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Scout Report - Southampton: The Saints are inconsistent, but can Mr M Gabbiadini make a difference?

Manolo (not Marco) Gabbiadini will look to rectify the Saints' away day (and shooting) woes, but defensive problems won't make it easy.

Liverpool v Southampton - EFL Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

What Has Happened Since The Last Time They Met? (1-1, 27/08/2016)

Southampton are experiencing somewhat of a disappointing campaign under Claude Puel compared to their last few seasons. Following Saturday's home collapse against West Ham, the Saints sit in 13th place, nine points behind West Brom in 8th and four behind the Hammers in 9th.

Injuries to key players Charlie Austin and Virgil van Dijk - plus the departure of captain Jose Fonte - have seen the Saints struggle at both ends of the pitch. And with just three points from their last seven games, Southampton sit second bottom of the Premier League form table.

Liverpool v Southampton - EFL Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

But it hasn't been all doom and gloom. Southampton will play Manchester United at Wembley in the League Cup final at the end of the month following a run that includes victories over Arsenal, Liverpool and Sunderland.


Tactics

When Sunderland traveled to St Mary's in August, Claude Puel had Southampton playing in a 4-4-2 diamond. The formation allowed Saints to gain a foothold in midfield and play two forwards, ensuring that they wouldn't be isolated. Dusan Tadic was given a free role behind the strikers to work his magic. Playing in this set-up, Southampton won 3, drew 4 and lost 2, scoring 10 goals and conceding 8.

Over the last few months, however, Puel has shifted towards a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, and not with great results. They've won just 4, drawing 2 and losing 9. They've scored 14 and conceded 23.

The switch allows Southampton to play with more width and creates greater opportunities for the full backs to overlap. However, they sacrifice either midfield control or support to the striker. And with their high possession rate and pass accuracy, it's tended to be the lone striker who has suffered. With Oriol Romeu sitting deep in midfield, there's an onus on either Steven Davis or James Ward-Prowse to get forward to support the striker from midfield. This leaves them vulnerable on the counter, particularly if the full backs have joined the attack.

Width plays a huge role in Southampton's attacking play. No team attempts more crosses per game (27) than the Saints. On the other hand, only Arsenal and Manchester City play less long balls per game than Southampton. They'll look to continually probe with short passes between the midfield trio, looking for the movement of the attacking three ahead of them. In order to provide support to Gabbiadini, you'd expect Jay Rodriguez and Nathan Redmond to cut inside to link up with the Italian, freeing up space for the full backs to maraud into. In fact, Southampton (along with Watford and Tottenham) attack the left wing more than any other side. Billy Jones vs Ryan Bertrand should be an interesting battle.


Strengths

As we've come to expect from Southampton, they're very comfortable in possession of the ball. Their average of 53.6% possession is the league's 6th best, while their 80.6% pass accuracy is well inside the top 10. They're also pretty handy in the air, winning 18.4 aerial duels per game.

And they tend to use this possession well. 264 chances created represents the 6th best total in the league, while they rank highly in shots per game, with 15.1, and shots on target, with 4.8. With 8.3 per game, the Saints also take the 5th most shots from inside the penalty area.

Creating chances doesn't seem to be a struggle for Southampton, particularly with the likes of Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond in their ranks.

They're also strong in terms of their defensive play (to an extent, anyway, as we'll see below), allowing a league 6th best 10.3 shots per game and making a huge 19.2 tackles per game.

Liverpool v Southampton - EFL Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Southampton have a defensive monster in Oriol Romeu. His 3.4 tackles per game are bettered only by Idrissa Gueye, Jordan Henderson and N'Golo Kante. The Spaniard also contributes 2.1 interceptions and 1.5 clearances per game. The battle between Romeu and Didier Ndong will be crucial on Saturday.


Weaknesses

Despite some impressive looking stats above, there's clearly some kind of disconnect going on at Southampton. They've won just two of 12 games away from home - only Burnley, Leicester, Hull, Sunderland and Bournemouth have worse records on their travels.

They're also experiencing a defensive crisis at present. Jose Fonte was sold without an immediate replacement while an injury to Virgil van Dijk has seen Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens partner in the last two games - they've conceded five goals.

Southampton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Fraser Forster has 8 clean sheets - Southampton allow just 10.3 shots per game, remember - but makes just 1.7 saves per game, the 2nd worst amount in the league. Saints' opposition convert 12% of their chances, so is Forster under-performing, or are Southampton just unlucky?

While Southampton create a high number of chances, their conversion rates are extremely poor. They've converted just 8.2% of their chances, while only 20% of their shots hit the target. 6 of their 15 shots per game are taken from outside of the box, with 6.4 shots - the 3rd worst average in the league - missing the target. Maybe that explains why they've scored just 23 goals, the joint-3rd least in the league.


Key Player - Manolo Gabbiadini

Southampton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The Italian international was signed in January to bring goals and creativity to a goal-shy Saints side, and he duly delivered with a stunning effort just 12 minutes into his debut. Gabbiadini attempted more shots (6) than any other Saints player last Saturday and has scored in four consecutive games. With 38 Serie A goals to his name at a rate of one every 215 minutes, despite not being an automatic starter, he will represent a real threat to Sunderland's back-line.


Match Facts

  • Sunderland haven't kept a clean sheet in any of their last eight Premier League games against Southampton;
  • There hasn't been a goalless draw between the two sides since March 1978, a run of 37 games with a goal scored;
  • David Moyes has lost just once to Southampton;
  • Three of Sunderland's last four league goals against Southampton have been penalties;
  • Southampton are yet to collect an away point in 2017;
  • Southampton have lost six of their last seven league games.

Likely Line-Up

Southampton - Football tactics and formations