At the time of writing this (24/01/2021), Southampton F.C are currently placed 11th in the 2020-21 Premier League.
Feels like just yesterday when Southampton lost 9-0 (was actually on Oct 2019) and Saints fans would hate to see that result mention but since then, they have every reason to be optimistic about the club's future, certainly under the current manager Ralph Hasenhüttl. This 2020-21 season, Southampton got off to a bad start losing their two opening games followed by a 7-match unbeaten run in the Premier League, including a 3-3 draw away to Chelsea, a 2-0 victory over an impressive Everton side, and a 4-3 victory away to Aston Villa who at that time was very defensively sound.
Throughout Hasenhüttl's career, he has preferred the 442 shape or 4222 depending on who you talk too and his tactical principles remain the same, press, and have a very narrow attacking shape. The narrow attacking shape doesn’t just work well for them in attack but it also helps them if they lose the ball in attacking areas because straight away, they have numbers in central areas and make it difficult to play through. Southampton are very well drilled under Ralph Hasenhüttl and because of this it makes it difficult to pick a performer who sticks out, whilst Danny Ings likely is identified as the key player by most, James Ward-Prowse is certainly equally as important. He’s played the most progressive passes so far for the Saints (83), played the most key passes (27) which would be ranked 17th in the Premier League and the most passes to the final 1/3 for Southampton (90) so it’s clear, the set-piece specialist is the playmaker.
Danny Ings has been impressive scoring 7 goals in 13 starts whilst managing to get 3 assists. Che Adams goal-scoring form has certainly improved as this is what people thought was missing from his games. He was very much able to put in good performances but was unlucky in front of the goal which seems to have changed now. He has 4 goals so far along with 4 assists. It’s also interesting to note that both full-backs Ryan Bertrand and Kyle Walker-Peters have both won 31 tackles each – which is a lot. That places them both joint 7th in the league with most tackles won. Bertrand has been excellent in 1v1 situations.
The 442(4222) Shape
On paper, Southampton are shaped with a 442 but this very quickly transitions into a 4222 as the two wingers tuck inside and act as inverted wingers. When this happens, this allows both full-backs, Kyle Walker-Peters more so than Bertrand, to make forward movements and that’s how they stretch play, so with their narrow attacking shape, the full-backs are actually very important players.
Just like Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, who I previously covered, Southampton very rarely send crosses into the box and are ranked 19th with crosses in the Premier League so far. When the wide players are in areas to send in a cross, they opt to play the ball either backward as this can help open up space for them to work the ball into central areas or they would play the ball in centrally if the option is there too. Southampton also don’t switch the ball from side to side with a direct ball, if they do work the ball from one side to another, it’s usually done with short passes. They’ve only completed 173 switches which, again, ranks them 19th in the league. Despite their intense approach, they can be patient with their build-up and usually build up with a back 3 by playing short passes to draw the opposition in.
To get in behind the opponent's defence, they like to play through balls or pass into space to try and attack that space in the channels. Southampton have registered 21 through balls so far and only the big 7 have registered more. Well, the big 7 if you swap Chelsea with Leeds United. Southampton are also a forward-thinking team but when the opportunity is there to attack central areas directly. They like to play the ball forward rather than dribble the ball forward and mainly use their inverted wingers as dribbles as they attempt to come inside with the ball. Moussa Djenepo has been Saints most effective dribbler so far, creating shot actions 8 times with his dribbles, 6th best in the league. Southampton would much prefer to overload the central areas and work the ball into the box. This is how they create most of their shot actions but it’s also worth noting that this season so far, set-pieces have been kind to them, and thanks to Ward-Prowse they have scored 5 times from a dead-ball situation.
Despite their narrow shape, the fullbacks are used pretty often in build-ups as the Saints often use wider areas to start their build-ups. Walker-Peters so far has 1288 touches of the ball which is the 3rd most for Southampton, whilst Bertrand has 1136 touches, and that ranks him 4th with most touches. The two players above them are James Ward-Prowse and Jan Bednarek who are also key to build up. Once the play has been built and Southampton have advanced up the pitch then Southampton players can be seen overload the box and that makes defences uncomfortable.
Full-Backs remaining wide and used for build-up:
Overload in the box:
So far, Southampton’s xG totals to 18.6 (according to FBref.com) and averaging around 0.98 per game. Last season, Southampton were one of the better sides creating xG’s, last season they averaged 1.42 xG, but there’s still a lot of football to be played this season.
Southampton attack sides and action zones:
Southampton avg position vs Sheffield United:
VIDEO: SOUTHAMPTON FM21 GOAL EXAMPLE
Many may identify Romeu as the side's destructive player, the ball-winner. Actually, he’s currently ranked 4th with most tackles made in this Southampton side and more surprisingly, James Ward-Prowse has won more tackles so far. Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand, who have made the most tackles for the Saints (31) are currently the sides top tacklers. Walker-Peters puts slightly more pressure on the opponents, therefore completed more interceptions than Bertrand but Bertrand is a very good 1v1 defender and has been dribbled past less with a 66.7% percentage tackles vs dribbler and that actually ranks him 3rd in the Premier League. Only Toby Alderweireld (69.2%) and James Tarkwoski (69.2%) have a better percentage.
Out of possession, Hasenhüttl's men like to press and are one of the best at it in the league. They have successfully pressured the opponent 865 times and they often operate in a mid to high block to stop the opponents from playing and most of Southampton's pressures so far this season have come in the middle 1/3. 1202 times they have pressured the opponents in the mid 1/3 and Southampton so far have made the most tackles in the middle 1/3 in the Premier League. But this isn’t purely because of the mid-block as the Saints have been very aggressive this season. They have tackled 138 dribblers, which is the most but because of their aggressiveness, they’ve been dribbled past the 2nd most in the league, 241 times. Southampton are very good at reacting to loose balls too and this could be because of their narrow shape, players are close to each other and this can be helping Southampton recover loose balls, they have recovered the ball 1956 times and that’s the most, equalling with Liverpool.
Southampton are great at recovering the ball and this could be down to the work of the advanced players also. When the opponents are trying to build play, the Saint’s set pressing triggers to try and force the opponent to play a loose or long pass for their defenders to recover possession and this is how they often pressure and recover.
One last interesting thing about Southampton when out of possession is their fouling. Some may not be fans of this but Southampton can be seen giving away cheap fouls as a tactic to stop the opponents from playing. They have given away 227 fouls which is a higher number compared to other teams in the league.
In A Nut Shell
I’m a huge fan of the way Hasenhüttl has got his Southampton side playing currently, it’s demanding but Southampton haven’t got the biggest squad. Both Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand were missing in their 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal and it showed why these two players are absolutely key and these positions, for me, need covering with decent quality. That’s no disrespect to Yan Valery or Jake Vokins who did as well as they could.
FM21 RALPH HASENHUTTL SAINTS Tactic
4th place finish in Premier League
watch the video for full details on how to use the tactic effectively.
Overall average shape:
Shape in possession makes 4-2-2-2