Tactical Analysis: Sunderland 2-2 Southampton

Sunderland clawed their way back to earn a 2-2 draw after falling two goals behind in a first half dominated by the visiting Saints. Mauricio Pochettino's side controlled the tempo in the opening half with nearly 70% possession and created a slew of decent chances. However, despite being far less fluid than the visitors in the final third, Sunderland fought back in the second half by pressing Southampton further up the pitch and hurrying them in possession.

Pochettino used a sort of fusion 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with Steven Davis playing deeper and more narrow than a typical right sided attacking midfielder. Adam Lallana was in the #10 spot behind Rickie Lambert. Victor Wanyama was unable to recover from a calf injury in time so Jack Cork was given the nod alongside Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield.

Gus Poyet opted for his standard 4-3-3. Lee Cattermole sat in front of the back four with Seb Larsson and Ki on either side of him as midfield shuttlers. Jozy Altidore was given the start at striker ahead of Steven Fletcher.

From the start of the match Sunderland defended in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Cattermole sitting in between the defensive and midfield four tracking the movement of Lallana in between the lines. The key to Southampton's first half possession dominance was the positioning of Steven Davis. Although he was listed as the right sided player in Southampton's attacking midfield three, he actually took up a deep and narrow position alongside Schneiderlin and Cork. This meant that when Ki and Larsson tried to press Cork and Schneiderlin respectively, Southampton always had Davis free in midfield to receive a pass and as a result Southampton were able to keep attacking moves going without being forced into hitting long hopeful balls forward. The graphic below shows where Davis received passes in the first half and all of his first half passes. Noticed he received passes throughout the deep midfield zone as Southampton's spare midfielder, not just on the right side.

Southampton's goals were a result of their possession dominance. Sunderland were pinned in their own half and when they did win the ball back they were too deep to find an outlet ball and maintain a bit of possession of their own. With all three Sunderland midfielders and the two wide forwards forced to defend deep in their own half, the only option was to lump the ball long towards Altidore when they won possession. He was an isolated figure up front and needed to hold the ball up long enough to bring the midfield runners into play. It was always going to be a difficult and thankless task but the American didn't perform it well enough given his size and strength. Too often his first touch and passing accuracy let him down. He completed just 2 of 9 passes in the attacking third in the first half.

For the opener the Black Cats failed to clear their lines in their own penalty area as they defended frantically. The ball fell for Jay Rodriguez at the top of the box and he dispatched his effort brilliantly. Rodriguez probably should have doubled his tally moments later when Lambert played him through but Vitto Mannone saved his effort towards the back post. When the Saints eventually did get their second through an excellently taken Jose Fonte volley off a corner the lead was no more than they deserved.

Pochettino therefore would have been bitterly disappointed to have conceded so quickly after on Sunderland's only sniff of a chance in the first half (they finished the half with just two shots, the goal the only one on target). Johnson did well to spot Borini's diagonal outside to inside run. Calum Chambers appeared to have done well to recover into a good position to get a block on but Borini cut his shot back across goal into the far corner.

The goal appeared to ignite Poyet's side and the home crowd going into the second half. Although Southampton created dangerous opportunities on the break in the opening 15 minutes of the half, Sunderland offered more of a threat themselves going forward. The key to Sunderland getting back into the contest was their work rate in pressing Southampton in midfield. The visitors didn't enjoy the same time on the ball that they did in the first half and as a result lost possession deeper in midfield. By winning the ball back higher up the pitch, Sunderland had the advantage of both having more players in positions to get forward and Southampton having less time to recover into a decent defensive shape. The additions of Jack Colback and Craig Gardner in the midfield in place of Cattermole and Larsson gave Poyet's side some fresh legs and added energy. The graphics below shows Sunderland winning tackles and interceptions in much more advanced areas in the second half.

Sunderland tackles: first half (left) vs. second half (right)

Sunderland interceptions: first half (left) vs. second half (right)
Johnson's equalizer probably should have been saved by Arthur Boruc but it came at a time when Sunderland were on the ascendency thanks to their pressing.

The contest could roughly be described as one between two very different styles of play. Sunderland's focus was on organization, work rate and quick vertical moves forward while Southampton emphasized possession and patient build up from the back. The visitors were more fluid in attack- their play in the first half was highly impressive- but Poyet's side deserve credit for the commitment they showed after going behind. Whether passion and work rate will be enough to keep them in the Premier League remains to be seen.

5 questions to consider ahead of this weekend's Premier League fixtures

1. Will Ozil start? 
With Tomas Rosicky set to miss Arsenal's Saturday clash at Sunderland with a thigh injury he picked up on international duty with the Czech Republic, there's a strong chance Mesut Ozil will start in his first appearance for the Gunners. Wenger could alternatively opt to bring in Mathieu Flamini to play deeper in midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey and push Jack Wilshere into the #10 role. However, against a Sunderland side likely to set up defensively, the prospect of a center midfield trio with as much creativity and attacking ability as Ramsey, Wilshere and Ozil would likely appeal to Wenger. An attacking six of Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott and Giroud offers the prospect of some truly exciting attacking football. Sunderland's 5 goals against are tied for the worst in the Premier League and the atmosphere is a little stale around the Stadium of Light with Paolo Di Canio continuing to publicly call out his own players- they'll need to be organized and get a big boost from the home crowd to have a chance at getting something out of this one.

(UPDATE: Ozil missed Arsenal's training session today with an illness but will travel with the team to Sunderland. Per Mertesacker also missed with illness and will not travel). 

2. West Ham vs. Southampton: who will win out in clash of styles?
The intrigue of this game is that it pairs two sides with two very different playing styles. West Ham manager Sam Allardyce places far more emphasis on territory than possession. His side is 16th in the league in average possession with 44.4% and have been outpossessed in all three of their opening fixtures. Those stats are particularly startling given two of those games were at home to Cardiff and Stoke, a newly promoted side and a side infamous for its inability to retain the ball (they were also outpossessed at Newcastle in match week 2). West Ham are organized and difficult to break down defensively. They shuttle the ball into wide areas, cross early and often and look for knock downs. They've attacked through the middle of the pitch less than any team this season. The loss to injury of towering forward Andy Carroll and talented crossers Joe Cole and Stewart Downing will certainly hurt West Ham's ability to play their preferred style effectively. Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton side on the other hand currently sits third in the league in terms of average possession. They prefer a more patient, passing attack. The striking partnership of Dani Osvaldo and Rickie Lambert failed to produce a goal in Southampton's loss to Norwich two weekends ago so it'll be interesting to see if Pochettino goes with both those two up front again or decides to go with just one striker. In that loss at Norwich they struggled to defend the flanks which could provide West Ham opportunities to get crosses into the box to Modibo Maiga and Kevin Nolan. West Ham haven't won on their travels since March 2- with a depleted squad that's unlikely to change Sunday. Still, this should be an entertaining game for the clash of footballing philosophies on display.

3. Will Martinez be brave against Chelsea?
Roberto Martinez is a far more proactive manager than his predecessor at Everton David Moyes. Whereas Moyes tends to react to the strengths of each opposition and organize his squad accordingly, Martinez focuses more on his own team's approach. Martinez's Wigan side played Chelsea in the opening fixture of last season and he showed he was unafraid to play expansive, attacking football. Wigan finished the match with more possession but were picked apart twice on the counter in the opening 10 minutes and Chelsea held on for a fairly comfortable 2-0 win. Herein lies the crucial question with Martinez. His sides generally play a brand of football that is attractive on the eye but is he willing to adjust his style to achieve better results? So far his Everton side lead the league in possession yet have managed just three draws. While much of that can be blamed on players getting used to the new system and the lack of an in form striker, questions remain regarding whether Martinez can combine style with substance. If his side continue the trend of bossing possession Saturday against Chelsea, they'll have to be extremely cautious about being caught on the counter. The Blues have a gaggle of talented midfielders capable of reeking havoc on the break and in Jose Mourinho a manager more comfortable playing a counter-attacking style. New signings James McCarthy and Gareth Barry will provide options for Martinez in the middle of midfield after the departure of Marouane Fellaini but on loan striker Romelu Lukaku will be unavailable to play against his parent club. It'll also be interesting to see whether Willian and Samuel Eto'o get their first minutes for Chelsea.

4. Will Kagawa play?
Since the appointment of David Moyes at Manchester United, Shinji Kagawa has played just 7 minutes of competitive football after coming on as a late substitute in the community shield. Moyes has instead opted to use Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck in Kagawa's preferred role behind main striker Robin Van Persie. A 0-0 draw to Chelsea followed by a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool saw Manchester United fail to score in successive games for the first time since August 2007. The lack of offensive output has many wondering why Moyes has refused to field a player with the creative ability of Kagawa. Concerns over Kagawa's ability to defend have been suggested and against stronger sides like Chelsea and Liverpool perhaps Moyes wanted first and foremost to ensure his side had a strong defensive shape. This wouldn't be a huge surprise given Moyes has always been a fairly reactive, conservative manager. However, with newly promoted Crystal Palace coming to Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney sidelined with an injury, not giving Kagawa a shot would make little sense this weekend.
5. Can Liverpool continue unbeaten run?
Brendan Rodgers' side has shown tremendous character opening the season with three difficult wins- an away victory over Aston Villa sandwiched between home wins over Stoke and Manchester United. It's the first time Liverpool have opened a league campaign with three wins since the 1994-95 season. All three wins of those wins have ended in a 1-0 scoreline and the Reds have had to dig deep in each. These were the type of fixtures they were dropping points in last season, points they'll need to pick up to have chance at a top four finish this campaign. They're the only side yet to have conceded. Daniel Sturridge is starting to show his promise having netted all three game winners. Rodgers managed to strengthen his side on transfer deadline day adding French center back Mamadou Sakho and winger Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea. It took Liverpool until October 20 to reach 9 points last season so there's plenty of reason for optimism at Anfield this time around, particularly given the strong form they showed in the second half of last season.

In traveling to Swansea Monday night they'll face another talented opponent. The Swans owe much of their current 16th place standing to a difficult run of opening fixtures, having opened the season with a home loss to champions Manchester United before being beaten by Tottenham at White Hart Lane. They managed their first win of the campaign 2-0 over West Brom at the Hawthornes two weekends ago and will look to use that win and a boisterous home crowd to motivate them Monday night. The Welsh side did however manage just 6 home league wins last season- the 7th fewest in the league.

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).

Tactical Analysis: Everton 0-0 Southampton

Click for larger image
Southampton earned a point in Mauricio Pochettino's first game in charge following the sacking of Nigel Adkins. It was a less dour contest than the 0-0 scoreline suggests but there was a profound lack of quality in the final third from both teams, summed up by Nikica Jelavic's second half whiff from 10 yards out.

Southampton were much the better side in the first half but weren't clinical enough in front of goal as they failed to convert a host of decent opportunities. Everton created the better chances in the second half but didn't do enough to deserve the win.

Pochettino recalled Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert to the starting 11 meaning Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis, starters in the 2-2 midweek draw with Chelsea, were left on the substitutes bench. David Moyes' only change to the side that drew 0-0 with Swansea was to replace Victor Anichebe with Steven Naismith at right midfield.

First Half
The most interesting tactical feature of the first half was Southampton's pressing and their defensive positioning against Everton's favored left flank.

The Saints' four most advanced players Puncheon, Ramirez, Del Prado and Lambert looked to quickly close down Neville, Osman, Jagielka and Distin in Everton's defensive half. You could hear Pochettino through the television mics urging his players to press high up the field. The strategy made sense- the Neville-Osman midfield combination isn't especially fluid and too often there was a large gap between the two and Fellaini. As a result, Everton struggled to link play with its more advanced players through the middle. Without being afforded the time and space to play comfortably between their center backs and holding midfielders, Everton's only passing option up the field was often a long ball from the back towards Fellaini. The Saints' pressing allowed them to nick possession in Everton's half and spring dangerous attacking moves. The graphic below shows passes received by Fellaini in the opening half, many of which came from long balls, and Southampton's first half interceptions.

At times this season Everton have used long balls into Fellaini to great effect. He's able to use his size to hold off opposition defenders and flick balls on for the striker or wingers making narrow runs in behind. This strategy was largely responsible for the Toffees season-opening win over Manchester United, when the Belgian used his physical advantage to bully Michael Carrick in the center of the park (due to injuries Carrick was playing out of position at center back that evening). However, against a side sitting towards the bottom of the table, Moyes surely wouldn't have expected his side to be so outplayed in the center of the pitch.

That Everton's deficiencies in the center of the pitch were so noticeable is attributable to how effectively Southampton defended Peinaar and Baines down the left channel. The Toffees rarely rely on their central midfielders to provide the link between defense and offense- instead they advance the ball into the attacking third through the combination play of Baines and Peinaar on the left. Peinaar frequently tucks inside from the left, forcing the opposition right back in field with him and allowing space for Baines to overlap near the touchline and whip in crosses.

Southampton employed a clever defensive approach that denied Baines opportunities to overlap into space. Rather than having the right back Nathaniel Clyne track Peinaar in field, thereby opening space for Baines to overlap down the wing, Jack Cork shifted to his right from center midfield to pick up Peinaar when he came in field. This allowed Clyne to sit deeper and deny any passes into Baines high up the field. As a result, Baines was forced to receive the ball in much deeper areas than he's used to in the first half, denying him the opportunity to get in positions to apply his trademark crosses. He didn't complete a pass in the attacking third in the first half and managed just one cross from open play from a deep position (the other two crosses in the graphic below were a corner and an Everton free kick in the middle of the pitch near the halfway line).

Rickie Lambert lacks the pace to get in behind defenses. Everton therefore played a high defensive line to keep him away from the box where his size and strength can be put to greater use. However, their pressing and efficient use of the channels enabled them to create some decent opportunities. They frequently looked for Lambert peeling off to the back post to knock the ball back across the six.

Second half
The game began to shift towards David Moyes' side after he was forced to make a 58th minute substitution for Seamus Coleman after the right back suffered an injury. Moyes brought on Anichebe to replace Coleman; Neville dropped to right back, Fellaini dropped to a deeper midfield role alongside Osman and Anichebe went up top alongside Jelavic in a 4-4-2. Fellaini's switch to a deeper role, which he views as his best position, immediately made Everton more fluid in midfield, with the Belgian offering more attacking thrust than Neville. After a poor outing Jelavic was replaced in the 67th minute by Kevin Mirallas- making his first appearance since Dec. 9 after being sidelined by injury. Everton moved back into more of a 4-2-3-1 with Mirallas playing off of Anichebe. The move further increased Everton's fluidity in midfield and the tempo of their play noticeably grew. Mirallas's movement in between the lines was good- however his lack of match sharpness showed as he missed a good opportunity after controlling the ball well and misplaced a few passes.

Southampton's press was less effective in the second half. In the opening 45 minutes they won 7 tackles and 9 interceptions in Everton's defensive half. In the second half they managed 4 tackles and 5 interceptions in Everton's defensive half. As a result, they were unable to spring the same types of quick attacks they created in the first half and failed to register a shot on goal in the second 45 minutes.

Southampton were stronger in the first half; Everton were better in the second. Both sides had opportunities to win the game but both lacked composure in front of goal. In the end it was probably a fair result.

Pochettino will likely be the more pleased of the two managers. His side were well organized and showed good energy levels to press for the majority of the game. More clinical finishing would have given his team a massive three points, but a difficult point to a top five side should be applauded.

Moyes will rue another missed opportunity at 3 points. He'd have viewed this as a good chance to cut into Tottenham's lead in the race for fourth. It's his sides 11th draw of the season, tied with Stoke for most in the Premier League.