Author Archives: Aidan Small

Luck of the Irish?

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” is a phrase used by many in the world of football. But In the case of Shane Long over the past ten games, this phrase couldn’t be further from the truth. Week in and week out this man gives his all for Southampton Football Club, yet still, nothing seems to be falling in place for the Irishman at the minute. 

As Southampton fans looked over the success of their 2015/16 campaign, there was plenty to be optimistic about heading into the new season. Defensive solidity, a new found ruthlessness in front of goal and of course, qualification for the Europa League. Had it not been for the rise and development of Shane Long however, we may not have been able to look toward this current season with such positivity.

Over the first half of the 2015/16 season, it seemed to many that Southampton’s buy low and sell high approach to managing a football team had finally caught up with them. Ronald Koeman’s side were predictable, ineffective and for the first time in a long time, ugly. The team were in desperate need of fresh blood and oddly enough, it came in the form of an injury to Graziano Pelle’. With the absence of Pelle’, Koeman was forced into placing Shane Long into the starting XI – a decision that would save Southampton’s season and maybe even Koeman’s job.

Long’s high intensity, passion and direct style helped to make an instant impact in the side, with others taking inspiration from the Irishman’s work rate. Suddenly, Southampton were sharp and alive to every second ball, with results taking a turn for the better over the remainder of the season too. As a result, Long even managed to reach double figures for the first time in his Premier League career.

So, given that he finished the previous season in such fine form, where has it all gone wrong for Long?

With the introduction of Claude Puel at Southampton Football Club, there came a new system; the 442 diamond. Quite simply, this drastic change in system has placed Long in a position that will take patience, determination and Intelligence to overcome. The reason being is that Long is a square peg who must now fit into a round hole.

Previously under Koeman, Long spent two seasons learning how to operate as a lone forward, with the focus of the side being to provide him with service. The demands in this role predominantly involved a physical style of play, with the need to win headers, hold up the ball and ensure that you were in the box when the ball was delivered. Given Long’s natural fitness and strong build, he grew to be a real threat in this role after many months of learning on the training ground.

Under Puel however, the physical elements to Long’s game that helped to make him so effective are no longer a priority. As for the time he spent learning how to play as a lone forward, Puel favours having a two-man strike partnership. With such large changes to his demands as a player, is it any wonder that Long has struggled?

As a striker in Puel’s system there are a number of attributes that take great priority over physical dominance – this includes the ability to dribble, make cutting passes and possess natural flair. These are aspects of Long’s game that in truth, are weaknesses. Very rarely will Long have the ability to beat two or three players with the ball at his feet, have the technique to unlock a defence or have the skill to tip a game on its head. Puel’s system involves large amounts of ball possession and therefore, this requires great technical ability to escape from tight situations during a game.

In addition to this, Long is also having to learn and understand his demands as a forward with a strike partner and an expressive attacking midfielder. In a system such as Puel’s, the positioning of one player in the team directly affects the positioning of another, making it vital to understand your teammates if any sort of success is to be achieved.

Whilst Long’s lack of goalscoring may seem all doom and gloom for the moment, there are good reasons to be optimistic. Prior to Long’s stunning form last season, the Irishman played with little clue over what exactly Koeman demanded from him as a lone forward. But with dedication, hard-work and determination, Long managed to become a nightmare for any defence in the League to handle.

No, Long isn’t exactly what Puel wants from a forward in his system and yes, Long does have one hell of a challenge ahead of himself. But with the remarkable professionalism and attitude that he carries on the football pitch, who’s to say that Long can’t fit into Puel’s system in good time?

Nathan Redmond: patience is a virtue

When Nathan Redmond arrived at Southampton earlier this summer, it was clear for all to see what role he was expected to play at the club. Being the dangerous but inconsistent young talent that he is, he was purchased as an asset for the future and to provide competition to his red and white counterparts; but as we find Southampton nine games into their 2016/17 season, many have forgotten the clubs expectations and demands of the England U21 starlet.

Over the course of the season so far, Redmond has no doubt shown some moments of brilliance; there’s been some fierce shots, many darting runs and of course, a growing tally of broken defenders ankles. However, to only look at these moments wouldn’t be a true reflection of Redmond’s showings so far, as for all these positives, there have also been some areas to his game with some clear room for improvement. We’ve seen stages in games that have somewhat passed him by, chances that he has failed to bury with a lack of composure and moments where his confidence overrides his decision making. Contrary to the reactions of many fans however, this is all perfectly okay, and here’s why.

First and foremost, Redmond has been handed a role in the side that he never played during his time at Birmingham and Norwich City. Southampton boss Claude Puel appears to identify Redmond as either an inside forward or an attacking midfielder at the tip of the midfield diamond (behind the two forwards) and as some appear to be forgetting, this will involve countless alterations to his usual style. Whilst yes, in the short term we may be restricting Redmond’s performances, this is a change that Puel believes is worthwhile, and such changes take good time. For now, we must accept that Redmond is still learning when to press, when to work the channels and when to offer himself to his teammates.

Alongside this, if Puel had his way, then he wouldn’t have handed so much responsibility to Redmond during such an early stage of his learning. Over the summer, Puel and the Southampton board acquired the services of Sofiane Boufal for a club record fee, and it goes without saying that the Moroccan International was Puel’s top target over the summer window. Had it not been for the injury that Boufal picked up prior to his move, Redmond’s game time would have most likely been greatly reduced – the amount of pressure applied to him dropping in turn too. There has been an awful lot of pressure on Redmond to perform this season; pressure that the manager and board themselves would have never intended to apply to their young project.

What Redmond is in fact requiring however, is patience. The reason being is that despite breaking onto the scene in the 2011/12 Championship season with Birmingham, he is still just 22-years-old. To put it into perspective, that’s just one year older than Southampton duo James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett, or even just two years older than Jake Hesketh. Personally, I have no doubt in my mind that if Redmond was from our academy, we would all be waxing lyrical about his start to the season so far.

Think back to Southampton’s first season in the Premier League and remember just how many games Adam Lallana would struggle to make an impact in, despite his obvious talent. At the age of 24 (two years older than Redmond) he was still continuing to work on his understanding of the game, but with the same patience that I want to see shown to Redmond, he has now become an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side.

As for an example over just how important understanding your new role is, take a look at Shane Long’s development under Ronald Koeman. Long joined Southampton with limited knowledge of how to operate as a dangerous lone centre forward, but come the end of the 2015/16 season, there was not a defence that the Irishman couldn’t trouble. Although patience and determination is required, history at Southampton Football Club certainly suggests that this is the place to learn and flourish as a footballer.

So far, Redmond has made errors in the same way that all of our academy graduates have too in the past, but as we’ve seen so many times, It’s how they learn and recover that turns them into the fine Premier League footballers that they are so promised to be. As a young talented English footballer, he’s in the safest hands possible at Southampton FC, so, let’s ensure that we give Nathan Redmond the same patience as if he was one of our own.

The curious case of Charlie Austin

Having scored twice against Sparta Prague last Thursday, many Southampton fans were bemused as to why Charlie Austin had been dropped to the bench against Swansea City – but come the final whistle at St Mary’s stadium yesterday, Austin was once again the name being sung from all fans in red and white.

Charlie Austin joined Southampton on the 16th of January 2016, and it was a signing that many predicted to be the deal of the window. Having scored 18 Premier League goals in the 2014/15 season, it seemed that a then goal-shy Southampton had found the solution to their problems.

But despite opening his goalscoring account on his debut in dream fashion with a winner at Old Trafford, the signing of Austin coincided with Shane Long’s immense rise in form. From here, even Graziano Pelle struggled to get game time – considering Koeman’s tendencies to stand by the Italian in eye-gouging form, that’s really saying something.

Now however, there is a new man in charge. Austin has managed to find the back of the net three times under new boss Claude Puel, making him Southampton’s current top goalscorer for the season so far. This has given Puel a lot of food for thought, and here’s why.

It’s now been widely documented that Puel’s hopes for success at Southampton come in the form of his 442 diamond formation, but for anyone that can see the qualities needed from a forward in this system, they will see that Austin doesn’t fit the profile. In this role, your forward must possess pace, the ability to work the channels, be an accomplished passer of the ball and be fit – very fit in fact.

Austin however isn’t quick off the mark, has always played as a central striker, isn’t selected for his build up play and struggles to meet his defensive requirements. Due to this, whenever Austin is playing in this system he can sometimes make the attack look disjointed, and in truth, clueless. The moment that one player isn’t carrying out their duty, the system can come crumbling beneath itself like a toddler playing Jenga.

But this is no fault of Austin’s, and in the 53rd minute of Sunday’s clash against Swansea, Puel recognised that. Charlie Austin is Southampton’s best striker – he knows exactly where to place himself, he can act as a focal point for the side and damn can he finish a ball – and therefore, in order to see him at his best, he must be played in his favoured position.

Whilst Puel could see that his side were dominant at the back, composed in midfield and fluent in attack, anyone could see that the team was screaming out for a natural born finisher. So, in that moment, Puel opted for a 433 formation with Austin leading the line. The effect was disastrous for Swansea City.

Within minutes, Austin was causing havoc amongst the Swansea defence. After getting in behind Jordi Amat, Nathan Redmond cooly slotted the ball into the path of Austin, who watched on in horror as his effort rattled the crossbar.

But like all good forwards, Austin picked himself back up and prepared for the next chance. As it happens, that chance turned out to be the winner. Tadic lofted a ball into the Swansea box which was then deflected into the feet of Austin. With a fine touch and a laced shot, Southampton finally had their much-deserved lead in the 64th minute.

This all but confirmed to everyone in St Mary’s stadium something that we already knew – that Charlie Austin is Southampton’s best finisher – but now, Puel is presented with what could prove to be a season-defining decision: does he continue to stand by his 442 diamond? Does he opt for a 433 with Austin leading the line? Or does he find a balance between the two?

One thing is certain however, and that’s that Charlie Austin has now truly made his mark on this Southampton side.

 

Southampton FC vs AC Sparta Praha: My starting XI

So, here we are again. Southampton Football Club are back in the Europa League, but this time, they come bearing a new manager, new players, and the desire to right the wrongs of last season. With the first game of Southampton’s Europa campaign kicking off tonight, I gave my view regarding who I believe should make the starting XI against Sparta Praha. 

Fraser Forster – given the confidence that the 6ft 7-inch giant installs in the defence, selecting anyone else would cause outrage. 

Cedric Soares – at times like this, playing Pied would have been a very useful option; but with the Frenchman out for up to nine months, Cedric has to start again. In addition, It seems that Martina hasn’t impressed Puel either.

Jose Fonte – despite a number of mistakes in recent showings, Fonte is our leader at the back and simply must start in such an important game for the club.

Virgil Van Dijk – for me, Van Dijk is without doubt Southampton’s best defender. Keeping the Fonte and Van Dijk partnership is key.

Ryan Bertrand – despite only just returning from injury, Bertrand’s impact on the left flank is too strong to possibly drop him. We must start the Europa League as we mean to go on, even if that means considering the possibility of starting Targett this Sunday.

Oriol Romeu – the Spaniard was my man of the match against Arsenal last weekend and we must reward him for such a passionate performance. Romeu will be up for this game and provide that much-needed protection in front of the backline.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – after being dropped to the bench last weekend at the Emirates, Hojbjerg will now be raring to continue his exciting start to life at Southampton. From what we’ve seen so far, Hojbjerg ensures that the midfield continues to take up a positive and expressive approach to the game. He’s a player that places the fans on the edge of their seat.

James Ward-Prowse – the England U21 captain has not only been rested well since the International break, but he has also shown promising signs that he can form a partnership alongside Hojbjerg in central midfield. Firstly, I would start Ward-Prowse over Davis as he has so far struggled to adapt to this new central midfield role – this has seen Davis get dragged out of position on numerous occasions and prove wasteful in deeper areas. However, whilst I believe that we would currently be a stronger XI with Clasie starting, the Dutchman has recently been showing fine form and I wouldn’t want to burn him out. Small and effective use of rotation is crucial when playing on both Thursday and Sunday

Dusan Tadic – he is not only our most creative spark, but he’s also coming off the back of scoring against Arsenal last weekend (albeit with the help of Petr Cech) – we can’t afford to bench a player who gives us our bench chance of carving open the opposition defence.

Nathan Redmond – whilst Redmond has so far been lacking the drive and aggression needed from a forward, I believe that It would be idiotic to start him on the bench. In European football, those tight margins matter all the more and the extra pace/movement that Redmond provides will be key if we go on to win. He’s also one of the few players that we possess who can naturally operate in the channels too.

Shane Long – it goes without saying that Long had a shocker against Arsenal last weekend after missing three fantastic opportunities, but to tell the truth, I think that Long has to start again. Not because of form and certainly not because he deserve’s it right now (he doesn’t), but because he is the only striker in Southampton’s ranks who understands Puel’s system. Long has been well below par over the start of this Premier League season, but provided he can at least carry out his demands in the system, the performances of others will be raised. 

Three is the magic number

As the final stages of Southampton’s clash with Arsenal came to a close last Saturday, I was left with two overriding positives from the gut-wrenching defeat – the return of Ryan Bertrand, and the complete midfield performance from Oriol Romeu. Since signing for the club, the pair have most definitely forged their way into the hearts of the Southampton fans, but it’s the way in which these players were sourced by the club that has left me excited.

If you look at the signing of Bertrand in 2014, Romeu in 2015 and even Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in 2016 (admittedly, on a bigger scale) Southampton Football Club appear to have found themselves a new transfer strategy, and I’ve got to say, I like it. I like it a lot.

Quite simply, Southampton have placed their focus on scouting and securing third tier talents from Europe’s big clubs. When Bertrand signed for Southampton on loan in 2014, he had just come off the back of a loan spell at Aston Villa – his eighth loan move away from Chelsea. Similarly to Bertrand, Romeu had also fallen out of favour at the Blues and spent two seasons out on loan in Spain and Germany, before Southampton came calling. Then we have Hojbjerg, a player who despite being labelled as the next Sergio Busquets, found first team football at Bayern Munich a premium to come by – two loan moves over two seasons was the end result.

A top tier player is one that the manager believes should always be in the starting XI. A second tier player is one that the manager often uses to change the game, to replace a player, or is a young project. Then, we have a third tier player; at a big club, this player was most likely filled with much promise at one point and had stages of greatly impressing onlookers, only to be cast away from the teams first team plans along the line (often due to a ludicrous amount of quality in the top two tiers). Simply take a look at the numbers below to see why I categorised Bertrand, Romeu and Hojbjerg in the third tier at their previous club…

Ryan Bertrand: appearances for Chelsea – 28

                         Loan appearances – 183

Oriol Romeu: appearances for Chelsea – 22

                         Loan appearances – 40

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: appearances for Bayern Munich – 17

                         Loan appearances – 39

What must be said however is that there is no shame in being a third tier player at a club like Chelsea or Bayern Munich – Southampton and the players themselves have certainly proved just that. In fact, Southampton have come to realise that there is many benefits in snapping up such players.

Firstly, and perhaps one aspect that us Southampton fans can appreciate most, their attitude is spot on. Due to previously only being handed first team minutes when they were a young star, others were injured or whilst out on loan, Bertrand and Romeu clearly value the trust that has been placed in them under both Koeman and Puel. Not to mention that the pair also have an exceptional relationship with the fans too. After so many years of uncertainty in their position, they are now eager to prove to everyone that they are the real deal – this can only benefit all parties.

However, whilst they were held back in not being rewarded with first team minutes at their parent club, Southampton are now reaping the benefits of all the training sessions that Bertrand, Romeu and Hojbjerg took place in. During their time at Chelsea and Bayern Munich, these three trained with some of the greatest players in the game and any football expert will tell you just how beneficial this can be. Training with these top tier players helps to raise the bar of the third tier players as they are forced into learning about how to handle and outsmart a stronger opposition at all times.

In addition to this, Bertrand and Romeu appear to have realised what they believe is important in football – gametime, appreciation from fans and feeling valued – and therefore, have no desire to leave. They have experienced life at a big club and don’t want that back. In turn, this builds a strong core in the Southampton side, helping to not only churn out more consistent performances, but also create a good feeling around the squad. This means that Southampton can continue to ship in those players who carry that extra special touch of quality – by that I mean the players who see us as a stepping stone and ensure that our club’s balance sheets are looking healthy in two seasons time. Continuing to strike a good balance between players that are here for the long run and those that are here for their big money move is key to Southampton’s success.

The final benefit is one that most certainly keeps in line with Southampton’s transfer policy; they are cheap. The simple reason for this is that the selling club will so often struggle to justify a large price tag if the player is struggling to get minutes for the club itself. The signing of Bertrand at £10M, Romeu at £5M and Hojbjerg at £12.8M is living proof of that. If any of these players were plying their trade at a mid table side, then you would have to expect the club to demand at least double the fee that Southampton paid to acquire their services.  

For me, there is no doubt that the club have placed a clear focus on snapping up gems from the big boys, and oddly, the position of all three of these player’s seems rather fitting with what Southampton have been about since returning to the Premier League. Despite the doubts, questions and pressure piled on from many, we are good enough and we will continue to progress.

 

Ryan Bertrand – Southampton’s unsung hero

Southampton are now three games into the new season and still find themselves searching for their first win. But this situation is far from unfamiliar for Southampton FC, and with the return of a man who has captured the heart of every Southampton fan, history suggests that this slow start will soon be put to an end.

This same time last season, Southampton had played three games and found themselves with just two points on the table. Worry was beginning to creep into the minds of the onlooking Southampton fans, and with a further three fixtures, Southampton had secured just one win in their opening six. The papers were lapping it up with their early reports of a meltdown occurring on the South coast, but Ryan Bertrand had other ideas. Having been absent in Southampton’s opening six fixtures due to injury, Bertrand returned to the starting XI against Swansea City on the 26th of September – of course, Southampton won 3-1 and proceeded to go their next five fixtures unbeaten. So, with Bertrand once again missing from our opening three fixtures, is it any wonder that Southampton have struggled?

With the return of Ryan Bertrand, Southampton will once again have an outlet on the left flank that is capable of contributing to all phases of play. Few defenders in the League hold the defensive understanding, physicality, discipline, consistency and attacking mindset that Bertrand possesses in abundance. To those who have watched Puel’s system, they will know just how valuable a fullback of such quality can be.

Whilst in Bertrand’s absence I have enjoyed watching Matt Targett – a product of the Southampton academy – prove his worth, I would be lying if I said we weren’t a far weaker side without Bertrand. In situations where other fullbacks have that split second of doubt when looking to advance, Bertrand drives to the byline, and when other defenders are caught between two minds against an attacker, Bertrand has already put his body on the line. The England International fills all his surrounding teammates with confidence, helping the side to play the exciting and expressive football that they’re so capable of.

But whilst Bertrand’s ability has been above and beyond what any of us expected, there is a side to Bertrand that as Southampton fans, we have come to admire and appreciate – his attitude. Having joined Southampton in 2014 from Chelsea – after a rather underwhelming loan move to Aston Villa – it appeared that Bertrand almost instantly appreciated the joys of regular football in an organised side. Since then, Bertrand has jumped into every last 50/50, chased down any loose ball and can be seen applauding the fans at any possible moment. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed either, having been awarded the Terry Paine MBE award, a spot in the Premier League’s 2014/15 Team of the Season and an all but guaranteed spot in the England squad.

What I find best about Bertrand’s humble and determined attitude however, is that it’s always focused on the bigger picture. Whenever he’s forced into making a sacrifice or putting those extra miles in, he’s doing it so that Southampton Football Club can continue to grow – nothing illustrates this better than his attitude regarding one particular demand from Ronald Koeman last season. After a barren run over the Christmas period, Southampton desperately needed change and stability. So, Koeman opted for Southampton to switch into a 3-5-2 formation. Despite the Euros taking place in just a number of months, Bertrand placed his own personal ambitions to the side and impressively operated as a centre back throughout January, February and March of 2016. Not a single complaint, worry or issue arose from the situation. In this modern age of the game, it would come as no surprise to me that if that same situation occurred to Bertrand’s England team-mates, numerous agents would have been put to work. 

Southampton gambled with the signing of Ryan Bertrand back in 2014, and in return, the club have been rewarded with a fine footballer who has been desperate to pay back that trust. Ryan Bertrand knows what it means to be a Saint, and after transfer windows of the past, we must ensure that he never forgets how much we appreciate it.

Sofiane Boufal: a man who can bring more than just talent to Southampton FC

Earlier this morning, Southampton Football Club announced the signing of Moroccan International, Sofiane Boufal, for a club record £16M fee. With this transfer, Southampton are acquiring one of the finest talents in Ligue 1 and with good reason, it’s left every fan of the South Coast club eager for the International break to end already.

Before we touch on anything else however, we must first look at the most obvious and important reason for signing Boufal, his immense ability. Over the past two seasons, Boufal has been linked to some of Europe’s greatest clubs – Barcelona, Juventus, and Chelsea amongst others – and with the following stats, it’s not hard to see why.

Over the 2015/16 season with Lille, Boufal managed to record 11 goals and four assists in just 29 appearances. Alongside this, he created 69 chances for his side, completed over 124 successful take-ons and found the back of the net seven times from his last eight shots on target. All of this was accomplished at the age of just 22 years old. But speaking in terms of his style of play, Boufal is similar to a certain Eden Hazard. Whilst it’s an easy comparison to make – due to Hazard once working under Puel and also playing for Lille – they both look to take control of the game in a similar fashion. Both players love to search for space between the lines of the opposition, can beat two-three players within a split second and have the ability to finish off a move with one final touch of quality. Boufal can single-handedly switch a game on its head during desperate moments and this will no doubt come to fruition at some point over the 2016/17 season.

But as I mention in the title, this signing holds far more value to Southampton Football Club than just procuring an exceptional talent, and I’m here to explain why.

The first reason why Boufal has proved to be so valuable is already at work. So far, Southampton are yet to win their first game of the Premier League season, and despite only being three games in, two of those fixtures were against Sunderland and Watford at home. Combine this with the fact that we allowed our two top goalscorers and first choice defensive midfielder to leave, and it’s understandable for some fans to be worried about what this season could be. But with the signing of Boufal, there appears to be excitement found in every last Southampton supporter. This signing has well and truly placed the trust of the fans in the board at Southampton, and given the departures in recent years, that is quite some achievement. Fans of Southampton have now seen outright proof of the ambition held at their club, and this will surely be shared by the players too.

Secondly, the signing of Boufal has given Claude Puel a comfortable option called “plan B”. Puel has come to Southampton with the idea to implement his tried and tested 442 diamond formation, but whilst this formation may prove to be a success and deliver some beautiful performances, this is football, and therefore, nothing is a given. With Boufal in the side, Puel possesses a player who can naturally operate on the left wing in a possession-based style that fits his footballing ideologies. Therefore, if Puel decides that his 442 diamond isn’t for the Premier League, he can switch into a 4231 formation that allows all 11 players to play in a natural position – without sacrificing Puel’s ideologies. Without Boufal, this wouldn’t be possible.

Finally, the signing of Boufal can be put to great use over the next 48 hours. The reason being is that with such a short time until the transfer window closes, a club needs to use everything in their power to pull each deal over the line in time. So, when the player is looking for an ambitious club that holds an abundance of talent, Southampton Football Club now looks like an ideal location to  develop their career after breaking their club record transfer fee for Boufal. Negotiations over an attacking talent in the coming days can certainly be aided by the prospect of that player starring alongside Boufal. It’s undeniable that this signing has now placed Southampton in good stead for the remainder of the window.

Boufal is yet to kick a ball for Southampton Football Club, but despite that, he’s already placed each and every one of us on the edge of our seats. From here, we can only hope that the world-class facilities and training at Boufal’s disposal will nurture him into the star that he has promised so many to be. If Boufal is willing to keep his mind focused and work hard, then Southampton will ensure that success and progression will shortly follow.

 

Talking Nicolae Stanciu with Alecs Stam

With the departure of both Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle this summer, Southampton fans have understandably been left desperate for their club to bolster their attacking options in preparation for the 2016/17 season. But over the past 48 hours, reports from Romania are suggesting that Southampton Football Club have found their man in Steaua București’s, Nicolae Stanciu. Understandably however, few of us on the South Coast are avid followers of Romanian Football. So, we spoke to Alecs Stam – someone that most certainly is!

How would you describe Nicolae Stanciu’s style of play to someone that has never seen him play?

Stanciu looks dangerous every time he gets the ball, creates chances and knows how to make his teammates better, but he’s not afraid to take it on his own when the opportunity is right.

Do you believe that Stanciu has what it takes to cut it in the Premier League?

I tend to believe that Stanciu is from a different category than the Romanian players who left in the last years from the Romanian league and failed to adapt in Europe’s top leagues. He can be a solution and make the difference for many teams if he can cope with expectations. He is tipped to be the star and leader of the Romanian national team’s next generation.

How has he performed in larger European fixtures?

This season Stanciu qualified FCSB on his own against Sparta Prague scoring all three goals in the 3-1 aggregate win. Last season FCSB were eliminated quickly and he didn’t have time to shine. He scored four goals in his first five international games, quickly taking the number 10 shirt, and played at the Euros.

Reports suggest that he’s a versatile player that is able to play in central midfield, attacking midfield and right wing. Where do you believe he is best deployed?

His best position is attacking midfield.

Southampton are desperately needing a number ten that can find the back of the net. Could Stanciu be the solution to that problem?

He is an excellent finisher and has great vision. He is a player who can make the difference.

How would you value the deal if Southampton were to secure Stanciu for the reported £7M fee?

Nicolae Stanciu is the best player to come out of Romania in a long time and one of the most wanted players in Eastern European football. He was linked with many clubs this summer and it will be a big surprise if he doesn’t leave. The thing is that the owner of FCSB, Gigi Becali, is very greedy and he is asking too much or he is waiting for the perfect offer. He said a few days ago that the club received an offer of £7M from a Premier League club, but he wants £10M. He could be trying to force other clubs to pay more and act quickly so they don’t lose him to the mysterious “PL club”. Sport.ro claimed that the club is Southampton, but they’re not the most reliable source.

What’s next for Jay Rodriguez?

We all remember that heartbreaking moment. It was April 2014 and Southampton were on course to reaching their highest Premier League finish with the help of Jay Rodriguez’s immense goalscoring form; but upon Southampton’s trip to the Etihad stadium in search of yet another three points, Jay Rodriguez and his World Cup dreams came crashing down. The loyal and loving Southampton fans backed him with great pride during his spell on the sidelines – 13 months to be precise – but it’s now been 28 months since that injury and some would say that there has been little to suggest that we will ever witness that fine form again. With that, Rodriguez has been linked with a loan move away from Southampton and that has many fans talking.

Early yesterday morning it was reported that Hull City have enquired for the availability of Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez on loan, and this has truly been a topic of split opinion for Southampton fans.

But first things first, let’s think about this situation. At this present moment, it seems that Claude Puel has found his favoured attacking combination in Nathan Redmond and Shane Long – meanwhile, Austin appears to be the first call from the bench. For a forward who is in desperate need of game time, this can understandably be a worrying situation going into the new season. So much so that this link to Hull City may well be Rodriguez’s agent at work.

In addition, it must be pointed out just how tough of a summer those poor Hull City fans have been forced to endure – if anyone can sympathise, then it’s us Southampton fans. After such a summer, being linked with a player of Rodriguez’s calibre will most likely give the Tigers fans a much needed boost. And whilst I’m sure that Hull City would love to acquire the services of Rodriguez, they will know full well that it’s an optimistic move. A move that can only result in good PR for the club, regardless of the result in negotiations. If Hull City secure the deal, then their fans are delighted, and even if the deal breaks down, the fans will be left optimistic over who the next target may be.

But, if this deal were to go ahead, how could it benefit Southampton, and most importantly, Jay Rodriguez?

When you consider that the fan favourite had the entire duration of pre-season to impress and show his qualities to Southampton’s new boss, Claude Puel, Rodriguez clearly isn’t in the blueprints of the first XI. At a time when Rodriguez is reportedly “100% fit”, he needs to be playing regular football; anything other than that for the former England International is an act of willingly allowing his career to simmer out. It goes without saying that Hull City will be desperate for goals this season in their chase for Premier League safety, and if they were to acquire Rodriguez’s services, he would no doubt gain those valuable first team minutes and be used in his favoured role – an inside left forward.

With that move however, Southampton of course would be left one man lighter in attack, so what do they have to gain from this possible opportunity?

Firstly, Southampton would no doubt be able to receive a reasonable fee for the loan, and alongside this, the wage bill would also be freed up. This could present Southampton the opportunity to carry out a more stable loan move themselves or reinvest the small fee into some young/lower League talent.

Another benefit to this move could be that whilst Southampton carry out their season under Puel, Rodriguez can be progressing as a player at Hull with the aim to once again make his mark in the Southampton side over the 2017/18 season. A season of almost guaranteed football with less pressure on his performances may well reinstall the confidence that Rodriguez once thrived upon – this could only be seen as a benefit.

However, the obvious disadvantage to Rodriguez heading away from Southampton is that the moment an injury in attack occurs, Rodriguez will be needed as third choice. Not to mention that if two injuries were to occur (a perfectly plausible situation) then Rodriguez would be a sure starter.

For this reason, I struggle to see an agreement being struck with Hull City unless at least one attacker was shipped in to bolster Southampton’s attack. Only then could Southampton afford to take the gamble on allowing Rodriguez to find game time elsewhere.

But whilst we sit here discussing what is best for Rodriguez in his current situation, why exactly are we doing just that? If we think back to Rodriguez’s greatest qualities over the 2013/14 season, it was no doubt his ruthless physical approach in both attack and defence. Rodriguez used to drive with the ball in a fashion that would put fear into the oppositions defence, because they knew that even if they won the ball back, he would quickly be going shoulder to shoulder with them to regain possesion. Since then however, Rodriguez’s superb mentality has been replaced by someone who is now scared to put his body on the line, is reluctant in going for 50/50’s and doesnt charge into the box with his old effective approach.

Every last Southampton fan would love nothing more than to see the Jay Rodriguez of 2014 once again firing in red and white, but to tell the truth, the progress needed to make that happen simply isnt occuring right now. If Southampton manage to secure another attacking talent in the market and the interest from Hull is genuine, then maybe, just maybe, a deal that suits all parties can be met. Until then however, we must place faith in Puel’s selections, encourage Rodriguez at every opportunity handed to him, and most importantly, Rodriguez must push past the mental barriers that were placed before him in April 2014.

 

Beating the traffic: an increasingly common issue in modern football

It’s the opening day of the new Premier League season and Southampton are fighting for all three points against Watford; but as I stand amongst many proud and vocal Southampton fans that are cheering and screaming for us to dig deep, there’s a horrid sight in the corner of my eye that is becoming all too acceptable. In the dying moments of a game where all was still to play for, fans were leaving in the 85th minute.

As Southampton fan’s, we’ve had both the pain and pleasure of desperately needing every last point in recent years. Be that for the need to achieve promotion, clinch Premier League safety, or even to qualify for the Europa League,  there have been many moments where fans are left praying in the stands for that final goal. But sometimes those points don’t come along in the most comfortable fashion. In fact, sometimes those points arrive with the final kick of the game. So, as a quick reminder to those who leave early on a match day, here is a list of every goal beyond the 85th minute since Southampton’s return to the Premier League.

15th May 2016: Steven Davis 87th minute vs Crystal Palace – the final goal in a 4-1 victory

23rd April 2016: Sadio Mane 94th minute vs Aston Villa – the final goal to secure a 4-2 win

20th March 2016: Sadio Mane 86th minute vs Liverpool – the winning goal in a 3-2 win that will live long in the memory of every Southampton fan

5th March 2016: Virgil Van Dijk 93rd minute vs Sunderland – a dramatic equaliser in a 1-1 draw

23rd January 2016: Charlie Austin 87th minute vs Manchester United – a dream debut for Austin which gifted Southampton a 1-0 win

26th December 2015: Shane Long 91st minute vs Arsenal – the final late Christmas gift in a 4-0 win

25th October 2015: Sadio Mane 85th minute vs Liverpool – the equalising goal in a 1-1 draw

7th February 2015: Sadio Mane 93rd minute vs QPR – the winning goal in a 1-0 victory

18th October 2014: Patrick Van Aanholt 86th minute O.G vs Sunderland – the icing on the cake in Southampton’s incredible 8-0 win

13th September 2014: Morgan Schneiderlin 90th minute vs Newcastle – the final goal to seal a delightful 4-0 win

3rd May 2014: Rickie Lambert 90th minute vs Swansea City – a penalty to snatch a 1-0 win

29th March 2014: Jay Rodriguez 89th minute vs Newcastle United – the final goal to wrap up a 4-0 win

15th March 2014: Sam Gallagher 90th minute vs Norwich  – the final goal in a 4-2 win

9th November 2013: Steven Davis 88th minute vs Hull City – the final goal in a 4-1 win

19th October 2013: Adam Lallana 89th minute vs Manchester United – a dramatic last minute winner against the holding Champions

24th August 2013: Jose Fonte 88th minute vs Sunderland – a crucial header to grab a point in a 1-1 draw

17th August 2013: Rickie Lambert 90th minute vs WBA – the perfect way to kick start the season with a one nil win

2nd February 2013: Morgan Schneiderlin 86th minute vs Wigan Athletic – if Shaun Maloney didn’t score just minutes later, this would have wrapped up a big three points for Southampton

26th December 2012: Rickie Lambert 85th minute vs Fulham – a last minute penalty to salvage a draw in Southampton’s fight for survival

7th October 2012: Jose Fonte 90th minute vs Fulham – Fonte completes his brace to grab Southampton a point

Fact file

  • If you left in the 85th minute for every Southampton fixture since the 2012/13 season, then you would have missed 20 goals for the boys in red and white
  • Sadio Mane scored four goals beyond the 85th minute during his time at Southampton
  • 24 – the number of points that have been won by Southampton as a direct result of goal’s beyond the 85th minute since the 2012/13 season

So, with the facts of leaving early now printed in black and white, it’s clear to see that there is only one winner if you try to beat the traffic.