Tactical Watch: Pressing from the front

By SFC Media time Wed 15 Jul Saints v Brighton

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe analyses Brighton's patient approach ahead of the Seagulls' visit to St Mary's in the Premier League. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Utilita Energy...

With mathematical safety achieved and a European place out of reach, you could forgive a team such as Southampton for taking their foot off the gas just a little.

But this is no ordinary team. This is a Ralph Hasenhüttl team, one that has no off switch, one that never stops, and one that is desperate to build on this incredible momentum and move to the next level.

Fresh off a dramatic, incredible 96th-minute equaliser against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Saints’ crosshairs now settle on a Brighton & Hove Albion side that could still do with a few points to ensure safety of their own.

Here are three keys to ensuring the Seagulls’ search for those points goes on a little longer.

Stretched out...

Brighton’s loss to City on Saturday didn’t make for comfortable viewing. 

The basic stat lines convey the domination: 70-30% possession split, 26 shots to 3, 5 scored and 2 further woodwork hits. It was about as one-sided as it gets.

The Seagulls will inevitably react, and against a team not named Manchester City, the game will naturally become more even. 

But the way City made Brighton crumble will have piqued the Saints coaches’ attention, as parts of the game plan can no doubt be replicated.

City’s emphasis on width was important; expanding the pitch to its fullest by ensuring one player was touchline-wide on each flank at all times to stretch Brighton horizontally, creating pockets of space between the players.

The ball found its way to Benjamin Mendy (left) or Kyle Walker (right), advanced, then was fed back inside to one of several creative players drifting into blind spots. 

City racked up a number of good positions (and shooting chances) by using an out-to-in method that moved Brighton’s defensive structure around.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's fifth goal, his hattrick, with team mates Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City at American Express Community Stadium on July 11, 2020 in Brighton, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Man City were in ruthless mood as they put five past Brighton at the Amex

…and pressed flat

They also pressed actively, high up, and forced the Seagulls into errors on the ball. 

City managed a total of five turnovers in the attacking third, one of which was converted into a goal. 

The story felt familiar, as in the game before, Liverpool’s Naby Keïta robbed Davy Pröpper of the ball and teed up Mohamed Salah for an early goal.

Graham Potter’s team are committed to building play from the back, starting with the goalkeeper and moving through the lines, just as Saints’ other recent opponents Manchester United and City themselves are. 

They managed to fashion goals in both games from high-pressing situations, and Ralph Hasenhüttl will be hopeful his men can make it three from three.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Leondro Trossard of Brighton and Hove Albion scores his team's first goal past Tim Krul of Norwich City during the Premier League match between Norwich City and Brighton & Hove Albion at Carrow Road on July 04, 2020 in Norwich, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Leandro Trossard scored the winner in Brighton's last away game, at Norwich

Midfield runners

If they can avoid disruption and establish a flow, Brighton look one of the better possession-oriented sides in the Premier League. They circulate it well, move off the ball incisively and create chances. 

Neal Maupay is an instinctive presence in the box and a nuisance off the ball, causing plenty of teams problems this season, but the midfield runners from deep offer an even greater threat to be wary of.

The last two goals they’ve scored have come from Leandro Trossard, who makes darting runs and drives inside liberally to meet crosses and through balls. He and at least two others consistently attack the box to meet the deliveries supplied from the right. 

Tariq Lamptey’s an energetic presence and willing crosser from that area, while Aaron Mooy tends to drift and find clever spots to lift balls in.

Trossard has the goals to show for these runs, but Alexis Mac Allister and Aaron Connolly make them in support of Maupay too. 

They’re difficult to track because they’re fast and direct, so as much onus must be placed on stopping the delivery as there is on staying stride for stride with the runners.

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