We return to Premier League action on Saturday and ahead of the game Michael Cox studies Southampton's strengths, dangermen and areas to target:
- Mustafi and Lucas train for the first time
- Behind the Numbers: First-team analysis
- 'Lucas is uncomfortable to play against'
Claude Puel is still searching for his first Premier League victory with Southampton, but the Frenchman was an intriguing choice to replace Ronald Koeman, and his appointment should reap rewards in the long-term.
Puel has more than 15 years’ experience in Ligue 1 with Monaco, Lille, Lyon and Nice, developing a reputation for playing structured attacking football and bringing through plenty of youngsters – which fits nicely with Southampton’s approach.
Puel often favoured the use of a diamond midfield in France, and has stuck to that approach since taking charge of Southampton. It’s unusual to see that formation in the Premier League, and asks a lot of the two full-backs, although both right-sided Cedric Soares and left-back Ryan Bertrand are both very competent going forward.
Oriol Romeu remains in a defensive-minded position just in front of the back four, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in close attendance to his right. Steven Davis shuttles forward into attack to the left, while Dusan Tadic plays at the top of the diamond, but hasn’t been particularly influential so far.
Winger Nathan Redmond has been redeployed as a centre forward, and makes clever runs on the outside of opposition centre-backs. Shane Long is also intelligent in terms of movement, with Charlie Austin offering a more traditional centre-forward option, and Jay Rodriguez back in contention after a two-year injury nightmare.
Southampton have proved particularly good at keeping possession so far this season - only Manchester City and Chelsea have seen more of the ball. Romeu and Hojbjerg deserve much of the credit for ensuring they dominate games, both recording pass completion rates of around 90 per cent for the 1-1 draw with Sunderland last time out.
The joker in the pack is the Morrocan, Sofiane Boufal, a club-record signing towards the end of the transfer window. A hugely-talented attacking midfielder who thrives when given freedom to drift across the pitch, he could be perfect for the No 10 role in Puel’s diamond formation.
Areas to target
The diamond formation means Southampton lack width, and with their full-backs forced to push forward, they can be caught out by speedy counter-attacks into the wide areas. Alexis and Theo Walcott could be licking their lips, and while Arsenal might see less of the ball than usual, they should be afforded space to break into.
More quizzes and polls to follow soon!
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