When Nigel Adkins was sacked in January, it seemed like a cruel decision after he had led them from League 1 to the Premier League in two seasons and Southampton were not having all too bad a season with it being their first since promotion. Whilst it is true that the decision was harsh, it is obvious since former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino took over at the club, their performances have moved on to another level.
Since Pochettino took charge, the Saints have won games against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. And their brilliant run of form has seen them move away from the relegation zone. If you watched any of those games, you could see Southampton pressing extremely high up the pitch, which is a Pochettino trademark. They played the same way in their 2-1 defeat against Manchester United, a game in which the Old Trafford club had no control over and were very lucky to win.
All this proves that English teams are not comfortable and struggle to retain possession when they are being pressed high up the pitch. The Premier League lacks players like Xavi, Andrea Pirlo or Bastian Schweinsteiger, players who can keep the ball under intense pressure from the opposition. Paul Scholes would have been perfect for United to bring on and keep the ball but he was not available for the game. This will explain why the Saints have had success against the sides who prefer a short passing game. On the other hand they have struggled against some more direct teams such as QPR and Newcastle, this can be explained in the sense that when the opposition lumps the ball forward to a powerful striker, Southampton’s pressing game is not effective. Pressing is not the only reason why they win games but is a huge factor. Winning the ball high up the pitch gives you a greater chance of scoring.
This is a style which has become Pochettino’s trademark, ever since his days as a player as Newell’s Old Boys where he played under Marcelo Bielsa, the current Athletic Bilbao manager. As we saw last season, Bielsa’s style worked so well for Bilbao in last season’s Europa League but once teams learn how to play against his teams it doesn’t work as well, this has been proven this season with Bilbao languishing in 13th in La Liga. Pochettino has made his mark at Southampton with this style being very rare in the English game, which is probably why so many teams are struggling to find a way to combat it. There is no doubt that his experiences with Bielsa helped his managerial style no end.