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Saints struggling to find balance between defence and attack
It’s the difficult balancing act that Mauricio Pochettino is so close to getting right.
Treading that fine line between defence and attack is difficult for any manager, especially at Premier League level where the skill of the players is such that any slight mistake is harshly punished.
Saints fans feel that their Argentinian manager is right on the verge of hitting the perfect balance, and the season really getting off and running, but he hasn’t quite found it yet.
The team have changed from the great entertainers of the Premier League, where they seemed to concede and score in almost equal measure for much of last season, to something resembling the opposite.
In the last seven top flight games straddling the end of the last campaign and the beginning of this, they have scored just four goals and conceded only five.
Significantly perhaps, that run started after the 3-0 home defeat to West Brom.
Of course, this season there are new personnel in the Saints line-up.
The presence of £8.5m centre half Dejan Lovren is an easy answer to just why Saints have tightened up at the back, even if looking at one player alone is surely simplifying things too much.
Personnel aside, though, there is little doubt the balance of the side has changed.
Saints’ attacking prowess is impressive, and when they go forward they do so in numbers thanks to the adventurous formation which they play.
However, they probably are a little more conservative now than they once were.
A lot of Saints fans have bemoaned a lack of width, and pointed to the absence of Jason Puncheon, now on loan at Crystal Palace, as being key to this.
But, in truth, even Puncheon wasn’t really offering that much width.
He often played on the right of the attacking three midfielders behind Lambert and, like Adam Lallana on the other side, was cutting in onto his stronger foot.
The major difference is that the full backs appeared to be far more attacking.
Under Pochettino it was common to see both Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne regularly committed forward, getting down the flanks out wide into the space created by Puncheon and Lallana moving inside.
The trouble was that, though it often worked from an attacking sense, it was occasionally exposed defensively.
The defeat to West Brom was a rude awakening in that respect, and, whether coincidental or not, marked a change.
Steve Clarke had done his homework and long balls into the channels and in behind left the centre halves exposed, especially with such a willing and able runner as Romelu Lukaku on the pitch.
The lesson to be learned was perhaps not to commit both full backs forward together so often, though maybe extra caution has now come into play and a lack of width has resulted, even if the flip side is that Saints are far stronger at the back.
Much is made of Pochettino’s team selection in those attacking three midfield positions but he has such a wonderful wealth of talent at his disposal that once more it comes down to the same thing – finding the correct balance.
It shows how far Saints have come that they have such a depth of quality to pose such problems.
Solving them is what top level football management is all about.
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