Tactical Watch: Walcott's return offers new dynamic


Sam Tighe looks ahead to Monday's Premier League match-up, as Southampton meet West Brom at The Hawthorns. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with

Southampton travel to the West Midlands on Monday to face a team on the highest of highs: West Bromwich Albion.

It’s been a difficult campaign for the Baggies following promotion, gleaning just 21 points from 30 games, but they shocked the world last weekend with an astonishing 5-2 win over a Chelsea side that hadn’t lost once under Thomas Tuchel.

They’ll no doubt be looking to compound any momentum generated from that with a second win on the bounce. Here are the three keys to ensuring that doesn’t happen.

With two goals and two assists to his name on the day, it’s tough to view Matheus Pereira’s individual performance against Chelsea as anything other than one of the very best we’ve seen this season.

Granted, the Blues played much of the game with 10 men, but the game seemed to slow down when he was on the ball, the Brazilian showing calm, poise and class in his shots, passes and decisions.

He played off the right flank in a 5-4-1 formation, but while the game was 11v11, he often drifted into the centre-forward’s spot while Mbaye Diagne dropped to the flank and took his place in the line of four.

Whether that was intended or just a byproduct of Diagne’s tremendous work rate is unclear, but it did allow Pereira to pop up in random pockets of space and test Chelsea’s defensive structure.

Not long after Thiago Silva’s red card, Sam Allardyce threw on Callum Robinson to crank up the pressure – a substitution that proved a masterstroke. Operating off the opposite flank to Pereira, he netted twice and formed a lively double act with the Brazilian.

You’d imagine the duo start together on Monday, given the calibre of their performances, and that will bring a balance and diversity to WBA’s flank attacks – rather than see them lean too heavily on one flank (Pereira’s) for inspiration. Saints will have to be ready for this across the board.

While West Brom began their win over Chelsea in a 5-4-1 shape, it feels unlikely that carries over into this test. Before that game they’d been operating in a 4-3-3 system, and the fact Conor Gallagher (on loan at the Hawthorns) couldn’t play against his parent club probably sparked the shape change.

Allardyce has come to rely on the energy and intensity of a midfield three made up of Gallagher, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Okay Yokuşlu. The latter, a January signing, sits behind the former two and sweeps up, while the other two roam and disrupt.

If Saints field their typical 4-2-2-2 setup, WBA’s three will boast a numerical superiority in the centre – as well as the work rate of a team desperate for the points they need to stay in the league.

They likely won’t press too high, meaning Saints’ centre-backs won’t be fighting for every second’s peace, but it will get very congested in West Brom’s third and space between the lines – the sort Nathan Redmond and co. thrive on – will be at a premium.

That could bring an extra onus on to the full-backs to push up and impact in attack, or perhaps pave the way for some early, longer balls into space for the likes of Danny Ings and Theo Walcott to latch onto.

Theo Walcott crowned a return from a three-month injury lay-off against Burnley with an assist for Nathan Redmond’s winner. Following up on a parried Ings shot, he kept his cool and dinked a cross to the far post to be smashed home.

Ralph Hasenhüttl hasn’t been shy in his praise of Walcott since joining, and this week commended “his mentality, his attitude, his professionalism.” The fact he stepped straight back into the side is no surprise.

What has changed, though, is the way in which he’s deployed. Walcott’s immense versatility means he can be fielded across the attack, but before his injury he spent the majority of his time in the front two. Now, with Redmond pulling up trees in the front two, he’s relocated to the flank.

Saints can still draw on his speed, his link-up play and ability in tight spaces, all while maximising Redmond’s shooting and creative ability closer to goal. It looks like a good match.