Talking Tactics

Promoted clubs: Three key Southampton players

By Adrian Clarke 11 Jun 2024
Southampton

Adrian Clarke explains why Armstrong, Harwood-Bellis and Smallbone can shine in Premier League

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Southampton’s 1-0 playoff final win against Leeds United secured their immediate Premier League return after only one season in the second tier.

Adrian Clarke picks out three players who could be key for Southampton in 2024/25.

Adam Armstrong
Armstrong, Southampton

Southampton’s playoff final hero Armstrong, who scored the goal to take his side back to the Premier League, will be relishing another crack at top-flight football.

Armstrong's Premier League record with Southampton is modest, scoring only four goals across 2021/22 and 2022/23, but last season he was outstanding under Russell Martin’s leadership.

His finishing was supremely accurate, netting 24 times. This accounted for 26 per cent of Saints' total goal tally en route to promotion, so he should enjoy plenty of game-time this season.

Armstrong's numbers from an unforgettable Championship season are impressive.

Armstrong's attacking impact 23/24
Stat Total
Appearances (subs) 47 (2)
Goals 24
Mins per goal 167
Conversion rate 22%
Shot accuracy 62%
Shot ending ball carries 30
Assists 13

At 27 years of age, Armstrong’s movement is smarter than ever, and playing for an attacking side that create plenty of chances, those runs reaped their rewards.

Whether he plays as a lone striker, as part of a front pair, or out wide, Armstrong is always more than just a goalscorer.

He made six of his 13 assists from ball carries, outlining the threat he has in possession.

Even if Saints opt to invest in a new centre-forward this summer, expect Armstrong to feature heavily.

His versatility is a bonus. This time around it feels as if Armstrong is ready to impress at the top level.

Armstrong's all-round input 23/24
Position Matches Direct goal contribution
Striker 19 19
Right-side forward 13 9
Attacking midfield 6 5
Left-side forward 6 3
Centre midfield 2 1
Substitute 2 0
Right midfield 1 0
Taylor Harwood-Bellis
Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Southampton

Elegant centre-back Harwood-Bellis is ready to make a name for himself in 2024/25.

Promotion at Wembley triggered a permanent transfer for the former Manchester City defender, who made 43 league starts on loan at Southampton last season.

He recovered from a shaky start in 2023/24 to become one of the stars of Martin’s side, oozing quality and composure.

Harwood-Bellis - a UEFA European Under-21 Championship trophy winner with England in 2023 - is a fantastic distributor from the back.

This suits Southampton's style of play greatly, as they pass out from defence, building through the thirds.

His pass completion stats are exceptional, which is no mean feat considering he averaged over 92 passes per match last season.

Harwood-Bellis doesn't keep things simple with short passes either - he is also adept at pinging accurate cross-field diagonals to the left flank.

Harwood-Bellis's passing variety 23/24
Passing stat Total Championship rank
Progressive passing distance 22,194yds 5th
Progressive carrying distance 7,982yds 6th
Pass completion 92.1% 5th
Accurate long passes/ match 4.6 6th*

*outfield players

The ex-City academy star is also comfortable bringing the ball out if opponents sit off.

Indeed, only five Championship players carried the ball further than Harwood-Bellis did last season, while he impressed with his defending too.

Harwood-Bellis was top class at the business end of the campaign, reading play excellently, displaying resilience, and getting his positioning spot on.

There will be a greater onus on Harwood-Bellis to defend well this season, and while he is still learning, there are signs he will develop into an outstanding Premier League centre-back.

Will Smallbone
Smallbone, Southampton

Republic of Ireland international Smallbone is another Southampton star who will be excited at the prospect of getting a new opportunity to shine at Premier League level.

Smallbone was on loan at Stoke City in 2022/23, so was powerless to prevent Southampton's relegation to the Championship.

The 24-year-old was a regular starter last season, coming to the fore under Martin, who encouraged Smallbone to play in a box-to-box role that afforded him the freedom to make telling forward runs.

This is Smallbone’s forte.

Most of his seven league goals stemmed from bursts that he made from deep, arriving at just the right time to convert cutbacks or passes squared to him inside the penalty area.

He scored home and away against promotion rivals Leeds - and both efforts were similar in the way that he came onto the ball to tuck away calm finishes.

Leeds1
Leeds2

Smallbone was also a huge thorn in Leeds' side in the playoff final, slipping a sublime nutmeg pass through Ethan Ampadu’s legs to set up Armstrong’s promotion-winning goal.

It was his fourth assist of a tremendous campaign.

Leeds3
Smallbone's assist to Armstrong

There are limitations to his game, but Smallbone is wholehearted, reliable on and off the ball and rounded in the way he can influence matches in and out of possession.

He deserves a chance to impress on the biggest stage.

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