Sam Tighe looks ahead to the Easter Sunday clash between Southampton and Burnley at St Mary's in the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
Southampton begin their 2020/21 Premier League run-in by hosting Burnley.
The Clarets have proved tricky opposition for the Saints over the last three years, with only one win from the last six Premier League encounters – though that win came the last time the two met, with Danny Ings’s early goal enough to seal the points.
Ralph Hasenhüttl would no doubt take a repeat, but as always, it’ll be a tough task. Here are three keys to ensuring Southampton complete a long-awaited double over Burnley this season.
Despite England’s synonymy with the classic 4-4-2 formation, it’s pretty rare you see two teams square off utilising it in the Premier League nowadays.
That gives Southampton vs Burnley an intriguing, almost unique edge in this setting, as it will be rough variants of 4-4-2 pitted against one another – though both managers likely prefer you label it slightly differently, with Ralph Hasenhüttl certainly preferring a 4-2-2-2 description.
But regardless of the intricacies, matching shapes means 1v1 battles all over the park. With so many of the Premier League’s tactical battles nowadays taking place zonally, it’s not often every player is clearly matched up 1v1 in most scenarios.
It makes the game of football set to take place a little more old school; whichever team wins more individual battles across the park will significantly increase their chances of winning.
Matej Vydra is no great secret or trump card – he’s coming up to 3 years at Burnley now – but only very recently has he stamped his authority on a regular starting role in the side.
They’ve combined for three goals and one assist in the Clarets’ last six games, showing a visibly improved understanding and partnership that’s proving tough to handle for defenders.
The difference between Wood + Vydra and, say, Wood + Ashley Barnes, is there’s a lot more combination play between the strikers; they pass and link together more, and they alternate between dropping in to receive to feet and trying to stretch play by running in behind.
Vydra’s clearly worked hard to improve his ball retention under pressure to give more variance to the partnership, and it means Southampton’s centre-backs cannot automatically assume one player will operate in one way, and the other in another.
That will keep them on their toes all game long.
Niggling injuries have disrupted Nathan Redmond’s season. Knocks to his ankle and hamstring have kept him out for three separate spells and forced him to miss 10 games in total, preventing him from building up a rhythm of form.
But if Southampton’s last match before the international break is anything to go by, that rhythm is finally in place. A scorching performance against AFC Bournemouth in the FA Cup dropped jaws all over the south coast, his two goals both true beauties and his assist for Moussa Djenepo excellent.
That brings him bang into form at just the right time, with April offering crucial Premier League games and an FA Cup semi-final. When feeling sharp and strong, Redmond can wriggle through challenges, play acute-angled passes and release rasping shots from distance like few others. Be it off the left or in a support-striker role, he thrives in those tight spaces and can prove a reliable difference-maker in the final third.
With more competition in his position than at any other point in his Southampton career, there’s all the more reason to bottle that fire and sustain it over the course of the run-in.