Southampton vs. Manchester United: Tactical Analysis and Stats
Robin van Persie made up for a shocking Panenka-fail by netting a hat-trick, while Nigel Adkins will likely be stunned as to how his team haven't picked up a single point yet.
Setting an example
The 4-2-3-1 is widely acclaimed to be one of the most "in fashion" and effective formations in contemporary football. Teams such as Germany and France used it in Euro 2012 to dominate opponents, while the likes of the Czech Republic and Sweden used it in an attempt to become more solid.
It doesn't have many weaknesses, but there is a discernible method of playing against it. Southampton utilised their peripherals brilliantly to combat the impending dominance from United.
Southampton utilized a fluid 4-3-3 attack whilst dropping into a flat five midfield when defending. This structure is reminiscent of the system Diego Simeone used in last year's UEFA Europa League final, when his Atletico Madrid comfortably beat Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao.
The Saints effectively formed a deep wall of five players when out of possession, which closed the space in which Shinji Kagawa—the Red Devils' chief playmaker—could operate.
It also allowed the wingers and full-backs to cover United's wide players 1 vs. 1 without losing a man in the middle, stifling their opponents out wide and through the middle.
Both sides used swift counterattacks, creating a frantic, end-to-end battle that was well worth a watch. Southampton's two goals came from far-post headers after quick breaks, while van Persie picked one up and won a penalty using this method.
Towards the end of the game, Adkins was relying exclusively on the counter and replaced his entire front line to worry Sir Alex Ferguson with fresh legs.
This was an astute approach, and, with the score at 2-1, Rickie Lambert beat the offside trap, ran the line and his cross was cleared. A quicker, less fatigued player could have made more of this situation and killed off the game, and this was probably the catalyst for the Saints manager's changes.
Unfortunately, Southampton needed the ball to utilize Emmanuel Mayuka and Guly do Prado.
Fergie had a Plan B of his own. By bringing on Paul Scholes, United effectively ended their opposition's chances of touching the ball.
The pass-master put in a near-flawless cameo, enabling United to finally take the game by the scruff of the neck and exert serious pressure on a creaking defence.
There are good and bad points for both sides here. Fergie has recruited a player in van Persie who can quite literally create something out of nothing. His flair value far outweighs Wayne Rooney's, and the Dutchman is "that spark" that Lionel Messi is to Barcelona.
The Saints are well-drilled, the manager knows what he's doing. He made astute decisions, set his side up well and made good tactical decisions as the game wore on. He did everything right, but Manchester United are irresistible at times.
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