Sam Tighe looks ahead to Southampton's final game of the Premier League season at Leicester on Sunday. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
Southampton round off the 2021/22 Premier League campaign with a trip to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City.
Come 5pm on Sunday, both clubs will be able to look back on a season filled with ups and downs. Both have enjoyed winning streaks, both have endured more difficult periods, and both stand as good examples of how volatile a campaign in England’s top tier can be.
Leicester’s season carries more than a tinge of disappointment, as they’ve fallen short of their own recent high standards. They finished fifth in back-to-back seasons from 2019-21 and won the FA Cup last year, but this term will see them finish eighth at best.
Pinpointing why there’s been a dip isn’t tough: key injuries to Jamie Vardy, Wilfred Ndidi and Wesley Fofana have severely affected them, but just as big an issue has been a tactical Achilles heel: set-piece defending.
Watford’s lone goal in their 5-1 loss to the Foxes last week was the 19th they’ve conceded from set piece situations – the most in the Premier League. In all competitions that number stretches into the 20s, and their Europa Conference League campaign was ended at the semi-final stage by a Tammy Abraham header from a corner.
This will likely be the first thing Southampton look to test on Sunday, either via trusty James Ward-Prowse free-kicks, or from the likes of Jan Bednarek, Mohammed Salisu or Lyanco’s head.
From open play, Saints will find opportunities to counter-attack Leicester and drive into space. The Foxes rank in the top five in the league for average possession per game and, home or away, seek to set the tempo on the ball. That naturally opens up counter runs that have been much tougher to deal with while Ndidi’s missing.
Beware, though, of Leicester’s quality on the ball. James Maddison, newly crowned Player of the Season at the King Power Stadium, has had a decisive campaign from midfield and only gets better when he has Vardy – returned to fitness and back on the goal trail – to aim for.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has been a revelation in midfield, “breaking out” at Premier League level at age 23, and combines ball-carrying with positive passing. Youri Tielemans’s distribution remains the gold standard at Leicester – although he has been struggling with a deeper, more defensive role due to absences of late.
As big a factor as anything else on this result, though, will rest on Saints improving on Tuesday night’s difficulties against Liverpool. Swarmed by a manic press and unable to exit their own third cleanly, it built pressure that eventually told.
Leicester’s approach won’t be as aggressive but Brendan Rodgers does demand a defensive flurry from the front men, making it imperative Southampton’s out-balls and passing routes through the press are tidied up.