14th July 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Having guided newly promoted Alaves to a remarkable ninth place finish in La Liga and reached the Copa del Rey final last season, all while working with the fifth lowest budget in the league, Mauricio Pellegrino's fantastic work clearly caught the attention of Southampton.
Looking for a new manager after being uninspired by Claude Puel's time in charge, who was somewhat harshly sacked at the end of his first campaign, the club knew Pellegrino was the man they wanted to lead them into the 2017/2018 Premier League crusade.
"We had an impressive list of candidates and went through a comprehensive interview process. Mauricio impressed us throughout with his depth of knowledge, motivation and ability, communicating this in a professional and passionate way," insisted vice chairman Les Reed.
"He has an excellent understanding of the Southampton way, and his style of play and aspiration matches the philosophy, culture and ambition of the club. We firmly believe Mauricio is the right person to help us take the next steps. He knows our current players and believes we have a great squad that with some fine-tuning will be able to deliver continued success."
Chatting to friend Mauricio Pochettino, the current Tottenham Hotspur boss and former Saints coach, gave Pellegrino a greater understanding of the club and its inner workings, which cemented to him that this was a place where his approach can flourish. "I think my philosophy and the culture of the club will work well together. We have to be a team on and off the pitch; I want to make the supporters proud of the players and to feel part of the game every week. I want to win matches, be successful and develop a team spirit where everyone gives 100 per cent and supports each other," enthused the delighted new manager.
From his experiences playing at the highest level with the likes of Barcelona, Liverpool and most notably at Valencia, plus during his stint with Velez Sarsfield, he drew influences from working under some of the finest coaching minds including Marcelo Bielsa, Louis van Gaal, Rafa Benitez, Hector Cuper and Claudio Ranieri. And his style is a testament to they way he's absorbed characteristics so well from the aforementioned masters of their craft.
An extremely thorough and diligent operator, expect the tactically astute Argentine to organise Southampton brilliantly both defensively and offensively. Offensively, using a positionally focused style of play, El Flaco sets his team up to occupy spaces on the pitch effectively to give his team the best opportunity to progress upfield, with the intention of creating superiorities all over the pitch to find a free man.
In addition, he'll instruct his players to exploit the spaces in between the lines of the opposition defensive structure, where they can find freedom to build their attacks successfully. A key example of this was evident when Marcos Llorente, their talented Real Madrid owned central midfielder, would drop deep when Alaves were building out from the back and find space in between their adversaries' attacking and midfield lines, thus usually manufacturing an important overload so Alaves could pass out smoothly.
"He's a very complete coach; not many have the tactical awareness of the game and also so much talent for group management," explained spirited Alaves captain, Manu Garcia.
"He sees the game very well. He is a strategist, he analyses opponents closely and he believes in juego posicional [positional play]. He has a lot of faith in that approach, in defence but also in attack: respect the positions, a well-ordered team, everything under control. He likes his team to express the way he is: intelligent, understanding, ordered. He works hard during the week and the things he plans for usually happen at the weekend."
Moreover, a key byproduct of his well regimented offensive structure was that it provided a brilliant platform for them to win the ball back once they lost possession. This gave them ideal access to their opponents, meaning they could subsequently counter-press very efficiently to limit being hurt on the break, as they made life very difficult for their opponents to enjoy any time and space to move the ball cleanly.
Other striking aspects of his defensive acuity came courtesy of how he got his team to remain so horizontally and vertically compact when defending deeper, and by the way he coached his players to cohesively time and direct their pressing.
It's clear from watching Alaves and listening to players like Garcia talk that the adaptable Pellegrino is not only a tactical wizard but a man who's able to convey his messages so fruitfully to his players. While his ability to do so will be tested in England, Southampton's upcoming training camp and pre-season fixtures will be a terrific opportunity for him to impose and implement his philosophy onto his new squad.
With just six weeks until the start of the Premier League season, it'll be captivating to see how he fares between now and Southampton's Premier League opener against Swansea City.
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Mauricio Pellegrino - A Fine Choice for Southampton Manager
14th July 2017. By Edward Stratmann.