Author Archives: Aidan Small

A statistical analysis of Southampton’s season so far

It’s no secret that Southampton Football Club are in desperate need of a shake-up. Whether it’s with changes to management, a reshuffle amongst the higher forces at the club, or even additions to the first-team squad, something has to change.

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Everyone has their own opinion about where they think things have gone wrong, who’s to blame and how we can move forward, and generally speaking, the majority of Southampton fans are singing from the same hymn sheet.

But one of the greatest worries amongst the fan base is that the board are simply refusing to see the same cracks that we see.

So in desperate hope of perhaps finding some positive signs, or proving that our worries are certainly justified, we decided to crunch the numbers on Southampton’s season so far. Let’s start with the basics.

Since being appointed on the 23rd of June 2017, Pellegrino has taken charge of 25 fixtures, recording just five wins in all competitions. He’s averaged 0.96 points per game and consequently, has a win percentage of just 20% – the worst of any manager in Southampton’s history (20+ games).

Even cult hero Ian Branfoot managed to pick up a win ratio of 28.91%.

On top of this, Southampton have managed to drop 11 points from winning positions, after crumbling against Brighton, Arsenal, Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Watford.

We’ve also managed to beat just one team from the Premier League’s bottom seven, and even then, that lone fixture was won by a moment of sheer genius from Sofiane Boufal. Pellegrino’s management was hardly a factor. Our only wins have come against sides placed 9th, 11th, 12th and 19th – all of which are within eight points of each other.

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So what about the performances themselves?

How effective has Pellegrino’s coaching been in the final third? And how have our defence fared with all the drama surrounding Virgil Van Dijk?

In order to answer that question, we need to look well beyond the surface of just our goals scored and conceded.

Expected goals (xG) is a system that gives a probability that any shot will be scored. It’s able to do this by assigning each attempt at goal a value between 0 and 1, as an indicator of just how strong the chance was. What helps to make this metric so useful, however, is that it’s based on floods of previous data, where the shot was taken from, the proximity of defenders, and the nature of the attack (i.e a direct free-kick or a penalty)

By using xG we’re able to assess a player or team’s finishing more accurately, while also being able to measure whether the team are playing better than results suggest. It’s an effective way of seeing whether a team deserve to be scoring more goals than their record shows, and as a result, whether we should soon expect a possible change of fortunes. The reverse can also be done to measure a teams expected goals against.

As far as statistics go in football, it’s just about the most effective way of determining a teams performance levels at both ends of the field, so let’s see how Pellegrino’s side have fared…

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In open play this season the Saints have recorded an xG of 16.9, having only scored a measly 15 goals. Not only does this suggest that we’re failing to create an abundance of clear-cut chances, but were also failing to convert them at the same time too, falling almost two goals behind our expected total.

As for our xG from set pieces and penalties, we’ve recorded 9.71 despite scoring on just eight occasions. Considering we’re yet to miss a penalty this season, that’s almost two goals lost on set pieces alone.

Last season Claude Puel’s Southampton came under fire for a distinct lack of fluid attacking football, but when you compare their xG at this same stage last season (30.45) to Pellegrino’s (26.61) it’s clear to see that matters have only got worse.

Then we come to our xGA (expected goals against) which totals 23.33 from open play, when in actual fact we’ve conceded 27 – 3.67 more than expected.

From set pieces and penalties our xGA totals 8.37, while the number of goals we’ve conceded stands at seven.

This could be put down to poor slices of luck that should level themselves out over the course of the season, but Southampton fans certainly aren’t alien to the concept that we’ve conceded too many soft goals. More specifically this could be put down to the poor form of Fraser Forster, who boasts one of the Premier League’s lowest save percentages this season. It’s certainly a factor to consider.

To put into perspective just how much our once resilient defensive has collapsed this season, we’ve already conceded more goals under Pellegrino (34) than we did in the entire 14-15 season under Ronald Koeman (33).

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And as for individual performances, there’s certainly cause for concern in attack too.

There’s been wide discussion about Pellegrino’s inability to make a single forward flourish this season, and the numbers certainly back that idea up.

For starters, the heavily rotated Maya Yoshida has recorded a higher XG (1.87) than Nathan Redmond (1.55), Shane Long (1.78) and Sofiane Boufal (1.04) this season.

For comparison sake, Long finished last season with an XG of 5.25, while Redmond finished with 4.82. Considering we’re currently well over halfway through this season, both are on course to fall seriously short of last seasons numbers.

Which after translation, essentially tell us that Pellegrino’s failing miserably at helping our frontline take up dangerous positions.

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The only Southampton players that have managed to consistently find goal-scoring opportunities are Charlie Austin and Dusan Tadic, who have recorded totals of 5.53 and 4.17 respectively. Beyond that, there’s not a single other Southampton forward that’s expected to score two or more goals.

Another topic of discussion has been Pellegrino’s inability to work out his strongest XI. If you’ve already failed to implement an identity within the squad (which he has) the least that you should do is create an identity through consistent team selections.

However, we’ve seen the exact opposite; Pellegrino’s made an average of 2.9 changes per fixture and has fielded an unchanged lineup on just two occasions this season.

The only team to rotate more than Southampton this season are Liverpool, who’ve done so through holding a wealth of options in attack and being unable to find their strongest backline. Southampton’s changes, however, have been simply mindless.

This piece makes for a dark and depressing read; there’s absolutely no disputing that. But I didn’t want this to be the tone – no genuine Southampton fan would.

I would love nothing more than to sing the praises of our manager and for us to suddenly find ourselves in stunning season-changing form, but these facts are just the dark reality of Pellegrino’s short reign so far. And I’m not convinced that we can allow this to be our reality any longer…

Pellegrino v Pochettino

As if things weren’t hard enough already for Southampton, who find themselves without a Premier League win in ten, their upcoming clash is against the same Spurs side that shipped five past them on boxing day less than a month ago. 

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I’m not sure how many more times I’m going to need to say this, but Mauricio Pellegrino’s Southampton simply have to react this weekend. Not just with an encouraging performance or some attractive spells of play, but with three points and three points only. I’m under no illusion that that’s an incredibly tough ask while were in such a devastating rutt, but if we got ourselves into this mess, then we’ve got to take responsibility for our mistakes, step up to the challenge and drag ourselves out.

So to find out more about our upcoming opponents (as if our 5-2 thrashing didn’t teach us enough) we spoke with Nikhil Saglani – an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan and writer.

How would you summarise Tottenham’s season so far? 

A mixed bag, but largely impressive. We emphatically topped the Group of Death in the Champions League, which surprised everyone! But overall our League form has been good too, when you consider that we’ve had to adapt to a new ‘home’ ground for the year. We’ve dropped some silly points at Wembley but it’s mostly been good. Not many people expected us to get top four at Wembley and that’d probably represent a successful league season, if we finish in those spots come May.

For those who are a little unfamiliar with Spurs, what formation and style of play have you adopted this season?

It might be quicker to tell you what we formation we haven’t used! At some point this season we’ve used all of: 3-4-2–1, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1. However, one of the first two are our best formation; nobody seems to know which, though. Whichever one we use means dropping one of our key players, so Pochettino definitely has a headache if everyone is fit.

How have teams got the most joy out of your defence?

Corners. We seem to have conceded from loads of them this season, which is not ideal against teams who sit back and try to use such set-pieces to break you down. Hopefully the imminent return of Toby Alderweireld helps to sure that up, although we did concede from a couple even when he was in the side.

You’re stranded on a desert island and can only be joined by one Spurs player; who’s it going to be?

Harry Kane, of course, because what can’t he do? He’s so good he could probably get us home safely without a problem. He’s a freak.

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Which Southampton player would you take to join Spurs? And which Spurs player do you think would benefit the Saints most?

It’s a tough one as our squad is pretty well balanced but I’d probably say Sofiane Boufal. Heung-min Son is the only winger in our squad so Boufal would add some pace, trickery and width to the side. Many Spurs fans were admirers of him before he joined you.

You seem completely incapable of scoring goals, except the two we gifted you on Boxing Day, so Kane is the obvious answer here. His overall game is world class too, which would obviously help. With so many games to go, he looks on course to break the record for goals in a Premier League season – if he stays free of injury.

A brace on Sunday will be the 99th and 100th Premier League goals of his career, aged 24, so expect him to be fired up.

As seasons go by, Southampton fans have slowly but surely been able to admit their admiration of Mauricio Pochettino; just how special is he? 

As with every manager, he has some flaws that need working but overall, he’s very special. He’s turned Spurs from a club that were there to make up numbers into a club that can challenge the very best, on an almost shoestring budget with the new stadium upcoming. Of course the trophies have not come yet, but it seems a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ when you look at the trajectory of his side. And, arguably more importantly, he’s helped fans fall back in love with a club that many were extremely disenchanted with for years. He’s magic, you know.

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And finally, what do you think the score will be this Sunday?

Sorry Saints fans but we’ve got four players who can score bags full of goals and you just seem to be lacking that cutting edge, are low on confidence and aren’t too assured at the back either. I’m going to say a 3-1 away win, but if I’ve jinxed it then you’re absolutely welcome, I’m happy to leave my PayPal details below!

Preview: Watford v Southampton

After going nine fixtures without a win, Southampton’s fortunes finally changed last weekend as they defeated Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham; but their hunt for three points in the Premier League is still very much on. 

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So to find out what kind of challenge can we expect in our upcoming fixture, we spoke with Golden Pages – a fanzine made by Watford fans, for Watford fans.

How would you summarise your season so far?

Hit and miss, to be honest. As always, we started excellently before dropping off a cliff around Christmas. It’s certainly been exciting, though, with plenty of late winners both for and against us.

What formation and style of play has Marco Silva installed?

It’s more open than we have had under Walter Mazzarri or Quique Sanchez Flores, which comes with pros and cons. The wing play through Richarlison and Andre Carrillo is exciting to watch, and we often play the ball around nicely in midfield, but we lack a final ball (or consistent goal scorer!) and our defence still seems suspect.

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What have you made of your Portuguese boss? From the outside looking in it seems like he’s got the aesthetics and frontline nailed, but your defence lacks the experience and bottle required to hold their lead?

Silva has got us playing good football, but you’re correct that he really needs to improve the defending in his team. Being a former right-back you’d think he would prioritise defence, but equally you could blame our mistakes on personnel as much as tactics. It has to be noted that Silva is far from perfect – I think many Watford fans were surprised when Everton pursued him so vigorously earlier this season. The reason we so desperately wanted to keep him was more for stability than his own ability. That said, I do believe he is capable of great things if we strengthen our squad and get rid of some dead wood. He’s still relatively young, after all.

Who’s been your player of the season? And who’s stepped up most?

Abdoulaye Doucoure has been superb all season in midfield, so he gets my vote. But Richarlison is certainly not far behind. The winger is one of the Premier League’s signings of the season at just £11m. If he never played a game again then the points he has already won us would mean he was value for money. Another new signing who has stepped up is Kiko Femenia, the bombarding right-back, and we have missed him recently since he has been sidelined through injury.

How do opposition teams typically find joy against your defence?

Down the wings! Our full-backs are all excellent going forward, but seem to forget their primary job is actually to keep the ball out of our goal. We also implement a zonal marking system, so I imagine you could catch us out from set pieces fairly easily.

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You’re stranded on a desert Island and can only be joined by one Hornets player; who’s it going to be?

Tom Cleverley. He seems like a thoroughly decent bloke. Plus, he’s bloody hard working, meaning we’d have a shack built and food gathered in no time.

Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you?

I know he’s not on top form right now, but I’m always scared when Nathan Redmond lines up against the Hornets. He’s terrorized our defence on more than one occasion in the past, and I wouldn’t like to see that happen again.

And finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?

Both teams are in poor spells of form, so it’s a tough one to call, but I’ll say 1-1. I would certainly take a point.

Preview: Fulham v Southampton

After throwing away a 1-0 lead to Roy Hodgson’s Palace in the most embarrassing of fashions, Southampton now find themselves without a win in nine fixtures, as they prepare to face Slovisa Jokanovic’s Fulham.

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But while the Saints come into this fixture in poor form, the same can’t be said for the Championship outfit; they kicked off their season in worrying form, but have since found a new lease of life, winning six of their last nine fixtures and scoring 20 along the way.

But given that they are a completely different side to the one that Southampton last faced in the Premier League, we spoke with Aleksander Simon from Cottage Confidential to find out what we can expect in our 3rd round FA Cup clash.

How would you summarise Fulham’s season so far?

Fulham has been the epitome of an up-and-down season. If the season ended now, it would be considered a major disappointment. There were lofty expectations of even being in an automatic promotion position, given how successful Fulham were down the stretch at the end of last season and making it into a playoff position. Some games we will look as if we are already a Premier League team, and others look like we should be in a relegation scrap. Fulham currently sit four points out of a playoff spot, so it truly hasn’t been awful. Overall, it has been a very neutral season with the hopes that things begin flying here the second-half.

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What formation and style of play has Jokanovic implemented?

Jokanovic has been implementing a 4-3-3 with flare up top. Up top, our wingers will have a ton of movement in order to confuse the defensive backline, and they will even switch places a lot. The defensive shape is four across the back, but when Fulham begin to push the ball forward the wing backs will push very high up the field. There will be times when we could have as many as seven attacking players in the oppositions box when we push it forward. The midfield plays a triangular shape typically with McDonald in that defensive role and Johansson and Cairney in more of an attacking role. Overall, you will see a very attack heavy team that will look to keep possession and dominate the game.

How have teams got the most joy out of your defence?

Easily our set-piece play. I can’t even count the number of times that we have conceded based on set pieces. Whether it be a shot from a free kick, or someone out-muscling us for a header, it will make the fanbase fearful every time there is a free-kick in the defensive third. Another issue is that our two center backs don’t work well off of one-another. You will see a lot of times them being very far apart from one another and teams have the ability to split the ball between them. If there is a player with creative movement up top, it will be a field day for any opposition.

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You’re stranded on a desert island and can only be joined by one Fulham player; who’s it going to be?

Love this question. It would have to be Tom Cairney. Just seems like a lad that everyone enjoys being around and seems like a really nice guy. Also, he’s creative on the pitch, so he’s got to be creative off of it too and figure out a way to get us out right?

Which Southampton player would you take to join Fulham?

Manolo Gabbiadini. We are desperate for a clinical finisher up top. I believe he has had his issues lately with the club and not getting much playing time, but you cannot deny his skill level. We fail to put away so many opportunities and if we converted even just a few more we would probably already be in a playoff spot. Gabbiadini would be the perfect piece, especially when we have so much attacking play that he could be critical in that.

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The Telegraph recently claimed Southampton were interested in Ryan Sessegnon; just how talented is the boy?

I don’t even know where to begin. This kid is unreal and I hope that he continues with us because I believe he could really lose a lot by going to a “bigger” club. He has played every single minute this season for us. Jokanovic continues to play him as a left fullback, but anyone who watches an ounce of Fulham know that his true position is a left winger. He is pacey, intelligent, and you hold your breath a little bit every single time he touches the ball. He just makes the game look so easy. Not only that, he’s 17-year of age. Rumors are coming out of camp that his twin brother, Steven, is just as good as he is too..

Score prediction what do you think the score will be this Sunday?

This is tough for me because we are in extremely good form at the moment and Southampton are in extremely poor form. However, your lot is the more talented squad even with your woes. The matchup to watch will be over on that left-side of the pitch. It is where all of our dangerous play is going to come from, and we will most likely have Sessegnon and Neeskens Kebano out there, two very fast, technical players. Additionally, you won’t have Cedric or Pied, so that will be tough to defend. I still think you will pull out a 2-1 win, but it could just as easily be the other way around.

A few thoughts on Ralph Krueger’s break from silence

Ralph Krueger has finally broken the silence between the club and the fans, following months without a statement on transfers, the direction of the club or Mauricio Pellegrino’s job security.

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The Canadian promised transparency upon his appointment as Southampton Football Clubs Chairman, but despite this, he’s allowed numerous worries to boil over amongst his fan base.

In an interview with the Daily Echo yesterday morning, Ralph krueger answered a number of fan questions, backing Pellegrino and explaining how difficult the Virgil Van Dijk saga has been for the club and manager.

At this point, however, I must give credit to Adam Blackmore and Adam Leitch, firstly for undoubtedly pressuring the club into doing this interview, and secondly for asking questions that cover the worries of so many Southampton fans.

So, join me as I give my take on Krueger’s latest comments….

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Mauricio Pellegrino’s job security

The way that you view Mauricio Pellegrino, will determine how you view Krueger’s comments about the Argentine…

If you’re of the belief that we shouldn’t become one of those chop and change clubs, then you’ll be happy.

But if you’ve grown sick and tired of Pellegrino – as I imagine just about every fan has – It looks like bad news. Krueger appears to have solid faith in Pellegrino despite a horrific first half of the season, and seems adamant that he’s the main to take us forward.

Mauricio Pellegrino from the get-go has completely embraced the way we operate here” said Krueger.

But I couldn’t be less convinced. When we think of a manager embracing Southampton’s style, expressive attacking play and youth development are right at the top of the list. But under Pellegrino’s management, both have seemingly regressed since Claude Puel’s reign last year. We’re yet to find our strongest XI, have found zero consistency in front of goal and youth players such as Jake Hesketh have been forced to ply their trade with the U23’s.

From the outside looking in, it seems like an empty statement backed up with next to no evidence, other than Krueger’s seemingly blind faith.

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Van Dijk’s departure

Ever since the Van Dijk saga began, I’ve generally agreed with just about every decision regarding the Dutchman’s future. I backed them when they blocked a move in the summer in the hope that he’d get his head down, and I back their decision to sell him this window.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of fans agree there too, so credit must be given where credit is due. It wasn’t easy, and the process certainly wasn’t clean, but it’s over and Krueger has seemingly accepted defeat regarding the negative effects that the saga brought onto the club.

He talked about allowing negativity to creep into the club as a result of their decision, and how nobody is happy with where we currently sit, but it’s our reality.

The most encouraging statement from Krueger read…

“I am ultimately responsible for where we are today. Not any individual. I am ultimately responsible for the culture of the club and the mood of the club.”

Compare that to the weak and empty PR produced comments about Pellegrino, and it’s a case of night and day. This is genuine honesty here, and fans will sooner respect and identify that over mindless misplaced positivity.

However, he then goes on to blame large parts of the season’s failures on the toxic energy produced by Van Dijk’s antics. Which in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but when only earlier in the interview he claimed that blame can’t be pinned on one person in reference to Pellegrino, things get a little confusing.

What about the baffling team selections? Or the fact that were yet to deploy a recognisable style? Are the horrific substitutions Van Dijk’s fault too?

I’ve no doubt that the Van Dijk saga placed a ‘dark cloud’ over the club, as Krueger claimed, but to even suggest for a moment that there’s correlation between Pellegrino’s incompetence as a manager and Van Dijk throwing a strop, is simply ridiculous.

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‘Small club’

On the whole, I get what Krueger is trying to say here. He’s attempting to remind fans that not every year can be record breaking, and not every season will go to plan. Every club in the league harbours these ambitions, and not every club can improve year on year.

Look back at Southampton’s League finishes over the past 20 years and it’s proof that all fans have to ride the highs and lows.

But this feels like a copout. A line that he’s only rolling out now that we’re staring relegation in the face. If we were playing thrilling football and turning teams over as we did under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, I’m certain that the ‘small club’ line wouldn’t be rolled out.

Back then it was labelled ‘The Southampton Way’ – but now that we’re spiralling down the table, were being told on three separate occasions in one answer that were simply a ‘small club’.

Funnily enough, last night’s performance was certainly that of a ‘small club’. After starting the game as much the better side and consequently going 1-0 up, we decided to sit back and rest on our one goal lead, and lo and behold the inevitable happened, as Palace piled on the pressure and snatched all three points. Don’t forget that similar events happened against Huddersfield, Arsenal and Brighton too.

How can we possibly aim to drag ourselves out of this mess unless we tear down that mentality? We have a talented squad, we invest superbly, have state of the art training facilities and we’ve cemented ourselves as a top Premier League side over the past five years.  

This interview was supposed to put the fears of fans to one side; to tell them that the higher forces in the club are seeing the same things that the fans are. But instead I come away from reading this interview with nothing but worries, and feeling even more distant to the board than before.

My biggest fear now is that Krueger will gamble the future of our football club on his inability to swallow his own pride and admit defeat. Southampton Football Club are diving head first into the Championship as we reach the halfway stage of the season, and until managerial changes are made, I’m adamant that our fortunes are unable to change.

Podcast: Talking Virgil Van Dijk with Anfield Index

The saga is over. After months of deliberation, countless meltdowns and the helping hand of a £75M sum, Virgil Van Dijk has finally received his ‘dream move’ to Liverpool Football Club. 

The Dutchman will be registered with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds on the 2nd of January, and at this moment in time holds the title of being the worlds most expensive defender – smashing the previous record held by the £52M Benjamin Mendy.

But is it the right time to lose a player of Van Dijk’s quality? Who will have to step up for the Saints? And what should we do with the £75M?

To hear our views on the above and much more, be sure to give our podcast with Anfield Index a listen here…

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There’s no room for boos and abuse at St Mary’s

The first half of the 2017/18 season has been our least inspiring since our return to the Premier League. We’re lacking an identity, failing to entertain and there’s divide between the fans and board regarding Mauricio Pellegrino’s position.

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These views have been widely shared and voiced across social media, with plenty of fans providing reasoned and calculated explanations for their criticism.

But in recent fixtures there’s been a number of instances from a minority of Southampton fans, that I find mindless and counter-productive to the issue that they claim they’re fighting.

After Nathan Redmond played a howler of a pass-back at Wembley last weekend – allowing Spurs to counter and score their fourth goal of the afternoon – a chorus of boos and abuse began to pick up whenever the winger touched the ball.

In my view, no player in the side is immune from criticism. In the same way that you praise a fringe player for stepping up and earning their place in the side, you must also be able to recognise when first team stars aren’t pulling their weight – It’s only fair that there’s a set of rules that works both ways.

But these abusive actions are despicable, and quite frankly It’s something that needs to be targeted, discussed and stomped out as quick as possible.

There are ways of expressing dissatisfaction without throwing fuel onto the fire of the toxic St Mary’s atmosphere, that currently prevails. 

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I can’t believe I’m having to state this, but the bottom line is that Nathan Redmond is a Southampton Football Club player, and since arriving in the summer of 2016, he’s done nothing but embrace our club and its values at all levels.

He’s displayed professionalism throughout and has firmly cemented his place as a popular player in the dressing room – comments from teammates both past and present only further reinforce that.

History has shown that bad eggs get picked out at Staplewood, and not even as much as a whisper has suggested that he falls under that category.

Now at this point I must state that in no way am I defending Redmond’s performances this season. Three assists and zero goals under Mauricio Pellegrino is unacceptable, especially when you realise that he’s meant to be our second biggest goal threat beyond our centre forward.

But do you really think that Redmond wants to be in this situation? Do you think he’s enjoying his half-season goal drought? And relishing the fact that he’s having his worst season of his career to date? Of course not, so in what world would hurling abuse possibly help to change our fortunes.

He’s going to be hating this just as much as you and I – perhaps even more, considering that it’s his career on the line.

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So just think about this…

Had Redmond had fired home 15 goals this season and asked for a transfer, fans would be screaming for him to display some “much-deserved” loyalty.

But when we consider the current situation and Redmond’s poor form, the loyalty that these same fans would have demanded from him, is nowhere to be seen from them.

There’s no denying that Redmond’s performances have been well below par, and I certainly expect improvement. But for as long as Redmond represents our club with honour and the determination to be the best that he can be, not a single word of abuse that’s bellowed his way is justified.

Mauricio Pellegrino: the final straw

The words have been on my lips for a number of weeks, but out of fear of becoming ‘that club’, I told myself to dig deep for the positives from Mauricio Pellegrino’s short reign so far.

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Our 1-1 draw with Huddersfield was simply unacceptable – Pellegrino himself labelled it a must-win fixture – but today well and truly tipped me over the edge.

I never came into this fixture expecting to snatch all three points. We’re in diabolical form, Spurs have found their flow and of course, Harry Kane was gunning for yet another goalscoring record. It was the manner in which we faced defeat today that leaves me hopeless in Pellegrino’s managerial qualities.

Even prior to kick-off, there was doubt amongst the Southampton fans in the stands.

Shane Long was given the nod over Italy International, Manolo Gabbiadini, despite failing to score a single goal in his last 33 appearances for both club and country.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (a true favourite of mine) was selected to play as a number 10, rather than being deployed at the base of the midfield.

And then we come to Nathan Redmond, who like Long, has also failed to score a single Premier League goal under Mauricio Pellegrino. We’re halfway through the 2017/18 season…

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But this isn’t just a one-off example from this single game-week. This is a recurring issue that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Week in, week out there’s a guarantee that one of the defence, midfield or attack will be mindlessly shuffled. When a player shines, they are often resigned to the bench by the next game week. When our frontline finally starts firing again, you know it won’t be long before they’re handed a complete reshuffle. And as for our defence, I can’t think of three consecutive fixtures where we’ve started the same players.

This constant desire to chop and change has created numerous problems for the Saints, as perfectly illustrated today.

Whilst being hounded and chased by Mauricio Pellegrino’s side, our players showed an embarrassing lack of cohesion and understanding of their teammates. In truth, it was amateurish.

When you play with a partner in any area of the field on a weekly basis, you grow to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and the way that you as a pair play best. Through this time playing with each other, decision making can almost become telepathic; you can instinctively play passes, accurately predict what your partner is going to do, and replicate phases of play that have proven effective in previous fixtures.

In years gone by, an example of this would be Sadio Mane working the channel, the moment that he see’s Graziano Pelle hold the ball up. Or maybe even Virgil Van Dijk sweeping up for Jose Fonte, as soon as the captain stepped forward. These instinctive decisions help to give a team a true identity.

I’d love to be enlightened and told otherwise, but what team in the Premier League has ever enjoyed success through rotation methods similar to Pellegrino’s?

Behind any successful team, there’s a manager that knows his squad inside out, understands their capabilities, and knows what his strongest XI is.

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On any given game week, however, you’ve got to be ready to adjust to your opponent. Teams such as Burnley bring different challenges compared to Swansea, meaning other members of the squad may come into play. This is strategical rotation and as you can see, it’s a million miles away from Pellegrino’s pre-game lottery draw.

He’s also shown a tendency to shoehorn players into positions and alter the system just days in advance of the next fixture.

Steven Davis isn’t a defensive midfielder, Nathan Redmond’s ineffective playing off the forward, and as we found out today, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is no number 10. Southampton are yet to find an identity under Mauricio Pellegrino, but a safe place to start would be playing players in their natural positions – especially with so little preparation in their ‘new role’.

Throughout those changes were also adjusting our approach to the game too; we’ve attempted to play as a counter-attacking side, a possession-based side and even gone route one. One week we’re playing a 343, the next we’re playing a 4231, and soon after it’s a deep 451.

This is what fills me with so little hope regarding life under Pellegrino. We’re halfway through the season and he doesn’t know his strongest XI, his sides best formation and he’s still none the wiser about how he wants his team to play.

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And even if he does have a long-term vision for Southampton Football Club, I can tell you now with great confidence that we’re certainly not striving for it.

We’re stumbling along week-by-week, chopping and changing in the desperate hope that we somehow find our winning formula. But you don’t just stumble upon such a remedy – it can only be created through repeated practice, where you ensure that every last member in your squad is capable of meeting your demands.

The large majority of fans had already resigned to the fact that we’d lose today, but what we didn’t expect was to go down without a fight. Especially with not a game plan in sight against a team of Tottenham’s quality, and no acceptance of blame from Pellegrino.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for Pellegrino to go, but we must remember that the dismissal of your current manager is only as effective as the replacement; Southampton learnt that the hard way in going from Claude Puel to Mauricio Pellegrino.

There’s no excuses – our next appointment needs to be spot on or it may well be our last in the Premier League.

Preview: Southampton v Huddersfield

If you’d told me at the start of the season that on our second meeting with Huddersfield Town we’d be labelling it a “Must Win” fixture, I’d have struggled to beleive you – yet here we are. The Saints currently find themselves sitting in 12th place – just three points clear of the drop – in desperate need of changing their fortunes, with those around them showing signs of gradual improvement. 

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So to get the inside track on what we can expect from Huddersfield Town, we spoke with Better Than Klopp to find out what we can expect from our upcoming opponents.

For those who are more unfamiliar with David Wagner’s side, what is your typical style of play? And what’s the sides go-to formation?

Under Wagner town like to keep the ball, press the opposition high when they lose it, and win it back in dangerous areas. When on form, the opposition doesn’t get a second on the ball, and it is extremely difficult to play against. The formation has always been a 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders and a lone frontman who gives the option of going long.

You started brightly in the Premier League but seemingly dropped off; what do you put that slump of form down to?

The ‘slump’ has only been away from home if you see our results. We’ve only lost at home to Man City, Chelsea and Spurs. The problem away from home was a lack of creativity and possibly being too defensive-minded. But Wagner seemed to rectify that in last weeks 4-1 win at Watford.

How have teams got the most joy out of your defence?

I would say teams that try to play us at our own game have probably got the most joy out of our defence. Press us high and unfortunately we’ve got a mistake or two in us, and we’ve struggled against the real top quality players in the division.

Which player has surprised you most by stepping up? And who’s been your player of the season so far?

Christopher Schindler has stepped up even further than we expected this year. He was a rock at the back in last years promotion season, but he’s shown he’s got another level, and has been outstanding so far. Aaron Mooy has also made vital contributions from midfield.

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You’re stranded on a desert island and can only be joined by one Terriers player; who’s it going to be?

Easy – Aaron Mooy. He can find his way out of anywhere.

As an outsider looking in, which Huddersfield player would help to improve Pellegrino’s Saints most?

You don’t score too many goals of late, so probably either Depoitre or Mounié. Both have been excellent and are a real handful up top.

And finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?


Charlie Austin – the simple genius of a traditional number nine

Much to my confusion in the build up to the 2017/18 Premier League season, few fans believed Charlie Austin had a serious future in red and white – let alone that he’d be starting ahead of Manolo Gabbiadini.

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Yet here we are. With 18 games gone in the season so far, we find ourselves in a potential relegation dog fight, in desperate need of rediscovering our identity, confidence and goalscoring ability.

In the form of Charlie Austin, however, there’s at least a glimmer of hope that we’ve re-discovered the latter for the time being.

So why did we have to turn to Austin in the first place? And how has he found form in front of goal so quick, when others were being pardoned for poor service?

The demands of a Premier League forward are going through the roof as each year passes, particularly the further you go up the table. So many top six teams demand their forward to have a sharp turn of pace, the ability to play between the lines, and the technical skill set to be a competent ‘player’ before anything else.

So when Southampton sold their 6ft 4 target man, Graziano Pelle’, in the summer of 2016, I believe that those features were something the club were striving for with the acquisition of Gabbiadini.

That with a player of his style, we could cement our place as the ‘best of the rest’ in the Premier League, knocking of the door of the top six.

As we know all too well though, this hasn’t been the case and much to the frustration of every Southampton fan, there’s no way of knowing exactly why.

Could it be the overly defensive mindset that’s been installed by Mauricio Pellegrino? The boards failure to identify and sign another wide goalscoring threat? Or maybe even complacency within the squad? These are just a number of factors that are often discussed by fans.

The Italian International is a proven goalscorer at just about every club he’s played for, but football is a funny old game, and sometimes someone’s true ability can’t quite be transferred from club to club.

Gabbiani’s talent is there for all to see, but sadly something’s still missing. He’s yet to truly find his place in the frontline this season, failing to build a strong partnership with many of his teammates and often finding himself isolated from play.

But given that the former Napoli talisman is without a doubt our most technical forward, many feared that resigning him to the bench could only harm us.

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But when one door closes, another opens, and with that decision we’ve been able to enjoy Austin’s glorious return to form.

Despite starting just four Premier League fixtures this season (yes, you read that correctly) the Englishman sits at the top of Southampton’s goalscoring leaderboard.

And whilst were on the topic of goalscoring leaderboards, let’s not forget that Austin finished the 2016/17 season as our top goalscorer, despite spending months out with a shoulder injury.

He’s hardly an oil panting on the ball and he certainly isn’t an athlete. Watching the 28-year-old clutch his chest in pain with a stitch the other week was one of my season highlights.

But this is what makes Austin such a remarkable footballer; despite the worries mentioned above and the talk of him being unable to play in multiple systems, he’s got this beast inside of him that comes alive inside the penalty area.

Austin’s one of those players that doesn’t particularly fall under one style of football, but place him in a side that’s enduring a rutt or a dry spell infront of goal, and you can gurantee that he’ll put his body on the line to fashion chances out of nothing.

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I’d go as far to say that he seemingly flourishes when the rest of his team looks down and out. It gives him the opportunity to step up as their knight in shining armour, and my word does he love every last bit of it.

Whereas previously our midfield were hesitant to hit the frontline quickly, hunting for that perfect neat and tidy goal, we’ve seemingly embraced Austin’s more gritty and hard-hitting style. He’s brought us back to basics at a time when we lack an attacking identity.

On top of that, Southampton have now somewhat restored the physical edge that was lost with the departure of Graziano Pelle’ – someone that can take the pressure off the midfield with a simple ball into his feet, chest or head. Admittedly that side of his game is not nearly as effective as our beautiful Graziano’s, but it’s certainly a foundation to build upon.

These actions have helped him to average a goal every 105 minutes in the Premier League this season, with a total of five goals in just four stars.

Gabbiadini’s the more complete and skillful forward out of the two, but when you’re failing to dominate possession effectively throughout large parts of games, just how often can those skills be put into practice? At this moment in time it seems far less in comparison to Austin’s greatest strengths.

But this isn’t about trying to put one striker one-up over the other – far from it.

Our club currently appears to be covered by a blanket of negativity, where, justified or not, holes are being picked in just about every department of the club.

So this is just a gentle reminder that when all things seem doom and gloom, sometimes it’s worth taking a look around and appreciating the positives. 

Southampton haven’t had a better striker than Charlie Austin to ‘fall back on’ since returning to the Premier League.