another factor which contributed to the Cherries loss. Ronald Koeman’s switch to a deep block was a smart move which took away the influence of Joshua King’s pace. All in all, a good 2-0 victory for the Saints.


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