Tactics writer Sam Tighe, from Bleacher Report, takes a closer look at Josh Sims's performance against Wolves and explains how the 22-year-old winger can become a key figure for Southampton under Ralph Hasenhüttl...
It takes quite the performance to make Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-back Willy Boly sweat the way he did at St Mary’s last weekend.
Those who have convincingly got the better of him this term are few and far between – the Frenchman has been a stalwart in a stellar Wolves campaign – and those who have boast a similar grandeur to their names: Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah and Gerard Deulofeu, for example.
But after Saturday a fresh name has been added to the list of players who have given him the runaround: Josh Sims.
Southampton’s busy no. 39 chalked up an extremely impressive performance as Saints won 3-1 and took a large step toward Premier League safety, crucifying Boly for what must have felt like 61 very long minutes.
Nathan Redmond may have scored a brace, and Danny Ings did indeed wow with his incisive passing and clever movements, but Sims’s performance was the one which really caught the eye of the Saints faithful.
He embodied every Ralph Hasenhüttl trait, from defence through to attack, and sent his manager a firm message: I’m ready.
No one saw it coming, and there was understandable surprise when it was announced the 22-year-old would take Oriol Romeu’s place in the XI, but he vindicated his manager’s decision almost immediately.
With less than two minutes gone, Sims stole down the right flank and crossed low for Redmond to gobble up. It’s a move they’d discussed before the game and it paid immediate dividends.
With confidence levels established early and Southampton’s 3-4-3 formation (and generally direct approach) playing into his hands, Sims proceeded to run riot.
Lining up to the right of Ings in a front three, he ran the channels between and outside Wolves’ centre-backs relentlessly while his side were on the ball, and pressured and harried relentlessly when his side were off it.
Every time Saints won the ball in the middle third, Sims’s first action was to sprint forward, opening space between the lines for Ings to use and to offer a ball into the channel for the midfielders to play.
His out-to-in runs caused Conor Coady a number of issues in tracking, as he and Ings swapped liberally and to good effect.
When Wolves tried to build their own attacks, each of Saints’ front three were essentially one-on-one with the visiting centre-backs, aligning Sims on Boly, and his hard graft in pressing and closing down forced a number of panicked, miscued long balls and clearances under pressure.
sam tigheevery time saints won the ball in the middle third, sims's first action was to sprint forward, opening space between the lines for ings to use and to offer a ball into the channel for the midfielders to play.
It wasn’t a perfect performance – a good chance was missed, as was a golden opportunity to slot Ings in for another while bearing down on goal – but it was still some statement from a man making his first Premier League start of the campaign.
The warm round of applause he received as Romeu replaced him was richly deserved.
We’ve seen glimpses and moments of Sims’s ability before now, but nothing like this: an hour of excellence, measured perfectly to the team’s approach, might point to this being the 22-year-old’s true breakout game.
It’s been a long time coming, with a couple of false dawns to hurdle along the way, but on Saturday Sims looked and felt the part of a starting calibre Southampton player who has a big future with the club.