Read Our Progress Report on Southampton’s Performances for October-November

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The ball pops loose from a corner kick that Arsenal has managed to clear. It’s a typical clearance of a corner with a header, and the ball rolls to the feet of Nathaniel Clyne. The Gunner clear the box, but stop as soon as Clyne gets the ball. The Englishman has time and in the Emirates, time freezes as well. He’s taken a perfect preparation touch and smacked one in from a long, long way out.

ClynevArsenal

Wait – Southampton’s right-back just did this? It’s 2-1 in favor of the Saints? Sure, this is the Capital One Cup, and Arsene Wenger doesn’t really care what’s going on (or at least that’s what he wants us to think). This is too good to be true. None of this can be happening. But it was and it still is.

That game against Arsenal came after I wrote this: https://worldsoccertalk.com/2014/09/19/southamptons-august-september-progress-report/.

While the goals against the Gunners might not have come as a result of the fluid attacking football Southampton is playing right now, that victory has kick-started a lengthy run of form with a “can’t stop, won’t stop” vibe that produces prettier bits of football to watch each week.

It’s not as if one player is carrying this team, as the unit itself is what makes up the squad’s excellence. Assigning a player of the season so far award would in no way do justice to the body of work the entire team has displayed. There were so many concerns that the turnover of the club’s top center-back, attacking midfielder, and striker would wreck fabric of the team, not to mention exacerbate the issues cause by the carryover to a new season without Jay Rodriguez. None of that has happened and this team is better than last season’s – perhaps not as individuals – but on the whole.

Each player has carried out his role to perfection – whether that’s Victor Wanyama breaking up play to protect the back four, and filling in gaps in the defensive line to stave off attacks, or Dusan Tadic being the creative force he was expected to be in attack; the team is a cohesive unit. Ryan Bertrand has showed that he can start each week at left-back to fill the void left by Luke Shaw. While Bertrand does like to get forward from the full back position and has no where near as much dynamism in attack, the replacement has learned how to whip dangerous balls into the box for Graziano Pelle & Co. to get on the end of.

The introduction of Sadio Mane to the squad has bolstered its speed and fluidity. Mane is a cross between an advanced midfielder, a winger, and a forward. He likes to move all around the pitch, but most importantly, he’s very, very good at getting in behind defenses, and so is the rest of this team. Whether it’s Steven Davis, Pelle, the full backs, or the other midfielders, this is a team that just keeps running and it makes the opposition crack, because once one player has gone behind the rearguard, they latch onto any through ball sent their way. Then the goal comes easy as the result of a short cross or a cut back into space. Just look at some of these goals.

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As far as improvements are concerned, Koeman may be looking to sell off Rodriguez to Tottenham, according to some reports. This team has an excellent first choice starting XI, but lacks depth at the back. Matt Targett wears the label of the next Shaw, and has proved himself a decent prospect, so he could fill in for Bertrand as the season goes on, but Clyne needs a replacement if he gets injured, and another hard man in midfield might be necessary if Wanyama gets hurt or is sold in January. Morgan Schneiderlin’s defensive work should not be sold short though, as he averages the same 3.9 tackles per game that his Kenyan partner does, and gets an interception more as well.

The system has remained the same throughout the season, with the 4-3-3 being the base. It’s fluid on offense and defense, which you can read more about extensively here: https://worldsoccertalk.com/2014/10/08/premier-league-tactics-corner-round-7/.

Pelle leads the line as the center-forward and is flanked by Tadic and Shane Long or Mane. A fluid midfield that inverts with a one-man and two-man base backs up the most advanced players and then there’s a back four of Clyne, Jose Fonte, Toby Alderweireld, and Bertrand. The fluidity of this team and understanding between the players is its biggest strength and will carry it through the rest of the season.

The bottom line is that the attacking mentality is very much the same as it was last season, and the relentlessness of team is still displayed through its pressing, as seen below.

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Southampton leads the league in tackles per game with 24.1, which proves that their aggressive mentality has not stopped under new management.

Best XI:

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Rating: 5 out of 5 – You can’t ask for much more than being four points off the top, and four points ahead of Manchester City in the table 11 games into the season. A tough run of games is coming up though, and that will prove how good this squad really is. After returning from the international break to play Aston Villa, the Saints play Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United in consecutive matches.

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One Response

  1. Wayne Bea November 14, 2014

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