Player to watch this weekend: Southampton’s Graziano Pelle 0

A lone-forward’s job tends to differ between home and away games.  Other than in an instance where the visiting side is much stronger than the home team, that’s generally true.

Last weekend, when Southampton visited Anfield, they used Graziano Pelle as a base-camp for a lot of their attacking play and they relied on him to perform more mundane tasks than he’s probably used to.  His finishing never really came into question, because he spent the majority of the game with his back to goal, laying-off passes or competing aerially with Liverpool’s two centre-halves.

It shouldn’t go unmentioned that he did a very good job and, alongside Dusan Tadic, Steven Davis, and James Ward-Prowse, he was a key factor in Southampton establishing some attacking momentum against a very strong opponent.  Pelle’s debut, although fruitless in the goal department, should be considered a success.

As the graphic below (from Squawka) shows, the vast majority of Pelle’s touches occurred in deep areas and, if you factor in the graphic beneath that, a lot of those were in fact aerial contests:

Graziano Pelle: Touches vs Liverpool.

Graziano Pelle: Touches vs Liverpool.

Graziano Pelle: Aerial success vs Liverpool

Graziano Pelle: Aerial success vs Liverpool

If last week was Pelle’s introduction to an English audience, it was only a half-reveal: we’re still yet to see the strongest part of his game.

When he’s in the box, Pelle is very good aerially - as you would expect - but what you also tend not notice with his goals is just how many of them come from situations in which he moves away from or in front of defender.  Whether a ball is being delivered into the box at head height or on the floor, he’s very accomplished at creating space, evading a marker and producing a neat finish.

Against Liverpool, Southampton were never likely to create many of those sorts of opportunities for him - it’s very tough to do that without controlling a game - but with West Brom visiting St Mary’s tomorrow you would expect that to be different and you would expect the majority of his touches to be ten yards further up the field than they were last weekend.

We’re programmed to ignore goal-scoring records from inferior divisions, but this guy isn’t just a flat-track bully and he plays the forward position in quite a cerebral way.  There’s no reason to believe that his off-the-ball instincts and intelligence won’t translate into English football.

He’ll score plenty with his head, obviously, but watch for those near-post runs tomorrow and watch how many times this season he benefits from out-manoeuvring his marker.

Time to see the ‘other’ side of his game.

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