Gone are the days where the Saints would travel to one of the top sides in the country and try to limit the damage, as the South coast side are now one of the most tactically astute teams in the land.
Under the former Espanyol boss, Southampton have become more enterprising while in possession, with players in the final third of real quality. However, it is what the St Mary’s side do when they don’t have the ball that has really caught the eye this term, especially at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Pochettino has set his side up to be compact and hard to break down, and up until kick-off on Saturday the Saints had only conceded two Premier League goals in seven games.
Despite the addition of top-drawer centre-half Dejan Lovren having something to do with this, those further up the park have played their role in Southampton’s miserly rearguard also.
From the very first whistle on Saturday, Southampton’s attackers and midfielders worked tirelessly to harry and close United’s ball-players down – all over the park. The likes of Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis were obviously instructed to limit the time that their opposite numbers had on the ball, and the ploy worked perfectly.
Firstly, United’s defenders and deep-lying midfielders were pressed to a point were they coughed up possession, giving Southampton the ball in their opposition’s final third. If Pablo Osvaldo had his shooting boots on, this pressing in high areas could have resulted in the Saints taking the lead.
Secondly, with United struggling to break teams down in the final third, the visitors ensured that the champions’ best passer of the ball, Michael Carrick, did not have time to pick his head up and find a team-mate.
For United’s goal, a momentary lapse in the pressing game that Pochettino has employed allowed Januzaj time on the ball to play a through-ball destined for the back of the Southampton net.
Despite the pressing of opponents starting from the front, the work-rate and tireless energy of Southampton’s midfield was also a key feature in the game. Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin’s presence in front of their back four is another key reason for the lack of goals the side have conceded, and the pair again were outstanding.
With Marouane Fellaini struggling to adapt to his enforcer role in the United midfield, the Southampton pair showed the Belgian the dedication and desire that is needed to succeed.
Pochettino has obviously worked on the side’s fitness over the off-season, and the late nature of the side’s equaliser was just rewards for an overwhelming effort. Even at 1-1 and in the dying moments, captain Lallana was still leading by example by making lung-busting runs forward in search of a winner.
Whether Southampton can keep the high-intensity nature of their showing at Old Trafford up over the course of a season remains to be seen. They do have some excellent deputies to come in if needed, such as Gastón Ramirez and James Ward-Prowse, though.
Southampton’s performance at Old Trafford was a classic example of pressure football, and it appears that their opponents will not have a moment’s respite as Pochettino’s revolution on the South coast continues.