The traditional 4-4-2 formation is almost non-existent in the modern age, hence why we’re starved of proper, old school strike partnerships.
Long gone are the days of the big man/little man combinations, but while Southampton’s isn’t of that ilk, it’s a perfect example of two strikers who are share an on-field relationship built on complete and total understanding of one another’s movements.
Having put the Premier League leaders to the sword on Sunday afternoon for Everton’s first defeat of the season, we were treated to another perfect example of the flourishing Che Adams and Danny Ings combination.
Granted, Ralph Hasenhuttl deserves praise for his work in the duo, but it’s Ings’ style on the pitch and willingness to limit his own chances of scoring that have seen Adams truly blossom.
Arriving on the south coast with rave reviews from his time in the Championship – as well as sky-high expectations – Adams’ debut season with the Saints failed to match the standards he’d set himself from his time at Birmingham.
Coming into the side, he went 24 matches without a goal in the Premier League. It was admittedly at a time when Southampton were flailing, but just as they stuck with their manager through thick and thin, doing likewise with Adams has paid dividends. As per Opta, he’s now scored six in his last 12 in the league, including the second of the afternoon against Everton.
So why the sudden change?
Well, despite drawing a blank in his early Saints career, there were signs of Adams making inroads in his efforts to find the back of the net. Football is a game of fine margins (he came close to scoring plenty of times), and while his failings in front of goal persisted, a greater understanding with Ings started to emerge just as the tactical nous of Hasenhuttl began embedding itself on the team.
As a duo, there is a telepathy between Ings and Adams that can only come about in a 4-4-2 system. They take it in turns to play off each other, constantly leaving opposing defences to second guess whether to follow their man or let him drift into space.
More often than not, it’s Ings who will collect possession from deep and make diagonal runs across the back four, invading the channels. When he does so, the likes of Stuart Armstrong or James Ward-Prowse make runs from midfield into the centre-backs, allowing Adams to attack the spaces in between and seek out goalscoring openings.
Patience is key to Southampton’s play, as they’re constantly trying to open up gaps for teammates to exploit. This plays into Adams’ hands, although his overall understanding of when and how to attack those spaces has improved dramatically. Much of this comes down to better timing, but it’s also a credit to his enhanced athleticism.
He’s improved his overall physique and is a troublesome player to mark at the best of times, but quicker pace off the mark has aided his cause, as has his composed finishing.
Adams can be forgiven for snapping at efforts early into his Saints career. There was clearly an over-exuberance in the style of shots he was taking, rarely waiting for the right moment and instead seeking the, normally difficult, first option.
Ings is a more than competent finisher and it’s evident that he’s learned from his more experienced co-star. His goal at St Mary’s on Sunday was an example of that, a situation he would likely have rushed were it 12 months ago.
This period was always coming for Adams. It may not have been quite as clear early on after his £15m move, but the patience shown in him – just as with his manager – is beginning to be rewarded – Ings, too, is owed plenty credit for his involvement.
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