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Talking Tactics

Bella-Kotchap and Salisu forming a strong barrier

Adrian Clarke 13 Sep 2022

Adrian Clarke analyses Southampton's pair of centre-backs and how their skills can stop Aston Villa

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 8.

Armel Bella-Kotchap & Mohammed Salisu (SOU)

Southampton's new centre-back partnership is flourishing at the heart of their defence.

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Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are awaiting their first clean sheet of 2022/23, but their two young defenders have excelled when asked to soak up pressure.

Strong in 1v1 duels, well positioned and excellent at making recoveries, Bella-Kotchap and Salisu are enhancing their reputations at St Mary’s.

Their meeting with Aston Villa’s front two promises to be a physical and engaging affair on Friday.

Impressing immediately 

Bella-Kotchap has been one of the division’s standout young players so far this season. The 20-year-old could be excused for showing nerves, but has risen to the challenge of Premier League football.

The German, who has just been called up to the senior national side for the first time, is a confident presence, delivering superb individual displays against Manchester United and Chelsea in particular.

Bella-Kotchap v Man Utd & Chelsea
Stat v Man Utd v Chelsea
Duels won 8 4
Aerial duels won 6 1
Interceptions 2 1
Possession won 6 12
Clearances 1 8

An impressive aspect of those performances were the different skill sets Bella-Kotchap needed for each match.

In the 1-0 loss at home to Man Utd he was very aggressive in his duels, dominating Marcus Rashford.

But in the 2-1 win over Chelsea, the summer signing from Bochum, played deeper and was at his best clearing danger from inside his own box, completing eight clearances in total.

His speed also played a big part in that victory, racing across to retrieve loose balls.

In key moments during both matches, Bella-Kotchap’s pace and defensive acumen bailed Southampton out of trouble. He was arguably man of the match in both games.

A solid pairing

Playing to the left of Bella-Kotchap is Salisu.

The Ghanaian is not quite as quick as his partner (his top speed is 31.4km/h compared with Bella-Kotchap's 33.0km/h) but he mirrors the style of his team-mate in a way that balances the back four.

Salisu is left-footed, combative, and happy to play in a defence asked to squeeze up and be aggressive.

Salisu 2022/23 stats so far
  Per 90 PL rank
Duels won 5.7 4th
Possession won 7 5th

Rookie goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, 20, has been well protected by this duo stationed in front of him.

While it is always a collective effort for Saints, defending from the front with enthusiasm, there is no doubt Bella-Kotchap and Salisu have provided a stable platform down the centre of the pitch.

Southampton have faced the sixth-fewest shots this season and are ranked in the same position for expected goals (xG) against in open play.

How Saints defence compares 22/23
Team Shots faced Team xG against
MCI 34 MCI 2.5
ARS 47 ARS 4.0
LIV 53 WOL 4.3
BHA 60 BHA 4.5
CHE 62 TOT 4.9
SOU 65 SOU 4.9

Fashioning clear-cut opportunities against them has not been easy.

Villa have plenty of firepower in their ranks, but will need to play well to get the better of Southampton’s strong and powerful centre-back pairing.

Hasenhuttl has a couple of fast-developing young defenders with tremendous potential.

Also in this series

Part 2: Son aiming to regain red-hot form
Part 3: Wolves trio will fight Haaland for crucial middle ground
Part 4: Tenacious Hickey can subdue in-form Martinelli

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