Focused Analysis
– Front two draw blank in disappointing Premier League start for Southampton
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Southampton have got off to a disappointing start in the 2020/21 Premier League season, going down 1-0 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on opening day.

All eyes for the Saints were on the strike partnership of Danny Ings and Che Adams – the former coming off the best season of his career and Adams looking to continue a strong end to last season.

The first half was largely frustrating for the visitors as Palace defended well, outnumbering Ings and Adams with their centre-backs and central midfielders.

The Eagles’ deep but compact lines made it difficult for Saints to get any sort of look in with just two attempts in the opening 45 minutes.

Ings and Adams struggled to impose

The introduction of Jannik Vestergaard strangely enough made quite a creative difference for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side. The Dane consistently found Kyle Walker-Peters with long diagonal passes that put his team on the front foot.

From there half the job was done. Where in the first half they struggled to penetrate with the ball, this outlet in Walker-Peters got the ball in space in the final third and allowed the forwards to link-up.

Within a minute of the restart both were involved in Southampton’s biggest chance up to that point, one that Nathan Redmond will wish he could have back.

The home side quickly adjusted and maintained resolute down the central corridor, forcing Southampton to play wide but in turn giving them no options to come back into the centre.

Adams did have a big chance himself early in the second period, forcing a brilliant reflex save from Vicente Guaita as he volleyed from a Vestergaard knockdown.

For all the possession that Saints had throughout the match, creativity and chances on goal came at a premium as they struggled to support the strikers and outnumber Palace through the middle.

Will Smallbone was rewarded with a start after signing a long-term contract extension in the summer but was isolated on the right-hand side. To be able to get on the ball, he was forced to come inside to try to find space where there was none, and hence was largely a non-factor.

One positive for Hasenhuttl was the full-backs getting forward. Ryan Bertrand got forward often and was looking to pick a pass through the middle, particularly early in the game, and on a couple of occasions was able to link up with Redmond going in behind.

Defence the order of the day for Palace

For Palace, defence loomed as a problem area with James Tomkins and Gary Cahill both absent. That meant starts at centre half for Scott Dann, who only played 16 times last season, and central midfielder Cheikou Kouyate.

Joel Ward maintained his regular right back slot while young Tyrick Mitchell started at left-back, just his fifth appearance in the Premier League.

But it was ultimately defence that was the telling factor for Roy Hodgson’s team. They were happy to sit back, crowd the edge of the box and stifle Southampton in the final third, allowing 17.33 passes per defensive action, compared to just 3.61 for the high-pressing Saints, according to Understat.com.

Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew were really unable to regularly impact the game with Palace having only 30% of possession, but there was perhaps a preview of what is to come with Eberechi Eze’s introduction.

The 22-year-old played on the front foot and had the beating of Walker-Peters on multiple occasions in his 10-minute spell – the potential for him in this Palace side is enormous.

Despite Ings having a huge chance saved late on, Palace fully merited their victory and will take confidence into a trip to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United next week, while Southampton will play host to Tottenham Hotspur.

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