Talking Tactics

Sharp movement of Walcott will test Brighton

By Adrian Clarke 4 Dec 2020
Theo Walcott, Southampton

Adrian Clarke says Southampton attacker poses attacking threat from wide or central role

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points in Matchweek 11.

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Loan star Theo Walcott has seamlessly slotted into Ralph Hasenhuttl’s starting XI at Southampton.

Re-energised by a move back to his first club from Everton, Walcott operated on the right wing in his first two outings.

He produced an assist in Southampton's 3-3 draw at Chelsea and has forged a lively strike partnership with Che Adams in the absence of Danny Ings.

Walcott's impact v Chelsea

In his five starts, Saints have scored 12 goals with Walcott producing some sharp individual displays.

His pace and direct approach could now trouble Brighton & Hove Albion on Monday.

Southampton attacking stats per 90
Most shots Most fouls won Most fouls won in final third
Walcott 2.41 Walcott 2.21 Walcott 0.60
Ings 2.16 Djenepo 2.15 Djenepo 0.59
Adams 2.09 Redmond 1.75 Bertrand 0.34

During Southampton's last away match, a 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Walcott's clever darts in behind the home defence caused major problems.

In each match he has started for Saints, Walcott has regularly got into dangerous shooting positions.

Indeed, he is actually firing off more efforts on goal per 90 minutes than Ings.

Walcott's ability to draw fouls is also a useful asset as it enables James Ward-Prowse to provide quality deliveries from set-pieces.

Brighton must try not to dive in on him during this south-coast derby.

High press pays off

Although Walcott is not as quick as he used to be – Nathan Tella and Adams have clocked faster speeds this term – his game is still built around exploding into life on counters and turnovers.

For this reason he is a perfect fit to shine in Hasenhuttl’s side.

Saints are statistically the second-best pressing side in the top flight, just behind Leeds United.

They allow only 10.9 passes before completing a defensive action inside the opposition’s defensive or middle third or PPDA (Opposition Passes Allowed per Defensive Action) – an impressive stat.

Teams who press best
2020/21 PPDA
Leeds 8.4
Southampton 10.9
Liverpool 11.2
Man City 11.4
Man Utd 11.6

Winning the ball back in good areas, Walcott makes early runs for team-mates before the opposition can reset defensively.

On the front foot

Walcott is also benefiting from Hasenhuttl’s positive style.

In a 4-4-2 the Southampton head coach encourages his midfielders and defenders to look for the forward pass as often as possible, and this suits Walcott.

The earlier he receives passes that push opponents back, the more dangerous he is.

Slow build-up play is not conducive to exploiting his strengths.

Top forward-passing teams
2020/21 Total PL rank
Liverpool 1,773 1
Chelsea 1,743 2
Southampton 1,721 3
Leeds 1,652 4
Spurs 1,592 5

Tellingly, central midfielders Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu have made the most passes to Walcott, with their total of 15 followed by the 12 passes of defender Jannik Vestergaard.

Walcott will play on the shoulder of Brighton’s widest central defenders and want passes to be played into space.

He still has plenty to offer at Premier League level, as his successful loan spell continues to prove.

Also in this series

Part 1: Runs of Raphinha can deny Chelsea top spot
Part 2: Elneny and Gabriel key to stifling Spurs attack
Part 3: Westwood passing can hurt fragile Everton

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