Sam Tighe previews Southampton's Premier League trip to Newcastle United in his latest Tactical Watch column, in association with Sportsbet.io.
Southampton travel to Newcastle United this weekend in the hope of securing three points that will put an end to a rough patch of form.
What feels like an unprecedented list of injuries and absences won’t have made preparation simple, but with Jan Bednarek’s ban rescinded, new signing Takumi Minamino in the squad and a few potential returns to fitness, the club have a chance to bounce back from midweek.
Here are the three keys to securing what would be Saints’ first win at St James’ Park during the Ralph Hasenhüttl era…
The most important component to this weekend’s performance comes from a mental capacity.
“We'll stand up again. We must show a reaction,” was Ralph Hasenhüttl’s rallying cry this week, while captain James Ward-Prowse sent out a strong statement of his own: “We have to make sure our mentality is right to come out the other side stronger.”
The game after a defeat like the one sustained against Manchester United is hard. Dealing with the injury and absence list Southampton have makes it even harder.
james ward-prowsewe know how difficult this can be, but there's no point dwelling and thinking too much about it. we have to pick ourselves up and go again.
It’s at these times the words Hasenhüttl uses so often – “bravery” and “automatisms” – become incredibly important. His style of play is front-footed and bold; it takes risks, leaves space and results in some games being played on a knife-edge.
To play in that way you have to be brave, you have to trust in the system and those around you. It’s easier said than done, but the manager and captain’s comments are a call for Southampton to play as they’ve been coached to, knowing full well that if they do, three points are available.
Ultimate clash of styles
Southampton vs Newcastle is a true clash of styles, matching up one of the most intensive pressing teams against the least intense in the league.
Southampton consistently rank in the top five for PPDA (passes [allowed] per defensive action), a statistic that measures the amount of disruption they cause off the ball. They’re currently fourth with 10.36 PPDA; Newcastle are last, with 18.7.
The picture that paints is simple: Saints are active and aggressive in hunting the ball back, while the Magpies are much more passive, allowing teams to string together longer sequences on the ball and probe them in different areas. They’re also willing to sit much deeper than Southampton do.
A spirited, energetic performance against Everton recently aside, that marries up to what happens on the pitch. Newcastle’s average possession per game is 42% – third-lowest – reaffirming a reactive, passive nature.
In order to draw the curtain on a difficult run of results, Southampton will want to start fast, put together some attacking passages and exert some early pressure – and the evidence suggests they’ll be able to.
An odd statistical quirk defines Newcastle’s defensive difficulties this season: despite possessing the least intensive pressing numbers in the league and the third-lowest average possession, they’ve conceded the most counter-attacking goals (six) in the league.
At face value this makes little sense, as one of the main reasons teams concede ground and play passively is to prevent counter-attacks and remove space in behind to exploit.
But when allowed to transpire, quicker, more direct attacks have been an Achilles heel for the Magpies – and that plays into Southampton’s strengths as a fast-breaking team.
Perhaps Newcastle’s consistently deep-set, defensive stance means they feel uncomfortable or become disorganised when pushing higher up and forcing the issue.
It is notable that when they do try to press it’s not often done in the slick, co-ordinated fashion Hasenhüttl has been able to impart on Southampton, and a few passes can play through the first two lines quite easily.
To add to these concerns from Steve Bruce’s perspective, the Magpies are dealing with a defensive injury list that looks positively Southampton-esque ahead of the weekend, with three starters (Jamal Lewis, Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernández) ruled out and two more (Ciaran Clark and Paul Dummett) doubtful.
With the potential for further instability clear, it’s all the more important Southampton try to take advantage of that with a quick start.