Premier League 2019/20: Southampton vs Chelsea – tactical analysis
Gameweek eight of the 2019/20 Premier League season some of the biggest shocks of the season so far. Three of last years ‘top six’ faced unexpected defeats, with Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, and current champions Manchester City all failing to get a single point. However, Chelsea, alongside Liverpool and Arsenal, was able to win their match against Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium.
Ralph Hassenhüttl was brought in by the club last year after Mark Hughes had left the club in the relegation zone. He managed to keep Southampton up with a sixteenth placed finish. Currently, they are in seventeenth place, just above Everton, with some tough fixtures coming up after the international break. Hassenhüttl is a fantastic manager, who has definitely elevated the club and their performances since he has come in. That being said, with a very weak squad at his disposal, it’ll be difficult for him to get to a point in the season where they are not fighting relegation, and they are comfortably midtable.
Chelsea have also recently brought in a new manager, with club legend Frank Lampard at the helm after Maurizio Sarri left to go back to Serie A. Lampard was tasked with gaining back the fans’ trust after Sarri’s playstyle left a sour taste in their mouth, and to get results despite a transfer ban. A shaky start saw them perform well, but unable to win games. But now, with four wins in all competitions in a row, Lampard has Chelsea in fifth place before the second international break.
Hassenhüttl took a huge risk lining up in a 4-3-3 formation. He often deploys a 4-2-2-2, 4-4-2, or a formation that consists of a back five. The 4-3-3 saw a back of Yan Valery, Jan Bednarek, Maya Yoshida and Ryan Bertrand start ahead of Angus Gunn. Oriol Romeu was at the base of midfield as the defensive midfielder, with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and James Ward-Prowse in front of him. A front three of Shane Long, Nathan Redmond, and Danny Ings led the line.
Lampard on the other hand, stuck to his preferred 4-2-3-1. The back four in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga consisted of César Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori, and Marcos Alonso. The midfield pivot consisted of Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté. A front four of Mason Mount, Willian, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Tammy Abraham led the attack.
Southampton’s lack of ruthlessness
The scoreline of 1-4 suggests that Chelsea played Southampton off the park. And at times, they did. That being said, there were moments where Southampton created good chances to score. Their xG of 1.27 is quite high for a team playing a ‘top six’ side.
Hassenhüttl, who is sometimes referred to as the ‘Alpine Klopp’, has a philosophy that is comparable to the current Liverpool manager. He wants his teams to press for the ball, and win it high up the pitch. The philosophy is all about being proactive rather than reactive to the other teams’ playstyle. The Southampton players were able to do this a few times against Chelsea, but they let themselves down with their final ball or their shot.
At 1-3, Ings had a fantastic chance to get the difference back to one, using the pressing system Hassenhüttl has deployed. Southampton players Redmond and Long were able to press from the front as soon as Arrizabalaga released the ball out to Tomori. Tomori is unable to control the ball properly, and his passing lanes are blocked by Redmond and Long. Southampton gain possession, and the ball is released out to Ings. Ings finds himself 1v1 with Arrizabalaga, but he takes too long to put the ball on his stronger foot, and Jorginho is able to make a last-minute clearance. That chance alone had an xG of 0.30, the highest of all of Southampton’s chances bar their goal.
A similar situation happens later in the game when it was still 1-3. Southampton win the aerial duel, and James Ward-Prowse wins the second ball, even though he has the disadvantage as he is in a 1vs2 situation with Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi and Mount. Ward-Prowse then crosses it to Ings for a header. Ings does well to get into a good position between the two centre-backs, Tomori and Zouma, but his header from close range was weak, and he is unable to even get it on target.
The good news for Southampton fans is that the players seem to be buying into Hassenhüttl’s philosophy when attacking. They forced Chelsea to lose possession 188 times. To compare, Liverpool only did it 158 times when the sides met at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. A team like Southampton will only get so many chances against one of the top sides, so the players will need to improve their goal output if they want the club to climb up on the table.
Chelsea’s attack vs Southampton’s defence
Lampard is slowly starting to find a starting XI that he can rely on, and the one at the weekend will likely be very close to what Chelsea’s best team look like. The beauty of their attack is how well they play off each other, and how aware they are of each other’s movements, along with their own individual talents. On paper, Lampard sets up in a 4-2-3-1, but this match, it looked more like a 2-4-4.
The two banks of four allowed two scenarios to happen. The midfield four were so stretched out, using the whole pitch, which limited Southampton’s use of the flanks. Mentioned above was Southampton’s eagerness to use their left side to try and hurt Chelsea, and while they were successful on some occasions, it kept Southampton very compact in the middle, which made it easy for Chelsea to defend againt.
The second scenario was when Chelsea were in the final third. The front four would attack as a unit. It is rare for teams to have a front four, usually, there will only be two (a pair of strikers) or three (a striker and two wingers) forwards on a team. Chelsea’s front four suffocated Southampton’s backline, especially since Hassenhüttl tinkered with his formation, and set up in a 4-3-3. 4v4 is not a situation you want your team to be in whilst in defence, as the advantage is almost always with the attack.
It is hard to be too critical of Lampard and Chelsea, as scoring four goals, and winning convincingly at St. Mary’s Stadium is a tough ask. However, if there is one thing that they could work on, it is the general defensive play. They allowed Southampton ten shots to their thirteen; not a huge difference even though the gap in quality and in the table between the two sides is quite significant.
Furthermore, it was clear Hassenhüttl was targetting Chelsea’s right side, and it made them more vulnerable. It is unclear as to whether Hassenhüttl felt that he could target Azpilicueta and Willian who does not track back often, he was more confident in Bertrand and Long’s attacking power, or a mixture both, but the left flank was Southampton’s most used are of the pitch.
Chelsea’s right side of Azpilicueta and Willian often struggled to deal with the overload on Southampton’s side. Azpilicueta especially struggled; he only won 6/14 of his duels in the defensive third, and lost possession 22 times, more than any other Chelsea player. There also seemed to be a lack of communication between him and Zouma. Tomori also had a match to forget, losing possession 19 times, and having two errors leading to shots from Southampton.
Chelsea have only kept one clean sheet in all competitions since the beginning of the season. Lampard has started to consistently get his team to play well going forward, and win games. He now has to focus on the defensive side of things before it costs them.
Both managers now have the international break to take a few extra days to analyze their own players and the systems they have been using. Southampton’s goal for this season should be in and around a midtable finish. The players seem to understand what Hassenhüttl expects from them, they have just had some trouble executing the plans, especially in games against the top sides. If needed, he may look to buy a defender in the winter window to limit the abundance of chances teams seem to get against Southampton. Chelsea is a top side, so there is no shame in losing to them, even at home. However, performances need to be better from the Saints if they do not want to spend the tail end of the season in a relegation battle.
Lampard does not have the luxury of buying any players this winter because of the transfer ban, but currently, it does not seem like a major need for Chelsea. His mix of youth and experienced players is finally paying off, and results are starting to come their way. The next step for Lampard is to sort out the defensive discipline of his side, as it is currently holding them back in terms of being able to beat a top side. With a match against last season’s Champions League semifinalists, Ajax coming up, it’ll be the perfect opportunity for Lampard to show that Chelsea can compete on the highest stage once again.
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