At the beginning of the season, when Claude Puel took over from Ronald Koeman as Southampton manager, a new era started for the Saints. The two years’ tenure of Ronald Koeman brought to Southampton the highest ever Premier League finish, with a 7th and 6th final places. So, the expectations for Puel are demanding, but the performance in these first 13 games look really promising.
Before matchday 14 against Crystal Palace, Southampton are ranked 10th with 17 points. So far, the fixture has been tough for the Saints, as they faced all the big sides, except for Tottenham, who the Saints will encounter on the 28th of December. Among the four defeats suffered, the most disappointing and unexpected one was against Hull, as the other three came against Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea. Generally speaking, their results have been in line with expectations, but final results, as we know, don’t tell us the whole story, so we must go deeper and analyse whether the Saints will have the chance to fight again for a spot in Europe for the third consecutive year.
Up to now, the defensive organisation has been outstanding for Southampton. Numbers are telling us that Southampton is a top side at preventing opponents’ big chances, only Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have done better. Moreover, the Saints have already conceded 4 penalties (not included in the chart below), all of them converted into goals. 1 penalty every 4 matches is a really rare thing to see. So, these particular events may have affected the overall performance of Southampton as well as their current table position. Only Hull City conceded more penalty in 13 games (6).
Source: Scott Willis
This impressive defensive record is the outcome of a well organised defence. Claude Puel has set a space-orientated man-to-man defence, complimented by the strong physical skills of the central duo of Fonte and Van Dijk . Their attention is always focused on the closest opponent, independently on the ball position. This approach paid out especially for the Dutch defender. According to Whoscored he is one of the best center-backs when there is a ball to fight for. He has won 4.4 aerial duels P90 (2nd highest in the league) and 2 tackles won P90 (5th). Only Otamendi performed better than him in both categories, with 4.5 aerial duels (1st) and 3 tackles (1st).
Too easy for Van Dijk.
Special thanks to Romeu
Playing against Southampton has not been easy for any side (ask City and Liverpool), especially when you try to overtake them by playing long balls. But apart from the remarkable performance of the four defenders, in these 13 games an extra-protection was provided by Oriol Romeu. Among the Southampton midfielders’ trio, the Spanish is the one instructed to stop players coming between the lines and also to cover the space left open by the two centre backs, when they follow their respective forwards. His help is fundamental within the Puel’s defensive system.
Although the offensive numbers are not as remarkable as the defensive ones, they strengthen the idea that Southampton will somehow improve its position in the near future if it will continue to perform in this way. The most impressive stats concerns the Scoring % (Goals For / SoT For); according to Objective Football Southampton is the worst/unlucky PL team at converting Shots on Target into Goals, (only 19%, with a PL average above 32%), although the Saints are generating a good amount of Shots on Target P90, that is 5.2 (6th).
Source: Objective Football
Without considering the poor conversion rate, Puel’s work should be praised for its ability to adapt his offensive strategy to the players at his disposal. Southampton showed a great ability to build up from deep even under pressure . A difficult path to accomplish, but more suited for the likes of Tadic and Redmond, that benefit from receiving the ball into their feet, generating good quality chances higher up on the pitch.
Southampton effective build-up phase.
Numbers are showing that Southampton is the 7th best PL teams in all of the following indicators: Possession % (All Passes For / Total Passes), Completed Possession % (Completed Passes For / Total Complted Passes) and Pass Accuracy % (Completed Passes For / All Passes For). In every of these indicators only the current six leading teams are showing higher performance. Obviously, as Leicester taught us last year, having a low rate of possession may give you the way to success. But as Guardiola once said: “If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score”. And for Southampton keeping the opponents away from the control of the ball is certainly generating a positive effect.
Analysing both defensive and offensive performance, we can firmly state that Southampton is worth more than its current 10th place and when some KPI, as the Scoring %, will start to level out, also the table will benefit in terms of final points. Combining this with the defensive record showed so far, the chances to break the record of the highest ever Premier League finish may not be just a foolish illusion.