The original title for this was ‘Why can’t Southampton score’, but then they bought Manolo Gabbiadini and now they’ve scored 7 in the 3 games he’s been there. But it was those two recent league matches which took Southampton over the goal-a-game mark (after 23 games they’d scored 23, they’ve now scored 28 in 25, the 6th lowest scoring rate in the league).
A lack of goals has been a bit of a problem for the Saints for the past few seasons now, but this is worse than usual. However, their shot stats have been relatively good – their shot difference per game is +5.04, and shot on target difference is +1.92, which are in touching distance of the top 6.
They take 4.88 shots per game, the 7th best in the league, and according to Stratagem they take the 6th most chances in the danger zone, 30% of which have fewer than 2 men between shot and goal (which itself is the league’s 5th best rate).
The raw stats point to them performing better than their current scoring rate. However, the chances look a little worse when you look at where they’re coming from.
Due to squeezing the whole league onto one graph, it’s a little hard to read (particularly if it’s on your phone), but the important things to look at are the proportion of Southampton’s chances that are coming from high crosses and set pieces. The key are the Stratagem codes for non-penalty assists.
Southampton have the 3rd highest rate of their chances coming from high crosses, behind Swansea and (surprise, surprise) West Brom. They’re the 8th highest rate from corners, and 10th for free-kicks. Altogether, these what you might call ‘old school’ or ‘Pulis’ assists make up 40.72% of their chance assists, a far cry from the 20-29% rates of the current top 6. (Although in fairness, as noted by Southampton fan Alex Stewart on a recent episode of the United Rantcast, James Ward-Prowse might be the best dead-ball hitter in the league).
However, unlike the sides which have a similarly high rate of Pulis chance assists, Southampton have both an image and an overall set-up, broadly, of a team who plays possession football and wishes to create ‘possession’ chances.
This could be a symptom of a lack of creativity in midfield and attack, or of a build-up which has a tendency to be too slow. They generally keep their central midfielders in positions to try and maintain a solid foundation in the centre of the pitch, circulate the ball, and prevent counter-attacks, but this will naturally stifle some of the attacking threat that the team has.
Interestingly, they also get a number of men into the box when the ball is in crossing positions, not that, for example, Nathan Redmond is likely to be much threat in the air. This suggests that they’re aware of this tendency, and they’re taking reasonable steps to try and get the best out of it. It’s hard to criticise Southampton for setting themselves up in a way to maximise stability, echoing the stability that underpins the club as a whole.
Looking at the Pulis chance assists for their opponents, though, Southampton’s are at just over 30%, the 7th lowest rate in the league, suggesting that they’re failing to force opponents into low conversion methods of creating chances. Or maybe it’s just a sign of Van Dijk’s dominance in the air.
Adding to the defence of Southampton’s defence, the Saints have the 2nd highest rate of opponents taking ‘individual’ shots (ie, ones which don’t come under any Stratagem category, and so are likely to have been manufactured by the player on their own).
The clubs with the highest rates of ‘individual’ chances in attack are Sunderland and Leicester, two sides struggling to create anything of quality. It seems fairly likely that a high rate of individual shots, rather than open play passes or low crosses (which are likely to be cut-backs), indicates sides which are having shots through players getting within sight of goal and taking a frustrated pot-shot.
Given Southampton’s high rate of forcing their opponents to take individual chances, this suggests that they’re doing a decent job at the back of keeping compact. The team with the highest rate are Burnley, the kings of compact defending, which lends the theory a little more credibility.
So why do Southampton score so little? They Pulis too much. Or they bought Gabbiadini too late. It’ll be interesting to see how the two mix over the long-term.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.
Eastbridge Soccer Betting Broker, bespoke sports betting for the discerning client.