Tactical Watch: Speedy Walker-Peters vital to Saints' backline

By SFC Media time Fri 16 Oct Chelsea v Saints

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe assesses Southampton's trip to Stamford Bridge in his latest Tactical Watch column, in association with Sportsbet.io.

Southampton finally return to Premier League action on Saturday when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men will look to build on the momentum of two successive wins over Burnley and West Bromwich Albion and make it three in a row – while also summoning the spirit of last season, when they walked away from the Bridge with three points thanks to stunning goals from Michael Obafemi and Nathan Redmond.

Here are the three keys to a repeat victory in west London.

Unfamiliarity and incohesion

A big summer recruitment drive has left Chelsea with a deep and talented squad – one most clubs could only dream of boasting

Few can match them player for player in terms of quality, as Frank Lampard bought top quality in most positions, bolstering the spine and the flanks of his side.

But a by-product of such intensive, recent work in the market is a lack of familiarity and cohesion in the team’s performances. 

They’ve tried different alignments, tried star players in a variety of positions, and you get the feeling Lampard is still feeling out this group, searching for the best, most balanced and effective approach.

That uncertainty currently stands as Chelsea’s biggest weakness, and one a Saints team 100 per cent up to speed with their own style and instruction can take advantage of. 

Pounce on mistakes, press and pull them into uncomfortable positions and prey on the lack of established routes and patterns in their opponents’ play.

The two Germans

Chelsea’s headline summer signings came in the form of two Germans, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.

We so far haven’t seen either at their very best as their adaptation to the Premier League continues, but both are primed for a breakout at any stage.

Werner’s incredible speed is a threat wherever he’s deployed, which is most likely off the left, feeding off a target striker (Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud) just as he did at RB Leipzig. As has often been the case in 2020, Kyle Walker-Peters will be crucial to any success here.

STUTTGART, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 03: Timo Werner of Germany celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Nations League group stage match between Germany and Spain at Mercedes-Benz Arena on September 03, 2020 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Werner (pictured) and Havertz were both on target for Germany in midweek

Havertz is beginning to find his groove as a roaming central playmaker, and Saints will have to constantly be conscious of where he’s drifting to and who is picking him up. 

No one single player can mark him unless Hasenhüttl alters his shape to deploy a specific man-marker, so Havertz will be a collective responsibility that will likely require a few adjustments on the fly. 

He’ll enter the box late and become a second striker, and his sense of timing is so good – reminiscent of his manager’s, you might suggest – he’ll be very difficult to pick up.

Kepa’s confidence

Chelsea devoted some of their incredible summer spending spree to signing a new goalkeeper, after Kepa Arrizabalaga struggled throughout the 2019/20 campaign.

According to advanced shot-saving models, the Spaniard conceded 9.5 more goals than he’d have been reasonably expected to last year – the worst percentage swing of all the qualifying 37 Premier League goalkeepers.

That led Chelsea to add Édouard Mendy to their ranks this summer, but he’s returned from international duty with an injury after a debut clean sheet against Crystal Palace.

If Kepa’s back in, his confidence has to be worth testing. He handed Liverpool a goal as recently as September with a short pass from the back straight to Sadio Mané, suggesting all is not quite well.

Danny Ings, Ché Adams and co. need no second invitation to charge down a goalkeeper when in possession, and that approach could prove especially fruitful here.

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