For Southampton and Newcastle United, Saturday looks a crunch day.
The home side could climb away from the relegation zone with a win (it would mean nine points from ten games), whilst for the visitors it could potentially lift the Magpies out of the relegation zone.
Mark Hughes has seen is side fail to score since 386 Premier League minutes ago and is yet again under extreme pressure.
Rafa Benitez is under immense pressure due to being rock bottom of the table BUT has the unwavering support of the vast majority of the NUFC fanbase.
The official Southampton website has conveniently published an article by their tactics expert that identifies where Newcastle’s weaknesses and relative strengths are, with advice on how the home side can turn it to their advantage and get a valuable win.
It doesn’t take a genius to spot Newcastle generally don’t have many shots – though they had 27 against Brighton but only six of those on target – as well as a feeble goals total. Only six, the same as Southampton.
As you can see below, Jonjo Shelvey is predictably picked out as the danger.
Whilst playing the ball into Newcastle’s box on the floor rather than in the air tends to pay dividends.
What would make a massive difference for Rafa’s team is if Diame and Shelvey can get their level up to what it was in February- April, if repeated then the control of the middle of the pitch should produce a better return than it did against a very defensive Brighton.
Southampton official site:
Here, we take a look at the keys to victory for Saints, pinpointing why Newcastle have been struggling and detailing how the hosts can take advantage.
Prolong Newcastle’s goalscoring woes
The statistics make truly grim reading for Newcastle’s attacking crop; they don’t hold the ball well, they don’t take many shots, so they don’t score many goals.
Their average of 10.2 shots taken per game is the fourth-lowest in the Premier League, symptomatic of their issues in moving the ball forward consistently so their forwards can take aim.
When they do hit the final third, another problem rises to the fore: their strikers simply aren’t prolific. The four forwards they look to make the difference – Joselu, Yoshinori Muto, Salomón Rondón and Ayoze Pérez – have managed a paltry three goals in 1,558 combined minutes.
Benítez has rotated his number nine relentlessly in desperate hope of finding something that sticks, but no answer has been forthcoming so far.
Stop Jonjo Shelvey
Shelvey is the only non-defensive Newcastle player who has consistently impressed this season, his influence in midfield crucial to the cause.
By now his repertoire is no secret – everyone knows where his strengths lie – and it’s important Southampton apply pressure to him and hurry him on the ball.
Shelvey’s 8.7 accurate long balls per game is the highest of any outfield Premier League player this season, his love for a raking cross-field pass from deeper areas never likely to fizzle out.
This is a dangerous counter-attack-launching weapon which must be obstructed by Southampton’s midfield and forward lines.
He’s always willing to send it long; his pass accuracy for the season (68.6%) is on the low side, but it’s indicative of the all-or-nothing passes he plays. If he gets his head up and locks on to Kenedy or Matt Ritchie’s runs, Saints’ defence will be under pressure in seconds.
The great energy in midfield that Saints possess will come in handy here. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Mario Lemina must apply pressure, while Danny Ings will be required to chip in too.
If you stop Shelvey from launching attacks from deep, you can pin Newcastle into their own territory.
Feed the ball into Newcastle’s box
Adopting a heavy crossing strategy hasn’t tended to work against Newcastle so far this season. In Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernández and even Paul Dummett, they boast a big, strong presence in their own box that can win the majority of aerial duels.
Keeping the ball on the deck and feeding it into the box has been far more successful. Whether it’s a lack of confidence, systematic confusion or a bit of both, the Magpies have really struggled to clear their lines when attacked on the ground.
Several goals conceded have been due to sloppy passes out, half-clearances or strange attempted dribbles out of pressure from dangerous areas.
Saints’ strikeforce lends itself to these scenarios; the likes of Charlie Austin and Ings are experts in finishing off stray balls and scraps. Subject Newcastle to enough pressure and the errors will present themselves to be taken advantage of.