Date published: Thursday 15th October 2020 3:42
Chelsea v Southampton comes under the tactical microscope. It’s the Saturday 3pm game and it could be a cracker…
There is a distinct possibility this will be yet another of this season’s bizarrely open Premier League games. Chelsea are notoriously porous in the attack-to-defence transition, as seen most recently in the 3-3 draw with West Brom, while Southampton’s 5-2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur owed much to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s naively high defensive line.
And so Chelsea’s all-out attacking mentality should give them the lion’s share of possession, punctuated by Timo Werner’s runs in behind – a frequent feature in the opening-day defeat of Brighton – catching Saints sitting too high up the pitch, as they did when Heung-Min Son repeatedly found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
But Southampton will break back through Danny Ings should Moussa Djenepo and Stuart Armstrong successfully drift off the flanks to add bodies into an empty Chelsea midfield. It ought to be another frantic match pulled from one end to the other.
Key battle zones
The central midfield battle is crucial. Frank Lampard’s inability to coach structured possession means his players, in their search for space, are often caught too stretched out across the width and depth of the pitch. Southampton’s targeted pressing, a key feature under Hasenhuttl, should be able to pinch the ball in the Chelsea midfield, creating crucial counter-attacking opportunities that expose the vulnerability of Lampard’s side in the transition.
Then again, Southampton have clearly missed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg so far this season and simply could not get a grip on Tottenham’s midfield in their only ‘Big Six’ game of 2020/21 so far. If the likes of Mason Mount and Matteo Kovacic can probe around the spaces that Harry Kane dropped into in that 5-2, then Saints are in trouble.
Keep an eye on…Chelsea’s line-up
Lampard has a serious selection headache in the final third now that Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech are fit to start. Will he dare to drop either of his marquee signings Kai Havertz or Timo Werner, considering neither has registered a goal or assist this season? Or will Tammy Abraham give way to a more exciting option? There is a disorganisation – randomness, even – to how Chelsea have lined up so far. Lampard needs to find a system that makes sense.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on exactly how deep Hasenhuttl pitches his defensive line after the disaster against Spurs. Surely he won’t sit his team quite so high, and indeed if he drops into a more conservative midblock then we may not get such a high-scoring game.
One to watch… Kai Havertz
Havertz might not have got off to a flying start, but he was quietly influential against Brighton, his deft touches and flicks around the corner helping to progress Chelsea forward and release Werner in behind. The German playmaker, who scored for Germany in midweek, will be vital in exposing Southampton’s aggressive defensive line.
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Alex Keble hosts a Premier League pre-match tactics show at twitch.tv/EPLtactics