A distinct lack of quality was the main feature from a scoreless draw at St Mary’s stadium. Jussi Jaaskelainen was the hero of the day for West Ham but even despite that, neither team was at their best.
Southampton started the game as favourites with the home advantage. Pochettino played a 4-4-2 formation with both Osvaldo and Lambert playing up front and Wanyama and Schneiderlin trying to control the midfield battle. The home side’s play was based around dominating possession, penetrating through the middle of the pitch and if they lost the ball, regaining it quickly through their aggressive pressing in the middle of the pitch.
West Ham played as a 4-3-3/4-5-1 shape. They pressed high whenever Boruc had the ball at his feet, looking to disrupt Southampton’s attempts to start play at the back, and then retreating to a block in the middle of the pitch, trying to make it difficult for Southampton to pass through the middle. In attack, they were reliant on long balls, trying to push Southampton back and put pressure on them, trying to win the second balls and use the width of the pitch to get crosses in.
How the systems of play matched up
Despite the lack of quality, there were certain distinctive tactical features throughout the game. First of all, part of the battle came through how West Ham were going to halt Southampton in possession. It was clear before the game that it would be Southampton who would dominate possession and therefore the key question was how West Ham would find a way to stop their attacks whilst at the same time putting themselves in the best position for their own offense. Where would they position their block? How dynamic and aggressive would their pressing be? In what areas would they look to press?
The overall answer is they varied it. They generally looked to press high and mark passing options from dead ball situations in Southampton’s half – be it goal kicks, throw ins, short free kicks.
Southampton had a worrying amount of difficulties when this approach was employed. It was immediately apparent the problems that goalkeeper Boruc had in ball possession and he looked uncomfortable passing out from the back when defenders were being marked. In truth West Ham’s pressing wasn’t perfect and there was still space to pass out for Southampton and take advantage of the space inside West Ham’s block. Unfortunately, Pochettino’s side had troubles exploiting it.
When this press had been avoided, West Ham generally retreated to their shape and waited to press the ball when it went into midfield. Again, the away side’s organisation wasn’t perfect and there was still space to use inside. The problem for Southampton was that they needed a player between the lines to use it and to link play. Even if Lambert or Osvaldo dropped off to receive the ball, they were tightly marked by the centre backs and this lack of a link player made it difficult to play through the lines and make use of their attacking players.
Despite this, it wasn’t a perfect situation for West Ham either. The game suited Allardyce’s side when it was scrappy and when they won possession in Southampton’s half or won free kicks. That way they could use their physical power, play long balls and fight for the second ball or use switch of play to the wide areas to put crosses in. When Southampton were dominating possession and circulating the ball around though, West Ham didn’t have much of an option to counter attack; they didn’t have much pace, transitions were generally slow and they were very reliant on Matt Jarvis when they regained possession. Jarvis had a disappointing game, with only an 11% crossing accuracy and Clyne had the recovery speed to stay with him and shut off that avenue of attack for the Hammers.
Changes from both sides make little difference
In the second half, Southampton were more dangerous. Their transitions were quicker, they played more direct to the front men and found more space to create chances, forcing Jaaskelainen to make some good saves.
West Ham began to lower their lines more, looking to contain more often than they had in the first half, although they still looked to press up the field again when the ball made it’s way back towards Boruc. This caused them more problems than it had in the first half as Southampton’s quicker transitions from defence to attack meant they could use the big spaces left inside. West Ham’s loss of shape was also exploited when they were attacking – they were getting numbers up the pitch and trying to win the second ball, which meant there was space on the counter attack for Southampton, most notably for Schneiderlin’s chance in the 67th minute where only a very good save from Jaaskelainen kept it out.
Substitutions from both sides made little difference. Southampton didn’t bring on Gaston Ramirez, the player who you would have thought to have been the ideal link man between the lines for them. Pochettino knew his side were better but probably could have made that adjustment in order to provide more fluency to their offensive play and to use the space West Ham left inside their block.
Other than that, Southampton continued to threaten on transitions and create chances that way but didn’t give the impression that they were thoroughly dominating the London side. Indeed James Collins had probably the best chance of the match in the 84th minute, firing over from close range. In the end a draw was hardly a surprise.