After a goalless draw between Southampton and West Ham at St Mary's, Alex Dunn was left distinctly underwhelmed. With a focus on the home side, we look at why it's not quite clicking into place on the South Coast
By Alex Dunn. Last Updated: 16/09/13 8:36am
Pablo Osvaldo can't bear to watch as Southampton draw a blank again
Whether it was American humourist Mark Twain or former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who coined the phrase "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics" is by the by, but having sat through Southampton's goalless draw with West Ham it would perhaps be remiss not to take them to task.
The pre-match stats did not make pretty reading. Southampton had scored just four goals in their last eight Premier League fixtures. West Ham had failed to register a single shot on target in their last game against Stoke City. They had also attempted fewer passes (938) than any other top flight side and have the worst passing accuracy (72.3 per cent). Between them this season in six Premier League matches, Southampton and West Ham had mustered the sum total of four goals.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce
And yet, because of our respect for Twain and Disraeli, even a rain-sodden St Mary's could not dampen a feeling that these were indeed 'lies, damned lies, and statistics' and that which would prevail over 90 minutes would not be a model of mediocrity but instead a festival of football.
Alas, the pre-match statistics proved to be not 'lies, damned lies', but rather stone cold facts. A classic this was not.
Southampton and West Ham starting positions on Sunday
There had been talk pre-match over whether Rickie Lambert would start for Southampton after his England exertions but Mauro Pochettino seems determined, for now, to help foster an understanding between him and record signing Dani Osvaldo in picking the pair in tandem.
Indeed, it was a positive-looking Southampton side that took to the field, with Jay Rodriquez the third member of a three-pronged attack. Pochettino keen then to address a meagre return of goals under his tenure.
Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw joined Rodriguez in winning recalls as Calum Chambers, Danny Fox and James Ward-Prowse missed out having featured in the 1-0 defeat at Norwich before the international break.
For West Ham the absence of Andy Carroll continues to cast a sizeable shadow, with Modibo Maigo again asked to plough the loneliest of furrows in his absence. Stewart Downing's leg injury intriguingly afforded Ravel Morrison a first Premier League start.
938 - West Ham have attempted fewer passes (938) than any other side this season and have the worst passing accuracy (72%). Wayward.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 15, 2013
Story of the game
It might not have been pretty but West Ham will travel back to the capital content in the knowledge they take away with them the point they came for. It's easy to ridicule Allardyce's sides in terms of their lack of aesthetic appeal but grinding out a result away from home in the Premier League when out of sorts and missing key men is no easy task.
West Ham fans will no doubt be worried that the Plan B to compensate for Carroll's absence is seemingly Maigo, who managed a remarkably low 17 touches in 68 minutes before being substituted. Mladen Petric will need to hit the ground running. Allardyce, though, will see his glass as half full on the grounds his side have eked out three clean sheets from four league games. Had James Collins showed a modicum of composure at the death from Mark Noble's cutback, they would have been toasting all three points from a game Big Sam described as 'good' with a straight face.
In an attacking sense, West Ham took just six minutes to improve on last week's defeat to Stoke as Mohamed Diame forced a decent stop from Artur Boruc after outmuscling Shaw.
The first period was best summed up by Gary Neville on co-commentary duty as a 'midfield minefield'. The diagram below shows the average positions for both sides, with the centre of the field being dominated by a cluster of bodies.
Southampton and West Ham average positions in first half
That 45 per cent of the game was played in the middle third says a lot. Both sides lacked that bit of guile to open things up; with Southampton again reliant on their young full-backs Shaw and Clyne to continually push on in the space vacated by a narrow middle three. It's a system Pochettino has favoured since he arrived on the South Coast and one that has reaped dividends in some respects, with Southampton having put in an average of 26 crosses per game. Only Manchester United and Tottenham have attempted more.
Allardyce felt West Ham were dealt rough justice by referee Andre Marriner's decision not to send off Morgan Schneiderlin for a first-half tackle on Diame, but in terms of the spectacle the Frenchman's overall performance should be applauded. The 23-year-old combines combativeness with an eye for a pass (82 per cent pass accuracy) and on Sunday his eight tackles and persistent driving presence marked him out as arguably the game's standout outfield player. Don't be surprised if a top-four club makes an approach for Dejan Lovren in January either, with the Croatian again outstanding.
Schneiderlin impressed with his tackling and bright passing
The Saints are always strong in terms of possession. Only Manchester City (62.4%) have enjoyed more of the ball than Southampton (59.1%) but as Matt Le Tissier alluded to in his analysis, they can be profligate and a seasonal average pass success rate of 78.8 per cent pulls them down to 11th in the standings. On Sunday they achieved just a 73 per cent success rate.
When Neville surmised at half-time that Southampton were 'caught between two stools in that they are attempting to play from the back but the front four are so flat', there was a suggestion more success could be garnered by going long. It's a fair point, but also worth considering is the fact Southampton for all their reputation for being a footballing side, have averaged more long balls per game than any other top flight side to date, on 74. Interestingly, Manchester United have played the second most.
The partnership between Lambert and Osvaldo remains the proverbial work in progress. Lambert was relatively quiet, save for hitting the post with a near post header and a trademark effort in the second period where he opened up his body on the left flank to bend a right-footed shot that forced a solid stop from the outstanding Jussi Jaaskelainen. The Finn has made more saves this season than any other top-flight goalkeeper and deservedly picked up the man-of-the-match award. His stop from Schneiderlin on the volley was sensational.
Only twice did Lambert and Osvaldo exchange passes in the area, and whilst it's still early days, the touch maps below demonstrate in terms of their movement and the spaces they occupy, both players appear to hold pretty similar ideas about dropping off the front. Being interchangeable is no bad thing, but unless you have quick transitions in the middle of the field it can leave sides flailing for a target to hit.
Link-ups between Osvaldo and Lambert, plus touch maps for both players (Osvaldo first)
Pochettino insists he has no concerns about Lambert's failure so far this season to replicate his international form for Southampton, but concedes his frustration with his strikers as a collective.
Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino
"He has played the last two with the national side, which must be a huge boost for his self-confidence," said the Argentine. "At the same time strikers need to score goals, that is their bread and butter. He hasn't been able to do that, none of them were able to do that, so I'm frustrated. We created many chances today and on another day those chances might be goals."
Both managers were consistent in their relative optimism post-match but whilst it will be Allardyce happier with the point, the fact his side look so blunt in attack will be a major concern off camera. Southampton were far from their fluid best but having created 16 chances will be confident in Lambert and Osvaldo they have enough in their attacking artillery to climb the table steadily. Whether they do so with both players starting in tandem remains to be seen.
"We created the better chances, we were much closer than they were to actually getting a victory today. But in football, it is not just about creating chances, you need to be make them into goals. Today we weren't able to do it and we are frustrated by that. I am pleased with all of my players - they all played well and put in a great effort today. On the one hand, I am a bit frustrated because we didn't get the three points but I'm pleased, as they all played well today."
"Defensively we showed how good we are, I think we have only conceded one goal in four games, but we just can't find the back of the net. Three games without a goal is my concern - it's not as if we haven't created any chances or good opportunities in and around the final third today to try and score but it's just eluding us at the moment. When a golden chance falls that late in the game you want to put it in and walk away with all three points."
"When you look at the balance of play, the balance of chances created, if Southampton had nicked that game 1-0 it wouldn't have been unfair. Artur Boruc didn't have a save to make after the seventh minute from Mohamed Diame's shot so, from that point of view, Southampton maybe edged it. But you can't deny West Ham defended pretty well, made it difficult and fair play to them they take away a point."
In the end, Allardyce had goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen to thank for keeping the Saints at bay. The oldest man on the pitch produced fine saves to deny Dani Osvaldo, Schneiderlin and Rickie Lambert, who also hit the post minutes into the second half. The Finn was the Barclays Man of the Match and deservedly so.
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Barclays Premier League
|10||West Ham United||28||31|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||28||25|
Man of the match Jussi Jaaskelainen admitted there was some cause for concern at West Ham's paucity in front of goal after they drew 0-0 with Southampton.