Sam Tighe looks ahead to Southampton's Premier League trip to Brighton in his latest Tactical Watch column, in association with Sportsbet.io.
South coast rivalries will be renewed on Monday as Southampton make the short trip to Brighton & Hove Albion.
It’s a fixture that Saints have tended to get the better of lately. They’re unbeaten, home or away, in the last seven meetings, with the last three games at the Amex Stadium resulting in Southampton wins to nil.
The aim is to make that four on the trot, but it’ll be tougher than ever. Here are the three keys to securing another three points…
Solid, stern, unlucky?
This is far from your typical battle with a 16th-placed Premier League side. Brighton can legitimately claim to be among the unluckiest sides in Europe this season.
The headline example here is their clash with Manchester United in September. They hit the woodwork five times and lost to a penalty awarded in the 100th minute – after the final whistle had blown!
That, combined with a scattering of other unlucky moments here and there, make their points tally of 10 from 10 games look a little unjust.
Ralph Hasenhüttl acknowledged this ahead of the game: “[They are] a really tough opponent to play against. You watch them and you think they must have many more points than they have.”
One of the sources of their power is their defensive strength: their numbers are very good. They boast the third-lowest expected goals against (xGA) tally in the league (9.9), behind only Manchester City and Chelsea.
They’ve conceded the second-fewest shots on target (24) too, one behind City (23). They defend and protect their goal very well.
Collecting four points from their last two games against Aston Villa and Liverpool suggests things are starting to turn, with Brighton recording the results a team performing at their level deserve. Saints will have to be wary of a good opponent whose confidence is spiking.
Tariq Lamptey: Right-wing-back, key playmaker
There aren’t many sides who look to their right-wing-back to assume the role of key playmaker. There are even fewer still who look to their right-wing-back when he’s just 20 years old and yet to complete a full 12 months in senior football.
But Tariq Lamptey is so good, and has already made such an impression, that he’s naturally carved out a crucial role in this Brighton attack.
Much of the play flows through him, his teammates more than happy to hand over the ball and watch him fly up the flank, dribbling in zig-zags and causing chaos.
He’s created more goals and more shooting opportunities than anyone in his side – one that includes the tricky Leandro Trossard, the unpredictable Pascal Groß and even former Saint Adam Lallana.
Brighton circulate possession at the back between their three centre-backs and Yves Bissouma with an eye on releasing Lamptey into space.
He’s rapid, direct and difficult to deal with; Ryan Bertrand will need to draw on all of his experience (and borrow some help from the midfield) to stymie him.
Danny Ings’s different dynamic
Thursday saw Danny Ings return to full training for the first time since picking up an injury at Villa Park in November. All being well, he could be involved in some capacity for Monday’s game, boosting and strengthening the squad.
While Theo Walcott has deputised masterfully in his spot alongside Ché Adams, the two interchanging and driving forward to great effect, Ings’s entrance would change the dynamic of Southampton’s attack.
He’s one of the neatest forwards in the league when operating in tight spots and seems to find angles for shots that don’t appear to exist at first glance. Given how well Brighton protect their keeper and eradicate shooting chances, this could be a game-breaker.
His introduction would likely see Walcott relocate to the flank too, giving Hasenhüttl a different option there.
Whereas Moussa Djenepo and Nathan Redmond prefer to receive the ball to feet and turn, Walcott can run on to long passes in behind. Against wing-backs (and very attacking ones at that!) that’s another card to play if required.