Manager in Focus: Russell Martin

Southampton manager Russell Martin is probably one of the best young coaches in the Football League right now and he is known for his bold, possession-based style of play which has its similarities to the likes of Chris Hughton, Daniel Farke and Pep Guardiola.

Going into his fourth full season as a head coach/manager you can start to see that is style of play is starting to reap the rewards it deserves.

In this article, I will be looking at how Martin is able to have a stronger start with Southampton than he did with Swansea and what reasons might be behind it.

On the 1st of August 2021, Russell Martin was named as the new head coach at Swansea City. With only 6 days left until the start of the season, there wasn’t a great deal of time to prepare and get a real understanding of Martin’s style of play. There has been something of a culture of possession-based football at Swansea for around the last 16-17 years but not a variant quite as extreme as this.

The stats from Martin’s first 10 games at Swansea show that the majority of possession is ranging from 62 to 74% with only two games where they have less than 60. The amount of possession a team has in game can depend on the playing style, if you have two teams that do like to be on the ball more it is more likely for the possession to be more even. But if you look at the amount shots of taken in the first five games, compared to the number of shots taken in match days 6-10 you can see there is a difference.

After the first five league games of that season came the international break and this gave Martin time to be able to work with his players to develop his tactics and improve the attacking side of their game. In their first three games back after the international break they had a similar amount of possession as they did in the first three games but, there number of shots taken had increased with them taking 16, 12 and 15 shots respectively in the first three matches following the international break. If you look at the number of shots taken in the first five matches, they didn’t achieve more than nine in a game, which shows that given the time this style of play can work.

Over the course that season they would be rather inconsistent in terms of both results and performance’s creating quite a divide in the fanbase which would continue into the following season as well. Throughout that season Martin would often refer to having a ‘lack of a preseason’ and would talk about the players suffering from fatigue. Going into the 2022-23 season, the supporters were hoping to see their club have much improved season and finish above 16th. In similar fashion to the previous season, the swans struggled to get going, only winning one of their first sevens games. If you look at the stats there is more of a clear step forward, in the first seven games the amount of possession that Swansea had is very similar to last season ranging from 60 to 75% but the number of shots taken had in creased with Swansea taking 10 or more shots in five of the opening seven matches compared to the previous season where it had only happened twice.

It was clear to see that over pre-season Martin and his coaching staff had worked on creating more chances to really utilise their amount of possession. It’s all well and good that they could now create chances, but were they taking them? In the first seven games Swansea recorded 87 shots in which is averaging about 12 shots per game. Only 35 of those shots were on target and to make matters even worse, only six of those shots on target found the back of the net. It was clear that Swansea needed to be more clinical in front of goal, But, at the end of the 2022-23 season it may have been some surprise that they were the joint fourth highest goal scorers in the league given that they weren’t always sharp in front of goal.

Despite their slow start after 16 games the Swans had climbed their way to fourth and were only three points off the top of the table. That was short lived however, they went on to win only three of their following 21 matches leaving themselves 8 points above the relegation zone with 9 games to go. In their final defeat of the season to Millwall, the swans started to look like a team that should be challenging towards the top of the table. In the final nine matches of the season, which would also turn out to be Martin’s final games at the helm saw his Swansea side go unbeaten and only finish three points shy of the play offs.

Looking at this season now and Russell Martin had moved to recently relegated Southampton. I think quite a few people, myself included, thought that he would endure the same problems that he did with Swansea, and it’s been quite the opposite. Stats wise, it’s similar to last season with high amounts of possession and creating a lot of chances. The first 8 league games saw Southampton win three draw one and lose four in a row, but since then they have gone 18 games unbeaten.

With all that being said, why has Russell Martin been able to achieve greater results with Southampton than he did with Swansea? I personally think that it is because he has gained a lot of experience and knowledge in his last three and a half seasons of management. Martin will now have a greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t and how he can set up his team to achieve better results and utilise his system. Another reason is probably down to the calibre of player he has, which is no discredit to the group of players he had at Swansea but with Southampton having just been relegated from the premier league it’s only natural that the quality of player will be better.

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