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Talking Tactics

Rock-solid Salisu a perfect fit for Southampton

Adrian Clarke 2 Nov 2021

Adrian Clarke explains why Ghanaian has been key to Saints having the third-best defence in recent weeks

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 11.

Mohammed Salisu

Over the course of the last eight matches Chelsea and Manchester City are the only top-flight teams to have conceded fewer goals than Southampton's eight.

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One of the key figures in their solid defence has been Salisu, who comes up against Aston Villa at St Mary’s Stadium on Friday evening.

The 22-year-old is one of the league's most underrated defenders and has been a consistently dominant presence for Southampton.

Salisu is the only Premier League player to have made at least 20 interceptions and tackles this term.

He was pivotal as Southampton kept clean sheets in two of their last three matches, both 1-0 wins against Leeds United and Watford.

Aggressive in his duels with opposition strikers, the centre-back is always looking to shut down their space with tight marking.

This hostile approach has helped him regain possession more often than any other defender in the opening 10 Matchweeks.

Salisu's defensive stats 
  Total Defenders rank
Possession won 76 1st
Interceptions 25 2nd
Duels won 58 6th
Tackles 22 6th
Clearances 39 9th

With Danny Ings out with an injury, Salisu is likely to be charged with the task of keeping Ollie Watkins quiet.

Villa manager Dean Smith used Watkins as his lone frontman in their most recent fixture, a 4-1 home defeat by West Ham United.

Having already dealt with Michail Antonio earlier in the campaign and having also turned in excellent performances in draws with Manchester United and Manchester City, Salisu will be confident of coming out on top against Villa's attack.

Perfect fit

From a tactical perspective, he is a perfect fit for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s style of play.

Under the Austrian, Southampton continue to press at a very high tempo, and that method of play requires Salisu to push up and get tight to forwards.

This comes naturally to the Ghanaian, who has strong recovery speed when the Saints high line is breached.

Saints have made up for their modest return of nine goals so far this season by keeping opponents at arm's length.

Much of that success has been courtesy of their aggressive off-the-ball work that makes it difficult for opponents to build up play or have time to shoot.

Southampton limit opponents to just 11.5 passes per defensive action (PPDA) on average, and only four sides have faced fewer open-play shots.

Fewest passes and shots faced by clubs
Passes per defensive action Least open-play shots faced
LEE 9.2 MCI 53
LIV 10.1 CHE 66
CHE 10.7 CRY 73
SOU 11.5 LIV 77
BHA 11.5 SOU 82

Villa will be desperate to avoid a fifth straight loss, but will not find it easy to break down a well-organised Southampton, especially with Salisu in such commanding form.

Also in this series

Part 1: Watford duo have pace and power to hurt Arsenal
Part 3: Will Solskjaer find defensive solution for Manchester derby?

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