Southampton: Why Can't the Saints Turn Possession into Goals?

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Southampton: Why Can't the Saints Turn Possession into Goals?
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Saints players and fans have often been left scratching their heads at the conclusion of a match.

From time to time this season, a frustrating theme has emerged for Southampton fans.

They watch their beloved Saints control possession and out-shoot their opponents, only to come away from the match with nothing.

The past two games are prime examples. Last Saturday, Southampton found themselves with a 57 percent to 43 percent advantage in possession and a 13-12 edge in shots. The end result was a 3-0 victory for the visitors from Liverpool.

The previous week's trip to West Ham United showed an even greater discrepancy in possession and shots in a losing cause. Southampton maintained possession a whopping 69 percent of the time and out-shot the Hammers 26-10. Despite taking a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute, the Saints went back to the South Coast with a 3-1 defeat.

Maintaining possession certainly hasn't been an issue for Southampton this season. The Saints currently rank third in the Premier League in possession, keeping the ball 58.3 percent of the time. Only Swansea City and Manchester City can boast better possession rates.

Southampton haven't turned that possession into loads of chances though. Mauricio Pochettino's squad only rank seventh in shots attempted, with 14.2 per match. That number may be a bit misleading, as only 44 percent of Saints' shots are finding their target, according to Squawka.

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Southampton's full-backs, like Luke Shaw, have provided plenty of possession and attacking power down the flanks, but their efforts aren't generating many goals.

There are a couple of compelling reasons why Southampton may be struggling to turn possession into goals.

Looking into the positional statistics, most of the Saints' possession is coming on the flanks. Only 29 percent of possession is coming in the middle-third of the pitch. Meanwhile, 33 percent of possession is down the left flank and 38 percent of possession is down the right flank.

With so much flank play, you would expect Southampton to be getting plenty of crosses into the box. The Saints do cross the ball plenty, averaging 24 crosses per match, fifth most in the Premier League.

However, those crosses aren't producing many quality shots. Only six percent of Southampton's shots are taking place inside the six-yard box, where players are more likely to score than miss. 

Another reason for the lack of quality in finishing is where the Saints are taking their shots.

In total, only 55 percent of Southampton's shots are coming from within the penalty area. In comparison, Manchester City get 67 percent of their shots within the penalty area. 

The primary reason looks to be the ability to make the key pass. Manchester City have made 324 key passes and 44 assists this season, according to Squawka. Southampton are mid-table in that statistic, with 257 key passes and 30 assists.

Southampton's best area to create chances appears to be the 20 yards in the center of the pitch outside the penalty area. According to Squawka, in that area, 38 percent of the Saints' chances have been generated—more than double of any other area of the field.

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If Pochettino's squad wants to become more clinical in their finishing, they need to stop playing around the wings and work the ball toward the top of the box.

To do that, a more creative spark may be needed than who is currently on the Southampton roster. Those type of players can cost a bundle, but if the Saints want to march into Europe, it may be an investment they need to make.

All stats come from unless otherwise noted.

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