Most observers were surprised when the starting lineups were announced for yesterday’s match at St Mary’s, and saw that Mark Hughes set out his team in a 3-4-3 (or 3-4-1-2) formation, naming three center backs in Wesley Hoedt, Maya Yoshida, and rarely used Jan Bednarek, who had scored in this exact same fixture last season.
Southampton had been playing a fairly simple, vertical 4-4-2 system all season. Sometimes it morphed into a 4-5-1, like for Liverpool away, but the back-four was a consistent feature. The switch to a back-three (or, really, a back-five without the ball) was new. Hughes had played it before, mostly towards the end of last season — they tried this same defensive setup against Chelsea back in April, too, for example — but his decision to go with the 3-4-3 this time was noteworthy enough to be brought up in the pre-match tunnel interview with Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri.
“It was expected. We had prepared the match against the five [at the back]. Yes [we knew they’d do it.]”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky
Maurizio’s smirk and casual “yes” answer to the question has to be seen to be truly appreciated (ignore the title of the video; it’s incorrect).
So sorry, Sparky.
That said, Southampton didn’t have much greater luck after the half-time break, when Oriol Romeu replaced Bednarek and they reverted to a 4-4-2 setup, so with or without the attempted tactical surprise, they probably would’ve been vanquished easily. Hughes, who was yelling his head off for much of the game on the touchline, thought his team showed “too much respect” for Chelsea, which is a bit of an odd criticism considering he went to considerable lengths to try (and fail) to out-tactic his opponent.