Southampton played a tireless pressing game successfully in a 3-1 win against Manchester City at St. Mary’s. Two of The Saints goals were attributable to errors by Manchester City, but the overall performance from Pochettino’s side was fantastic.
Mancini looked apoplectic at the end of this match. Manchester City fell victim to some truly cringe-worthy mistakes. Hart and Barry both had egregious errors that swayed the outcome of the match in Southampton’s favor.
Javi Garcia had to be deployed, in an unfavourable position, in defence as Vincent Kompany was absent due to injury. This was an interesting decision, as Kolo Toure has returned from the African Cup of Nations fit and ready to play. Mancini elected to start the defensive midfielder in defence, and this did nothing to help matters. Garcia was caught high too often, and was too slow in making defensive decision throughout the match. Garcia didn’t make a single tackle, and lost both of his 2 ground duels.
Southampton deserved their win, and looked much improved since they last faced Manchester City. They were cohesive and organized in defense, and leonine in attack. Manchester City failed to create many chances, and their midfield looked stymied by Southampton’s ubiquitous pressure.
Across the entirety of the season, Manchester City have averaged passing accuracy of 77% in the final third. In this match, Southampton defended in a tight, narrow block, restricting their time on the ball and pressuring with numbers. The result was a final third accuracy well below their standard: 63%. City lacked space to exploit, and their passing suffered as a result.
Southampton created 10 chances at goal in open play, twice as much as Manchester City’s 5. Their attack focused on winning the ball and immediately putting pressure on City’s defense. This approached worked quite well, with Lambert operating as their pivot point in attack, holding up the ball and opening up space for The Saint’s wingers to exploit.
The key for Southampton were there wingers – Jason Puncheon and Jay Rodriguez. Both players are eager to drift inward and looking for attacking opportunities. Zabaleta and Clichy both play in attacking, advanced positions, and Southampton’s wingers found a wealth of space and time to exploit.
Rodriguez’s natural position is at the top of attack as a striker. As such, his attacking tendencies are manifested in his wing play. Throughout the match, Rodriguez was eager to take on Clichy. He attempted a total of 9 dribbles, 44% of which were successful. One of these successful take-ons created what could arguably have been a penalty after Rodriguez was brought down by Toure in the box.
Puncheon’s overall performance was impressive. Despite being typified as a forward thinking, attack minded winger, in this match he illustrated his willingness to pressure the ball along a significant length of the pitch. No player made more tackles than Puncheon. The winger made 5 tackles total, 3 of which were in Southampton’s defensive half. Additionally, he won 7 out of 10 ground duels.
Pressure such as this is largely what caused Manchester City to fold. Without sufficient time on the ball, The Blues failed to set up convincing attacks. Furthermore, they frequently lost the ball in dangerous positions and were pinned back by Southampton’s quick, direct attacking transition.
Rickie Lambert’s Movement
As Martin Lewis covered in this post about Southampton’s tactics, one of their main strengths is in breaking their lines to find depth in their attacking transition. An important figure in this is Lambert. Lambert will drift wide to create space for supporting players, opening defenses to runs by Southampton’s athletic wingers.
The first goal illustrated the intelligence of Lambert’s movement. Puncheon was allowed a swath of space to cut into from a wide position after pressuring high and swiping the ball off Barry. Lescott was forced to come wide and pressure Puncheon. Seeing this, Lambert moves outward to the right flank. The result is split decision for Garcia: does he stay central, or cover Lescott and mark Lambert’s movement? The momentary hesitation this allowed Rodriguez to cut in from the right, with the majority of the box open for his run.
Admittedly, it was not Rodriguez that got the goal. In this case, Joe Hart come out quickly enough to cut down the shooting angle, but a fortuitous rebound allowed Puncheon to pound the ball into his exposed net. However, the goal would have not come about had Rodriguez not been given space to run into by Lambert drifting wide.
The second goal demonstrates a similar movement. Puncheon goes in; Lambert comes out and offers an option wide in the space Puncheon has just opened up. Once again, Southampton benefited from a blunder from Hart, but the initial opportunity is set up by Lambert’s dynamic movement.
During longer build-up play, Lambert moves centrally and acts as a reference point for the rest of his team to pivot around. He created three chances in the match, all from holding the ball up in an advanced position and playing the ball backward to a teammate advancing in support.
Manchester City’s solitary goal reflected their ability to counter well, and even more so the excellent form of Zabaleta. Silva, Dzeko and Zabaleta combined exceedingly well in this counter, creating a bright spot in an otherwise dismal game for City. It was an exceedingly efficient display of football, resulting from a failed Southampton corner.
Dzeko carried the ball a significant distance before dumping the ball to Silva. Silva then found Zabaleta, who covered the entire length of the pitch to receive the counter. This run completely caught Clyne and Fox. Clyne had shifted across the pitch to cover Fox. Both however devoted their attention to Silva, leaving Zabaleta a free run and cross in the box.
For as bad as City looked, this counter attack was impressively wrought, even if the finish was scrappy.
It was slightly perplexing when Southampton’s board sacked Adkins, but their introduction of Pochettino has also introduced a more confident, high-pressuring style of play. If The Saints continue in this vein, St. Mary’s will be a difficult field for any team to play on. This win places them in 15th, and it is hard to imagine them being relegated if they can maintain this form.
Manchester City were unable to cope with numbers pressuring them high up the pitch. They retained the ball well, but lacked the time or space to do anything with it.