Tactics writer Sam Tighe, from Bleacher Report, takes a look at Brighton & Hove Albion, as Southampton prepare to visit the Seagulls for a big Premier League clash this Saturday.
After a break that stands at three weeks but feels more like three months, Southampton finally return to action this weekend as they make the short journey east to Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Seagulls sit a place and three points above Saints in the table and come into this match on a three-game win streak in all competitions. The momentum of that has been broken up by international duty, but the majority of their first-team stayed home during this period, adding an element of freshness to their existing confidence levels.
Here, we take a look at the three things that define Chris Hughton’s side, which Southampton will need to watch out for as they prepare for this game.
1. Wide men (finally) coming into form
Hughton’s changed his wide personnel around a lot this season, tinkering and tampering in an attempt to find the right combination. Injuries haven’t helped here, and in fact have robbed him of some expensive players for lengthy periods, but now, finally, it looks to be coming together.
Anthony Knockaert and Alireza Jahanabakhsh have emerged as the first-choice pairing either side of a central striker, a midfield three balancing the formation out. Knockaert’s scored or assisted in his last two games, while Jahanabakhsh has struck the bar and flashed dangerous potential.
They mix their game up between teasing balls in for the striker, shooting from distance and drifting infield to take up spaces that appear just outside the box. That variation makes them difficult to second-guess as a defender, and those playing wide for Saints will have to be on red alert.
2. Literally a big threat from set pieces
With five goals from 26 appearances, Brighton centre-back Shane Duffy averages more Premier League goals per game than every other player in Chris Hughton’s squad not named Glenn Murray.
sam tighebrighton are one of the best in the league in these situations.
on brighton's set-piece threat
He’s the club’s second top-scorer, outproducing strikers Jürgen Locadia and Florin Andone, plus a raft of creative midfielders and wingers including Knockaert. That’s some feat.
The source of his goals is pretty obvious: set pieces. He, defensive partner Lewis Dunk and Murray provide three massive targets from dead-ball situations, and even if they don’t convert the first ball, they’ll wreak enough havoc to create a second opportunity for someone else.
It’s in this situation that Southampton’s back three pays dividends, as it provides three obvious markers for these three threats. They’ll have to play a perfect defensive game in their own box to keep Brighton at arm’s length, though, as they’re one of the best in the league in these situations.
3. They’ll make it a midfield battle
With Pascal Gross struggling for fitness this season, Brighton have remodelled themselves, ditching the 4-4-1-1 formation and utilising a more combative 4-3-3 shape. Gross’s role behind the striker has become Yves Bissouma’s role to the side of Dale Stephens.
That’s added another serious dose of energy and hustle and bustle to an already combative selection. Bissouma’s physicality and streaking runs add something Stephens and Davy Pröpper can’t provide with any consistency.
Combine that with Hasenhüttl’s trio of Oriol Romeu, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and James Ward-Prowse – known for their own willingness to cover every blade of grass – and it tees up quite the battle. It wouldn’t surprise if the early stages of the game got quite messy, rhythm absent, as both sides refuse to give each other a moment to think in the middle.