On paper, both sides looked rather similar in terms of both personnel and shape: two mobile, attack-minded full-backs, three all-round central midfielders, two wide-men and a target man spear-heading it all in 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 systems. In theory, then, they could have cancelled each other out, with each side relying on moments of individualism to win the game. That did not necessarily turn out to be the case, with Swansea adopting a staunch counter-attacking approach for most of the match. The key difference between the sides in terms of personnel, then, was James Ward-Prowse and Jonjo Shelvey. Two very different midfield talents, both were tasked with the highest-placed position in a midfield three. Ward-Prowse supported the midfield with his tidy passing, but was guilty of missing at least one excellent chance and failed to provide any genuine quality. Shelvey, however, looked at home in his attacking midfield role, regularly picking the ball up and driving at the Southampton back-line. He also linked well with Bafetimbi Gomis, providing him with direct passes, and ultimately won the match with a trademark strike from distance.
Of the six central midfielders stationed on the pitch, all were British, and only Steven Davis (30) was older than 22-years-old. While Jonjo Shelvey, James Ward-Prowse and, to a lesser extent, Tom Carroll are all reasonably experienced Premier League players now, Jay Fulton and Harrison Reed were making only their second and third league starts respectively. As expected, this contributed to a youthful feel in the middle of the park, with plenty of support provided to whoever found themselves on the ball. Fulton and Reed looked unsure of themselves at times, but the latter did stand out prior to his substitution, with his snappy style helping his side retain possession by mopping up second balls and quickly playing it to an advancing team-mate. Ultimately, however, it was the languid Shelvey who showed the glimpses of genuine quality, with Carroll also looking more at home with each game.
Signed by Tottenham from Sheffield United in 2009, the presence of Kyle Walker often meant Kyle Naughton had to feature at left-back for the North London outfit. Garry Monk appears to have other ideas, however, having signed him to ease out the ageing Angel Rangel. The Spaniard, however, was brought on to replace Naughton late on after the latter struggled to deal with Eljelo Elia’s penetrating runs. Now 26, Naughton needs to knuckle down display the type of form which had many people once tipping him as a bigger talent than Walker; if he does not do it at Swansea, he surely never will.
While Graziano Pelle’s goalscoring exploits may have dried up – he has scored only two league goals since his brace in the 8-0 thrashing against Sunderland in mid-October – he still holds the ball up exceptionally well, bringing others into play with his feet or chest as well as keeping the ball alive from crosses. Bafetimbi Gomis is a different player – more mobile, but less physical despite his considerable frame – and thus it could be argued both teams had the right line-leaders for their respective game-plans. However, Gomis proved by far the more dangerous striker on the pitch, narrowly firing over early on with a snap-shot. His touch was heavy, but he worked hard and linked well with Shelvey and showed early signs he may be able to dampen the Wilfried Bony-shaped void. Pelle, meanwhile, looks significantly short of confidence in front of goal – most notable when blazing over in the penalty area in the dying stages of match.
Rampaging full-backs, an industrious midfield, and possession football on a comparatively small budget compared to the sides around them; Southampton have in many ways mirrored Everton’s unexpected top-four challenge of last season. After beating Arsenal in April last season, the Toffees were in pole position to qualify for the Champions League ahead of the Gunners with just five games remaining. Will Southampton find themselves in a similar position in a couple of months? Only time will tell, but the fact there is far fiercer competition for third and fourth this time around will certainly not help them. Like Everton, it may be matches like today, where they are expected to win, which end up costing them as a result of a small squad and a lack of creativity.
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