Tag Archives: Jack Stephens

The League Cup is alive and well at St. Mary’s!

The lack of respect afforded to the League Cup over the more recent seasons has led to a decline in interest in what was once England’s secondary cup competition.

Sadly, the rise of the Champion’s League and it’s inclusion of four teams from the Premier League each season has seen league positioning overshadow it’s priority status in the eyes of the much maligned, much pressured first team manager. Even the ‘smaller’ clubs have followed their bigger colleagues in treating the competition with little more than a passing annoyance, with league survival and the lucrative financial benefits that come with it, to important to gamble with.

Many have suggested that the League Cup is dead.

Try telling that to some of the young faces at St. Mary’s on Wednesday night. Try telling that to Harrison Reed, who asserted himself in the middle of the park with the tenacity of somebody who knows he is working under a manager who will give him further opportunities. Try telling that to Jack Stephens who has patiently waited for a chance to shine in a seemingly impregnable back four. Try telling that to Lloyd Isgrove who will be fully aware he is suited to Claude Puel’s formation in a forward role. Try telling that to Olufela Olomola who greeted his 26th minute introduction by charging down a Sunderland defender like he only had seconds to have an influence.

Try telling that to the many young faces I saw in the St. Mary’s crowd who were there for the first time. The beneficiaries of the low pricing initiative that meant their parents could introduce them to the club in an affordable manner.

Try telling that to Sofiane Boufal.

For me personally it was nice just to be in the stadium. Given my residential location, being there in the flesh is a rare treat and despite it not being the most exciting game in the world it was a good way to assess the changes at the club under Puel.

Having had the pleasure of a fantastic time in Milan with my fellow Dubai Saints, catching up with friends and feeling very much part of a truly historic occasion it felt like a return to reality. The best part of 8,000 Saints fans blasting out ‘Oh when the Saints’ in the San Siro is one of those ‘I was there’ moments and the Inter fans after the game were truly in awe.

Sunderland at home was an altogether different prospect. The manager has faith in his squad, and the extended one he has at his disposal from the Academy. Right now that faith is paying off. I was apprehensive of course when I saw the lineup, but as a Southampton fan it is difficult to feel anything but pride when a team containing six Academy graduates (Jamess Ward-Prowse and Sam McQueen joining the aforementioned four) for the majority of the game looks comfortable against a Premier League opponent.

The crowd was better than most, including a certain tabloid rag and even the club were expecting and that showed by the fact people were queuing to get in once the game had kicked off, but it still felt that at £12 a ticket it could have been better. The 21k that did attend certainly got their money’s worth in the 66th minute. Sofiane Boufal has carried his price tag and the fact he arrived at the club injured with him since he joined, and there has been much hype and expectation of a player who was linked with the world’s best clubs in the Summer. His winning goal did not disappoint.

If Matt Le Tissier tweets to say that the other 89 minutes were worth siting through to see that goal,  then you know it was something special. The finish was ‘Le Tiss-esque’, the first touch ridiculous. A goal fitting of winning any game.

In contrast to most foreign managers, Claude Puel is far from bemoaning the amount of fixtures his squad is up against, in fact he is the complete opposite. In a recent interview with french newspaper L’Equipe, he states how playing one game a week in France ‘dragged’ and how he dreamed of playing three times in quick succession.

Puel trusts his squad, and the fans are starting to trust him. While many are trying to read the League Cup it’s last rites, they aren’t about to give up on it yet at St. Mary’s.

We march on.

Investing in the future. Redmond is a Saint!

Don’t you just love a nice quiet Southampton Summer?

I’ve not been around for a while, so let me just give you a quick update on what’s happened. Manager has gone, majority of the coaching staff have gone. Juanmi has gone (but no one really noticed), Victor has finally found his way to Spurs and Sadio has left for the great ex-Southampton player career cemetery on Merseyside.

I shall take this opportunity to say the following to those who have left and to any more who may do so in the coming weeks. Ta da.

Amongst the annual meltdown though there was some positive news. Having long been an admirer of the player, I was personally delighted to see Saints bring in Nathan Redmond.

Recruiting a young, English talent seems like a revert to type move for the club, and perhaps one that wouldn’t have happened with the Dutch Asshat at the helm? Either way I think this is an exciting transfer. Fresh from success at the Toulon tournament alongside James Ward-Prowse, Matty Targett and Jack Stephens, it feels like we have brought in a player who is both ready now, but with the potential to be even better.

I caught up with Norwich fan and football writer Gary Gowers from http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com/ to get the lowdown on what we can expect from Redmond.

Can you give me a brief overview of Redmond’s Strengths and Weaknesses?

GG ‘First up, I’ll be sad to lose him but there are some City fans who’ll be offering to drive him to Southampton. He divides opinion, no question.

His strengths are obvious: tricky, skillful, quick, an eye for goal and when ‘on it’ he can be the proverbial match-winner. He has appeared on both flanks for City and, occasionally, as the ‘number 10′ but invariably he ends up back on the right wing where he is at his best. His ability to cut in from then left flank on to his right foot has yielded a goal or two but has been more of a threat to anyone sitting in row Z. His chance at ’10’ have been limited mainly due to the fact he was competing with Wes (Hoolahan) for that position but I’ve often wondered if further down the line it’s somewhere he could be effective.

But, and it’s a sizeable but, he can (and possibly will) frustrate for England. He can also infuriate and enrage. In archetypal winger fashion he can go from hero to zero in a flash, and if it’s a wide-man who offers good protection to a full-back he’s definitely not your man. His greatest asset, which is running at defenders and beating them, is something he uses sparingly and all too often he takes the easy option of going sideways or backwards, and he’s exasperated many with his half-hearted approach to his defensive duties and back-tracking.

Yet, in my opinion, he’ll be badly missed at City. We’re not overly blessed with creativity and he was one of the few who has invention in his armoury. We were a better side with him in it – that’s the bottom line.’

 

What would you consider being his best position? Can he play other roles?

GG  ‘Have mainly covered this above. He’s at his best when being utilised as an out-and-out right winger in the traditional mould but is skillful and clever enough to have an impact both at ‘number 10′ and wide on the left.’

nathan-redmond

He had a great Toulon tournament, and Saints fans are hoping this is a sign that we will be moving back to utilising young British talent. How much potential does he have?

GG ‘He does have potential to improve but he had that exact same potential when he joined us from Birmingham. It’s fair to say he hasn’t progressed at the rate that we – and most pundits – expected and it’s hard to discuss him without tripping over ‘stagnate’. A new challenge is probably what he needs and surrounded by players of higher quality may well be what’s needed to unlock said ‘potential’.’

Do you see him as a future full international?

GG ‘No, not really – it’s almost impossible to imagine him getting into the full squad as things stand. But, as mentioned above, a new challenge and some new faces around him may be just be what’s needed to take him to the next level. Stranger things…’

As an outsider, how do you see Saints coping with (as expected) yet another big Summer?

GG You’ll be fine, I’m convinced of it. A summer upheaval seems to be the norm for you guys, yet every season you bounce back regardless of having to embed new personnel both on and off the pitch. The ‘Southampton way’ is so well ingrained, providing the club keeps faith in its ability to recruit within those parameters it’s almost a given you’ll continue your charge as being the best of the rest.

I hope so anyway… seeing the Saints succeed offers hope for the rest of us.’

Thanks to Gary for his time, and here’s to another fun filled transfer window!

Keep the faith!

Saints Disappointing Run? What’s Changed?

Saints ran out comfortable 2-0 winners over Watford on Wednesday night, in what will hopefully be the start of some better form for Ronald Koeman’s heavily criticised team of late. It was a much better performance than recent matches, and for once it seemed they were able to convert first half dominance into full time success.

But what has been the cause of this season’s perceived ‘under-performing’?

1. Transfer Policy?

In Koeman’s first Summer at the club, the doom-sayers were out in force as several of Saints’ top names departed for perceivably greener grass, yet the Dutchman’s cut price replacements filled the void admirably and Saints pushed on for their best ever Premier League season.

But what were the chances it would work so well two seasons’ in a row? It’s fair to say we might have got lucky with how quickly the signings of Summer 2014 settled in and gelled with the existing players, and this time it hasn’t quite gone to plan.

Jordy Clasie, who came with the impossible job of slotting in to the massive Schneiderlin shaped hole has been superb of late, but certainly didn’t hit the ground running in a Saints shirt. Cedric, brought in to replace Nathaniel Clyne has found himself in and out of the team, and Juanmi, well nothing more needs to be said.

 

Clasie had the 'impossible' job of replacing Schneiderlin.
Clasie had the ‘impossible’ job of replacing Schneiderlin.

 

2. Tactical Errors?

Perhaps signalling a reaction to poor form, Ronald has made some odd tactical moves of late. Failing several times with a back five.

Saints have had a flurry of games where they have looked comfortable in the first half, only to be undone in the second, the away fixture at West Ham, the perfect example of this. Slaven Bilic changed his team at half time to suit and Saints had no counter move to turn to, the hunter became the hunted and three points soon became none.

It could be a case of ‘second season syndrome’ and opposition manager’s being wise to Koeman’s style, but it is worrying that of the last 11 fixtures, we’ve only managed two wins. The Arsenal game was testament to the manager’s ability tactically. In what was an uncharacteristic performance at the time, Saints use of Shane Long destroyed Arsenal at the back.

3. Player Power?

Last season, two of the star performers were undoubtedly our African duo of Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane. Subsequent to that though both have been linked to big money moves to huge clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and err… Spurs.

This has coincided with a considerable dip in form for the pair, and Saints are notably worse for it. I’ve been Wanyama’s biggest cheerleader since he arrived from Celtic, but even I have struggled to defend his lacklustre performances of late.  Is he suffering without Morgan? Or his he simply sulking because of his denied to move White Hart Lane? Either way, he doesn’t warrant selection when he returns from suspension against WBA.

Mane has also gone well off the boil, a true game changer when he wants to be but has his head been turned by the thought of dulling it up with LVG at Old Trafford?

Saints duo need to find form again.
Saints duo need to find form again.

 

4. Squad Depth?

Come the end of the last campaign, Saints fans were hopeful that with European football (Bloody Hell. Remember that?) coming, the transfer window would be used to bolster the depth of the squad.

It looked like this had happened with some of the signings that were made, and we always have our brilliant youth system right?

Unfortunately some of the signings have looked weaker than what was already there and with Ronald publicly criticising the quality of the youth players coming through (perhaps backed by unsuccessful loan spells for Jack Stephens and Sam Gallagher in the Championship) there is an argument to say that the squad is no deeper than it was last year.

5. Other Clubs’ Transfer Policy?

With Saints finishing the last campaign in 7th place, and with the abundance of money coming in from the new TV deal, surely it would be us that push on in terms of improvement?

Perhaps not. While Saints stuck with their policy of bringing in lesser known/cheaper players, those just behind us went big.

With Stoke City signing Xherdan Shaqiri, West Ham bringing in Dimitri Payet and Palace splashing out on Yohan Cabaye, the St. Mary’s faithful were left wondering whether we shouldn’t be a little bit more ambitious in the transfer market.

Did Saints allow other clubs to overtake us in the Summer?

Did other clubs at Saints' level show more ambition in the Summer?
Did other clubs at Saints’ level show more ambition in the Summer?

 

6. Lack of Goals?

Last season, it appeared that Saints had shaken off the ‘All fart and no shit’ stigma of previous campaigns, but it would appear to be back with abundance.

With Graziano Pelle, clearly the club’s number one striker often blowing hot and cold and then out injured, Sadio Mane misfiring and not a lot of contribution elsewhere, the responsibility has fallen on Shane Long of late to bring home the bacon.

Now don’t get me wrong, Long on his day (see Arsenal on Boxing Day) is a decent Premier League player, but he is also incredibly frustrating at times, and fluffs more chances than he takes. He is a decent option for Saints, but in my opinion he shouldn’t be leading the line on a regular basis.

In addition to this, other players need to take on the responsibility of scoring more goals. The return from the likes of Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse and Jordy Clasie is poor.

Saints create plenty of chances, they don’t score anywhere near enough of them.

7. Goalkeeping/Defence?

Following on from the lack of goals, in 2014/15 when Saints weren’t converting their chances they were able to rely upon a miserly defence to mean they didn’t have to, but this season that has gone South as well.

While the loss of Clyne and Toby Alderweireld were no doubt felt, the addition of Virgil van Dijk has certainly proved a good move, but the jury is still out on Cedric and Cuco Martina. Steven Caulker will not be missed.

One other major disruption has been the absence of Fraser Forster. Was it a coincidence that his return on Wednesday saw a clean sheet and a visible growth in confidence in the defence in front of him?

The signing of Martin Stekelenburg was undoubtedly never seen as a long term decision, and he was always here to provide cover for Forster’s injury, but in hindsight was it the right move? A keeper already low on confidence from previous clubs, while he has by no means been a disaster I’ve often found myself wondering after conceded goals if Forster might not have saved them.

fraser-forster-post-watford-home-news148-2900518_478x359
A timely return?

 

8. Overweighted expectations?

‘WE USED TO BE IN LEAGUE ONE YOU KNOW?’ Yeah, yeah, blah, look how far we’ve come, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Fine, this sort of rhetoric is outdated now and fans have the right to expect a certain level of ambition/performance. We are now an established Premier League club again and shouldn’t be accepting of dropping like a stone down the table. But, we also have to accept that other clubs are allowed to progress too, and no one has the right to beat anyone else.

I actually think that it was last season that was an unfair reflection of where we are as a club, we overachieved and this season is balancing that out. We are still progressing, and evolving, let’s see how it plays out before scandalously accusing anyone of anything untoward.

9. Misuse of Dr. Barry Gale?

Two appearances, subsequently followed by a 6-1 victory over Aston Villa and a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal. Just saying.

In Conclusion

This has been an extremely odd Premier League season so far. Leicester are flying, Chelsea are below us despite our perceived ‘disastrous’ season and both Manchester United and Liverpool are stuttering. Perhaps the gap between the elite and rest is closing, and that can only be a good thing can’t it?

Saints’ poor form could be down to any of the above factors, or likely a combination of all of them. They go into today’s home fixture with West Brom, nine points clear of the relegation zone and nine points behind the top four. Mid Table might well be where we are destined to be this season, but with the club working on a bringing in another striker things could get better than that.

Let’s face it, it’s always likely to be an interesting ride where Saints are concerned.

Desperately Seeking Someone….

Sometimes I scroll through the #saintsfc twitter feed and wonder how some of our fanbase might have coped with the mid-90’s.

With only newspapers to go on and the odd snippet of a rumour (taken from that day’s papers) coming round approximately once every 100 seconds on the ceefax ‘other transfer news’ page the need for updates on new signings was fulfilled on fairly irregular basis. The fans of the 70’s of course would scoff at that as a ‘luxury’ .

The twitter era has given anyone with a voice a public platform to speak, even if they’ve got nothing worthwhile to say. So called ‘in the know’ accounts are getting the attention they crave and the tabloids are finding their oh so gullible audience even faster than ever before. The journalists have an instant echo too and some of them only use it when they know they are right, and it gives them an exclusive in every meaning of the word. Others feed off the scraps of their peers regurgitating what they have already seen elsewhere, piecing together nonsense in the hope of looking knowledgeable and taking a ‘scattergun’ approach to hitting the nail on the head. It’s a risky game, and while they lap up the praise when they blindly hit a bullseye (usually with someone else’s dart) they become incredibly precious when there is nowhere to hide when they get it wrong.

All of this just fuels the need for transfer news that the modern fan requires. The medium is instant, so therefore the business should be too right? Wrong.

It’s the panicking I find so frustrating, like whether or not a new world class player is brought in is a matter of life or death. To read some tweets you would think that this was the most important thing in some people’s lives. The period between Toby Alderweireld’s big ‘F*%k You’ and the signing of Jordy Clasie was almost unbearable. Constant whinging about how the club was ‘missing out on it’s top targets’. The evidence for this? Crystal Palace had signed Yohan Cabaye and Aston Villa had signed Idrissa Gueye, two players that the tabloids had linked with a move to St. Mary’s. There is no evidence whatsoever that the club were ever in for the players and arrogantly I would suggest had they been, they would have got them. The club’s main target in midfield was unsurprisingly Koeman’s former protege at Feyenoord and despite the need for about 23 medicals over the course of about 5 days, Les Reed got his man.

You’d think that the signing of a highly rated midfielder, in addition to the Portuguese and Spanish internationals that had already been brought in, oh and the World Cup finalist goalkeeper would mean we would get some respite from the bed wetting and for a few days we did. Football (remember that?) was a timely distraction with Saints looking impressive on their tour of Holland, but then the unfortunate news of an injury to Florin Gardos came to pass. With the club having already confirmed they were looking for a centre half that need suddenly became the focus of the gathered digital masses. Our friends in the media played their part with the use of the words ‘frantic’ in their description of Saints search for a defender and ‘crisis’ to describe the situation.

Now call me crazy, but with a proven proficient Premier League centre back in Maya Yoshida to partner Jose Fonte and the emergence of Jason McCarthy, Jack Stephens and Jordan Turnbull (Swindon rave about the performances of the latter two after their loan last season) I’m not sure ‘crisis’ is the right word. Do I think we should bring another experienced player in that position in? Yes, but only if they are better than we already have, and I do not see the point in panic buying the first one that becomes available.

Bizarrely the press insist on continuously throwing Ron Vlaar’s name into the hat despite his announcement that he has a long term injury and the fact that he is pants, something we saw first hand in our demolition of Villa at the end of last season. Other names that have appeared are Virgil van Dijk from Celtic and James Chester from Hull City (feels good that they are still City doesn’t it?) but they come with varying reviews from the online experts.

The interest level of the average supporter can be measured over the length of time the club has been without a late night announcement. This week for instance many met the news of apparent interest in James Chester with veritable disdain. ‘Not good enough’ and ‘You’ve got to be joking’ to ‘We need someone world class’ and ‘Les needs to get his arse into gear’ could be seen in black and white alongside the numerous complaints about tickets. Give it a week or so though and when Chester is pictured holding the famous shirt aloft the same people will be tweeting ‘Great signing #WeMarchOn’ and ‘Welcome to the club #SaintChester’ and the like. You see the perceived level of the player is completely irrelevant, this is the age of the instant and the signing isn’t the issue, it’s the furore that surrounds it that is important.

I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s easy to get dragged along in the excitement and the package of photographs and videos that come with it from the excellent club media team mean that even the most modest of signings #WelcomeVegard #SaintBignall etc. come with an air of romance.

I’m not asking people to not be excited about transfers, I’m just asking that people show a little restraint. If Saints don’t sign a centre half (I’m pretty sure they will) or they don’t sign one who is world renowned (I’m pretty sure they won’t) perhaps have some faith in the people running the club. They’ve very rarely let us down in the past *cough* OSVALDO *cough* and they know what they are doing.

Bill Shankly famously once said ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life or death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’ He was wrong. Saints will be fine this season, they might not finish as high in the table again, they might not challenge for honours but they will be there or thereabouts and it will be another cracking season. Try to enjoy it.

p.s. If your season ticket hasn’t arrived yet. It will. I promise.

5 Year Plan. Done.

I’m not sure I ever expected it to go this quick, but we really have reached the end of the ‘Five Year Plan’. It hardly seems fathomable that the club that lined up on the 8th August 2009 to play out a 1-1 draw with  Millwall in League One, would mark the end of the ‘plan’ with a 1-1 draw with Champions of England Manchester United in the same stadium.

What a five years it’s been. Considering the original plan was to get Southampton into the Premier League, the fact that that has clearly been achieved (a year early), a trophy has been won along the way and the final season saw us break into the top eight, I would say we can consider it a complete success.

Three managers, Two promotions, One trophy and Seventy Seven Players! Can the next five years really live up to it?

5 Year Plan Players

Chris

Young, Talented and Back….

As the Premier League season approaches I have been asked by a few places to submit a preview for Saints. As I write them, there is a recurring theme that I can’t help but get excited about. How young our squad is.

Humour me if you will, it is unlikely that we will lineup in this respect against City on the 18th August, but still, this is a potential starting XI for Saints:-

Gazzaniga (20)

Clyne (21) Stephens (18)  Cork (23)  Shaw (17)

Chambers (17)  Ward-Prowse (17)  Schneiderlin (22)  Lallana (24)

Rodriguez (23)  Sharp (26)

Is it misplaced loyalty that I think that this is a pretty good Premier League team?

Luke Shaw. International future?

The future is bright and with Premier League experience the likes of Clyne, Lallana and Rodriguez are going to get better and better. I get the impression that both Ward-Prowse and Shaw will feature heavily this season, while Callum Chambers has had an efficient pre-season without being in the spotlight. In fact it has been the highlight of pre-season so far how well the youth players have performed. How comfortable these players are on the ball will be key to their future development, and their quest for international honours, which many of them will achieve.

In Nigel Adkins I think we have the man to nurture them too, his abundance of positivity enough to give any kid confidence.

If we can stay in the Premier League, and keep this team together, who knows what they will achieve? But remember, ‘You don’t win anything with kids…’

Chris