Football Features

Jannik Vestergaard: Southampton’s aerial specialist is among this season’s big redeemers

By Chris Smith

Published: 11:39, 17 December 2020

Southampton are currently enjoying a run of just one defeat in their last 11 Premier League games and one man who has been ever-present during that run is Jannik Vestergaard.

The Denmark international, previously considered a liability, has played the full 90 minutes in each of those 11 top-flight matches for the Saints (scoring three goals during that time). He had previously managed just 45 minutes in their opening two games of the campaign and started only 17 times in the Premier League in 2019/20.

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Vestergaard has fully established himself as a vital cog in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s machine during that time, marshalling a defence which has kept the joint-highest number of clean sheets (5) so far this season. The Saints’ recent 3-0 win over Sheffield United demonstrated his progression, with Vestergaard winning a monumental eight aerial duels while also completing 93% of his passes. No player completed more than his 75 passes on the night.

This is typical for centre-backs, but Vestergaard’s passes weren’t limited to simple short balls to his nearest teammate while building out from the back. The former Borussia Monchengladbach man was progressive, often arrowing left-footed passes out to the right flank with unerring accuracy, switching play to both get Southampton up the pitch and create disorganization among the Sheffield United ranks.

Former Southampton and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer named Vestergaard in his Premier League Team of the Week, hailing the Dane’s “outstanding” performance against the Blades.

“Another outstanding performance from the central defender, who was part of a Southampton defence who didn’t allow a single shot on target,” he told the Premier League’s official website.

As you might expect from a player who is 6ft5, ahead of Wednesday night’s Arsenal draw Vestergaard had won more aerial duels (48) than any other defender in the Premier League so far this season with a win rate of 72%. Not to mention his three headed goals in the league (only Dominic Calvert-Lewin has more this season).

The top five Premier League CBs* for aerial duels won in 2020/21:

  1. Harry Maguire (Man Utd): 47/57 won (82.46%)
  2. Willy Boly (Wolves): 38/52 won (73.08%)
  3. Jan Bednarek (Southampton): 32/44 won (72.73%)
  4. Janik Vestergaard (Southampton): 48/67 won (71.64%)
  5. Ruben Dias (Man City): 20/28 won (71.43%)

*20+ aerial duels contested only. Data accurate at 2pm, 16/12/20

His blend of steel and progressive passing helps form the foundation of Hasenhuttl’s expansive, exciting style of play, and Vestergaard has admitted that Southampton‘s run of form (which has seen them rise to third in the Premier League table) is the result of he and his teammates fully adjusting to their manager’s demands.

Jannik Vestergaard’s stats via Football Index

“Confidence is very important, but I think the team has developed,” Vestergaard responded in November when asked about the secret behind his performances. “I think we’re a better team than we were a year ago. We’re a lot more stable. We’re a lot more in sync.

“The way we defend and press is a little bit different to the way you get brought up in football, the way you go through the education system. So that has taken some time to fully adapt to I think, where you are all fully in sync and expect the same of each other.

“When you’re on that same page, it’s a lot easier to navigate as a defender. I think we at the back just benefit from that at the moment.”

So high is Vestergaard’s confidence right now that he even recently suggested he’d like to one day take up a captaincy role both at club and at international level. However, his immediate focus will be on maintaining Southampton’s tilt at a top-four finish.