Sam Tighe takes a closer look at how Southampton can upset a Chelsea side tipped by many to win the Premier League. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
As is par for the course in the Premier League, Southampton face yet another tough test this weekend as they travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.
It’ll be the first of two October meetings with the Blues, the second coming at the end of the month in the Carabao Cup, and this will likely be the game in which Thomas Tuchel fields his strongest possible XI.
That XI has earned rave reviews across the world for its early season performances, with seemingly one in two people you speak to fancying them for the title come the end of the league campaign, and they’re predictably amongst the early pace-setters in the division.
Since Tuchel took charge in January, he’s set about making Chelsea an incredibly difficult side to beat. The fact that they’ve conceded the same number of goals as they’ve recorded clean sheets (15) in the Premier League under his care would suggest he’s succeeding.
Tuchel is a Pep Guardiola tactical disciple; his sides want to dominate possession and circulate the ball not only as an offensive tactic, but also a defensive one – the opponent can’t score if they don’t have the ball.
These are the types of teams Ralph Hasenhüttl loves to scheme for. The longer they spend circulating the ball – particularly in deeper areas – the more opportunities there will be to press and steal it higher up.
Saints’ recent clean sheet against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium can be pointed to as an obvious example of success against a side built similarly to Chelsea. Hasenhüttl will also be able to review the Blues’ struggles in the face of Aston Villa’s pressing earlier this month and tweak his plan to push the same buttons.
Where Villa fell short was taking their chances. Goalkeeper Édouard Mendy put in a sensational display to thwart them over and over, and on the odd occasions he was beaten, Thiago Silva stepped in to block or clear off the line. But for a cruel deflected strike off the post, City nearly succumbed in the same way.
That’s the rub when you’re playing the reigning European champions: their individual quality kicks in where strategy is beaten.
That’s perhaps most keenly felt up front for Chelsea, as big-money signing Romelu Lukaku has given them a sharper edge to complement their solid base. He’s already scored some sensational goals, including the two that buried Villa, making the difference and earning three-point hauls.
Chelsea are overperforming their xG (Expected Goals) by +4.1 – a sizeable total after just six games – but it’s down to Lukaku’s finishing prowess. Southampton, on the other hand, are underperforming their xG by -4.5; Hasenhüttl has called for more composure and better finishing in order to turn this around and capitalise on good pressing and greatly improved defensive work.
That will be crucial if Saints are to continue their recent good form against Chelsea; they’re unbeaten in their last three bouts with the Blues, with Nathan Redmond, Michael Obafemi, Jannik Vestergaard and Takumi Minamino all providing special moments en route to wins or draws.