Tactical Watch: Expect the unexpected


Facing Burnley without Sean Dyche for the first time in 15 encounters, Adam Leitch looks at what Saints can expect in Lancashire in the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with

‘Expect the unexpected’ could well be the message from Ralph Hasenhüttl to his men as they take on a Burnley team who are off the back of a managerial change.

The dismissal of Sean Dyche was a last roll of the dice from the Clarets as they look to defend their Premier League status.

Mike Jackson took temporary charge for the draw against West Ham and will do so again against Saints at Turf Moor, although is still waiting to find out his long-term fate.

Regardless of the vacant managerial position, Jackson really needs to find a way to get three points for Burnley. In their perilous position nothing else will do. But do they risk everything with a huge shake up or stick with the plan that has worked so well for them?

Burnley are drinking in last chance saloon. Their run-in isn’t terrible, but they clearly need wins - and fast - if they are to avoid the drop. Even given Saints’ impressive victory over Arsenal, this is a game Burnley surely feel they need to win.

Does that change the dynamic for Jackson? How long can Burnley sit back, keep Saints out and look to impose their counter-attack? Will they decide to press early on and risk creating more space for Saints?

It’s a game with more unknowns than usual for Hasenhüttl to navigate. His team has to be prepared for the known and the unknown all at the same time.

One thing that is certain is that Burnley are absolute masters at making the game narrow for their opponents. Against West Ham, their temporary boss doubled down on the Clarets' defensive stubbornness.

Burnley can engage and press high, but they are at their most comfortable when they sit off, and with two strong banks of four behind the strikers they squeeze and compress the play.

If they start that way against Saints then getting the ball out wide, and being incisive, is key for Hasenhüttl’s team.

Burnley will not be too bothered if Saints decide to pepper them with crosses from those wide areas. By compressing themselves Burnley will have men in the box to defend. Likewise, if Saints decide to pass infield they have to play through them.

That means much for Saints will likely depend on the full-backs, or wing-backs, as an attacking option.

Although in the reverse fixture that ended 2-2 earlier this season Tino Livramento scored from a corner, shortly before that Saints’ best tactic to counter Burnley’s stubbornness to stay narrow was displayed as Nathan Redmond on the left played a diagonal ball to the on-running Livramento whose finish hit the inside of the post and somehow stayed out.

Those quick changes, especially when Burnley do push out, are likely to be the best way to pick apart this side.

A familiar face amongst the opposition will be Jay Rodriguez. The striker elicits some happy memories for Saints fans.

Rewind to 2013/14 and his swashbuckling style was almost unplayable. He had one foot on the plane to the World Cup with England, and then disaster struck. His terrible knee injury would see him struggle to make it back in the game for years rather than months.

That he is still plying his trade in the Premier League eight years later is a testament to his ability to adapt. The Rodriguez that Saints face at Burnley is not the same style of player who was running rampant against opponents at St Mary's all those years ago.

A serious injury changes the physical make-up of a player, and from 10 dribbles per game on average in that season, this year he is clocking up less than one, as he plays through the middle and also offers a great link-up option.

Saints know how effective he can be. Burnley know how effective he can be. And he’s a big game player.