Tactical Watch: Centre-backs set for Toney test


Tactics writer Sam Tighe picks out some of the key battles ahead of Southampton's Premier League encounter with Brentford at St Mary's.

The Bees’ loss to Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday ended a remarkable 12-match unbeaten league run that began all the way back in October. It included wins over Manchester City and Liverpool – results that head coach Thomas Frank suggested were among the best in the club’s entire history – plus draws with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

After Saturday’s match, Frank spoke of the immense frustration inside the dressing room now the streak has ended. Their task on Wednesday night is to respond well and reinstate another one as soon as possible, continuing their mission for a top-half finish.

For Saints, it’s about prolonging that feeling Brentford felt at 5pm on Saturday – in addition to continuing a nice, resurgent streak of their own.

It was a performance that flew in the face of the 12 before it, as many of the things that typify this Brentford side seemed to be missing – at least in the first half.

It’s rare to see the Bees lose a midfield battle, but they did so against Everton’s combative central trio; Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucouré and Idrissa Gueye’s sheer intensity seemed to make Brentford’s own levels pale.

It’s also rare to see Frank’s men struggle to do “the basics” well – clean box defending, set-piece dominance, passing efficiency and the like. Their week-in, week-out mastery of this stuff is almost their superpower and is what has helped them edge so many tight contests, but it was missing at Goodison Park.

Brentford’s midfield setup struggled with Everton’s three on Saturday, which is something Southampton can try to take advantage of here. Roméo Lavia, James Ward-Prowse and Carlos Alcaraz are full of running and intensity, and if they can start fast they can shape this game in Saints’ favour.

The centre-backs are in for an examination as Ivan Toney comes to town. Everton did extremely well to double up on him where possible and limit his influence; Southampton will need to be similarly physical and unyielding in the air to replicate that work. The others must be wary, though, of Bryan Mbeumo’s clever runs off the back of Toney’s target-man play.

Brentford’s set-pieces are among the cleverest in the league, standing out in one unique way: the balls swung into the back post are often chested down by the player – rather than headed straight at goal – and that leads defenders into overcommitting and opening gaps.

In attack, Rubén Sellés and his staff will have taken note of how influential Dwight McNeil was on Saturday from the left flank. Not only did he score the game’s only goal very early, but he was found wide open on that side multiple times by switch passes and in transition. In Kamaldeen Sulemana, Saints have a similar ball-carrying threat who may find joy.

Raya; Hickey, Pinnock, Mee, Henry; Janelt, Nørgaard, Jensen; Mbeumo, Toney, Wissa.

-Three games in eight days means Brentford may need to rotate after Saturday’s exertions

-Damsgaard recently came into the team but struggled vs Everton, so Wissa may take his place back

-Pinnock and Mee have formed a very strong defensive partnership at the heart of the team

-Brentford’s width comes from the attack-minded full-backs, while the wingers work more narrowly and feed off Toney

-Raya has had an excellent season in goal; his distribution and reflexes are very strong