Mauricio Pochettino: How His Tactics at Southampton Are Taking out the Big Boys

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Mauricio Pochettino: How His Tactics at Southampton Are Taking out the Big Boys
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

There is a old saying that goes something to the effect of "one time is a fluke, two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern."

After defeating Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea at St. Mary's since taking the reins at Southampton, you can't say what Mauricio Pochettino and the Saints have accomplished is a fluke anymore. The squad has the makings of a team that could sneak into the top half of the Premier League table by the end of the season. 

“I think (Southampton) will finish in the top 10," former Southampton manager and new Reading manager Nigel Adkins said in his pre-match press conference prior to the two clubs meeting Saturday at the Madejski Stadium, "The players there are doing ever so well. We had a lot of belief in what we would achieve this season and that is being brought out and great credit to the players."

But how has a team that only earned five points in its first 11 matches turned it around? 

Pochettino has built upon the foundation laid by Adkins but added his own twist. The Argentinian has encouraged his team to apply pressure all over the pitch. 

The result is a team that has taken 12 points out of the nine games Pochettino has been in charge. That includes a run of 10 points out of the last six games.

The Liverpool match is a perfect example of this. Southampton attempted 15 tackles in the 3-1 victory, eight of which were in the Reds' defensive half, according to Squawka. The Saints also intercepted the ball 21 times; nine of the interceptions occurring in the Liverpool defensive end.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Martin Skrtel and the rest of the Liverpool defense weren't given much time on the ball by Southampton.
A look at the Liverpool heat map shows just how little time the Reds spent in Southampton's end. This is a result of Liverpool passing a full 11 percent poorer in this match than its average on the season.

That pattern can be seen in many of Southampton's games against the better teams of the Premier League. The following table shows how opposing teams pass on average and how they passed against the Saints.

 Opponent  Season Avg.   vs. Southampton 
 Chelsea  84%  74%
 Liverpool  84%  73%
 Manchester City  85%  76%
 Manchester Utd.    86%  75%
 Everton  79%  70%

                                                                                  (all stats from Squawka.com)

 

Strangely, some of Southampton's worst performances have come against the teams near the bottom of the table. The Saints lost a home match to Queens Park Rangers while completing 428 passes to QPR's 161. Southampton has also lost to Newcastle and drawn with Wigan and Norwich City since Pochettino took charge.

That could be an effect of how the high-pressing style can be negated by the long ball. With the majority of players pressing forward, a single pass can take out two-thirds of the team, leaving strikers in favorable situations one-on-one with center-backs.

Certainly, there is enough tape and information that teams will start to figure out Pochettino's tactics and how to counter them. Meanwhile, the Saints' manager will have to come to grips with who his preferred tactics work against and who he needs to adapt them for. 

Southampton, despite their 12th place position, are still only four points from the relegation zone. But teams in the top half of the table like Tottenham and Swansea, who still have a match against the Saints, should not take the three points for granted.

As another old saying goes, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

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