Mauricio Pellegrino has now completed his first four competitive games as first team coach at Southampton. Within these first four games, he has endured a lot. Late wins, embarrassing defeats, encouraging performances, disappointing showings and early skepticism from the fans. Which has been unfair to say the least.
But what have we been shown by MP so far? What can we expect from the remainder of the season? Let me tell you what I believe.
First, let’s talk stats. We all know that on the south coast, what we appreciate, is a bit of sexy football. Expansive, attacking and the ball in the feet of those in red and white. Saints find themselves in 4th thus far for most possession in the league behind the likes of Arsenal and City and sit ahead of Liverpool. MPs side sit joint 3rd for key passes. That’s ahead of sides like City and Liverpool. With the reds widely regarded as one of the most attacking outfits in the league.
Where it seems we fall once again, is shot accuracy. Saints have had 49 shots already this season (ranked 6th), and only 29% of those have been on target. Not converted. On target (ranked 17th). To put that into comparison to last season, 44% of saints’ efforts hit the target. Yes it’s early on in the season, but that’s not ideal.
Which begs the question, why are we struggling so much with it? The club are releasing training videos almost weekly of the team having shooting practice, when does it translate onto the big stage? There’s no doubt that goals are an issue.
In terms of tactics, we’ve seen two systems so far. The 4231, and a 523 in the cup against Wolves. There’s no doubt the the side are much more comfortable in the 4231, and it shows on the pitch, but I would be inclined to say that you should expect a transition to the 3 centre back route over the course of the season.
Below you can see the shape. Similar to the one that Pellegrino played at Alaves. It utilizes the full-backs in such a way that they can tuck into defence when needed to suit the needs of the centre backs but are actually used for the most part as wingers, moving into a 343. And the tree forwards interchange fluidly, just like the three in the 4231.
There is no doubt that in the Carabao Cup against Wolves, this shape was met with a very negative reaction from fans. With some fans even hinting that they wanted MP to go. But I would urge you to trust the process.
A formation with 5 defenders is not necessarily defensive. In contrast, if you were to count the full backs as midfielders, you then have 3 at the back. Which is widely regarded as an attacking shape. And the difference is minimal.
I, though, think it makes best use of our strength, which is ball-playing defenders. And there is no secret that our full-backs are far better at attacking than they are defending.
Personally, I think we’d be better of with two strikers and then a player in the hole in this system. Give Boufal the chance he deserves to get on the ball more. And by bringing a man closer to midfield, it will make retaining the ball a whole lot easier. Which will be music to the ears of most saints fans.
The 4231 that we have become accustomed to over recent years is wielding decent results, but is hardly revolutionary. And what we have here with Pellegrino is a new project, a potentially long one, but one that gives saints an identity. A definitive style.
Chelsea played a similar formation, but a completely different style and won the league. Arsenal tried it with a more patient possession game and got mixed outcomes. But I’m excited to see where it will land us with MPs high-press emphasised style.
Whats most important to remember however is that success is not created overnight. We have had a decent start to the season. Unbeaten in the league, and have kept 2 clean sheets.
We as a club know that a struggle is hard, but by enduring times of struggle means that the good times will taste all the sweeter. We want a team and a club to be proud of. So please:
Trust the process.