Sam Tighe looks ahead to Southampton's midweek trip to Elland Road in his latest Tactical Watch column, in association with Sportsbet.io.
It’s been a season of oddities and few clubs have felt that more keenly than Southampton. From crippling injury lists to playing two different opponents in back-to-back games, football’s had a strange feel to it.
That continues this week as, in gameweek 25, Saints play Leeds United for the first time this season. At this point there are no secrets; both clubs will have seen plenty of one another and know what to expect – a point compounded by the strong tactical principles both Ralph Hasenhüttl and Marcelo Bielsa operate under.
Here are the three keys to beating Leeds and picking up three points.
The running battle
Few Premier League matches promise to be as intense as one overseen by Hasenhüttl and Bielsa.
Leeds out-ran every opponent they played in the first half of the campaign and rank as the most intense pressing team, allowing just 9.07 passes per defensive action (PPDA). Southampton’s figure of 10.55 isn’t far off and is good for fourth in the division, continuing to play boldly and aggressively off the ball.
There have been some games this season where Leeds have simply overwhelmed their enemies; the intensity, physicality and relentlessness of their pressing and running – often done on a man-to-man basis, which is rare – just proving too much.
Similarly, Saints have pressed opponents into submission and forced the raising of the white flag. There’s a bigger focus on hunting in packs in Hasenhüttl’s pressing, but the result is the same.
What happens, then, when these two teams collide? No quarter will be given, the first 20 minutes will likely have no rhythm whatsoever, and it might be that whoever wins the running battle goes on to win the war.
Raphinha, the creator
Much of the early talk around Leeds’ season centred on Patrick Bamford’s goals, and while he remains a threat to contend with, Raphinha’s emergence as the heartbeat of the team must be acknowledged.
Given a license to drift in off the right flank and affect play wherever he chooses, he’s become the Whites’ chief creator and uses a variety of tools to hurt teams. His dribbling, passing, vision and finishing skills are formidable, while the fact he roams across the pitch makes him difficult to assign a consistent marker to.
A lot of the attacking play flows through Raphinha, and while it’s never simply a case of stopping him stops Leeds, it’s a very strong start. He’ll be Ryan Bertrand’s man until he drifts inwards, and from there he’ll try to find space between the lines. Saints can’t afford to let him find any.
It’s almost a boiler-plate clause that Southampton can threaten sides from set pieces – such is the consistency of James Ward-Prowse’s superb delivery – but Leeds are especially vulnerable here.
They’ve conceded the joint-most goals from set-pieces in the league (11). A whopping eight of those coming from corners, which is a league-high.
The goals don’t follow a specific pattern; Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham have all scored from the near post or using a flick on; West Ham and Chelsea worked the back post to great success; while Newcastle United and Crystal Palace scored from deeper, central deliveries.
Ward-Prowse will feel he has plenty of different options for delivery in order to find some joy, and with Jannik Vestergaard fit again, Saints feel more potent than ever. This is a definite area to target.