Pochettino's 4-3-1-2 creates chances but leaves Southampton unable to defend width of pitch

Not a new analysis but I just got around to watching Norwich vs. Southampton from last weekend and wanted to get a quick post on here about some interesting tactical developments, particularly from Southampton.

Both teams lined up in 4-4-2 formations. New Southampton signing Dani Osvaldo was given the nod up top alongside Lambert. Adam Lallana started down the left flank while James Ward-Prowse occupied the right midfield spot.

For Norwich, Johan Elmander was given the start alongside Ricky Van Wolfwinkel at forward. Leroy Fer and Bradley Johnson played center midfield. Nathan Redmond was on the left flank, Ryan Snodgrass on the right.

With both teams in 4-4-2 formations the battle in the middle of midfield was an even 2 v. 2. Norwich enjoyed the better of the play in the opening moments by attacking the flanks. On the left side they circulated the ball wide to Nathan Redmond who used his pace to run at left back Calum Chambers and cut inside onto his stronger right foot. Redmond cut inside on Chambers in the opening ten minutes and sent a shot just wide. On the right side, Johan Elmander would drift wide alongside Ryan Snodgrass to create overloads for Southampton right back Danny Fox.

At the other end of the pitch, Southampton struggled to get in any sort of rhythm in the attacking third. Osvaldo and Lambert didn't appear comfortable as playing part of a front two. Both players are strong holding up play but neither really has the pace to make penetrating runs in behind the defense. As a result, both seemed to make similar runs checking back to the ball in the early stages and Southampton lacked a penetrative threat.

With his side struggling to get going offensively, Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino made an extremely brave attacking switch in his side's shape. Adam Lallana moved from the left wing into the middle just behind Osvaldo and Lambert in a #10 role. Ward-Prowse tucked into a center midfield position to form a midfield three with Wanyama and Schneiderlin. Wanyama sat in front of the back four with Scheiderlin more advanced to his left, Ward-Prowse advanced to his right. The shape was therefore a narrow 4-3-1-2 as shown in the diagram below.

Fox and Chambers bombed forward to provide width in possession, effectively playing more as wingbacks in a 3-5-2 than fullbacks. It was an incredibly attacking shape, particularly given Southampton were the away side.

The change had an immediate impact offensively for Pochettino. Norwich were defending in two banks of four. They were happy to allow Wanyama to get on the ball in deep areas because he's not a skilled enough passer to cause problems playing penetrative forward passes. Johnson and Fer therefore picked up Ward-Prowse and Schneiderlin. Because Southampton were playing two up top, both Norwich center backs had to pick up a forward. This left Lallana with space in between the two lines of four to collect the ball and drive forward. Within a minute of making the switch, Lallana picked up the ball between the lines towards the right side of the pitch, cut in and took a shot 20 yards from goal. The shot struck Bradley Johnson's outstretched hand inside the area but Howard Webb failed to give what looked to be a clear penalty.

The additional man in midfield Pochettino's change created allowed Southampton to enjoy more possession and stretch Norwich in their defensive third.

However, defensively the change left the Saints vulnerable in wide areas. Their shape was 4-3-3 when Norwich were in possession. Lallana, Lambert and Osvaldo pressed the back four while Ward-Prowse, Schneiderlin and Wanayama formed a narrow midfield bank of three in behind them. With only three defending in midfield, Southampton couldn't cover the width of the pitch and Norwich were able to find their fullbacks and wide midfielders in space.

The photos and video below show where Southampton were vulnerable defensively. In the top image you can see their forward three and midfield three. Here, if Southampton are going to press Pablo Osvaldo needs to be closing down the easy pass for Fer into Bassong. He fails to do so and as a result their press is easily split.

Fer plays a simple ball back to Bassong. Osvaldo then elects to apply pressure to Bassong leaving an easy passing line for the center back to find the feet of Bradley Johnson. Bassong's simple ball into Johnson below has taken Lambert, Lallana and Osvaldo all out of the play. Johnson is able to receive the pass turn and play another easy ball forward into the feet of Fer, now leaving Schneiderlin out of position to defend Southampton's right wing.

Snodgrass tucks inside unmarked where he's spotted by Fer. With four easy passes Norwich have beaten Southampton's forward and midfield lines and are able to run at the back four with numbers (the video starts with Bassong's pass into Johnson). Snodgrass and Whittaker overload Fox 2 v. 1 down the right and Snodgrass is able to get a cross into the back post. Norwich should have earned a penalty from the move- Van Wolfswinkel's header at the back post was handled- but the move shows how difficult it was for Ward-Prowse, Wanayama and Schneiderlin to defend the width of the pitch.

The image below shows just how much of the pitch Southampton were forced to leave unoccupied by playing with a midfield line of three. Here Ward-Prowse is forced wide to pick up Redmond so that his right back Chambers can pick up the overlapping Norwich left back Javier Garrido. Wanyama slides in front of Elmander to block Redmond's passing lane there. Schneiderlin is trying to catch up with the play after having just gotten forward to provide an extra body in the attack. The entire center of pitch is free for either Norwich center midfielder to run into the space. In this move Johnson and Fer failed to do so but the space was there all afternoon when the ball shuffled into wide areas.

In the end, Norwich's goal would come at least partially as a result of Southampton's inability to defend the width of midfield. Fer was able to collect the ball on the right flank and play an easy crossfield ball into Redmond on the left wing. Redmond of course still had plenty to do after receiving the ball on the wing. His driving run inside and finish were sensational but had Southampton been defending with a midfield bank of four rather than three, Fer may well have been unable to get the ball into him in the first place (Fer's crossfield ball is at 25 seconds in the video below).