The Mauricio Pellegrino era got underway this afternoon, as Southampton drew 0-0 against Swiss side FC St Gallen.
Friendlies are all about translating the manager’s ideas onto the pitch and for the players to build up their fitness levels ahead of the upcoming season. However, it was certainly a dull one today and Saints will be hoping to kick on when they visit Brentford next weekend.
A total of 23 players got a run-out today, including players from the youth academy and the more experienced pros. Virgil van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand were the notable absentees, with the former’s reasoning being that he is not yet up to speed.
Although it was a poor game, there were still points to take away. So, here are my thoughts and takings from Saints’ first pre-season outing!
In the first-half, Saints’ high-pressing approach made its long-awaited return. From front to back, the team pushed high up the pitch and aimed to retrieve the ball quickly. They forced mistakes out of the St Gallen back-line, and the goalkeeper was particularly put under pressure.
In the final third, in the first-half, Saints’ combination play was impressive. The ball was moved quickly between the attacking quartet and chances were created. Positionally, Saints were flexible, and this brought an air of unpredictability to their play going forward in the opening 45.
Young trio impress
Aaron O’Driscoll, Jake Flannigan and Nathan Tella were surprise inclusions in Mauricio Pellegrino’s first team sheet, and they all impressed. O’Driscoll produced an intelligent display at the back, while Flannigan demonstrated aggression and drive on the right.
Tella also lived up to the hype. Saints fans are evidently excited about what this young winger has to offer, and he does appear to have big potential. Although his end product lacked against St Gallen, he was energetic on the right and created space well. He’s especially good at drawing fouls, and has certainly staked his claim for some game time at Brentford next week. Let’s hope his injury isn’t too serious.
Suits to the system
While the 4-2-3-1 formation is one that the squad are familiar with, the approach is far different. The need for dynamism and athleticism in a high-pressing system can prove to be too much for some players, and this is a worry I have for Charlie Austin. He was a little ineffective in the first half and struggled to maintain the level of intensity that those around him did. However, it’s early days and he could adjust to this as time goes on.
However, I took encouragement from seeing Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal play a bit better together. My initial thoughts have been that the two can’t play at the same time due to the similarities in their play, but they adjusted well to each other’s game today. They played with better understanding in a fluid attacking trio behind the forward, and could move from wing to wing without too much discipline or onus on their position.
Neither were individually brilliant on the day, but the signs of tactical intelligence were there.
As with any new manager that implements a different style of play, there will be a few issues early on. This was the case against St Gallen, but there are no serious concerns.
Often, there were noticeable spacing issues. There was a clear divide between the centre-backs and the defensive midfielders at times, and often a large disconnection between the defensive midfielders and the attacking four. It left Saints exposed centrally on some occasions, but St Gallen couldn’t take advantage of this.
It was only a minor issue, and one that Saints were able to counter with some sturdy defending. The structure of the team will strengthen as time goes on.
Man of the match?
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – without a doubt. The young midfielder was really impressive in the second half. He contributed a lot of energy, grit and determination to Saints’ performance. His range of pass was good and he was confident on the ball.
Hojbjerg produced some deft touches and was skilful. It’d be great to see him get a solid run of games at the beginning of the season, because his potential is unquestionable.