Southampton went blank again at St Mary’s, this time losing 0-1 to Manchester United. This was their 9th blank in the last 10 home games, an alarming stat. In addition, they have only scored 4 goals this season which means the general way of playing needs a reality check.
Pellegrino has preferred Shane Long for that striker role in the last two games. He began the season with Gabbiadini up top but it was visible that the Italian was struggling. But, the matter of fact is Long isn’t great either in terms of scoring goals. The Irishman offers pace and work-rate week in week out but lack of goal-scoring ability is making his team look very one-dimensional.
The idea from the manager was that Long will run the channels allowing likes of Tadic and Redmond to run beyond him. This ploy hasn’t worked so far as the starting positions of both wide men is too deep. Hence, even if the striker is winning his headers, there is no one to support him for second balls and knockdowns.
This difference was felt in the game against Manchester United. Southampton had 61% possession and 14 attempts on goal with nothing to show in the goals column. Throughout the game, Saints had good control in midfield, defended well especially in the second half. Despite all these good works, they couldn’t score to come back in the game. United kept making it tough for them by sitting deep.
If we analyse the game against United, the midfield pairing of Lemina and Romeu did brilliantly to nullify the threat of Matic and Fellaini. The defending was decent too stopping the possible counter-attacks and also holding the ball well. But, when it came to the business end, there was no one to finish. Personally think, this was a perfect game for Gabbiadini to make an impact.
The Italian struggles when he is isolated up front. In contrast, when the crosses are coming regularly, he is one of the best in the club and his finishing is lethal as we know. In fact, Pellegrino did bring him on but little too late and United were quite deep by then to defend their lead.
The worry now for Southampton and their manager is that they can’t rely on defenders to win games. There will be moments when even if you defend well as a unit, you concede 1 or 2 goals. Therefore, it is then up to the forward men to score goals and allow defenders to breath a bit.
In the immediate term, 4-4-2 might be a good option to implement. We all know Pellegrino wants to play possession game with high fullbacks and narrow forward line. It is clearly not working though in the goal-scoring sense. Two strikers up front will give more aerial threat to the opposition as well. The combination of Long and Gabbiadini will offer goals and work-rate in massive amount.
The one good thing Southampton are doing at the moment is defending well. Obviously, to win games in football, goals are important. They need to sort this problem out and start looking to win games. If goals are not being scored, defenders are always under huge pressure to not make any mistake throughout the game.
Pellegrino is an experienced manager and for sure will find a solution for this. He needs to tinker with his system a bit for few games and see how the two-striker thing works. Then, if the results come, he can revert back to his original style of 4-2-3-1.