Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe provides his latest tactical analysis, as Southampton seek their first Premier League points of the season, at Burnley...
Saturday brings a trip to Turf Moor to face Burnley as Southampton look to establish their groove for the 2020/21 campaign.
This particular fixture has proven a difficult one for Saints recently, but it’s not an issue unique to them – the Clarets pose a uniquely tough test in the Premier League landscape, one which Ralph Hasenhüttl is now well versed in and well prepared for.
Here are the three keys to getting the better of Burnley…
A genuine front two and a stylistic quirk
Like Southampton, Burnley are one of the few teams in the Premier League who utilise a genuine two-man strike partnership. In a way it’s like staring into a mirror; all of the advantages Saints get from using such a dynamic are now thrown back at them.
Sean Dyche has a group of four strikers he rotates, but injuries will likely mean Chris Wood and Matej Vydra line up from the start tomorrow. That’s a potent big man-small combination, with Wood the aerial and hold-up target, Vydra the niftier, quicker player who makes clever darts and looks to feed off Wood’s knock-downs.
One intriguing quirk to Burnley’s more direct attacking play is their consistent use of the chest. The bigger of the two strikers won’t just flick balls on or turn them toward goal with his head, he’ll use his chest to divert the ball into the others’ path too, or take crosses down before shooting with his feet.
It gives Burnley’s attacking play a fairly unique wrinkle and adds an element of preciseness to what is, traditionally, a less accurate way of progressing the ball forward.
Creative spark Dwight McNeil
There’s another shared dynamic between the two clubs in the form of a home-grown midfield hero.
Dwight McNeil is Burnley’s answer to Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse, a creative midfielder who progressed through the Academy. He played something of an iron man role in the 2019/20 season, starting every single Premier League game – just like the Saints captain.
When McNeil burst through he established himself as a tricky, dribbling winger capable of beating a man and swinging in a great cross, but he’s developed his game over the last 18 months and become a much more multifaceted threat.
With Charlie Taylor overlapping up the left side, McNeil has license to drift inside and express himself creatively, setting up central shooting chances and letting go himself in addition to combining for wing work on the left.
He’s far from their only threat but he is their most prominent one, so Saints will have to be mindful of his 1v1 ability on the flank and his tendency to affect play more centrally.
Narrow defensive structure
It’s proven very difficult to break Burnley down defensively over the years, Sean Dyche coaching a compact defensive system that excels in two specific areas: dealing with aerial balls into the box and reducing space between each defender in the back four, preventing opponents from finding much room to play in.
To pull that off you have to play somewhat narrowly as a line (else the gaps between the defenders stretch), and that naturally results in some space being conceded in the wide areas. It is unavoidable, but also by design; Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid, who are held up as the defensive kings of Europe, do the same thing.
Against structures like this, moving the ball quickly is vital, stopping Burnley from getting too settled into their defensive shell. Overlaps from the full-backs become very important, while creating man advantages on the edges of the box will help too.
Playing with speed, precision and confidence is absolutely key; if play becomes slow and ponderous, the spaces to work in will disappear.