Breaking Down Southampton & Pochettino’s Pressing Philosophy with The Art of Defence

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Pochettino’s tactics caused Manchester United some problems when the Saints last visited Old Trafford.  There’s a good chance we should expect more of the same.

Southampton’s last visit to Old Trafford was more troublesome than the home side envisioned. The Saints took an early lead through Jay Rodriquez.  United responded with two goals from Wayne Rooney. A spell of pressure in the second half gave the Reds a mighty scare as the Saints pushed on in hope of rescuing a point.

With Southampton’s visit this weekend,should United fans expect similar tactics to the last fixture? Here to answer some questions about our opponents this weekend is @DictatePlay (DP). A Southampton fan with an exemplary tactical mind. It’s a pleasure to share his insight and we hope you enjoy his thoughts!

1) Out of curiosity, how did you become a Southampton fan?

DP: I’m not totally sure to be honest, I come from a family of Arsenal fans yet ever since I was young, I’ve always supported the Saints.  It was probably something I randomly picked up when I was very young and then just never let go.

2) How do you feel about your season thus far? Met your expectations? Exceeded? Where do you expect to be come January and at the end of the season?

DP: Given the money we spent over the summer, I was expecting a good season but our start has surpassed my expectations. Only two goals conceded is remarkable, especially considering how poor we were in this aspect. Sitting in the top 4 is very exciting but I don’t think we can maintain that over the season. I’d expect us to finish in the top half as a minimum, it seems 8th is the most we can hope for given the sheer amount of tops clubs around.

3) Can you provide a general breakdown of Pochettino’s pressing philosophy? What would you describe as the main tenets?

DP: The pressing philosophy has been a hallmark of the side, especially last season. It has been a slightly overstated this season as we have been quick to adopt a low block defensive block after losing the ball. I think Pochettino realises that a high pressing philosophy isn’t sustainable for an entire season and so has adapted accordingly. The aggressive pressing seems to only be displayed for prolonged periods against the ‘big sides.

It basically involves, the front two to initially press the opposition defence, followed by a midfielder to press the opposition’s deepest midfielder before he can turn and effect the game. The rest of the midfield (aside from our deepest midfielder) and the two fullbacks must shut off passing lanes and/or man mark the remaining midfielders/fullbacks etc. Our holding midfielder (now Wanyama, was previously Cork) do not engage in a press but rather hold back to avoid the CBs being left exposed, to pick up loose balls and to recycle play.

4) Are there any players in particular who you would consider as instrumental to this philosophy?

DP: There are a few. Steven Davis has been instrumental due to his discipline, tactical understanding and impressive fitness levels. He has featured in all but one of our victories against top sides and Pochettino clearly values his abilities. He has certainly gone under the radar but he has been superb. Of course there is Schneiderlin whose athleticism and sharp mind allow him to cover the flanks and lock the central zones very quickly.

5) What are the strengths and weaknesses of using this approach?

DP: The strengths of the pressing philosophy allow us to win the ball back higher up the pitch. It is a real advantage against those teams who are relatively small in stature when deployed effectively, it gives very little chance of a release ball. Liverpool and Chelsea were both victim to this last season with Suarez and Torres upfront respectively.

There are a range of weaknesses, physically imposing sides can negate the press by employing target men. Unfortunately, there are plenty of teams like that in the PL and that perhaps explains why we have seen the pressing philosophy less and less. Outstanding first time passers such as Cabaye and Gerrard can pierce through the system whilst there is also a lack of cover in the wide areas (wide men move inside to condense space and the full backs push into the final third.)

6) When Southampton came to Old Trafford, you pressed us in the second half and our players seemed unable to deal with it. You could have come away with a point! Should United fans expect a similar application of pressure?

DP: I would expect so, especially as United are a big side. But I doubt it will carried out for as sustained periods as it was in last season’s fixture. You’ll also see our other defensive strategies. which have proved very effective this season.

7) If fans want a more detailed description of Pochettino’s pressing philosophy, where can they find it?

DP: I wrote an extensive piece on my blog, you can read it here:

8) What’s the main difference between Adkins, Pochettino and how they’ve used the players at their disposal? For example, Gaston Ramirez seems to be less in favour with the new manager.

DP: Adkins prefers a much slower build up in attack, whilst Pochettino is the opposite, he is very direct (we’ve played the 4th highest amount of long balls this season). They’ve used mainly the same players, except for perhaps Yoshida and Ramirez. They were able to get the best out of differing players, Lambert shone under Adkins whilst Rodriguez has flourished under Pochettino.

Ramirez is out of favour for a range of reasons. He missed pre season as he was at the confederations cup, secondly the purchase of Osvaldo means we no longer play with a No.10. There is simply no space for him in the current XI and in addition to that, I personally feel he does not suit the system even when we have played with a #10. I expect him to leave as I get the opinion he has struggled to settle, a move back to Italy wouldn’t surprise me.

9) We were linked with Shaw earlier this summer. You think you will be able to hold on to him for a few more years?

DP: I wasn’t afraid of Shaw leaving in the summer. It was agreed he would sign a new contract when he turned 18 (much like James Ward-Prowse did prior to that) and when that date rolled around, he put pen to papaer. We should have him for a few more years at the minimum.

10) What are your expectations coming into your side’s trip to the Theatre of Dreams? Where do you think the match will be won and lost? Will you be at the match?

DP: I think the game will be won in central midfield. Last year we were able to isolate Carrick (he gave away possession which led to our goal) but with Fellaini alongside him, that will be harder. In addition to this, the Belgian’s physique represents a potential problem as he may be very difficult to press. Tiote did something similar in our defeat to Newcastle last season.

11) Who are the key players to watch out for this season and why?

DP: The captain Adam Lallana is one to watch, he is unbelievably talented and alongside Dejan Lovren, has arguably been our best player this season. He is the heart beat of the team, possess great movement and even better technique. Personally think he should be in the England squad but time will tell.

12) Finally, what score you going with on Saturday? Do you think it will be a tight match or more open?

DP: I am going for an optimistic 2-1 win! It will probably be a tight affair due to our impressive defensive record, United haven’t looked free flowing themselves. In all honesty, it is unlikely to be the most exciting game but it’s the result that counts!

Thanks for reading and please share with other fans!

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