Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe explains the reasons behind Yan Valery's impressive recent form and ever-increasing confidence at the highest level...
There’s something different about the way Yan Valery’s been playing of late. Have you noticed?
The performance he put in against Manchester United at Old Trafford last Saturday – punctuated by his rocket strike to open the scoring – was undoubtedly the finest of his career to date.
It followed a very assured showing against Fulham at home, in which he bottled up Ryan Babel in a way seasoned right-backs such as Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Montoya have failed of late.
It’s clear he’s maturing, finding his feet at the top level. Now 13 Premier League starts into his senior Southampton career, his confidence is growing and that’s visibly shaping his game.
Watching him play now is a completely different experience compared to two months ago.
There was a moment outside of that sumptuous, 25-yard strike at Old Trafford that illustrated his growth perfectly: it came in the 10th minute, when he squared Paul Pogba up, knocked the ball forward and surged past him.
It was a jaw-dropping moment on a lesser scale to the goal, and not just because of who he was up against, but what he decided to do.
The December iteration of Valery would unlikely have tried such a thing. More timid back then (and understandably so), he sat a little more on the periphery of games at times and drove forward sparingly.
Stepping into a side fighting for results isn’t easy for any player – let alone for a then-19-year-old with no first-team experience to speak of – and early on you could see some nerves.
Fast-forward to March and he’s taking on all-comers, however many World Cups they’ve won, and actively involving himself in some of the team’s more fluent moves.
Pressed up against the sideline he looks far more comfortable, able to take part in the quick give-and-goes instigated by the midfield, meaning they bring him into play more.
“He gets the trust from us,” Ralph Hasenhüttl said on Sunday. “I want to see a brave player who is believing in himself. Yan made a fantastic development until now. Defensively he is better now and also offensively that’s exactly the way we want to go.”
Typifying the transformation is something quite simple, but noticeable: his first touches go forward.
Rather than control or receive and then look up, losing time and therefore seeing his angles to use reduced, he’s now touching the ball into space as often as possible, opening the pitch out for himself and making dribbling easier.
This is especially important given Southampton’s current formation, 3-5-2, lacks natural width high up and requires Valery to motor up and down to bring balance to play.
Hasenhüttl asks a lot of his lungs but also of his ability to carry the ball, and as he’s got better at it, Saints have improved in tow.
It also asks a lot of his recovery abilities, as if Saints lose the ball with Valery stationed high up or committed to a stretching run, he has to charge back – and fast.
He’s getting better and better in that aspect too, developing an understanding with Jan Bednarek of how to manage those situations.
Swift development has seen Valery go from stopgap solution to first-choice right-back, even ousting Euro 2016 winner Cédric for the role in the process. All in three months.