Tactics writer Sam Tighe, from Bleacher Report, takes a closer look at three key areas that could decide Southampton's Premier League trip to Norwich City on Saturday...
This weekend Southampton travel east to face Norwich City, a team rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, desperately in need of points.
It’s exactly these kinds of scenarios in which Saints have excelled this season – 20 of the 34 points accrued so far have come on the road – and if they can pull off another win, it’ll take them one step closer to safety for another season.
Here, we discuss three keys to victory at Carrow Road...
Set-pieces – at both ends
It’s a point often brought up, but that’s because it’s almost always relevant: James Ward-Prowse’s set-piece deliveries are so vicious they can cause anyone issues, but they’re a particularly big problem for those who struggle at set-pieces anyway.
Norwich have conceded 11 from these scenarios, the fourth-most in the Premier League, and the last meeting between the clubs – a 2-1 win for Saints at St Mary’s in December – was settled by his dead-ball prowess.
Two whipped, near-post deliveries produced a goal for Danny Ings and a flick-on which Ryan Bertrand converted. It’s not as if that’s a one-off, either; free-kicks and corners of that ilk are sent in every week.
Saints must take advantage of this whilst also keeping things clean at the other end. Norwich have struggled to score at all in 2020, managing just four league goals this calendar year, and half have come from the spot courtesy of Teemu Pukki.
In open play, they’ve had real trouble converting chances, seemingly everyone chipping in with a bad miss or two, meaning those who have prevented Pukki from taking free aim at goal have tended to walk out of these matchups with a clean sheet.
Good pressing meets playing out from the back
Depending on your viewpoint it’s either valiant or foolish, but it’s the modern Norwich City way: play out from the back, build play from goalkeeper, through defence and into midfield, no matter what.
This has led to some aesthetically pleasing football, some flowing back-to-front moves, and makes the most of some good technical players – most notably Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendía.
It helped them bravely conquer Manchester City all the way back in September, playing through an aggressive press en route to a famous 3-2 victory in the sun.
It’s also led to some disasters, like the 5-1 home loss to Aston Villa shortly afterwards, in which they were continually picked off as they tried to play out, succumbing to good pressing.
This is not the sole reason they sit 20th in the table, but certain matchups look tough for the Canaries before a ball is even kicked, and that’s because of the way they insist upon playing. Southampton, with Ralph Hasenhüttl’s coordinated press in sync, looks like one of those.
Saints should be well positioned to cause plenty of turnovers in this matchup, either high up due to dispossession, or forced longer balls that the defence can beat Pukki to. The key then is to make the most of them.
A rallying cry?
Sitting bottom of the league with just 21 points, the joint-worst goalscoring record and the joint-second-worst goals conceded record, many consider Norwich to be doomed for relegation.
But although there’s plenty of ground for them to make up, four of their last nine games are against sides in the bottom seven, meaning there’s still a path to safety there for them – and it starts with Southampton at home.
That, ultimately, is the thing Saints must be most wary of come Saturday. The hosts will rightly see this as a chance to kick-start an improbable run to safety, with Southampton (14th) one of those four aforementioned games.
That may be a notion more dangerous than any strike Pukki can let off or any pass Buendía slides in. Southampton must match that determination and resolve in order to achieve success.