When Mauricio Pochettino took over the helm at Southampton in January, he adapted some of Nigel Adkins' philosophies but made some tweaks to his predecessor's system. These included placing a greater emphasis on pressuring the opposition further up the pitch, which really paid dividends in victories against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Now with a full training camp at his disposal, Pochettino has plenty of time and preseason friendlies to implement his style. While the Saints manager has largely stuck with his 4-5-1 in the four friendlies so far, the young Argentinian manager may have a couple of tricks up his sleeve come the start of the season.
We just hope that prematch fire-walking for the starters like the Southampton squad did during a team-bonding exercise in Spain isn't one of them.
A Different 4-5-1
Pochettino has traditionally employed the Southampton midfield in a "W" shape, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork manning the defensive midfield positions. However, the signing of Victor Wanyama from Celtic has added to the quality of central midfield with Steven Davis and James Ward-Prowse also factoring in the discussion.
To open up some opportunities to get Schneiderlin, Cork and Wanyama on the pitch at the same time, don't be surprised if Pochettino changes the alignment of the Saints midfield to a "V" shape or one holding midfielder playing behind four more advanced midfielders
With Wanyama in the back of the V, Schneiderlin would be freed up to be more of a true box-to-box midfielder where his offensive skills, as evidenced by his five goals and 85.2 percent pass success rate, according to WhoScored.com, can be utilized more.
Jack Cork would also benefit from having some of the defensive responsibilities lifted from his shoulders. The 24-year old is less of a factor defensively, his 1.9 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per match recorded by WhoScored.com paling in comparison to Schneiderlin's 4.1 tackles and 3.9 interceptions.
Cork's strength is being the main conduit for the buildup of Southampton attacks. The London native led the Saints in passes per match with 52.1.
Late last season, Pochettino experimented with a 4-4-1-1 formation that splits the difference between a 4-5-1 and a 4-4-2. The interesting aspect of the formation was the amount of interchange between Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.
Offensively, Lambert starts out at the top of the formation acting as a target man. But the Liverpool native would often retreat into the midfield to act as a deep-lying playmaker, with Rodriguez switching places by making runs up the middle of the opposing defense.
Lambert would then have the option of feeding the ball to Rodriguez or finding one of his wingers running the channels.
Defensively, the formation allows the 31-year-old Lambert to rest his legs. Rodriguez will often take the place of the top man in the formation, using his speed to apply pressure on the opposing back four. The work rate of the Burnley native is evident in his 1.0 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per match, according to WhoScored.com, which are decent numbers for a striker.
Turn Down the Pressure
While the high pressure defensive system worked quite well against the higher-tier clubs of the Premier League like Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, it wasn't that effective against clubs equal to or trailing Southampton in the table.
The lesser-skilled teams seemed be able to bypass the pressure, creating one-on-one matchups against the Saints back four.
Pochettino responded by turning down the pressure in some of these games. Against Reading, Southampton only attempted five tackles in the Reading half of the field according to Squawka.com. The Royals responded to the lack of pressure by completing a paltry 55 percent of their passes in the match.
With a 38-game schedule, the availability of video on every match and the boom of advanced statistics, managers can no longer employ the same tactics match after match. They have to have variations of their tactics and some surprises up their sleeves.
While Pochettino will likely choose his high-pressure 4-5-1 with regularity, the Argentinian has shown that he can change things up on occasion. Expect to see these variations, as well as some new schemes, from the Saints in the 2013-14 campaign.
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