Sam Tighe previews the second meeting between Southampton and Wolves this week, this time in the Premier League, as Tactical Watch returns in association with Sportsbet.io.
Southampton’s sense of déjà vu will be restored this weekend as they take on Wolverhampton Wanderers for the second time in succession.
Back-to-back clashes like this are usually very rare, but in the oddest of seasons, it’s perhaps only fitting that Saints face it for the second time this calendar year – having played Arsenal twice in three days back in January.
Round one between these two clubs took place on Thursday at Molineux, with Saints winning 2-0. Lessons will have been learned, adjustments will be made; here are the three keys to ensuring victory in the Premier League as well as the Emirates FA Cup.
Prepare for a Dribblathon
The task of stopping Wolves’ attack relies heavily on winning the battle of the flanks, the area in which by far their two most dangerous players operate: Adama Traoré and Pedro Neto.
The most obvious threat they pose is their ability to dribble and carry the ball: they rank first and second for attempted dribbles in the entire league, with Traoré on 119 and Neto on 101, using their abilities in different ways.
Traoré’s best work happens when he picks the ball up in deeper areas and strides forward powerfully, beating several players and hauling Wolves forward on the counter. He can run past strings of players, one by one, and catch teams out in transition.
Neto starts his work higher up, in the final third, and mixes power with finesse to hit the byline. He’s shown an ability to beat not just one marker, but two or three with a single swivel; his nutmeg counter for the season stands at six!
With Diogo Jota gone, Raúl Jiménez injured and starlet Fábio Silva still learning the ropes, the attacking threat has fallen to these two this season. January signing Willian José now leads the line and provides a frame for the attack, but Neto and Traoré are the ones that must be stopped.
The Walker-Peters impact
With Neto running riot on Wolves’ left wing so often, Kyle Walker-Peters’ return to fitness is timely.
He looked good on Thursday, dealing with whichever threats came his way and linking well with Stuart Armstrong ahead of him; the reunification of that tried-and-trusted duo is a big bonus for the club as its course correction continues.
KWP brings great attacking balance to the team, receiving Jannik Vestergaard’s long switch passes and venturing forward down the right flank. He carries, he creates and, importantly, gets into dangerous positions: only four teammates have more touches in the opposition penalty box this season – three are strikers, the other is Armstrong.
Crucially, though, having a naturalised full-back in place to fend off Neto is crucial. You have to match up against his agility and change of direction at the very least, as he’ll twist and turn in a way that deputising centre-backs will find too difficult to keep track of.
Make the momentum count
There’s no hiding from it and Southampton haven’t tried to: last week was incredibly difficult, with the players in particular experiencing 180 minutes well worth forgetting.
The nature of the performance midweek was, therefore, extremely promising. There was a real determination and buzz to Saints’ endeavours, pressing in packs and playing the sort of bold, brave football Ralph Hasenhüttl demands. There were times in the first half when the right ball refused to drop, or composure deserted the finish, but the team persevered, took the lead and saw it out.
The relief on their faces at full-time was plain to see. Danny Ings’s post-match interview was the epitome of the word “Phew!” – and understandably so.
This is a golden chance to take the momentum generated in the cup and make it count in the league, put their first three-point haul on the board for February and, in doing so, draw a line under a tough patch for good.