Howdy Readers, this week I was approached by Spurs blog ‘SpursforLife’ for a crossover piece on this weekend’s coming fixture.
I asked Andy some questions and answered some in return. Enjoy!
GWC‘It’s almost 5 years since Mauricio Pochettino left St. Mary’s for White Hart Lane, has he lived up to expectations?’
SFL ‘He’s gone way past expectations. You never know what to expect with managers from lower teams but we have genuinely challenged for the title, we are now contenders in the Champions League. I’m not sure I’d ever seen that as a possibility as a Spurs fan.’
GWC‘Do you fear him running out of patience with a lack of squad investment, and jumping ship?’
SFL ‘Yes, every day. The difficulty isn’t spending money, it’s bringing in players that improve us. There aren’t many available and the ones that are can get double/triple the money elsewhere. I hope Poch sees that as a challenge.’
GWC‘What happened to Victor Wanyama? He was a star for us and seems a bit part player with Spurs?’
SFL ‘He’s a weird one, just had loads of injuries I guess and never cemented a place. He had Dembele in front of him when he first came in, then Dier arrived on the scene. Now Winks and Sissoko of all people are ahead of him. Whatever happens I’ll always love Wanyama for the absolute thunderbastard he scored at Anfield.’
GWC‘Do you look forward to playing Saints? We had a run of wins in the early 2000’s but since then we rarely even get a point against Spurs.’
SFL ‘I’m pretty neutral to be honest. Maybe the weirder thing of being a better team is that games mean less. We normally beat anyone outside the Top 6 home and away so it’s kind of expected and that brings a kind of weird nerves. Because the level at the top is so high you can’t drop points at all.
I do remember one rather depressing game at the end of the season where we were going for the title against Leicester and managed to lose to you guys at home where Steve Davis scored. I was in Brighton with the Mrs on a sunny day out and jumped in a pub to watch it. Ruined the day a bit. We ended up finishing third in a two horse race behind Arsenal!’
GWC ‘Do you look at anyone in the Saints squad as an option for Poch in the Summer?’
SFL ‘Having watched you play a few times this season. No. ; )’
GWC‘Do you remember that weird period Post-Hoddle moving clubs where we had a very minor rivalry?’
SFL ‘All seems very petty now. I have blanked out my childhood memory of Spurs because we were so annoyingly rubbish. That said the classic Saints game is the one where Ronny Rosenthal scored a hattrick at The Dell in an FA Cup replay. And yeah, not sure there’s much of a rivalry!’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!
Back in 2011, prior to Saints return to the top flight I was asked by Shoot magazine to compile my ‘Premier League Dream Team’.
I thought it would be good to look back at it now, 5 years later and with some impressive Premier League campaigns under our belt to see where I might now change that team.
Goalkeeper (2011) – Antti Niemi
Goalkeeper (2016) – No change. The flying Finn was and still is the best keeper I’ve ever seen in a Saints shirt.
Left Back (2011) – Wayne Bridge
Left Back (2016) – No change. I was a big fan of Bridge, and though I think Luke Shaw might have stolen this had he stayed a bit longer and Ryan Bertrand is consistently immaculate, Bridge still gets the nod. Just.
Right Back (2011) – Jason Dodd
Right Back (2016) – Nathaniel Clyne. It’s not easy to drop Dodd who was such a fantastic servant to the club but Clyne’s performances in a Saints shirt were superb.
Centre Half (2011) – Dean Richards R.I.P.
Centre Half (2016) – Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman will go on to be know as one of Saints most impressive and important signings of all time in my opinion. Oozes class and is almost unbeatable in the air.
Centre Half (2011) – Michael Svensson
Centre Half (2016) – Jose Fonte. Another difficult decision but Fonte’s impact in the Premier League as the constant amongst several partners and the defensive performances that have stemmed from them have to be rewarded.
Central Midfield (2011) – Chris Marsden
Central Midfield (2016) – Morgan Schneiderlin. An all round brilliant midfielder and arguably is yet to be replaced (though PEH looks a decent bet).
Left Midfield (2011) – Hassan Kachloul
Left Midifeld (2016) – Adam Lallana. The homegrown Lallana may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many when he left, but his performances for Saints were a joy to watch.
Right Midfield (2011) – Ronnie Ekelund
Right Midfield (2016) – No change. Ekelund was at the club for such a short space of time that I feel sorry for those fans who didn’t get to see how good he was.
Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2011) – Matthew Le Tissier
Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2016) – No change. Pretty sure I don’t have to justify this one.
Striker (2011) – Marian Pahars
Striker (2016) – No change. I can’t drop the little Latvian, I simply can’t. He provided too much joy to my younger Dell going self.
Striker (2011) – James Beattie
Striker (2016) – Rickie Lambert. Very difficult to remove Beattie, but Lambert was much more than a brilliant striker, he was a superb footballer and a talisman too.
Last Saturday Saints played out an uninspiring draw at home to Watford in what for many was an Anti-Climax to the exciting build up to the start of the season.
Despite a much improved second half it is fair to say that most were left a little deflated by the result and performance against Watford. In many cases feelings ran a little high. In fact, I was staggered to see the level of reaction by many, which frankly resembled a particularly spoiled hysterical child who hadn’t got their own way.
One game into the season and the new manager, the new players, the tactics, the board and anything else related to the club was written off as not good enough. This was less knee jerk, more collective full body spasm. It was ugly.
I watched the game as usual with the Dubai Saints, who I have to say, on the whole are as level headed as you will find [a few years around the block will do that for you eh fellas ;-)]. But even we found ourselves getting into a fairly heated ‘discussion’ about the level of player investment and ‘ambition’ at the club. I’ve grown to hate that word in all honesty. What exactly is ambition? Some would argue finishing in an automatic qualification place for Europe is as ambitious as Saints can realistically get, others would say that the sky is the limit. There is no rules as to what determines ‘ambition’ and only the people in the boardroom will know what they see as a realistic achievement.
The centre of our well oiled debate in the ‘Francis Benali Stand’ of the Barasti Beach Bar was whether the club should stick with bringing kids through or spend big to improve the squad now.
It got me wondering what it really is Saints fans want?
I’m yet to meet one who doesn’t take pride in the Academy at the club. When one of our ‘own’ turns out for England it gives us all a lift, and over the years we’ve all loved watching young players make their first team debut and go on to be stars in their own right. It’s something that sets us apart from other clubs. We know it and they know it. Parents are now trying to get their kids into Staplewood and not Carrington (Manchester United) and our facilities and coaching methods have become the blueprint for many of Europe’s top clubs. Ex-Southampton Academy graduates scoring 60% of the 7 goals in a much overhyped game between Arsenal and Liverpool at the weekend is the advertising that keeps the wheel turning!
We love this about our club. We love the fabled ‘pathway’. But at what cost?
Everybody likes to see their club sign players. These days it’s an obsession amongst fans, to the point where they aren’t even really bothered who it is, as long as there is a new face holding up their shirt. It’s all a little camp and kitsch, with the latest monstrosity coming from Manchester United when they announced Paul Pogba. With every passing season football becomes more like the X Factor, classless and lacking in any real substance whatsoever. This is heightened of course by massive fees, transfer deadline day and the hype that surrounds it. Has anyone in history not looked a dick in a yellow tie?
But still, we all like a new player through the door, and this Summer (and most Summers), Saints fans would have liked a few more. With exits in key positions again, most have been frustrated that like for like replacements have not been brought in.
But where do you draw the line? What is the right balance between keeping the ‘pathway’ and strengthening the squad.
Like it or not, and my impression is that most people do, Saints have positioned themselves in the market as a club that will accept first team players moving on for the right price, and might not necessarily replace them. Why? Because you cannot maintain the ‘pathway’ if you keep blocking it with big money foreign imports.
It’s a long term strategy and one not without it’s risks, but if Les Reed was to take an occasional glance at Saints supporting presences on the web (Hi Les!) he could be forgiven for placing his head in his hands when he sees the same people bemoaning Harrison Reed’s lack of playing time last season, crying over the club not replacing Wanyama this.
For the club to keep attracting the best players into the Academy at a young age there has to be continuous evidence that the club will give those kids a chance at the top level. Logically, if you replace every player that leaves with a like for like copy those kids will be destined to never fulfil their potential at Saints, and eventually other kids will decide it’s not the place to be, especially as others catch up in terms of facilities and methodology.
My hunch is that the modern Southampton supporter would rather see big investment in players each Summer, some would still favour the pathway, while many will be honest enough to admit they aren’t bothered either way as long as the club keeps progressing.
What do #saintsfc fans really want? The 'Pathway' or 'Big Player Investment'? Honest answers.
The obvious answer, though there is no right one, is that the balance has to be correct. The club needs to find a workable solution where the kids get their chance, but the squad is strong enough to compete. I would say they had this pretty close under Mauricio Pochettino.
The blip in all this, was the reign of Ronald Koeman, and it didn’t surprise me when there was talk of the club not being overly disappointed that he was off. As good a job as he did, he took the organisation ‘off message’ and long term that wasn’t what the board wanted.
Claude Puel would appear to be the ‘anti-appointment’ to Koeman. A man with a track record of giving some pretty good players their first opportunities in France. Yes, the first game was a little underwhelming, but when have Saints’ opening day fixtures not been? Let’s give him a chance.
Tomorrow night, we take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. A huge money ‘name’ like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could win the game for them, but then Matt Targett or James Ward-Prowse could win it for us. Which would be sweeter?
It’s July. It’s unlikely that anyone has had as turbulent a Summer as Saints so far (Quelle surprise!), so I thought I would give my thoughts on some of the (it’s) happenings at St. Mary’s.
As common an occurrence at the South Coast’s premier club as a bottled North London title challenge, we are used to seeing our top assets walk out at the first sign of fluttered eye lashes from one of the Premier League’s oh so powerful ‘MASSIVE’ clubs. I have to admit though, the loss of Wanyama and Mane in quick succession was a tough one to take. I’ve made no bones that they were two of my ‘favourite’ players from recent squads, and both will be difficult to replace.
In Victor’s case, it was no real shock, I think he got the same treatment as Schneiderlin had previously and was told he could go in the Summer if he knuckled down and got on with it, which he did. Spurs are in the Champion’s League, and Wanyama is a much better player than a lot of Saints fans give him credit for. On the bright-side though Oriol Romeu’s performances were a massive credit to him when he played last season, and most would argue that he is a more than capable replacement. I personally think he is not ‘Victor level’ just yet, but the signs are positive and he is becoming a popular figure with the crowd.
Mane’s move to Liverpool struck me as a purely financial decision by the club. £34 million plus add-ons is a lot of money for a player who can blow hot and cold. Having said that, he is unplayable on his day and the club did the right thing holding out for a ‘silly’ offer before conceding. I can understand a player’s motivation for wanting to play for Liverpool, but it irks slightly that Mane has moved to a club who finished below us last season, and without European football, albeit on no doubt a much higher salary.
Nathan Redmond has already joined so technically Mane’s position is covered. I’m a big fan of Redmond, and believe he has huge potential, but like Romeu I think the issue could be that he isn’t at the same level as Mane yet.
Oh, and Juanmi left. *Shrugs*.
The New Boss
Claude Puel. What do I know about him? Very little in truth, but unlike some, who immediately wrote him off as ‘underwhelming’ or an ‘unambitious’ appointment, I did the due diligence and read all I could.
It’s fair to say his reputation in France is good. He has a good record with every club he’s been at, won the league with Monaco, got Lyon to the Champion’s League semi finals and Nice into the top four twice, but more importantly, he has a reputation for playing ‘the best’ football in the French league and promoting youth. A move back to the Southampton ideals a certain Dutchman was happy to ignore?
Since he joined I’ve been impressed with his cool persona. He’s as French as they come, and the nonchalant expression as he was shown round the club’s facilities was official Saints YouTube channel gold. In my head he was simply thinking ‘Ok, stadium and changing rooms, great. Show me where I can get a double espresso.’
He will be assisted by the superbly named Pascal Plancque and Eric Black. I know nothing about Plancque, but Black is a well respected coach who happens to be fluent in French (a shrewd move).
I look forward to seeing what this new coaching setup gets out of our talented squad.
Announced yesterday after a series of teaser trailers, the new strip would appear to have been worth the wait.
In my opinion (abusive replies can be made in the comments section below) it is the smartest home kit we’ve had since the sash and the away strip is decent too.
As a long term admirer of Under Armour equipment (I used to use their cooling t-shirts literally under armour in my highly decorated military adventures in the Middle East) I was excited to see what they come up with and I think they have hit the nail on the head.
Some people are worried about sizing with the emphasis these days on designing for the elite athletes rather than the beer bellies in the crowd (seems misguided), but I ordered yesterday on the basis that I wear large UA coolswitch t-shirts for running and they fit me well. We’ll see.
The main complaints I saw from the terminally diagnosed naysayers were firstly ‘It looks like a bra at the top’, which was most brilliantly shot down by one of our female fans who questioned why a lot of our male fanbase seemed confused about the position of breasts in relation to the chest.
Secondly, it seemed a lot of people wanted a Yellow away strip. Now this is going to be controversial (comments section) but I for one didn’t want a yellow kit. I get the tradition and the history, but yellow kits are consistently garish. Besides, last season was the 40th anniversary of the cup win, so that was the time to have yellow. The black shirt is smart.
Right now our squad is not as strong as it was last season, in fact I would say it is considerably weaker. But I think we can expect a few through the door once Claude has made his assessments of the current squad.
In my opinion we need another defensive midfielder, another striker/winger and perhaps another goalkeeper.
We’ve already been associated with pretty much anyone who has ever kicked a ball, so I am not going to comment on particular names, most of which are being also linked to much bigger parties anyway so seem unrealistic.
All I ask though, is that you try not to have a tantrum when other clubs sign somebody. We only need to worry about our own club, and in the last 5 years, with regards to incoming transfers they’ve (almost) always got it right.
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:-
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……
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’…..
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…..
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….
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….
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%).
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!
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!
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……
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%).
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!
smm‘Used to like them. Would remember at The Dell and the annoucer would always give us the Portsmouth and Bournemouth results in addition to the top flight results (snigger, snigger) and we would always cheer when Bournemouth won and boo when Portsmouth won. I always looked out for their results and hoped they would win. So it was a complete shock to me when I started my first day at the Bournemouth Echo (back in 2001) when I was speaking to the librarian and life-long Cherry fan who almost imploded when I said I was from Southampton and a Saints supporter. The vitriol I was greeted with really surprised me. When i was called a scummer, I was almost offended on behalf of Portsmouth and said: ‘You can’t call me that, only Portsmouth people can call me that.’ Since then I’ve met a few more Bournemouth ST holders who look at me as if I’m a bad smell under their nose. They’re not interested that I’m actually from Southampton and a long-line of generations of Sotonions – they just see another ‘glory hunter’ (I kid you not) living in Dorset that supports the Saints. So thanks to the vitriol of a handful, I’m not so fond of Bournemouth and am rather satisfied when we beat them. The main thing I have learned from living in these parts is that most people couldn’t give a toss about football. For 10 years I’vve been quite happily driving around in my Saints emblazoned car without a mutter or look of disgust (I wouldn’t chance it in Portsmouth). In my experience most people who do like football in Bournemouth are armchair supporters of the likes of Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea etc and many of those are now helping to fill out Dean Court now they’re in the Premier League. I’ve actually come across more Bournemouth fans in Poole than I ever did in Bournemouth. My guestimate is Bournemouth have a hardcore of 5,000 fans – it’s not a football town.’
ah ‘Having always been the bigger team in terms of fan base and league position, I’ve never seen Bournemouth as a real rival. Obviously the team to the East in blue have and will always be the main rivals even though in my time we’ve only bumped into them (mostly disastrously from memory!) in the league for a few seasons. Saints v P*mp*y will always be the real rivalry. For that reason I’ve never had any bad feeling towards Bournemouth and have always wanted them to do well. This did change slightly though when I was the only fan in the pub when we played in the 2003 FA Cup final when there was A LOT of vitriol coming at me and us on the screens from a few of the Bournemouth fans.’
sb ‘Love the beaches… they are great in the summer. But in terms of the football club, I can’t say I’m too bothered about them to be honest. It is the same sort of feeling I have for Reading or Poole Town.’
km ‘I quite like them, and remember the days of their results being cheered at the Dell and have always thought well of them. I also lived in Bournemouth for a bit and have many friends that are Cherries fans and like to see them do well.
That said in reality for 99% of the time i’m pretty indifferent to them, i never check their results or pay any real attention to them and it’s only the fact they’re relatively close that gives me any interest in them (in the same way as Brighton, Swindon or Reading).’
How do you feel about Southampton?
cp ‘I’ve mellowed a lot with age towards Saints. When I was a kid, you didn’t say Southampton, it was always Scumhampton. But that was at primary school, I had no idea that Bournemouth even had a football club and it was more in a jokey name-calling way. I guess it was the nearest big city in a neighbouring county so kids needed somewhere to see as a rival. Then when I started going to games I realised it was an opinion bigger than that of the small town I grew up in and people were quite passionate about it. And there were a few years of hate, admittedly, but I’ve grown up since and these days it’s not really that much of an issue for me – I think the games in League 1 helped to end that. We’d goaded each other for years without any chance of being on the same pitch but by 2011 we’d been in the same league, played each other for the first time in 13 years and we’d lost all 3 games that season (typically after all that time, we got each other in the League Cup that year as well) and could go our separate ways as far as I was concerned, I was off sulking with my tail firmly between my legs. Now, for me, it’s more of a friendly goading, nothing malicious. I just can’t be bothered. And I have many Saints friends who are – SHOCK HORROR – decent human beings. And I love Ronald Koeman.
However, when Saints came to Brentford in 2011 and Rickie Lambert took a free kick that hit me at full force in the crowd behind the goal, I did have a few choice words for him, the club and the general area of Southampton. I wasn’t very ladylike. Apologies.’
pb ‘My mood has probably changed over the years. I used to dislike them in every way as they have always been the bigger team 🙁 but that has changed to grudging respect as I think Southampton have produced some great players and AFCB could learn a thing or two in how they have managed to establish themselves in the Premier League. I was actually rooting for the Saints when they beat Man Utd in the cup in 1976 as well, so sometimes the southerner support can stretch up past the New Forest with me.’
at ‘It’s difficult, because my loyalties are somewhat split. I would probably say I’d favour a Bournemouth win, mainly because they’re my hometown club, but also because they need the points to survive.
When I was about 5, my dad used to take me to watch both teams. First Saints game I can remember is when I watched Saints 4-3 Norwich. Kevin Phillips played a blinder if I remember correctly! I was also a mascot for Bournemouth on my 8 birthday.‘
Fans on both sides seem desperate to claim that it isn’t a ‘derby’, but surely it would be great for everyone if it became one?
smm ‘I disagree – I think Bournemouth fans are desperate to claim it’s a derby and a lot of Saints fans are probably protesting too loudly that it isn’t. It’s a local rivarly without doubt and the Bournemouth fans see us as their nearest rivals. There is a lot of spite because they live and work with so many Saints fans, but not so much the other way round. Summing up my own feelings I’d be delighted to beat them but not feel like the world is coming to an end if they beat us (which I would feel if we lost to you know who). It’s not THE derby but as we’re unlikely to experience that one for a while, let’s enjoy this one.’
ah ‘Given what’s happened to the blue team, in terms of a practical point of view, this is the only derby we’re going to have for the foreseeable future (unless you want to classify Reading as a rival and they make it back up – I don’t BTW) I guess from my exposure to Bournemouth fans, I would say that they see it much more of a derby then we do. They don’t have anyone closer than us as a team whereas we have ‘them’. And to me derby’s are more about history than necessarily locale. I don’t know the differences but I’m sure there are lots of teams close to say, Man Utd who would say they have a local rivalry with them (e.g. Wigan, Blackburn, Bolton etc) but Utd wouldn’t see it like that so they aren’t really derby’s in the sense that there is a lack of animosity between both sets of fans.’
sb ‘Technically I think it is a derby. I get loads of abuse from Bournemouth/UTD fans when games come up giving me banter. It would be good for the clubs as well. The media obviously see it as a derby as they have put both games on TV. I look forward to the games in the same way I used to look forward to playing against my younger brothers team in a tyro pre-season friendly. We know we will win but it is nice to see how they have grown up from last year.’
km ‘I think the issue is that from our side – Saints – it isn’t a derby and we have no interest in the slightest in it becoming one. The problem comes with the reactions that follow from our opinion. Our lack of interest or desire for it to be judged so gets deemed arrogance, when in fact it’s a statement of fact, there’s one team, one city and one group of inbreds that we care about, the dirty skates.
As for would it be good? I don’t really see why it would be anything, it’s a local game and an a decent away day (Bournemouth is a great place for a drink despite the stupidly early last train back!).
Personally i’d much rather people stopped referring to it as a derby and just got on with it. It holds little to no importance in Southampton and never has in my lifetime. I often attribute the need to call it a derby to the Soccer AM generation that were brought up thinking every club needed one. But not every club has a derby.
If anything the need to make this a derby turns me off the game, it becomes boring to deal with Cherries fans that want it to be that way and i have to be honest I didn’t bother going to the cup game against them despite being a season ticket holder as i found the entire thing boring and uninteresting.’
cp ‘The very fact that everyone is so desperate to go to great lengths to constantly state that it’s not a derby to me surely means it’s more than just another game?! Not sure I’d go so far as to say a rivalry, but the fact that Premier League clubs are quite sparse on the south coast (oh look – there’s only two of us) means that as Prem neighbours (my mind is still boggled at saying that) it’s a derby by location if nothing else?! Either way, the competition of who cares less about who will rage on till the end of time, I’m sure. But, then again, I don’t care. And I definitely care less than you, ok?’
pb ‘Eddie Howe said last time the two clubs played that AFC Bournemouth have to start winning some of these clashes if they want it to truly become a derby game and I tend to agree with that. There is no real grudge against the Saints as there have not been many matches between the two clubs and when they have met Southampton have usually come out on top. I’d like to think that it will become a south coast derby that both clubs can look forward to for a few years to come, but I feel that fans of both sides probably dislike some other clubs more than each other. I know a few Saints fans that, believe it or not, are pleased to see the Cherries in the Premier League – at least we are both guaranteed at least one short travel away game as season.’
at ‘I don’t see why it’s a bad thing. I’ve not seen that much animosity between the two fanbases, certainly not to the same extent as Saints and Pompey! With Pompey now languishing in the lower leagues, surely a new, less fierce rivalry would be welcomed by saints fans?’
Saints fans often have a ‘soft spot’ for Bournemouth. Has that changed since they were promoted to the Premier League? And will that change with continued success?
smm ‘I think it began to change for some Saints fans when we were both in League One – I think a lot of Saints fans felt that shock I experienced on my first day working at the Bournemouth Echo that a lot of Bournemouth fans really hate us. I suspect a few more fans’ fondness has also waned since the promotion, particularly for those of us active on social media. My instinct is that a majority of Saints fans are indifferent or hold Bournemouth with a degree of fondness. If we are to remain in the same league for years to come I’m sure the rivalry will increase.‘
ah ‘I’m not sure it has, not yet anyway. I still think the general feeling from most of my mates and people in my office is that we still want them to do well. Perhaps I know a lot of nice people but I don’t think we quite believe they will stick around for any length of time to be classified as rivals and I’m sure the more realistic Bournemouth fans will think the same. What Eddie and the team have done is pretty incredible so personally I wish them all the best… for now! I’m more concerned about our own future (keeping Ronald, Fraser, what happens to Pelle/Vic etc) than worrying about them.’
sb‘As I have just said it is like watching a younger sibling grow up. I think if they become more successful, there will be a change in the way we view them. If they ever finish above us in the league (and God i hope it never happens) then that will change everything.’
km ‘Not really, for the most part I’ve been oblivious to their season as I’ve been concentrating on ours. That said i want them to stay up as it’d be good for the south coast and a nice break to the general Premier League status quo.’
ab ‘I think it’s changed a little bit. It’s easier to have a soft spot for clubs in different divisions, but when those clubs become competitors, it changes the dynamic. I also things Saints quick rise up the leagues has somewhat been overshadowed by Bournemouth’s remarkable story. Are they stealing Saints limelight?’
How do you feel about people from Dorset (especially Bournemouth) who support Saints?
cp ‘For years, Southampton have been the more successful team in the area and have naturally attracted a lot of glory hunters from the Bournemouth area. And a lot of people are very aggrieved by that. I, personally, quite liked the fact that I supported my local team and was prepared to go through the grief and heartache that brought, rather than go the easy route and support the big team down the road. Many times I’d be stood on the platform at Poole or Dorchester station, waiting for trains to various League 1/2 fixtures to join about 200 others, while the blokes stood next to me in shirts that looked like deckchairs were off to some swanky Prem fixture in That Lundin. I felt like I was the proper fan, one of the few hardy souls, and they were just Premier League customers, a few out of thousands of faceless others.
After recent events, I’m currently revising that theory.’
pb ‘The only reason I can see for a person in Bournemouth or the wider Dorset area travelling up to St. Mary’s to watch football is that they can’t get a ticket at Dean Court. Some will have family roots that have always been with the Saints so fair enough to them, but the Cherries are after attracting as many new fans as they can and being the only Dorset club in the Premier League there is a fair chance that the fan base will grow in the next few seasons with the promised ground improvements at Dean Court.’
Why do Bournemouth and Pompey fans love each other so much? A mutual hatred of Saints?
cp ‘One of the funniest things at a game is when supporters of both sides join in together, to sing about a team that aren’t anything to do with that game. Bizarre. I think a lot of Pompey and Bournemouth fans think they have found kindred spirits through a mutual dislike of Saints, but there are a lot of Bournemouth fans I know who have a distinct dislike of Pompey as well. Of course, when we played them in the FA Cup a few weeks ago, they were at great pains to point out that it “wasn’t a derby” as were we.
Whatever it was, we won (just). So ner.’
pb ‘Absolutely. In the recent game against Pompey there was much mutual singing aimed at the Saints and while Bournemouth is not a port, we know why Pompey hate the Saints so much which harks back to the Southampton dockers carrying on working past the picket lines when the dockers in Portsmouth went on strike in the 1950’s. Pompey have good reason to hate the Saints, while AFCB fans are working on it.’
Editor’s comment‘The dockers strike is a total myth, perpetuated by so many Pompey fans over the years it even gets mentioned in recent books about their club. There is no record of it. Ironically, when the Southampton dockers went on strike in the 1890’s, it was workers from Portsmouth that were brought in to do their jobs.’
Why aren’t Bournemouth fans grateful that Saints played fund raising games for them? They owe us right?
smm ‘I don’t think they owe us anything but now that we know how much they ‘love us’ they can kiss goodbye to any future bucket collections if it all goes belly up when the Russian leaves.’
ah ‘Football rarely works on that logic does it? If there is a local neighbour to hate then you’re going to hate them regardless of what they’ve done. Not that it’d ever happen, but if we were to help out P*mp*y with their situation, would that stop them hating us? No. I’m sure there are a lot of reasonable Bournemouth fans who will be slightly thankful for what we did but let’s be honest, it was one game and won’t ever come into any sort of emotional or rational reasoning.’
sb ‘100% yes. As a token of their appreciation they should have refused the Lallana money.’
km ‘Not sure they owe us anything and I’m also not sure why (or if) they’re ungrateful either. I did actually go to one of those friendlies and don’t remember there being any animosity at all, in fact the first time I was ever aware that there was even a consideration of it being a derby was when I was well into my late twenties and a Cherry said that we were “Scummers” after I wished him luck in their in promotion battle at the time.
That confused the hell out of me to be honest and I think I actually laughed when he said it as I didn’t think he was being serious, which probably annoyed him more!’
cp ‘The fact that it gets brought up at every possible opportunity makes it all a bit sour. A lot of Saints fans have been overly condescending about this over the years and it was very kind, yes, and it helped, yes, thank you very much, but Saints didn’t save us and it wasn’t what ensured our existence as many like to claim.’
pb ‘I don’t think AFC Bournemouth fans were ungrateful but they have some pride and whoever wants to be in a position to need a handout? I actually felt sorry for Southampton when they fell on hard times. I don’t think any fan wants to see any club in financial trouble.’
at ‘It was definitely a nice gesture on Saints part, and I’m sure if it was the other way round, Bournemouth would’ve done the same!’
I’ve found something we can truly fall out about. Harry Redknapp is a c**t. Discuss.
smm ‘Without doubt. They love that saggy faced fraudster in these parts – it’s vomit inducing. In fact, at my son’s football presentation evening last year, I did vomit in my mouth when ‘Arry was the guest of honour and walked past me and touched my arm. Bleuurgggghhhhh.’
ah ‘Yes, most definitely but I’d rather not waste my energy on him. My friend once described him as having a face like a mixed grill. I think that’s all I want to say on the matter.’
sb ‘The guy is a massive knob. Would love to have a beer with him though!’ Editor’s comment ‘Why? Would definitely be a round dodger.’
km ‘Now that statement can’t be denied by anyone, even the Skates must admit that!’
cp ‘I can’t hate Harry. I’m sorry, I just can’t. I’m not as fond of him as I used to be but I wouldn’t go that far. For years, he was our most successful manager. Obviously, this has all been well & truly surpassed now. By someone with much better hair. And my Harry Redknapp impression has gone down a storm at work over the years. You wouldn’t have to ask too many Bournemouth fans before you found one to agree with you, though.’
pb ‘Yeah, you got me. Harry Redknapp will always be highly regarded around AFC Bournemouth as he was the manager to put us on the map in recent times before the boy genius Eddie Howe arrived. Harry did okay as a player for us as well. I suppose it is becoming harder for any manager to move from one club to another and always leave with his head held high and at least we might be able to agree that Harry loves the south, even if West Ham is probably his biggest love after Sandra!’
at ‘He’s certainly a character! I mean I don’t personally hate him, how could I after all he did for Bournemouth? Although, saying that, his increased involvement with the club does rather coincide with them being promoted to the Premier League.’
How do you see the game going? Score prediction?
smm ‘History and form says we should win – but Bournemouth are due a result against us at some point and it’s most likely to be at their place – but I’ll still go for a 2-1 win to us.’
ah ‘It will be a cracking atmosphere and I’m sure it will descend into a usual derby in terms of lots of intensity and flying tackles in the first 20 minutes. If we can ride out the initial period and get our foot on the ball I’m sure that our midfield will work their way into the game and unpick their defence. I’ve heard several times about how slow their CBs are so whilst we don’t have bundles of pace, we’ll get a few chances and hopefully stick one or two away. I’ll opt for a 0-2 scoreline to help our push for that 5th spot.’
sb ‘2-1 Saints…. they will break the clean sheet duck.’
km ‘It’s going to be very close and very tight, I think a lot depends on the Chelsea game for us. If we pick up a result there I can see us winning it 1-0 or something similar, if we fall away after that game I think it’ll be 1-1 or 2-1 to the Cherries.’
cp ‘You’ll win. You always do. I’m sure it’s written in some bylaw somewhere. I don’t allow myself to get over-excited as I just get more let down. Happens every time. I’ll go 0-2 and hope that my reverse psychology will win the day.’
pb ‘That’s easy. The Cherries start confidently and look like world beaters only for Southampton to score from two set pieces and a breakaway to ruin our day again! 1-3 to those delightful chaps down the road. Obviously, I hope I am entirely wrong. Isn’t it about time that the Saints let us win a game to ensure there is a couple of south coast derby matches next season? You don’t need the points and playing in Europe is overrated – look what happened to you last time. Oops, I fear the rivalry is building.’
at ‘Bournemouth’s home form isn’t great at the moment, losing 3 out of the last 4, and Saints don’t look like they’ll concede anytime soon. Think Saints will win and keep a clean sheet. 0-2.’
So there we have it, the ‘Not a Derby Derby’ heat’s up, or rather doesn’t really. Thanks to everyone who answered questions!
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There has been much talk this season about Victor Wanyama’s impact or lack thereof.
The Kenyan has become one of a long line of ‘marmite’ characters in a Saints shirt, often finding himself the scapegoat for poor team performances, and no matter how well he plays, has always struggled to win some fans round.
Having had to adapt to life post-Morgan Schneiderlin there is no doubt Victor hasn’t had quite the same level of performance we have come to expect, but are people being overly harsh?
Having been sent off three times this season, it is clear that a lot of the St. Mary’s faithful have lost patience with him, but there are still those who think he has a future at the club, and whats more, is still a ‘key’ player.
Everyone knows my opinion of Wanyama, so I put it to twitter to ask where does his future lie? Should Saints cash in as they now have other (possibly better) options? Or is he still an important part of our team?
It is predictably tight.
Victor Wanyama. Still one of the best players at the club? Or No longer needed? #saintsfc
@ShaneyyG4‘While I think Vic has turned a corner in terms of commitment to the cause (arguably the upturn in form and the potential for another crack at European football on the cards will have helped this) I think we should sell him while his stock is high.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s had loads of good performances in a Saints shirt, but it’s becoming all too common for him to get sent off. If this was one of our Young academy prospects coming through I’d completely understand and put it down to a learning process, but Vic is an experienced player who has played in the Champions league with Celtic and spent most of his Saints career next to arguably one of our best ever midfield destroyers in Schneiderlin.
What Vic really lacks is the Intelligence to know when he does have to commit a red/yellow card offence for the benefit of the team and when he has to keep his temper in check and play it clever.
Personally I think we have more tactically astute replacements in Romeu and Clasie, and Reed can push both of these all the way for a starting berth too.
Do we need Vic?’
The case for the Defence:–
@geddesduncan‘At face value, our strength in depth can be used as a convincing argument to sell Victor Wanyama and take some money. Who needs him when we’ve got Romeu?
Koeman gives us the answer in his team selection. Wanyama comes first for holding onto the ball at all costs, putting himself in the way of opposition passes and outmuscling almost everyone he comes up against.
Most of his work is done when the ball is elsewhere, closing space before opposing players can reach it.
His ‘attitude problems’ felt real at one stage, but most backlash from supporters smacked of second hand anger at truly disrespectful twerps like Saido Berahino or Dani Osvaldo.
Transfer speculation may or may not be behind Wanyama’s dips in form or recent acquaintance with red cards.
But fans would do well to remember that Romeu has consistently worse discipline and isn’t accused of losing focus.
Meanwhile, Wanyama gets on with his job.
So long as the staff are confident they can keep him performing, as they are right now, he is worth more than the money we could recoup from letting him off his contract.’
It is testament to Saints up-turn in form and their strength in midfield that this is an incredibly close call, but the vote is swayed slightly towards keeping Wanyama at the club. Will he commit to a new contract though?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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