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Talking Tactics

Ward-Prowse taking his chance with Southampton

Adrian Clarke 30 Mar 2019
James Ward-Prowse, Southampton

Adrian Clarke looks at the emergence of one of the League's most efficient finishers

Adrian Clarke is looking at key tactical talking points ahead of Matchweek 32.

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Scoring six goals in nine matches, James Ward-Prowse is enjoying his best run of form for Southampton.

But what are the reasons behind the 24-year-old’s improved performances?

His head coach, Ralph Hasenhuttl, deserves a lot of the credit for the faith he has shown in his midfielder.

Ward-Prowse has played every minute of the Saints' last 11 matches since his first start under the Austrian on 30 December.

Even though he has made 186 first-team appearances for Southampton, this is the longest stretch of consecutive starts in his career.

Seen as a key part of the team, he is blossoming with the added responsibility.

Hitting his mark

Ward-Prowse’s finishing is where there has been most improvement.

In the past two seasons he scored three and four goals respectively, with modest chance conversion rates of 14 and 12 per cent.

In 2018/19, he has had 15 shots, hitting 12 on target and scoring six times.

That equates to a conversion rate of 40 per cent, the best of any player with more than four goals in the Premier League this season.

Highest conversion rates 2018/19
Player Club Goals Conversion %
Ward-Prowse SOU 6 40.0
Martial MUN 9 39.1
Sterling MCI 15 35.7
Murray BHA 11 33.3
Shaqiri LIV 6 33.3

Ward-Prowse is also an outstanding taker of set-pieces.

He has scored from free-kicks in Southampton’s last two matches, against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, and is dangerous when delivering from corners and wide free-kicks.

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  • James Ward-Prowse
    James Ward-Prowse
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James Ward-Prowse Player Profile

He has created 22 chances from set-pieces this season, at a rate of one every 58.6 minutes. Only James Maddison, of Leicester City, can beat that among all PL players.

Hassenhuttl’s 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-2 formations lend themselves nicely to Ward-Prowse’s energetic box-to-box style.

Under previous managers he struggled to find a defined role, but his new boss’s physical demands and preferred shape mean the dynamism Ward-Prowse offers from central areas is a good fit.

He has played centrally in both a two and a three-man midfield, used as a right wing-back and also more recently taken on a narrow attacking midfield role. This versatility gives Hasenhuttl tactical flexibility.

In each of the last 10 PL fixtures, no matter which position he has played, Ward-Prowse has covered more ground than any team-mate. 

In fact, in 2019 he has in total run the equivalent of a whole match more (13km) than the nearest Southampton player.

Distance covered by Saints in 2019
Player Mins Distance (km) Distance/90
Ward-Prowse 900 123.7 12.4
Romeu 855 110.3 11.6
Redmond 891 105.3 10.6
Bednarek 900 100.6 10.1
Valery 743 92.9 11.3

Ward-Prowse’s fine finishing and athleticism make him ideal for a role as an attacking midfielder.

However, to stay there long term, he will need to improve his creativity in the final third.

Only 12 of his 34 key passes this season have been from open play and he is yet to assist a goal. No player in the PL has made more key passes without claiming an assist.

Most key passes with no assist 2018/19
Player Club Chances created
Ward-Prowse SOU 34
Ralls CAR 30
Pritchard HUD 24
Jonny WOL 22
Hadergjonaj HUD 22

This may soon change, potentially on Saturday against Brighton & Hove Albion

Also in this series

Part 2: Mane making most of perfect timing
Part 3: Spatial awareness taking Sterling to new level
Part 4: Gunnarsson can set tone for Cardiff resilience

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