Southampton will come up against the Premier League's bottom club when Newcastle United visit St Mary's on Saturday. Tactics writer Sam Tighe highlights the key areas to unlock the Magpies...
Southampton welcome the Premier League’s bottom club, Newcastle United, to St Mary’s this weekend and will look to exact more misery on the beleaguered north-east outfit.
So far the Magpies have failed to win a game in any competition this season and have struggled immensely to score goals, netting their only two points thanks to 0-0 draws with Cardiff City and Crystal Palace.
Over the last few years this fixture has been fruitful for Southampton – they’ve registered four home wins against Newcastle since returning to the Premier League in 2012 – so it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Saints to compound Rafa Benítez’s issues on Saturday.
Here, we take a look at the keys to victory for Saints, pinpointing why Newcastle have been struggling and detailing how the hosts can take advantage.
Prolong Newcastle’s goalscoring woes
The statistics make truly grim reading for Newcastle’s attacking crop; they don’t hold the ball well, they don’t take many shots, so they don’t score many goals.
Their average of 10.2 shots taken per game is the fourth-lowest in the Premier League, symptomatic of their issues in moving the ball forward consistently so their forwards can take aim.
When they do hit the final third, another problem rises to the fore: their strikers simply aren’t prolific. The four forwards they look to make the difference – Joselu, Yoshinori Muto, Salomón Rondón and Ayoze Pérez – have managed a paltry three goals in 1,558 combined minutes.
Benítez has rotated his number nine relentlessly in desperate hope of finding something that sticks, but no answer has been forthcoming so far.
Stop Jonjo Shelvey
Shelvey is the only non-defensive Newcastle player who has consistently impressed this season, his influence in midfield crucial to the cause.
By now his repertoire is no secret – everyone knows where his strengths lie – and it’s important Southampton apply pressure to him and hurry him on the ball.
Shelvey’s 8.7 accurate long balls per game is the highest of any outfield Premier League player this season, his love for a raking cross-field pass from deeper areas never likely to fizzle out.
This is a dangerous counter-attack-launching weapon which must be obstructed by Southampton’s midfield and forward lines.
He’s always willing to send it long; his pass accuracy for the season (68.6%) is on the low side, but it’s indicative of the all-or-nothing passes he plays. If he gets his head up and locks on to Kenedy or Matt Ritchie’s runs, Saints’ defence will be under pressure in seconds.
The great energy in midfield that Saints possess will come in handy here. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Mario Lemina must apply pressure, while Danny Ings will be required to chip in too.
If you stop Shelvey from launching attacks from deep, you can pin Newcastle into their own territory.
Feed the ball into Newcastle’s box
Adopting a heavy crossing strategy hasn’t tended to work against Newcastle so far this season. In Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernández and even Paul Dummett, they boast a big, strong presence in their own box that can win the majority of aerial duels.
Keeping the ball on the deck and feeding it into the box has been far more successful. Whether it’s a lack of confidence, systematic confusion or a bit of both, the Magpies have really struggled to clear their lines when attacked on the ground.
Several goals conceded have been due to sloppy passes out, half-clearances or strange attempted dribbles out of pressure from dangerous areas.
Saints’ strikeforce lends itself to these scenarios; the likes of Charlie Austin and Ings are experts in finishing off stray balls and scraps. Subject Newcastle to enough pressure and the errors will present themselves to be taken advantage of.