How Southampton's midfield trio have been key to the club's resilient form
Having conceded just three goals in 10 matches this season, with clean sheets in their previous six outings, it is fair to say Southampton have begun life under Claude Puel with an air of defensive resilience. The French head coach’s side managed yet another clean sheet against Leicester City on Sunday afternoon.
True to recent form, the Saints defence emerged on top as they travelled to the King Power Stadium to face the current Premier League Champions, in large part due to the impressive midfield combination of Oriol Romeu, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Steven Davis. Against the Foxes’ two-man central midfield, the Saints trio proved dominant once more.
Claudio Ranieri clearly appears reluctant to alter the system that worked so well for his side last term, and without the presence of N’Golo Kante, this is costing the Foxes domestically. Nonetheless, take nothing away from Southampton’s midfielders, as they have been a silently formidable force all season.
With the Saints flooding the centre of the park at the KP, Romeu was able to recover the ball on 17 occasions – more than any other player in the Premier League this weekend. He managed six successful tackles, while reading the game superbly, to make a further three interceptions against the Foxes.
It is this form that has seen the Spaniard average 3.1 interceptions per appearance this season, seeing him ranked among the top five Premier League midfielder in this key area. In addition, he has recorded just shy of three triumphant tackles (2.7) in each of his seven top flight outings.
Meanwhile, the South Coasts’ answer to Sergio Busquets, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg continues to impress since his arrival at St. Mary’s. Signed to fill the void left by the departure of Victor Wanyama, the 21-year-old has adopted a different role to his predecessor. With Romeu providing the midfield grit, he has become the focal point of the transition between attack and defence.
The Denmark international has averaged a 90.8% pass completion rate this term, showing a composure in possession expected of a player beyond his years. Meanwhile, he has been on hand to regain possession regularly for his side, weighing in with 2.4 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per appearance – a rate only better by his aforementioned midfield companion and Matt Targett.
Completing the trio is the ever-reliable Steven Davis, who at 31 years of age, continues to prove an asset thanks to his energetic midfield displays. Continuing his excellent form from the summer Euros he has provided a level of creativity that would otherwise have been lacking, fashioning a third-highest 1.3 key passes per game for the St. Mary’s outfit.
This excellent start to the season have only served to proof that Southampton’s recruitment methods are first class. Despite a consistent turnover of their star players, they continue to compete and, in almost every case, improve. Defensive stability is a characteristic that has become associated with the Saints in recent years, but Puel’s arrival has seen this taken to a new level.