Tactical Watch: Aggressive Saints must "ruffle feathers"


Sam Tighe previews Southampton’s Premier League meeting with Chelsea at St Mary's on Tuesday night. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with

You can’t help but feel as though Chelsea’s tumultuous summer – in which the club changed ownership, lost its long-time recruitment chief and heavy speculation haunted a glut of key players – has bled into the early season story, which has been very up and down.

As Southampton know all too well, it can be hard to produce a cohesive campaign strategy with so many questions dangling over players. They managed to sort the futures of Antonio Rüdiger and Romelu Lukaku relatively quickly, but others have dragged on and on.

In the short sample so far, we’ve seen Chelsea play extremely well (vs Tottenham) but also quite poorly (vs Leeds United). This inconsistency, plus the sheer amount of transfer activity engulfing the club at this late stage in the window, makes them very hard to gauge.

Tuchel coaches a patient, possession-based game; he likes his side to be in control of the tempo of the game and to dictate which area the game is played in. In this, he takes after Pep Guardiola (who he refers to as a big influence on his style).

This can result in some slow passages of play and does mean that if Chelsea do take a lead, they sometimes sit on it rather than go for the jugular. Goals from forward players have been surprisingly hard to come by for the club in 2022 – whether that’s a cause or a symptom of the play style remains unclear.

Jorginho’s poise on the ball in the centre is key to Chelsea’s controlling periods, while if they enter attack mode, the emphasis shifts wide, where Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Marc Cucurella look to shoot forward and link with the forwards, creating overloads down the flanks.

Raheem Sterling hasn’t scored as many goals as most would have expected him to four games into his Chelsea career – but he’s looked extremely lively regardless and poses a major threat both on and off the ball.

Playing on the left of a front three, he’s able to drive at defences with the ball at his feet, ghost into clever positions off it and break towards the box with regularity. He’s one Saints must keep a beady eye on throughout.

Leeds United demonstrated beyond doubt that an aggressive press and devilish work rate can unsettle Chelsea and swing the game toward the underdog’s favour.

Jesse Marsch instructed his players to push high, hunt in packs and enjoy the physical, tenacious side of the game during their 3-0 win at Elland Road nine days ago. Ralph Hasenhüttl can unleash the Saints in a similar manner, ruffle some feathers and prey on any potential insecurities.

Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Koulibaly; James, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz, Sterling.

- Tuchel has options at wing-back, with Chilwell and Marc Cucurella pushing each other on the left and Ruben Loftus-Cheek an option on the right if James drops into defence

- N’Golo Kanté is reportedly still injured, while Mateo Kovačić is struggling too

- Transfers could heavily affect the makeup of Chelsea’s forward line, with multiple players linked in and out of the club