Tactics writer Sam Tighe previews Southampton's first home game of the Premier League season, against Leeds United at St Mary's. This is Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
Leeds United began the season with a home win over Wolves. Tactically, what went right for them on the opening day?
A full summer under Jesse Marsch, learning his tactical principles in a less urgent environment, has done them a world of good. That, plus the arrivals of players such as Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson and Rasmus Kristensen – all recruited from the Red Bull clubs Marsch previously worked for – has helped an identity set in.
Adams and Aaronson were particular highlights in game one; the former was aggressive and effective in winning the ball in the centre, the latter an all-round menace, driving forward with the ball in transition.
After missing most of last season, Patrick Bamford’s return to fitness will have been warmly welcomed and he forced the own goal that won the game.
Did the performance show any vulnerabilities?
Leeds’ pressing is fervent and represents a high risk, high reward strategy.
When it works, it suffocates the opponent and steals the ball from them high up the pitch, naturally leading to good chances. The aforementioned Aaronson topped the Premier League for pressures with 31 in GW1; you can point to him as a shining example of the team’s ferocious work rate.
When the press doesn’t work, though, it leaves the pitch wide open and the defence in an extremely vulnerable position. Wolves showcased that with their early goal and their tally of 1.3 xG on the day. Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier was certainly busy.
Pre-season showed hints of this too, and it’s representative of two things: continued teething issues as Marsch steadily brings the squad round to his way of playing; and the boom/bust nature of an aggressive pressing strategy.
How can Saints use this to their advantage?
Withstanding Leeds’ press is vital, so fielding those in the squad who are the most press resistant is a good first step.
Roméo Lavia enjoyed a brilliant Saints debut at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and showed several important qualities that tee him up nicely against Leeds: composure, press resistance and a dangerous passing range.
If Lavia can wriggle away from Leeds’ press, get his head up and find a longer pass, Southampton will open the visitors up. Adam Armstrong’s sheer pace in behind then becomes a real threat, as does Kyle Walker-Peters’s marauding runs up the right side.
Will Leeds introduce any new elements off the back of the Wolves win?
After winning the opener and igniting the Elland Road crowd, it wouldn’t surprise if Marsch rolled with the same XI at St Mary’s (injury permitting).
There should be some change on the bench, though, as Dan James can return from suspension and summer signing Luis Sinisterra could be passed fit after pulling his hamstring in pre-season.
Either can provide a game-changing option for Marsch, with James’s raw speed a threat and Sinisterra’s clever, creative feet offering a different dynamic.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Meslier; Kristensen, Koch, Llorente, Struijk; Adams, Roca; Aaronson, Rodrigo, Harrison; Bamford.
• No need for Marsch to change a winning team as Leeds look to build momentum
• Struijk is playing out of position at left-back to cover for injuries
• Kristensen is a new arrival from Salzburg and a powerful runner down the right
• Adams is also new to town, he breaks up the game well and plays with aggression
• Aaronson is an energetic, busy attacking midfielder who exemplifies Leeds’ press
• Bamford is fit again and looking to forget a stop-start 2021/22 campaign