Tuesday, November 6, 2012

West Brom overload Southampton's left back, win comfortably

Peter Odemwingie kept Southampton firmly rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table with goals either side of halftime in West Brom's 2-0 win.

 Although Steve Clarke's West Brom side has consistently lined up in a 4-2-3-1 this season, he has rotated the four attacking players frequently. Today Shane Long was given the start ahead of Romelu Lukaku at forward, Odemwingie was on the right, Zoltan Gera behind Long in the middle and Graham Dorrans on the left.

Nigel Adkin's Southampton played what could be called either 4-2-3-1 or or 4-2-2-2 with Jay Rodriguez playing as a slightly withdrawn forward to the right of Rickie Lambert. Both Adam Lallana and Gaston Ramirez played fairly high up the pitch in their wide positions and both tended to float towards the middle to get on the ball.

West Brom right versus Southampton left
In the first half Adam Lallana stayed very high up the pitch when West Brom were in possession and did a poor job of tracking West Brom's Billy Jones when got forward to join the attack from his right back position. This left Danny Fox constantly overloaded at left back where he was forced to try to defend both Jones and Odemwingie. With one of the two always unmarked, Odemwingie and Jones were able to get the ball in dangerous attacking areas down the right. It was therefore unsurprising when Odemwingie's opener came from a move on the right. This time it was Youssuf Mulumbu who advanced to the right wing from his holding midfield position to overload Fox. Odemwingie drifted inside and received Mulumbu's pass with the time and space to get the ball out of his feet and shoot. His effort took a fortunate deflection on its way to beating Paulo Gazzaniga in the Southampton goal but the Saints could only blame themselves for giving Fox so little help.

Southampton's outside backs push forward
With both Lallana and Ramirez tucking inside from their wide midfield position, Fox and Nathaniel Clyne were encouraged to get forward to provide width from their outside back positions. The pair played especially high in the second half with Southampton chasing the game. This left plenty of space in behind them on the flanks for West Brom to counter into. The hosts were happy to sit deeper and invite the Southampton outside backs forward and then counter with long balls to the flanks for Shane Long when they won possession. Odemwingie's second goal came when Southampton gave the ball away cheaply in the attacking third after Clyne had once again advanced high up the field to help the attack. Long made a run to the space left vacated by Clyne and received a pass on the left wing. Jose Fonte was forced wide from his center back position to pick up Long, leaving Maya Yoshida as the only defender in the penalty area. Odemwingie and Gera both made fine bursting runs into the box and Long picked out Odemwingie with an inch perfect cross.

Southampton struggle for vertical threat
Throughout the second half West Brom were happy to sit deep and allow Southampton to have possession around the halfway line. Southampton circulated the ball well enough in this area but rarely were able to find a penetrating ball into the final third. The Saints out passed West Brom 414 to 300 yet they completed 14 fewer passes in the final third. Nigel Adkin's side simply didn't have the creativity and quality to create meaningful goal scoring opportunities against a crowded defense. Possession and sideways passing are fine but eventually the ball needs to get in the box, particularly when Rickie Lambert is your forward. Lambert is a classic big and strong British no. 9 and needs to get the ball in the penalty area where he can poach to be effective. He isn't nearly as effective when forced to drop into the midfield or drift wide to get on the ball (like more technically gifted forwards like Suarez and Van Persie). Yet he was rarely able to receive passes anywhere near the goal this evening. The graphic below shows where he received passes. Far too often he was forced to collect the ball deep or wide in the left channel.

West Brom once again did an excellent job of advancing the ball quickly on the break with meaningful forward passes. They have been outpossessed in 9 of their 10 Premier League games this season yet their organization and ability to play on the counter has made them a very difficult team to beat.

Things are looking increasingly bleak for Adkins and Southampton. They simply don't have the firepower going forward to get into shootouts with Premier League opposition. If they don't improve their dreadful defensive organization the slim hope they have of survival will be killed off by the new year. They're averaging 2.8 goals against per game and are on pace to concede an incredible 106 goals this campaign. Since the 2002-2003 season, the league's worst defensive team has avoided relegation only once- Bolton in 2006-2007. The ease with which West Brom overloaded their outside back made the seem naive and suggests Adkins and Southampton are out of their league.