Tag Archives: Virgil van Dijk

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.

Throwback – Saints Premier League Dream Team (2011)

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.

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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.

Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer...
Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer…

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Subs (2011) – Lundekvam, Oakley, Ostenstad, Palmer, Benali

Subs (2016) – M. Svensson, Wanyama, Mane, Beattie, Benali

So that’s my updated team, but what is yours?

Chris

United Saints of America

A mixed Southampton squad of established first team players and fringe players from the youth setup jetted out to Maryland, Baltimore this past week for the club’s first ever pre-season trip to the US.

Tying in nicely with the launch of the club’s new kit, developed by Maryland based brand Under Armour, it has been no secret that Saints are looking to expand their boundaries.

It was a great opportunity for the Southampton fans across the Atlantic to get a rare access to the players, as Claude Puel run the rule over his squad for the first time. Saints ran out 2-0 winners over DC United u23’s, travelled the sites of Washington DC during their stay, but perhaps most importantly hosted an open training session for the supporters. Bill Adlin, was one of the fans in attendance and he gave us this feedback.

‘Oh when the Saints came marching in to the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field on Thursday, July 14 the fans couldn’t have been happier.  The players seemed to have a great time as well!

 

During the preseason, Southampton FC travelled to Baltimore, Maryland both in order to train and to meet their new partners, Under Armour.  On Thursday the Saints travelled to the University of Maryland for a training session.  Fans were invited to watch the session and to meet and greet the players after.

 

Fans got to witness a variety of drills on a blazing hot 98 degree day.  Corner kicks, possession drills and free kicks were among the skills that were practised.  They even played a game that looked like keep away…with their hands.   The crowd said “ooooohhhhhh” when one Saint was gated during a spectacular move on goal.  We won’t name him here!

 

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Fans were treated to a free Under Armour drawstring bag, complete with Southampton logo emblazoned on it, a very generous gesture by Southampton and Under Armour.

 

 After practice Saints fans formed a line and all players and coaches signed autographs, shook hands and took pictures with them.  They couldn’t have been more gracious.  Virgil Van Dyk and Dusan Tadic were among the favourites as were newcomers Nathan Redmond and last season transfer Charlie Austin.  Even new coach Claude Puel got in on the action.  Kelvin Davis, recently retired goalkeeper and new addition to the coaching staff graciously emerged from the bus after practice to greet a fan that missed him the first time through.

It was a brilliant event.  Thanks for Southampton and Under Armour for making it happen.  Good luck this season!  We’ll be pulling for you from across the pond.’

Thanks to Bill for reporting back! Sounds like everyone had a great time!

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

The Long and the Short of it…

For some time now it feels like that as the end of the season approaches, there are numerous positives about Saints and their campaign that I could write about, and this is no exception.

One of the negatives this season, that I feel needs addressing, is that Shane Long might not be voted the player of the season.

In any other season he would have had it sewn up, but with the performances of Virgil van Dijk at the other end of the pitch catching the eye too, it is likely he’ll be a valiant runner up to the Dutchman.

The turnaround in the perception of Long in the eyes of Saints fans has been remarkable. Cast your minds back to August 2014, the 12 million pound transfer from Hull came with some unkind remarks about his perceived value in comparison to the fee paid, and I will not shirk the fact that I was one of those detractors.

This criticism was largely based on the fact that Long’s goal return wasn’t overly impressive for a ‘striker’, based largely on the fact that he had never hit double figures in any of his four previous Premier League campaigns with Reading, West Brom and Hull City respectively.

If the pressure was already on him in his early days as a Southampton player, it was compounded further by his number. Seven. The number that Matthew Le Tissier had worn, and had most recently been vacated by the just departed fan favourite Rickie Lambert. It sounds like a small detail, but people react to such decisions, and an a level of expectation is made.

Long’s first season at Saints was perhaps unremarkable, though it is easily forgotten that he weighed in to a record breaking debut by Ronald Koeman with five goals, despite being not a regular in the starting lineup (Long started 16 times).

It is this season that Long has come into his own though, so far starting 21 games, missing some through injury and has remodelled himself as a player who draws attention to when he isn’t in the team rather than when he is.

His effervescent displays this season, be it up front or as part of a support three have been dazzling at times, and though he might never be considered the most cultured player in the world, many an opposition defence will have felt relieved his constant hassling of them was over.

Relentless energy and supreme efficiency with the ball makes Long a valuable asset, but I shouldn’t fail to address his goal return or perceived lack of it.

Long has hit 10 Premier League goals this season, putting him joint top with Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle but there are further statistics that puts the Irishman out in front. Both Mane and Pelle have started more games than Long, but further still their goal to shot ratios are nowhere near as good. Both the Senegalese and the Italian have score their 10 goals having had 80 shots apiece. Long has achieved the same total from just 59 shots.

Goals are of course important, but I think Long’s contribution has been as much about the team dynamic as it has been the amount of times he has hit the back of the net. Ronald Koeman has built a style that utilises both the wide positions (and particularly the use of crossing) and often at pace. Long is ideal for it, and the added bonus that he is better in the air than you might expect means that he is comfortable in any of the forward positions.

Saints are at the culmination of another decent season, but this Summer you can add Shane Long to the list of the players fans will be anxiously hoping stays at St. Mary’s. He might not be Southampton player of the season, but he is a Southampton player for a reason.  Who saw that coming?

Chris

 

Player of the Season. A Two horse race?

With @SouthamptonFC announcing that voting was open for this year’s ‘Player of the Season’ award, it became pretty clear on social media that this would be a contest with only two contenders.

So who will join an illustrious list that includes Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon, Peter Shilton, Alan Shearer, Rickie Lambert and of course three time winner Matt Le Tissier.

Will current captain Jose Fonte be the first person to equal Le God’s feat? Will Fraser Forster become only the fifth goalkeeper to take the crown? The answer to both is almost certainly no.

So here are the clear front runners:-

In the Red corner….

….hailing from Breda in Holland, the two time Scottish Premier League winner and undisputed ‘in the box’ champion. Virgil van Dijk.

Undoubtedly, van Dijk has been one of the signings of the season, and not just for Saints, but for any club, his immaculate displays at the heart of the defence have often been spell binding. Having barely put a foot wrong, the Dutchman has filled the Alderweireld shaped hole that appeared last Summer nicely and winning this award could eclipse his predecessor’s achievements. A monster in the air, yet delicate with the ball at his feet, Saints have unearthed another star, and he would be a worthy addition to the list of winners.

In the White corner….

….from Gortnahoe in Ireland, the former Football Association of Ireland Young Player of the Year, Reading Player of the Year and Munster Minor Hurling Championship winner. Shane Long.

Not many would have predicted Long being such a clear favourite this time last year, but his performances in a Saints shirt this season have been superb. Often bemoaned as a striker who doesn’t score enough goals, Long’s input in this campaign has been crucial. The Irish forward has netted 11 times this term (so far), many of which were part of match winning turns. Long’s tireless effort and attitude whether playing up top or as part of a support three is breathtaking and given the indifference from Saints fans and the scoffing from Scousers when he was linked to Anfield in January, a Player of the Season award would be a fitting end to a point proving campaign!

Somebody’s 0 has got to go.

Vote here:-

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Also remember that georgeweahscousin.com will also be hosting it’s own prestigious awards as always, so keep an eye out for the voting form come the end of the season!

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.

November Player of the Month Vote!

A mixed month for Saints, that started well against Bournemouth and Sunderland before tailing off in defeats to Stoke and Man City.

There were some stand-out individual performances though, so who was the Player of the Month? Vote below.