After a week defined by a former Southampton boss dismantling another former Southampton boss with the team assembled by the current Chelsea boss, next up its the former Paris Saint-Germain boss versus the current Southampton boss. Do you follow? Sure, St Mary’s isn’t the Nou Camp, and Callum Hudson-Odoi isn’t Kylian Mbappe (at least not yet), but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fireworks once more in this interconnected tussle. Hell, it also doesn’t mean we won’t see two more tactically astute coaches prowling the touchlines.
That’s what this match is about. Forget Ronald Koeman’s scowls and Gerard Pique’s howls. We’re talking Chelsea versus Southampton, we’re talking Thomas Tuchel versus Ralph Hasenhuttl, we’re talking tactics.
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Though tactics will certainly be the name of the game in this early Saturday encounter, the question of which and why remains. That will ring particularly true for the home side. While Tuchel is still understandably tinkering with his squad, exploring a variety of plentiful possibilities, Hasenhuttl is facing the opposite dilemma. How does the Austrian reinvent a stagnating side?
The Saints are in the midst of their worst ever run of form in Premier League history. Without a win or point since that famous victory against a free-falling Liverpool side, Hasenhuttl’s reputation is undergoing a similar nosedive. Not six weeks ago, he had his pick of top six jobs. Now he’s battling to save his bottom eight bacon, which makes Saturday’s clash even more intriguing. The two sides are at the opposite end of the spectrum, both tactically and table-wise, but can often produce the most electric spectacles.
First things first, is another 9-0 on the cards? Probably not. Though Tuchel’s Chelsea is a different beast to Frank Lampard’s, it isn’t yet a clinical one. It’s also true that Tuchel’s Blues remain somewhat indecipherable, with the German still oscillating between formations, personnel and styles of play. Will the back three remain, will the wingbacks? If Tuchel is sufficiently concerned by the Saints attack then certainly.
Given the proclivity for collapse on the south coast, this could also be the game the German lets loose, freeing Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Co. from their shackles. The latter is the most interesting, especially with the other half of the expansive Germanic duo, Timo Werner, back to goalscoring form. A route into the side must be found for the £72 million man. Though Danny Ings is never to be taken lightly, this might just be the time and place to try it. I mean, we’re talking about the team that Steve Bruce’s Newcastle beat with nine men.
To be fair to the Saints, only two months have passed since they were heralded as the Premier League’s latest darlings, and the high-pressing 4-2-2-2 remains a recipe to reckon with when working effectively.
That caveat essentially gets to the crux of this game, and its potential game plans. Should Tuchel deem St Mary’s an appropriate petri dish, then attacking fireworks could be in store. Should he not, and remain wary of his former Bundesliga colleague’s high-press, a more couched, possessional affair would be the order of the day. Interestingly, the pair have faced each other four times so far in their careers, with Tuchel coming out favorably with three wins. If that record is in his mind in the lead up to the game, we may well get a more unleashed Blues outfit than the one we’ve seen so far.
What are the tactical features you’ll be keeping an eye on in this contest? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!