Friday fixtures are a rarity in the Premier League but fans might want it to become a regular thing considering the action we saw as Southampton took on Bournemouth at Saint Mary’s stadium. After a terrible start to the season, Southampton put together some decent performances coming into this match. They were able to scare a mighty Liverpool side and were coming off a draw against Manchester United and a win against a tricky Sheffield United. Bournemouth have become a fan favourite ever since they were promoted to the Premier League and Eddie Howe is a major reason why. Through his tactical prowess, he was able to not only stave off relegation but compete against the very best. This season may be his best yet as this win took Bournemouth up to third place in the Premier League.
In this tactical analysis, I will dissect the tactics employed by both teams and figure out why Bournemouth were able to frustrate Southampton though the stats that were so heavily skewed in favour of the home side.
Southampton started the game in a very fluid 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 with Sofiane Boufal and James Ward-Prowse operating as central playmakers. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg often dropped into the defence during the build for the sake of ball progression, at times acting as a false full-back to push the actual full-backs higher up the pitch. At times they would move wide to provide width with the formation resembling a 4-2-4. Southampton placed an emphasis on vertical passing through the lines, particularly by their centre-backs. Nathan Redmond enabled this by dropping from the striker position to receive the ball either on the half-turn to then face goal or to link up with other midfielders.
For Bournemouth, they played their regular 4-4-2 with Dominic Solanke playing slightly deeper than Callum Wilson. Harry Wilson also often drifted centrally from the right wing to provide support and overload the midfield.
Southampton’s effective press
A prominent feature of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s sides is their ability to set pressing traps and counter-pressing to win the ball high up the field. This was one of the driving forces behind Hasenhüttl’s success with RB Leipzig. As we will see below, Southampton are capable of both the outside and inside press. The effectiveness of their press is highlighted in their PPDA (Passes Allowed Per Defensive Action) of 4.4 which is very efficient. In the photo below, Che Adams and Højbjerg are man-marking Bournemouth’s midfield options. Boufal takes up a central position while Redmond curves his run to force Steve Cook wide, leaving Jack Stacey as the only viable passing option. Boufal knows this and before the ball has left Cook’s boot he is well on his way to press Stacey.
As a result, Stacey is forced to play the ball long where Southampton gain possession. By setting these pressing traps Southampton were effective in either gaining possession in advantageous positions or forcing Bournemouth to play long.
Southampton are also capable of forcing an inside pressing trap. Here Southampton man-mark the wider passing options leaving Jefferson Lerma free in the middle. However, before the ball has left Aaron Ramsdale’s hands, Redmond is on his way to press Lerma.
Redmond applies pressure to Lerma while preventing him from finding any backward passing options. This allows Oriol Romeu to step up from midfield and press Lerma.
Romeu was able to win the ball and all of a sudden Southampton were in a 4 v 3 against Bournemouth.
However, Southampton were unable to capitalize as they often lacked the quality of a final pass or shot. Southampton became continuously frustrated and instead settled for taking long shots- in fact of their 24 shots, 12 came from outside the box.
Bournemouth exploiting Hasenhüttl’s formation tinkering
Southampton looked vulnerable to Bournemouth’s counter-attacks and had it not been for King being an inch offside, they would have been two down. After going 1-0 down and then nearly 2-0, Hasenhüttl decided to switch to a back three.
Despite playing with a back three for 47% of the season, the players didn’t seem to know what their roles were. This is particularly evident in Bournemouth’s second goal: note the man-marking combinations below, particularly Jan Bednarek on King and Che Adams on Philip Billing.
However, after a few passing combinations, Bednarek moves more centrally and King is able to free himself on the left-hand side. James Ward-Prowse decided to press aggressively in midfield hoping to win the ball back, however, this allowed King to isolate himself on the left wing. When the ball reaches King, neither is sure who is supposed to press.
Both Ward-Prowse and Bednarek decide to press King. Bednarek stepping up creates space for Billing to make a run beyond the Southampton defence and Højberg is caught in two minds. He is unsure whether to continue following Billing or to stay in his zone in front of the backline. Ultimately, he stops and lets Billing go through.
Below, Danso doesn’t know whether to press Billing and prevent the cross or defend the box in numbers. He decides to stay in the box and block the runners into the box.
Wilson moves centrally, as highlighted before, into space where Billing is able to find him for a cool finish in the bottom corner.
Realising that this wasn’t working, at half time Hasenhüttl decided to take Danso off, replacing him with Ryan Bertrand. Southampton switched to a 4-3-3, moving Cedric Soares to right-back. As a result, they looked more solid and were able to create more chances compared to the first half.
Bournemouth consolidate the midfield
Through their narrow shape, Southampton continued to create many chances through the centre of the pitch while Bournemouth were on the back foot for the majority of the game. 1.01 xG of Southampton’s 2.11 xG came through the centre of the pitch while Bournemouth had an xG of 0.93. The average position chart below illustrates just how narrow Southampton were for the majority of the game.
In order to close out the game, Eddie Howe substituted Solanke for Lewis Cook at the 77th minute and staggered the midfield to prevent Southampton passing through the Bournemouth lines. As you can see below Bournemouth’s formation now became a 4-1-4-1 with Lerma as the defensive midfielder.
Ultimately, Bournemouth were able to see the game out and score a late goal to put the game beyond Southampton’s reach.
As I have shown in this analysis, though the scoreline was a bit flattering for Bournemouth, Southampton lacked quality in crucial moments. Hasenhüttl can come away from this match feeling a bit undone considering how Southampton had created a number of chances throughout the game. Individual errors played a key role in Southampton conceding three goals that day, particularly the first and third goal. Romeu failed to track Nathan Ake from the corner for the first goal and a terrible decision by Angus Gunn to come out of his box ultimately cost Southampton points at home.
Overall, both managers will come away with both positives and negatives that they will seek to improve on in future matches.
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