It was seconds past the hour-mark at Elland Road when Mohamed Salisu launched yet another throw-in towards the Leeds goal. Under no competition, Liam Cooper rose above the crowd and headed it away.

It was Salisu’s fifth long throw of the day from Saints’ attacking third and he would add a sixth before referee Anthony Taylor called time on the 1-1 draw in Yorkshire.

But there was something strange about Salisu’s ‘long’ throw-ins, prompting this comment from Sky Sports co-commentator and current Sheffield United Women’s player Courtney Sweetman-Kirk:

“I’m quite surprised Southampton have persisted with these long throws and I say that almost with inverted commas because they’re not the longest! And the trajectory - normally you use long throw-ins because they’re flat and really pacey but these are almost looped. So it’s quite interesting that Southampton are persisting with them.” 

It was a fair question and one that was on the minds of many Saints fans watching on. In total, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side won seven throw-ins in the final third and Salisu took six of them. All of his six were aimed into the box, yet all six were headed away by a Leeds player. Additionally, none of the six even reached the near post.

Sweetman-Kirk was 100% right. These were ‘long’ throws by name only. In reality, they were relatively short loopers. But Saints kept going back to them over and over again so we have to ask the question: why?

Firstly, let’s establish something - Mohamed Salisu has the capability of throwing it long and flat, like actually long.

Let’s take a look at the below example from the 71st minute against Watford in mid-March. Saints have a throw-in deep inside their own half and Salisu launches it forward (the arrow is pointing to the ball). There isn’t even another Saints player within 15 yards.

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It turns out they aren’t there because Salisu doesn’t need them. The ball eventually lands a full 30 yards up the pitch near to Che Adams.

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Right, so we’ve got that out of the way: Salisu can launch them long a la Rory Delap.

But for some reason, when Saints get throw-ins in the final third, he seems to chuck up relatively shallow loopers - as pointed out by Sweetman-Kirk.

So, that brings us back to the main question: for a team and management staff that devote so much time to analysing themselves and their opposition, why do they keep persisting with this tactic?

To answer that, we’ll have to look a bit deeper.

Below is a perfect example from the 72nd minute against Leeds - Salisu’s sixth and final long attacking throw of the day. Saints have a total of eight men in the frame - one being Salisu - compared to ten for Leeds.

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In the box, Leeds’ numeric superiority outdoes Saints seven to four. More specifically, Saints have just two players in the area where the ball will actually be travelling- Che Adams and Armando Broja - while Ibrahima Diallo and Moi Elyounoussi lurk on the edge of the box.

Stuart Armstrong, James Ward-Prowse and Tino Livramento are hanging on the periphery.

The reality of this set-up is that Saints are almost never going to win the first ball from the throw-in. Leeds central defenders Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente proved to be a physical match for Adams and Broja all day long and the hosts have a significant advantage in numbers. 

Saints might win the first header occasionally, but it’s not likely. In fact, of Salisu’s six long throw-ins on Saturday, Saints won the first ball exactly zero times. 

But take a look at what happens next…

As Cooper’s defensive header drops back into play, suddenly the numerical advantage has flipped and now Saints have superiority. There’s a line of four Saints players from Stuart Armstrong to Salisu penning Leeds into their box while there’s a quartet of Saints alert and around the ball - compared to just one of Jesse Marsch’ men.

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Even if Leeds win the second ball - as they kind of did on this occasion - Rodrigo getting a touch on it before it was pinched by Ward-Prowse, the only way out for them would be a long clearance and more times than not, Saints will just win it back immediately.

Here’s another example from the 61st minute…

Salisu lines up the throw and this time there are three Saints players in the area the centre-back targets. Meanwhile, there are as many as seven Leeds players. We know how this will end…

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The only major difference from the previous example is that it’s on the other side. But Saints set up in almost the exact same way, Cooper again heads it clear, and again Saints have the advantage when the second ball drops.

This time Kyle Walker-Peters is able to take it down unchallenged before he drives forward and fires a time effort into the hands of Ilan Meslier.

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It doesn’t always work out like this and sometimes the long throw-ins will actually just lead to Saints losing the ball - even if that didn’t happen at Leeds. But it often does work like this.

In the defeat to Watford, Salisu tossed up a relatively weak floated throw-in in the direction of the Hornets defenders who greatly outnumbered the Saints in waiting. Watford won the first ball and the second ball even fell their way as well.

But that left them here…

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Saints close in on Watford in the corner aided by their significant numerical advantage to attack the second ball. All the Hornets can do is clear - with Romeu blocking the attempt and stealing the ball to regain possession in a relatively dangerous area…

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Again, this isn’t to say it works out every time. Two of Saints’ three attempted attacking ‘long’ throws against Manchester City in the FA Cup ended with them losing possession. But frequently it does seem to work, particularly when compared to what often can happen when they go short in attacking areas.

Kyle Walker-Peters takes the throw short to Armando Broja and then gets it right back. Under pressure he goes back to Jan Bednarek who plays to Mohamed Salisu and the centre-back - under pressure - has to go all the way back to Fraser Forster. The goalkeeper’s eventual clearance - again, under pressure - goes straight to a Watford player.

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Throughout this whole passage of play, Saints are under significant pressure and never really have full control of the ball, forced to be safe rather than anything more extravagant.

The problem starts with the initial set-up.

Watford press Southampton into the corner and have a major advantage in terms of numbers giving Saints little option but to pass it backwards and eventually smash it long.

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Compare this set-up to our previous example of the 40th minute against Watford when Romeu stole the ball back after the initial throw was headed away.

Salisu prepares to launch the ball into the box and almost the entire Watford team is drawn to where the throw-in will be heading.

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In turn, it leaves all that empty space for Saints players to fill if the second ball drops - and more times than not - the second ball does drop.

The presence of the long throw acts as a warning to the opposition, forcing them away from the ball in order to defend the most pressing danger. This opens up space for the waiting Saints players to arrive and win the second ball.

At Leeds, Southampton won none of the six ‘long’ throw-ins looped into the box by Salisu. A 0% success rate. But of the second balls? They won all six.

Saints’ have scored just once this season from a long throw-in - Ward-Prowse smashing home against Spurs after the North Londoners won the initial ball. The long throw-ins just are not working. But ultimately, maybe they are.

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