Tag Archives: Manchester United

The Saints Agenda…

Good morning/afternoon/evening wherever you may be readers! Yet again I’ve left it far too long to give some opinion on this site, and arrogantly it feels like I am denying you all my wisdom.

To that end I thought I would put together a list of discussion points of all things that have happened in the never dull world of Saints over the last few weeks and try and sum up how I’ve felt about it all.

Wembley

I’m not sure anything more really needs to be said, but what a day it was.

The whole thing felt a little surreal, from catching up with friends from all corners of the globe to entering the stadium itself. I’m not sure it ever felt ‘real’. Saints were superb in every aspect, from the cacophony of noise made by the supporters to the effort, desire and impetus of the players on the pitch. We didn’t win, but we deserved too, and in the most simplistic of terms, a player as good as Zlatan Ibrahimovic really can make the difference. Our players left everything on that pitch, and while the result wasn’t reflective of the standard of the two teams, every Saints fan, whether they were in Wembley or glued to their television sets in whichever country they reside was immensely proud of our club. There will be more finals for us.

Let’s not even talk about the ‘offside’ goal.

‘Barry’ Manolo Gabbiadini

I think I love him.

What an impact. Credit to the Saints team behind the scenes again. On the face of it, Gabbiadini was a striker with not a particularly amazing goal record in Italy, but he has been exactly what we needed. His movement in and around the box is superb, and if there has been something we have been lacking with the absence of Charlie Austin it is a front man with one focus. Score. Of course, he won’t be able to keep up this fantastic run for long, but his instinct in the box suggests he can end the season with a decent return.

Caceres/Boufal

Something that really bugged me this week. The U23’s played a home game against Chelsea and Saints fans generally over reacted about two players for two very different reasons.

A strong lineup included the first appearance of Martin Caceres and a run out for Sofiane Boufal.

Caceres acquitted himself well, and immediately there were calls for him to go into the first team. Boufal on the other hand didn’t have the best of games and looked to have a little temper tantrum, this was followed by suggestions that he isn’t good enough and should be moved on. Ridiculous. On both counts.

It was a reserve game. Let Caceres settle in, when he’s ready, he’ll play, and I’ve seen enough of Boufal to know he has a special talent and we’d be foolish to get rid of him. I’m not a fan of these games being televised to be honest, it provokes unnecessary discussion. Let’s not make Boufal the new scapegoat. You were wrong about both Wanyama and Mane.

Formation Change

And not a moment too soon….

I don’t know if it was the arrival of Gabbiadini or just experimenting on Puel’s part but the team seemed to slip back into 4-2-3-1 ridiculously easily and the suggestion that Saints are ‘boring’ is long behind us.

Nathan Redmond

I was desperate for us to sign Redmond in the Summer so it’s been frustrating to see so many get on his back  as the season has progressed. I’m not sure Puel’s comments comparing him to Thierry Henry did him any favours and it looked like he might be a flash in the pan.

But. If anyone has benefited from the formation change more than anyone else it is him. He has been fantastic in the last three games. He’s a winger and reverting him to that role is paying dividends. He is such a dangerous outlet on the break. Long may it continue.

Claude Puel

“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid”

A little tribute to the boss. Monsieur Puel.

Yes, he isn’t particularly animated in interviews. Yes, he might have rotated a bit too much. But.

Taking over at Saints is never an easy job. Another Summer of upheaval and with the added pressures of the Europa League group stages, Puel never really had the chance to settle in. He’s had injuries to his main striker, his best defender and let’s just call it ‘The Fonte situation’ thrust upon him and you know what? He’s done alright.

He took us to a cup final. We’re pushing for a top 10 league finish. Again. He’s used the Academy. As first seasons go, he shouldn’t be mis-judged on this one.

In the first real period with breaks where he has been able to experiment with the tactics and keep a settled side, we’ve been superb. Perhaps not as good defensively as we would like but with a makeshift central partnership it could have been a lot worse.

Chinese Investment?

If the media in the far East is to be believed Landers Sports have invested in the club. Who knows what to make of that?

Personally I prefer investment to takeovers. The Liebherr administration has been nothing but positive in my view, so there control is comfortable for me. If this investment means there is more money in the pot then great.

Any Other Business

I just wanted to send some love the way of our podcasters! For a long time Saints were starved of any podcasts. I had a go myself and I know how time consuming and difficult it is so I’m grateful to two that have come to the fore of late.

First of all there is the Southampton Dellivery run by Matt in California which I’ve enjoyed and will be a guest with soon and also the Saints FC Podcast who have had some fascinating interviews with ex players of late!

So that’s all from me again for a while! What a time to be a Saint!

Chris

Keep the faith.

Jose Fonte: Are Saints fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted?

It’s the 7th December. We are still 25 days away from the opening of the transfer window, yet par for the course the papers are awash with talk of the ever widening St. Mary’s exit door.

Speculation on the whole surrounds the centre half pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte, and as usual it is causing disruption and unrest when we should be talking about a win or bust Europa League game on Thursday night.

In the case of van Dijk, his near immaculate performances since joining from Celtic in 2014 have seen him gather an army of admirers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Dutchman is one of the best in the league at what he does, if not the best. To see him linked with the usual suspects at the top of the table should be, and isn’t, of no surprise. As usual we are the club that took the risk on a player, blooded him, improved him, and now the vultures are circling

Jose Fonte on the other hand is an altogether more curious case. His superb displays for 8 years at the club have largely gone under the radar. Fonte has quietly gone about his job, while a succession of partners seem to attract all the praise. Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld and now van Dijk are lauded as the key member of the central defence club. While Jose is overlooked as the constant, the variables are enjoying the plaudits and so far managed to secure bigger contracts with ‘bigger’ clubs.

That might just have changed in the Summer though when Fonte was a key member of Portugal’s European Championship winning team. His profile was raised and rightly so, and with it came some wanted and unwanted attention. Speculation has been rife ever since, with Manchester United and Everton both supposedly keen to improve an area they are poor in. Unfortunately that speculation has led to fan unrest and now we have an unnecessary and unwanted public PR battle between club and player as talk of a ‘new’ contract has divided opinion.

Let’s look at it from both points of view.

Should Jose Fonte, returning from a hugely successful Summer, and having given the club eight successful years feel deserving of a contract extension? Sure, that doesn’t seem to much to ask.

Should Southampton FC feel obliged to extend the contract of a player who is 33 this month? Not at all, that is fully dependent on the long term plan of the club. As we know, for everyone at the club there is already a replacement in mind. If that replacement is already inbound, would it be financially prudent to extend Fonte’s contract?

What we don’t know is what the demands of a new contract are? With the likes of Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman interested and in charge of cash rich clubs, perhaps Fonte is looking for a considerably lucrative new deal. It would be naive to suggest ‘super’ agent Jorge Mendes wouldn’t be pushing for it, and will be using the interest of others as a deal breaker.

It is reported, and confirmed by Fonte himself that he was offered a pay rise in the Summer, but it didn’t come with an extension. Did the club do enough?

Given his age, and the fact that he is now entering the twilight of his career would anyone begrudge him a move to a Manchester United sized club? It would be hard to justify any anger in that situation, especially if Saints have no interest in extending his deal and were to get a decent fee. You could argue that this is all ‘perfect timing’ from a business point of view.

However, it would be a sad end to a journey that Jose Fonte has very much been a part of, and with the propaganda and the sniping that appears to be commonplace with such speculation, are fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted about departures? It’s football right, but the business model of the club, successful as it has been, brings with it a sense of anxiety when our players are seemingly hand picked by those we are competing with.

It feels like only a matter of time before Saints fans have somebody to boo in every fixture they play, and that level of negativity isn’t required.

If Jose Fonte leaves in January (and personally I hope he doesn’t) then his contribution over the years will be outweighing of any unpleasantness over the last six months. He should leave with our blessing and be given a Rickie Lambert-esque reception on his return.

The fact of the matter is, that none of us really know what has gone on behind closed doors and perhaps never will. As a Saints fans we have to roll with the punches. We should be used to it by now.

Keep the faith.

The winners of the 2015/16 Ali’s! The results are in!

Yet again, the voting response to these awards was fantastic, it genuinely surprises me every time, and grows every year!

This is what everyone associated with Saints dreams of getting their hands on at the end of a season:-

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So without further ado, here are YOUR winners….

Player of the Year

This was calculated like so:- Each player got 2 points for a vote as winner and one point for a vote as runner up. Here are all those that received votes and their points percentage.

Scored points:-  Lee Todd (<1%), Steven Caulker (<1%), Some Scummer (<1%), Cuco Martina (<1%), Victor Wanyama (<1%), Jordy Clasie (<1%), Cedric (<1%), Graziano Pelle (<1%), Jose Fonte (1%), Oriol Romeu (1%), Sadio Mane (2%), Dusan Tadic (2%), Fraser Forster(2%), Steven Davis (6%).

3rd Place:- Ryan Bertrand (8%)

2nd Place:- Shane Long (32%)

And the winner is……with a huge 44% of the points, after a stand out season at centre half……

VIRGIL

Most Improved Player

Received Votes:- Steven Caulker (1%), Oriol Romeu (1%), Steven Davis (1%), James Ward-Prowse (1%), Alfie Jones (1%), Some Scummer (1%), Jordy Clasie (2%), Ryan Bertrand (2%).

3rd Place:- Matt Targett (11%)

2nd Place:- Cuco Martina (17%)

And the winner is…..in any other season he would have been ‘player of the year’…..

LONG

Young Player of the Year

Received Votes:- Lloyd Isgrove (1%), Josh Simms (1%), Jake Hesketh (1%), Jason McCarthy (1%), Jake Vokins (1%), Some Scummer (1%), Kelvin Davis (2%), Sadio Mane (2%), Olufela Olomola (2%), No One (3%).

3rd Place:- Alfie Jones (5%)

2nd Place:- James Ward-Prowse (15%)

And the winner is…..

TARGETT

Unsung Hero

Received Votes:- Steven Caulker (1%), Maya Yoshida (1%), Jordy Clasie (1%), Graziano Pelle (1%), James Ward-Prowse (1%), Dr. Barry Gale (1%), Erwin Koeman (1%), Some Scummer (1%), Shane Long (2%), Dusan Tadic (2%), Sammy Lee (2%), Jose Fonte (5%), Cuco Martina (5%).

3rd Place:- Oriol Romeu (10%)

2nd Place:- Ryan Bertrand (16%)

And the winner is….

DAVIS

Signing of the Season

Received Votes:- Juanmi (1%), Steven Caulker (1%), Cuco Martina (1%), Kenzie Benali (1%), Some Scummer (1%).

Joint 2nd:- Oriol Romeu & Charlie Austin (2%)

And the winner is….

VIRGIL

Performance of the Season (Team or Individual)

Received Votes:- Virgil van Dijk (1%), Shane Long (1%), Mane v Chelsea A (1%), Pelle v Chelsea A (1%), Susan Tadic? (1%), Team v Man Utd A (1%), Wanyama v Arsenal H (1%), Wanyama v Liverpool H (2%), Team v Spurs A (2%), Mane v Liverpool H (3%), Long v Arsenal H (3%), Davis v Spurs A (3%), Tadic v Man City H (4%), Team v Man City H (5%), Team v Chelsea A (6%).

3rd Place:- Forster v Arsenal A (10%)

2nd Place:- Team v Arsenal H (27%)

And the winner is……Team Performance/Comeback v Liverpool H.

Goal of the Season

Joint 2nd:- Ward-Prowse v WBA (1%), Mane v Liverpool (1%), Long v Newcastle (1%), Pelle v Liverpool (1%).

And the winner is….Martina v Arsenal!

MARTINA

Cuco Martina goal v Arsenal

Comedy Moment

Received Votes:- In the Box Jay Rod & k Davis (<1%), Yoshida’s Backpass (<1%), Pochettino chants at WHL (<1%), Spurs Title Bid (<1%), Koeman Out campaign (<1%),  Lovren bottlejob/subbed at HT (<1%), Wanker Spurs fan in blue at WHL (<1%), Austin sinking United (<1%), Davis 5mph goals at WHL (<1%), Liverpool fans after comeback (<1%), Antonio’s goal (<1%), K Davis flicking the security man’s balls (<1%), Lovren’s twitter sulk (<1%), Ronald’s injury (<1%), Long getting away with a foul in build up to goal v Arsenal (<1%), Any video with Maya (<1%), Midgetland (<1%), Cuco clearance v Man City (<1%), Camera shots of Angry Juanmi (<1%), Lallana Pen miss (<1%),  Kid in crowd caught doing the v’s (<1%), Wanyama dummying three players by falling over (<1%), Cedric always bleeding (<1%), Brendan Rodgers fired (<1%), Juanmi (<1%), Wanyama’s red card (<1%), Adam Blackmore commentary on JWP goal (<1%), Sunderland playing it into the corners (<1%), Ex Saints celebrating at Liverpool game (<1%), Pompey’s play-offs (<1%), Mourinho Meltdown (<1%), When my mate shit himself on the way to West Ham away (<1%), Man City fan who let a flair off 5 minutes into the game and got himself and his son arrested on his son’s 13th birthday (<1%),  Drawing with Villa (<1%), Bertrand’s acceptance speech (<1%), Pelle doing the Haka (<1%), JWP panicing when clean through against Man City (<1%), Forster refusing to wave (<1%), Europa campaign (<1%), General officiating (<1%), Jon Moss (<1%), Dutch fans fighting each other (<1%), Spurs finishing 3rd in a two horse race (<1%), OctaFX goal hitting a steward (<1%),  Forster v Spurs (<1%), Stekelenburg (<1%),  Koeman linked to Everton (<1%),  Ronald v 4th Official in Arnhem (<1%), Pelle airshot (<1%), December (<1%), Joleon Lescott’s defending (3%), Wenger after the 4-0 blaming all the goals on the ref (4%), Cuco after his goal against Arsenal (6%), The comeback against Liverpool (7%).

3rd Place:- Ref taking the ball off Sadio Mane after his hat trick (8%)

2nd Place:- Various actions relating to Steven Caulker (9%)

And the winner is…..Ronald’s touchline run v Liverpool!

RON

http://georgeweahscousin.com/the-gwc-com-in-depth-and-analytical-end-of-season-review/

Best Opposition Team

Received Votes:- Bournemouth (1%), Meh (1%), Midgetland (1%), Chelsea (1%), Villa (1%), West Ham (1%), Liverpool (4%), Man City (7%).

3rd Place:- Spurs (17%)

2nd Place:- Everton (20%)

And the winner is…..Just when they thought their season couldn’t get any better! Leicester City!

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Best Opposition Player

Received Votes:- Anthony Martial (<1%), Divok Origi (<1%), Ref at Leicester (<1%), Pione Sisto (<1%), Eden Hazard (<1%), Christian Eriksen (<1%), Kevin de Bruyne (<1%), Joe Hart (<1%), Toby Alderweireld (<1%), Martin Stekelenburg (<1%), John Stones (<1%), Andros Townsend (<1%), Hugo Lloris (<1%), Mezut Ozil (<1%), Sergio Aguero (2%), Willian (2%), Harry Kane (2%), Coutinho (2%), Ross Berkley (2%), Delle Ali (2%), Andy Carroll (2%), N’Golo Kante (3%), Dimitri Payet (3%), David de Gea (3%), Kelechi Iheanacho (6%), Daniel Sturridge (6%).

3rd Place:- Romelu Lukaku (10%)

2nd Place:- Riyad Mharez (12%)

And the winner is……

VARDY

Best Opposition Fans

Received Votes:- Man City (<1%), Coventry? (<1%), Couldn’t give a crap (<1%), Not the Scummers (<1%), Midgetland (<1%), Liverpool (<1%), Spurs (<1%), All shit (<1%), Everton  (<1%), Norwich (1%), Sunderland (1%), West Ham (2%), Bournemouth (2%), Sunderland (4%), Villa (6%), Newcastle (8%).

Joint 3rd:- Crystal Palace & Vitesse Arnhem (10%).

2nd Place:- Leicester City (24%)

And the winner is…..Manchester United!

Survey-reveals-manchester-United-and-Chelsea-have-ugliest-fans

Best Saints Related Tweeter

Received Votes:- ImagesofRonald (<1%), TheBarhoe (<1%), KristianSFCOake (<1%), Always_SFC (<1%), Toothy (<1%), KitmanForbsey (<1%), theuglyinside (<1%), MushBible (<1%), Wanyama (<1%), Vasco (<1%), sean_stroud (<1%), stevegrant (<1%), ryangregory (<1%), JGBLucas (<1%), Rubbish Award (<1%), DutchTom (<1%), Dunno (<1%), Hugo Scheckter (<1%), Twitter is for Mugs (<1%), Pellz19 (<1%), asiansaint (<1%), alexgbourne (<1%), ChrisIngram96 (<1%), danbsfc (<1%), benstanners (<1%), Alex Crook (<1%), chrs00 (2%), Oriol Romeu (2%), TractorSaint (2%), Florin Gardos (2%), SamDobson (2%), LeagueOneMinus10 (2%), What’s twitter? (2%), Ronald Koeman (3%), Simon Peach (3%), SaintsinFrance (3%), StMarysMusings (5%), Me (6%), OfficialSaints (6%).

3rd Place:- @crstig (12%)

2nd Place:- @ConnorArmstrong (13%)

And the winner is…….@bigadamsport!

So that concludes this season’s Ali’s! Congratulations and thanks to everyone who voted and massive congratulations to all the winners!.A big thank you to Alistair Downs for the Photoshop wizardry, check his work out at http://www.carlasam.com! Another great season! Keep the faith!

For previous years awards results see here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/awards-history/

Chris

Interview:- Mark Sanderson on his forthcoming Bobby Stokes Biography!

It was with much anticipation that I first heard of Mark Sanderson and his upcoming biography of ’76 hero Bobby Stokes.

Aptly titled ‘The man from Portsmouth who scored Southampton’s most famous goal’, there is an air of mysticism about Stokes and how he bridged a gap between two cities so often at each other’s throats.

Bobby-Stokes-2560x1440

I asked Mark about whether anyone these days could become a hero in red and white stripes, but also maintain the respect and love of his rival home town?

MS ‘Bobby Stokes is one of several Pompey lads who have gone on to play for Saints – from Steve Mills to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Ward-Prowse. Far fewer have done the opposite. Perhaps the most notable example was Bitterne Park schoolboy Darren Anderton, who was part of the Pompey side that lost to Liverpool on penalties in the 1992 FA Cup semi-final. Although none of these players have had as much impact for either club as Bobby’s winning goal for Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup Final. Bobby remained a Pompey lad, but he had a special relationship with Southampton – his funeral was in Porchester, but his ashes were scattered at The Dell. ‘

See what else Mark had to say here:-

I for one can’t wait to read this book.  You can pre-order it here:- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bobby-Stokes-Portsmouth-Scored-Southamptons/dp/1785311379/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454506270&sr=8-1&keywords=bobby+stokes and as Mark says, he will be doing a signing at St. Mary’s on April 30th, so get along and support him.

Chris

Get enhanced odds on tonights FA Cup action:-

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Seven things we re-learned from Saints resurgence!

Just a month ago, I found myself (over) analysing a run of terrible form here. Since that victory at Watford, Saints have made it to an unbeaten run of five games, dropping just two points at Arsenal and haven’t conceded a single goal.

So what have we re-learned during Koeman’s resurgence?

  1. The Transfer Policy is ok

During that run of five unbeaten games Summer signings Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu have both been standout players. Consider their impact alongside that of Virgil van Dijk and to a lesser extent Cedric, and Saints look to have a decent squad, better than the poor run they had been on suggested. Add to that the instant impact of Charlie Austin and Saints fans have good reason to be looking up again rather than down.

Football - Southampton v Everton - Barclays Premier League - St Mary's Stadium - 15/8/15 Southampton's Oriol Romeu in action Action Images via Reuters / Tony O'Brien Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details. - RTX1OCZB
Romeu – An assured replacement for Wanyama.

2. Ronald knows Tactics

Many people winced when they saw the return of three at the back, especially with Ryan Bertrand taking a place in the centre, but Ronald has got his tactics spot on recently. With the exception of the West Ham game, he has recreated the dominant home performances we had gotten used to, and defensively the team have been superb on the road.

What poor form?
What poor form?

3. Player Power won’t always beat us

Despite his sending off against West Ham, Victor Wanyama has seemingly (if temporarily) shaken off his desire to head to North London and been a key player during this run. Wanyama is one of Saints’ best players on his day, only a fool argues that point, but his position is more difficult with the emergence of Clasie and Romeu. Arguably, Saints could afford to lose him, but chose not to. A nice change.

It was refreshing to see that no key players left the bus on deadline day, and whether or not you believe the likes of Wanyama and Mane are biding their time, perhaps Saints have decided they won’t be held to ransom anymore.

4. Goalscoring

Many of us felt vindicated when Charlie Austin came off the bench at Old Trafford to put away his first chance in a Saints shirt. It’s what we had been saying for some time. We miss too many good chances.

A three pronged competition for places of Austin, Graziano Pelle and Shane Long is a pretty ideal situation for a manager as they all differ in style, and all must take their opportunities to stay in the team.

The natural, the unorthodox and the hassler? Have Saints ever been so striker rich?

Charlie 'You don't have to ask me twice' Austin.
Charlie ‘You don’t have to ask me twice’ Austin.

5. We still have decent Academy products

During this run, amongst many of the pleasing aspects, it has been great to see the performances of James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett.

JWP finally got the free kick monkey off his back and has looked more tenacious than ever in midfield and Targett was in scintillating form in a more advanced role.

It was especially pleasing to see Matt Targett show that he isn’t the write off some people had decided he was, and who knew he had that cross on him? A justified player of the month and bright future ahead!

The kids are alright.
The kids are alright.

6. We missed ‘The Wall’

There is very little more to be said about Fraser Forster’s miraculous return to the team. Literally no sign of rustiness, despite being out for nine months, his return has coincided with this run of form.

For many of the games he has little to do, but I wonder just how much more confident his presence makes the back four (or three/five). His display against Arsenal was pure heroics and with due respect to our other keepers would we have conceded no goals in the last five games had any of them been playing. I seriously doubt it. The confidence of Jose Fonte in a behind the scenes video after the West Ham game tells a story of faith. No one is scoring past us mate.

NONE SHALL PASS.
NONE SHALL PASS.

7. Mark Clattenburg still hates us

Yes I am bitter, but allowing the West Ham players to talk him into changing his yellow card to red for Wanyama and then allowing Sam Byram to get away with a clear red card tackle means his record of terrible decisions against us continues. He’s either a cheat or incompetent. You decide.

In Conclusion…

Someone once said that football was a ‘funny old game’ and it most certainly is. A month ago we were talking about a possible relegation battle, today a win against Swansea would see us reach 40 points with 12 games to go and people are talking about Europe again.

Clubs that were perceived to be having amazing seasons while we struggled (Stoke and Palace in particular) are now below us in the table, and even the Klopp revolution finds itself behind. No need to even mention Chelsea.

Keep the faith.

Chris

 

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.

It’s time to talk about Graziano…

Football is as fickle a business as they come. Already this season we have seen fans on social media outlets ludicrously question Ronald Koeman’s position as manager after a shaky start, and as crazy as it seems now, the instantaneous medium that the likes of twitter offer means football’s fickleness is at it’s peak.

If anyone had seriously doubted Ronald’s credentials, it would be interesting to know on what grounds. It can’t be results, in that department he has surely exceeded expectations. It can’t be the standard of football, Saints on their day are as exciting as anyone in the league in terms of their approach. So perhaps it is signings? Wrong again, and that brings me neatly to the subject of this blog.

Nothing epitomises the Dutchman’s success in the transfer market than Graziano Pellè. If we are talking about kneejerk reactions, the Italian striker has suffered every type. Initially written off as not being good enough, then revered, before being written off again on the back of a lean spell in front of goal. Even during his run in the goals last season there were many who weren’t taken by Pellè and perhaps have allowed those initial thoughts to form into a stubborn prejudice that now refuses to acknowledge his contribution.

The reality is, Pellè has been a revelation. A bone fide fantastic signing. You might often hear people say that he doesn’t score ‘enough goals’, but given his all round contribution to the way the team plays I would argue that isn’t a disaster. Having said that 23 in 56 appearances isn’t bad in this day and age anyway.  It is actually an almost identical goal ratio in English football to Romelu Lukaku for instance.

Over the Summer many Saints fans (myself included) were insistent that the club should be looking at other strikers. The likes of Charlie Austin were long talked about and perhaps we had all got a little carried away with ourselves and the now traditional Southampton need for constant improvement. So far this season Pelle has been fantastic. Sure, when the early season form was poor from the team as a unit, he suffered as he was getting little to no service at times, but as the team began to click so did the Italian, and he has been almost unplayable since.

Recent performances against Manchester United and Chelsea particularly highlighted his importance, and why Ronald Koeman has complete faith in him. Superb in the air, never letting the centre halves have a moments rest, setting up chance after chance with his back to goal before burying one himself. Mix all that up with the odd unnecessary flick or back heel and that is Graziano Pellè in a nutshell. I read a tweet (but I can no longer find it unfortunately to credit the author) that described Pellè as the ideal mix of old school English striker and fancy dan foreigner. Perfect.

After the rout of MK Dons, for which Pellè was rested I was amazed to see some fans complain that the Italian might be brought straight back into the team.  The fact that he has 7 goals and 5 assists against much tougher opposition escaping those whose prejudice has long been formed. As much as we all want Jay Rodriguez to return to the force he had become, it has to be as part of a team alongside Pellè, he could certainly benefit from the Italian’s expert hold up play, much as Sadio Mane has.

If that wasn’t enough evidence of his greatness, it is worth pointing out that at the age of 29 he received his first call up to the Azzurri last season and has been a regular ever since. As he joins up with them this week his record to date is 3 goals in 6 games, a pretty good start at international level.  Italy manager Antonio Conte recently said that he hopes ‘Pellè can be an example for other players to follow’.

If goals, assists and all round impressive play at all levels aren’t your cup of tea though, what about passion? Since arriving at St. Mary’s Pellè has really seemed to embrace being at the club and his reaction to scoring is always like it’s his first ever goal. For me he is part of the furniture now and has the potential to join other strikers like Rickie Lambert, Marian Pahars and James Beattie (another who suffered the odd barren spell) as cult heroes at the club.

I guess my point at the end of all this is simply that Graziano Pellè is certainly a player you’d rather have with you than against you. Is he the most natural player in the world, perhaps not, but he produces the goods on a fairly regular basis. Scoring goals is an art form, and while not everyone can do it with the constant grace of a Messi or a Ronaldo, simply doing it is enough.

Pellè is Southampton’s and Southampton is Pellè’s.

September Player of the Month Vote!

Victories over Swansea City and MK Dons and a draw with West Brom made September a decent month, with only a narrow and frustrating defeat to Manchester United spoiling it! There were some stand-out individual performances but who was the Player of the Month? Vote below.

The three signings that make Saints Summer business a success!

There has been much made of whether or not Saints have had a ‘successful’ Summer transfer window or not, and on the face of it, losing Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne was always going to make it difficult to convince a lot of the fanbase that it could be anything other than a failure.

Lots of people have raised concerns recently about the clubs policy of replacing the outgoing players with cheaper alternatives, and this coinciding with a poor start on the pitch meant people’s worries were seriously heightened.  I don’t pretend to be completely comfortable with it myself but talk of relegation and impending doom is way too early. With the confirmation on deadline day that Saints had ended the window as the  Premier League’s ‘net spend’ winners you have to say that if Ronald Koeman can get his team back to form and have another decent showing come the end of the campaign, then we perhaps have the shrewdest owners in football.

It is still too early to tell just how good or bad the incoming players are, but for me these three signings give Saints fans good reason to be optimistic.

  1. Jordy Clasie

I was a little put out by the lack of fuss the English media made of this signing, and in my opinion it was somewhat of a coup. Let’s be honest, if Koeman wasn’t in charge, Saints are never signing this player. You can’t take too much notice of supporter born superlatives, but the ‘Dutch Xavi’ is highly regarded in Holland and was long the subject of interest from Manchester United. Many people have said that they don’t see him as an adequate replacement for Schneiderlin, well let me put it to you that he isn’t here to be that. I think he is seen as a replacement for Steven Davis, sitting in front of the defensive midfield two and dictating play. Davis has done little wrong in a Saints shirt, but I see Clasie as a step up and it was gutting to see him pick up an injury so early into the campaign.

Clasie operator.
Clasie operator.

 

2. Oriol Romeu

If we are talking about Schneiderlin replacements, Spaniard Romeu is the man with that huge task on his hands in my opinion. The former Barcelona youth/B teammate of Messi, Fabregas et al looked to have made his breakthrough at Chelsea under Andre Villas-Boas but proved less popular with subsequent managers in West London and found himself one of the many victims of the Stamford Bridge Footballer borrowing library. Romeu has already proved to be a competent and combatant competitor in defensive midfield and could prove to be a steal at just £5 million. If Victor Wanyama can get over himself and forge a partnership with Romeu it will likely be one of the toughest in the division.

Loves a tackle...
Loves a tackle…

 

3. Virgil van Dijk

When the fallout of the farce involving Toby Alderweireld was that the Belgian had proved himself to be just another of football’s snakes, Saints fans were rightly worried about the lack of options at centre half. With many still untrusting of Maya Yoshida (though in my opinion he has been outstanding of late) and Florin Gardos both untested and then joining the long term injury list there was a clear gap in the squad. With all due respect to him, the loaning of Steven Caulker did little to appease that feeling, so the drawn out abut ultimately successful pursuit of Dutchman van Dijk was a nice way to round off the Summer window. I have high hopes for this transfer.van Dijk is a classy ball playing centre half and although there are no guarantees in football I think he will successfully make the step up. The lure of the Premier League has already improved his international prospects, having been called into the Dutch squad on Thursday and the incentive for him to stay there is to prove a hit in a better league.

Two Saints looking for more regular appearances in Orange!
Two Saints looking for more regular appearances in Orange!

Chris

Talking Saints: The Bloggers Take on The New Season

Amongst the many previews out on offer as we approach the (official) start of a new season, none bring together many as many of the voices of those who give up their time to talk about their club. I gathered together the Saints blogging fraternity to see what they expect from the new season.

Which new signing are you most excited about?

Me ‘Cedric has looked impressive in pre-season so far, and looks like he will offer even more going forward than Clyne did. We shall see if he can recreate that level of form in the Premier League.’

Glen de la Cour (from League One Minus Ten)  ‘Cedric Soares looks an exciting addition especially as it fits our ethos of selling big and replacing with better quality for less money.  The most important though is Jordy Clasie because of the boots he has to fill.’

Connor Armstrong (from All of the websites) ‘For me it’s probably Cédric, so far. It looks like he’ll give us great balance when Bertrand is back too, as well as another genuine attacking threat.’

Sam Dobson (from The Saints Hub) ‘Excited is probably the wrong word, but Cedric Soares looks the most impressive so far’

George Galpin (from St. Mary’s Musings) ‘I’m really excited about Jordy Clasie. Morgan Schneiderlin was a fantastic player for Saints, and will be remembered as an icon of the club’s recent rise. But people move on, and the Utd move is something that not many would be able to say no to.’

Ben Stanfield (from Teamtalk Fanzone) ‘Cedric Soares. I think he looks like a really bright young talent who, in glimpses against Vitesse, showed he will thrive in getting forward to create opportunities for Saints. He looks physically strong, is quick and seems to have an experienced head on young shoulders. The acid test, which hasn’t really been seen yet, is his defending – particularly against Premier League attackers..’

Ben (from Go Marching In) ‘Cédric Soares – Has looked very assured already despite only playing a few games in a Saints shirt. I like his positivity going forward and have a feeling he could bag a couple of goals in his first season.’

Ben McQuaide (from McQuaide’s Musings and SportsPulse) ‘Without a doubt, Jordy Clasie. I’ve wanted him at Southampton for quite a while now and after watching him a fair bit in the Eredivisie I’m convinced he’ll be a hit in the Premier League.’

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There’s not been this much pressure on a bloke called Cedric to perform since the Tri-Wizard tournament…

Which Saints player do you think will have the biggest impact (secure move to United/Liverpool/Spurs) on the Premier League this season?

Me ‘Sadio Mane. He is such an exciting player and already making a name for himself. Still only 23 I think he is destined for the top sooner rather than later.’

GdlC ‘Sadio Mane- he will hopefully be better equipped in his 2nd season to keep a high level of performance right through.’

CA ‘It’s going to be Sadio Mané. He’s gonna tear it up. Big Vic will keep being Big Vic too, so he’s another who will have a big impact. Let’s hope that Jay Rodriguez makes his mark too.’

SD ‘Sadio Mane. He will win us games single-handedly .’

GG ‘I really think this is Sadio Mané’s year. He’s settled into the team well, but it was noticeable how much physically he had grown and looks frighteningly quick. He could become a real superstar this season.’

BS ‘Sadio Mane. I’m really looking forward to seeing Sadio have a full season with Saints. He was one of the more consistent performers across last year and has already shown in pre-season that he is ready to go. I think he should, and will, be targeting 20 goals for Saints this season. He could well be the key to us winning a few close games.’

B ‘Sadio Mane – One the most fouled players in the Premier League last season. Feel that if he has another impressive season we’ll be fighting off some big offers for him next summer.’ 

BM ‘Sadio Mane, if he can maintain or better his form from the second half of last season for a whole season he’s gonna tear teams apart and I think he could score 15+ goals this season.’

The Mane man this season?
The Mane man this season?

How do you rate our transfer business out of 10?

Me ‘So far I would say it is a 7-8, add another centre half, and in my opinion an out and out striker and then it would be higher.’

GdlC ‘Hard to tell until they’ve adapted (or not)…. on the face of it, it looks like an 8 or 9 out of 10.  A top quality centre back in addition to Caulker will make it even better.’

CA ‘8/10’

SD ‘6 or 7. Difficult to argue that we won’t be worse off without Clyne and Schneiderlin, but the players that have replaced them aren’t THAT much worse, so we should still be competitive.’

GG ‘If Saints can get the CB to replace Alderweireld, 10 for me. The players who had left all had understandable reasons for going, but once again the transfer committee seem to have brought in the right replacements.’

BS ‘I’d say a 7. We seemed well prepared for any departures but, unlike last year, we didn’t need wholesale changes this summer anyway. If we can get a top-class CB in, like Van Dijk for example, then that 7 can become an 8/9 and I think we’re ready to go!’

B ‘8/10’

BM ‘Probably a 6, the replacements look pretty solid for those that departed but I think we may be slightly weaker than last season, starting XI wise. ‘

Ronald, who was it the fans tweeted you to sign?
Ronald, who was it the fans tweeted you to sign?

Morgan Schneiderlin. Impossible to truly replace?

Me ‘Not impossible but incredibly difficult. I hope the Wanyama/Clasie partnership hits the ground running, if it does then we are going to be fine.’

GdlC ‘Maybe hard to immediately replace but you have to give time for a player to grow into the role.  Once Clasie gets used to English football, he may well be that man.  He has roughly the same number of caps for Holland as Morgan has for France – all he doesn’t have is the English football experience.’

CA ‘Probably, but we’ve given it a very good go.’

SD ‘He will definitely be missed, but we’re still pretty strong in that area of the pitch. Victor Wanyama is one of the best midfielders around and if Jordy Clasie doesn’t cut it, Harrison Reed will be ready to step up.’

GG ‘In all honesty, he is not impossible to replace, because no one is for a club the size of Southampton. He was an incredible player, but like I said earlier; people move on. Le Tissier retired, Channon left, Nick Holmes, Terry Paine, Rickie Lambert.. They all stopped playing for Saints, but the club is still there.’

BS ‘No player is ever truly irreplaceable. Morgan was a class act, no doubt about that, but I really feel Wanyama can step up to the same level Morgan was playing at each week and become the star of our Midfield. I wish Morgan well but we will survive without him.’

B ‘I think so. The ability to win the ball back, control the game with his distribution and an engine to cover every blade of grass on the pitch. A lot of players only specialise in one of those areas but Morgan was capable of them all. In Jordy Clasie we have a player who can certainly tick a lot of those boxes, but I think he’ll need time to find his feet in the Premier League. But at 24 there’s plenty of time for him to become as integral to Southampton as Morgan was.

BM ‘Wouldn’t say irreplaceable, top class player but I think Clasie will replace him well.’

Jordy Clasie will have to soon master the balancing head jump with Big Victor...
Jordy Clasie will have to soon master the balancing head jump with Big Victor…

Who will win the Premier League?

Me ‘Chelsea, but not as easily as they did last season.’

GdlC ‘Vitesse Arnhem’s feeder club.’

CA ‘Chelsea. Manchester United will push them but the Blues have got the knack.’

SD ‘Man United.’

GG ‘In my opinion, it’ll take a lot to stop Utd if they can add another attacker. ‘

BS ‘If United ‘click’ then I think they could go close – which they should do after the ridiculous amounts of money they’ve spent over the last two years – but I think it’ll be Chelsea’s to lose again. They are generally the epitome of consistency.’

B ‘Arsenal.’

BM ‘Chelsea, again. Despite concerns over Diego Costa’s hamstring.’

I know it was you Fredo...
I know it was you Fredo…

Who will go down?

Me ‘Bournemouth, Sunderland & Norwich.’

GdlC ‘Tottenham, Liverpool and I don’t really care who else.’

CA ‘Bournemouth, Norwich and Sunderland.’

SD ‘Aston Villa, Leicester and Bournemouth.’

GG ‘Bournemouth, Leicester and Norwich’

BS ‘Watford, Leicester and Norwich.’

B ‘Leicester, Norwich and Watford.’

BM ‘Bournemouth, Norwich and Leicester.’

Both to tumble?
Both to tumble?

Who do you most want to beat this season?

Me ‘Whoever we get in the cup final.’

GdlC ‘Tottenham.’

CA ‘Liverpool. For obvious reasons. Chelsea and Tottenham are others, but only because I have mates who support them.’

SD ‘Tottenham, we must be due a win against them by now.’

GG ‘Everybody… ;-). For me, I’d like Saints to beat Tottenham, purely because they’re the only team in the top six clubs that I haven’t seen Saints claim all three points from since promotion.’

BS ‘Liverpool and Tottenham. Both for obvious reasons of course!’

B ‘Probably Liverpool. Tottenham was a close second but the scousers win because they have more ex Saints players in their team. It’s got a lot to do with showing that we’re not weaker without them.’

BM ‘Liverpool, without a doubt. You know the reasons. ‘

Shithouse haircut.
Shithouse haircut.

Chips. Mayonnaise or No Mayonnaise?

Me ‘No. Total Dutch nonsense I’m afraid. HP Sauce (now made in Holland) is your standard chip affair.’

GdlC ‘I am determined to try the mayonnaise option soon! Will get back to you.’

CA ‘Mayonnaise, and lots of it. ‘

SD ‘No Mayonnaise. Sorry Ronald.’

GG ‘I tried chips with mayonnaise in Rotterdam for the Feyenoord friendly, and can see why they love it there. But for me, salt, pepper and vinegar is a winner. So is Reggae Reggae sauce.’

BS ‘I’m afraid this is (probably) the only thing in life that Ronald and I don’t agree on. Chips for me can only ever have one condiment on them – tomato ketchup!! So no mayonnaise for me. Sorry Ron!’

B ‘Mayonnaise. Lots of it.’

BM ‘Mayonnaise, obviously.’

Grim.
Grim.

You wake up suddenly and find yourself in Fratton Park for a Pompey home game. How do you escape unnoticed?

Me ‘There is a scene in the US zombie drama ‘The Walking Dead’ where the heroes smother themselves in zombie blood and guts and then act brain-dead to blend in and walk freely amongst the zombies. Like that. But using fish guts.’

GdlC ‘Grow an extra finger on each hand, an extra toe on each foot and an eye in the middle of my forehead, sing ‘Amarillo’ and shout ‘I HATE FACKING SCUMMAHS’and then (most importantly) blame the owners for everything.  Now that I’m fully blended in… I can leave.’

CA ‘Fratton Park? Isn’t that where the big Tesco’s is now?’

SD ‘Reckon it’ll be pretty easy for me to navigate my way through rows of empty seats.’

GG ‘Stick on a thick coat, and casually walk towards the exit. If they say I can’t get back in, I’ll say I’ve left my car unlocked. Simple!’

BS ‘I’d turn to the only other guy in attendance and advise that I think I’ve left my car unlocked and will be right back….’

B ‘Scary thought. I would probably go for some sort of diversion tactic, saying loudly, “Isn’t that guy over there from HMRC?” and then walk briskly in the other direction.’

BM ‘I think you mean the Portsmouth Dockland Stadium (See below). ‘

When is this finished?
When is this finished?

Cheers to all those who took the time to answer questions. We’ll all meet back here in May and see how right (or wrong) we got it!

Keep the faith!