Author Archives: Aidan Small

Behind enemy lines: Southampton v Arsenal

Southampton find themselves in an awkward position at the minute. After a poor start to life under Mauricio Pellegrino, with worrying results and even worse performances, the players finally appear to have turned a corner over the past three fixtures. But while performances are showing genuine signs of improvement, results need to follow suit before cries for change start to be heard again.

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This weekend, however, Southampton’s opponent’s will be no pushovers; Arsenal are coming off the back of a 6-0 Europa League win, and will be desperate to get back to winning ways in the league after an unfortunate defeat against Manchester United.

So, to get the inside track on the Gunners, we spoke with Mason McDonagh, an Arsenal fan and writer for Sports Keeda.

How would you summarise your season so far?

Results haven’t really defined how well I think we’ve played. Silly defeats to Watford and Stoke away from home were low points but overall we’ve performed well as a team

What are your hopes for the remainder of the season?

Now, with City already having the title wrapped up by the looks of things, I’d say anywhere in the top four and the Europa League or another FA Cup would be a successful season

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

I’d say quick forwards have been a problem for Arsenal for a while now, as Southampton’s fans will remember well from Shane Long’s performance in 2015

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Which player has surprised you most by stepping up?

I think Lacazette has been exceptional since his arrival and really lived up to his transfer fee. I thought he was going to be more of a poacher, but he has everything

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

Difficult question, but I’ll go with Cazorla. He always seems to have a smile on his face and I think you’d need that being stranded on a desert island

Southampton fans always appreciate updates on their former academy graduates; what’s the general feeling amongst Arsenal fans toward Calum Chambers and Theo Walcott at the minute?

The general feeling is that Chambers should potentially be given more opportunities, especially after having a good season at Boro last year. But Walcott on the other hand, I think a lot of people think it’s time for him to move on. He’s rarely featured in the league this year and if he wants to play more Premier League football, it’s time for him to move on

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Which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

I think like all the top sides in the top 5 it would have to be Van Dijk. I really would have liked Wenger to have gone for him last summer, but I’m not sure if he was even interested

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

I know Southampton haven’t scored many goals this season so my pick would be Giroud. No disrespect to Gabbiadini, Austin or Long but he would most definitely score more goals

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

We don’t have a particularly great record at St Mary’s, but I do think we’re playing well. I’ll go with 2-1 to Arsenal.

Basel’s Mohamed Elyounoussi on Southampton’s radar

According to Swiss newspaper Blick, Southampton scouts were once again watching over Mohamed Elyounoussi last Saturday, as the Norwegian winger scored Basel’s opening goal against Lausanne.

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The 23-year-old has been on Southampton’s radar for the past year, but interest appears to be growing ahead of the January transfer window. 

Elyounoussi, who plays on the left side of Basel’s front three, was in stunning form yet again last Tuesday scoring in a 2-0 win over Benfica, placing Raphaël Wicky’s side in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Elyounoussi has found the back of the net on four occasions in his last 15 league appearances – averaging a goal every 306 minutes – but it’s the creative side of his game that often receives so much praise. 11 assists from 23 appearences this season is sublime, and exactly the kind of numbers that Southampton could do with registering.

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Initially Elyounoussi has all the hallmarks of a typical Southampton signing; he’s performing at a high level in a lesser European league, has plenty of time on his side, and appears to be within their price range. 

However, the Saints aren’t the only Premier League club interested in Elyounnoussi. Blik say that severeal other Premier League clubs are monitoring the winger closely, including Claude Puel’s Leicester City.

Preview: Bournemouth v Southampton

The season so far has been a frustrating one for Southampton fans, but over the past two Premier League fixtures, Mauricio Pellegrino’s side appear to have turned a corner. 

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The Saints ran out deserved winners in their battle with Everton, showing fluent and expressive attacking play, before cruelly facing defeat at the death against league leaders Manchester City.

Despite only coming away with three points from the two fixtures, the squad have finally shown a clear understanding of the managers game plan and rediscovered their willingness to fight. A great improvement compared to previous gutless showings.

But what type of challenge will their opponents present tomorrow?

To find out more about the Cherries, we spoke with Kris Temple, a TV and radio broadcaster for BBC South.

How would you summarise Bournemouth’s season so far?

Very poor start, impressive in November, until Burnley when they were disconcertingly poor again.

What would make for a successful season?

Every season for a club of their size it has to be staying up. But having finished on the coattails of Saints last season in 9th, it would be a good achievement to finish above them, given that the two clubs are still quite a way apart in terms of resources.

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How have teams got the most joy out of Howe’s defence?

In case Pellegrino is reading this I won’t say too much!

Set plays were a worry earlier in the season, but they’ve sorted that out now. It’s mainly been individual errors rather than a specific approach by the opposition.

Which player has surprised you most by stepping up?

I’m a big fan of Lewis Cook, as are the fans. We haven’t seen that much of him yet, but he’s looked very assured for someone as young as he is,

Which areas of the field do you consider AFCB to be short in?

The wingers haven’t consistently delivered this season. Junior Stanislas is the most creative but he hasn’t been fit that much.

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

Probably Andrew Surman – I’ve never seen him in a bad mood off the pitch.

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Which Southampton player would you take to join Bournemouth?

Eddie would probably go for Charlie Austin again, but I’d take Lemina on what I’ve seen so far. Looks the part.

Which Cherries player would help to improve Pellegrino’s Saints most?

A fully firing Joshua King – pace, power, and a goal threat.

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

I’m going for a 1-1 draw – it’s a bit on the fence, both teams have got their defence sorted recently, but are lacking clinical poise in the final third (Saints’ Everton win aside, against a shambolic opponent)

In defence of defending – a response to Pep Guardiola’s post match comments

Southampton faced heartbreak at the death on Wednesday after Raheem Sterling’s 96th-minute strike extended Manchester City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to 14 fixtures.

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As a Southampton fan it was gut-wrenching: 90+ minutes of sheer hard work, determination and organisation, only to be defeated by a moment of simply undeniable class.

But after taking a step back from the drama of it all, I could see that it was a thrilling battle between two sides with two entirely different approaches. Southampton could walk off that pitch with their heads held high, despite City leaving as the deserved winners.

But following the post-match press conferences, the game had suddenly been given a whole new narrative, as Pep Guardiola proceeded to blast Southampton for their negative tactics and time-wasting.

“They didn’t want to play. We were the only team who tried to win. We deserved it by far,” said Guardiola.

The Spaniard then went on to slander Southampton for having “10 men behind the ball” and asserting that “their striker was man-marking Fernandinho”.

Now at this point I must confess that I myself am a huge admirer of Guardiola, and certainly not an advocate of time-wasting.

But these comments regarding Southampton’s tactics are quite frankly ridiculous.

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Guardiola might say that defending deep with the aim of rarely breaking forward is unfair, and that’s reasonable. But I can guarantee you that if we asked Guardiola whether it’s unfair to recruit world-class talents like a hacked Football Manager save, and spend over £200M on building a new backline, he’d shoot your question down before you could even finish your sentence.

The point I’m trying to make is that while both are frustrating and unfair to others, they are perfectly legal in the game, and that’s all part of football.

Mauricio Pellegrino didn’t come off the field lambasting the ludicrous amount of money that Guardiola’s spent, so why did Guardiola leave the field moaning about the way Southampton tried to combat his side?

Contrary to what Guardiola may believe, there’s no one way to play football, so please don’t kick up a fuss that we gave you a challenge.

It’s worth noting at this point that the teams who caused City the most frustration this season – Wolves, Huddersfield and now the Saints – all conceded possession and deployed a deep block.

The post-match comments would lead anyone to believe that Southampton posed no threat in the opposition’s box, but this was far from the truth; Oriol Romeu’s goal was worked wonderfully, Wesley Hoedt cannoned a header off the crossbar and Maya Yoshida missed an open goal.

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However, I’m under no illusion that Southampton played a defensive style of football throughout the entire 90 minutes, only looking to attack on calculated and measured occasions.

But is it really any wonder when we had to be wary of Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling charging at our defence, let alone a fresh-legged David Silva, who’d just been subbed on.

Of course Guardiola would love everyone to push forward and go toe-to-toe with City – he’d simply watch on with joy as his team proceeds to wipe the floor with their sorry opponent, before praising them in the post-match presser for giving it a “good go”.

Anyone knows that gifting space to any of City’s world-class forwards is the difference between having a chance of picking up a result at the Etihad, and being completely and utterly humiliated.  

Manchester City are an outstanding football team, and any mid-table side naive enough to think that they can beat them at their own game will simply be picked off at will.

The tone of this piece was exactly the route that I didn’t want to go down following such an entertaining game; Manchester City were an absolute joy to watch, and as far as I’m concerned, each one of those Southampton players can go into their next fixture with their head held high.

Only last week Guardiola stated that there is no copy and paste in football with regards to tactics, due to every squad boasting different strengths and weaknesses. So in the same way that Guardiola deployed an incredibly attacking side to secure all three points, Southampton fielded a strong and resilient defensive unit to frustrate and battle.

There’s no right or wrong in how a team wishes to pick up their points, especially when it’s against the most expensive side in Premier League history.


Five positives to take into Southampton’s biggest test of the season so far

After a return to winning ways with a 4-1 victory over Everton, Southampton fans (for the first time in what feels like a long time) have a number of positives to take away from their sides performance.

We saw fluid football, ruthless finishing, and one of the rarest sights that football holds; a Steven Davis goal from outside the box.

So going into what will be our toughest test of the season so far against Manchester City, what are the greatest positives we can take away from Sunday’s fine performance?  

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The return of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Hojbjerg was the beating heart of our midfield throughout the entire 90 minutes against Everton, despite only making just one appearance prior to this. Not only was it a joy to watch him dictate the direction and tempo of the game, but also to get involved in the defensive side too, pressing relentlessly and flying into 50/50’s too. He recorded some delightful stats, too: 121 touches (!), 91.7% pass completion, four tackles, three interceptions.

The importance of our fullbacks

Few teams in the Premier League have better fullbacks than Southampton Football Club, but sadly, this is something we’ve failed to capitalise on so far this season. Last Sunday, however, it was incredibly refreshing to see us have them back on form again.

If we want to play the exciting, fluid football that so many fans fantasise about, then Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand will need to be right at the heart of it.

They worked the channels endlessly, covered their ground at both ends of the pitch and whipped in some delightful crosses.

Having the option to deliver purposeful cross-field balls was a delightful change to our play, as well as their storming overlapping runs in the final third.

Our players believing in both their own and their teammates ability

All too often in recent weeks our front-line and midfield have been paranoid in the final third, scared to be the player that gets caught out and makes that game-changing mistake.

On Sunday, however, we decided to embrace the opportunities that previously we would have  turned our nose up at. We took risks in the final third with drilled passes, flicked passes and trickery, choosing for  the first time in a long time to truly express ourselves out on the pitch.

The players not only believed in themselves, but in the ability of their teammates too, trusting them to come through with the goods in those all-important moments.

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Boufal cementing his place in the starting XI

It’s safe to say that Sofiane Boufal’s career on the south coast has been a rollercoaster so far; it started with sheer ecstasy, placing fans in disbelief at how we obtained such a talent, before they soon turned on him at the first glance of a drop in form.

He’s been labelled as lazy, a luxury player, and (by some) a flop.

But having now been given over a year to adjust to the demands of the Premier League, Boufal now appears to have cemented his place in the starting XI. He’s more relaxed on the ball, more aware of his positioning in the side, and boasts a far greater understanding of his teammates strengths – his relationship with Ryan Bertrand has the potential to be an extremely dangerous asset.

He’s dropped his desperation to impress the fans, which often led to him over complicating play, and in return, he’s become a far more calculated and intelligent player on the ball.

There’s never been any doubt surrounding his ability, but now he’s been given a consistent string of appearances and trust from the boss, he’s been able to iron out his inconsistencies. Who would have guessed it, eh?

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Ward-Prowse fighting for his place in the side 

Whilst Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Charlie Austin grabbed the headlines over the weekend, there was another player that’s been starved of opportunities who conducted an incredibly mature performance; James Ward-Prowse.

When you’ve got players with natural flair such as Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal on the field, you often need someone that can bring balance and stability to the midfields shape. Someone that holds their position, recycles play, and is tactically disciplined.

On Sunday James Ward-Prowse showed that he has the potential to be that player. If he can bring the stability that allows our flair players to flourish, then Mauricio Pellegrino will be helpless in looking to Ward-Prowse as a regular first team option.

It’s also worth noting that he’s familiar in this role too, having played it under Claude Puel in the later stages of last season.

Preview: Southampton v Everton

We find ourselves just 12 games into the 2017/18 season, and already the future of Southampton manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, appears to be hanging by a thread. 

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Its not been a dream start to life on the South Coast for the Argentine, who’s recorded three wins in all competitions so far, seeing his side score a miserable nine goals along the way.

Our upcoming opponents, however, find themselves in a similar state; siting just outside the relegation zone in 16th place, just one point behind the Saints.

As these two underperforming ‘best of the rest’ sides prepare to face each other this Saturday, many Southampton fans are labelling this a season defining fixture.

So to get the inside track on The Toffees, we spoke with Adam Partington of the Grand Old Team.

Where did it all go wrong with Ronald Koeman?

I can smell the smugness within this question, you Saints fans must have enjoyed watching him fail so spectacularly…

The truth is, there’s not one thing I can point to, however, the business he oversaw in the summer was absolutely catastrophic and frankly didn’t make much sense. It left the side so unbalanced. Couple that with a lack of ideas, frequently bemusing decisions, and regression to ‘late 90s levels of Everton woefulness’, meant the board had no option but to pull the trigger.

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What would now make for a successful season?

I still think (given how tight the league is) that Everton can still get 7th. All of this depends on who the next manager is and if he can galvanize the squad pre-January, buy the right players, and then go on a run in the later winter/early spring. Before someone tweets me telling me I’m #deluded, I’m not saying this will happen, I’m just saying it’s still a possibility.  

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

We’re the masters of our own downfall. When Ashley Williams plays we look dreadful and the entire back line is prone to getting pulled out of position, Micheal Keane bizarrely isn’t much better. We have the second worst defensive record in the league, no pace, our distribution is pathic (bar Pickford) and our concentration worse. I don’t see him a lot, but a forward like Charlie Austin should get plenty of joy. I’d be inclined to say Shane Long would cause us issues, too.

Which player has surprised you most by stepping up?

Jonjoe Kenny has been pretty good but he’s not a surprise. Everton always bring through good lads so I’m never shocked when they cope with the demands of the Premiership.

Which areas of the field do you still consider Everton to be short in?

We need a striker. Nobody is going to fall off their chair reading that, everyone knows we didn’t replace Lukaku (not that we could get someone as good as him anyway). We also really need another decent centre-half, and a left-sided full back as cover for Leighton Baines.

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

I reckon Jagielka would be a good laugh. I think we’d get on but Coleman is my age and I’ve met him before and he was delightful, so he’d be my choice.

Which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

Virgil van Dijk because he’s exactly what we need (see above) and it would infuriate the Reds. Maya Yoshida would be my second choice. Not because I rate him but because his surname makes him sound like a rare Pokemon.

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

Am I right in thinking Fraser Forster hasn’t been great for a while now? If so, Jordan Pickford.

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


Podcast: Liverpool 3 Southampton 0 reaction

Revisiting defeat as a football fan is never enjoyable, but if you want to find out where we went so wrong, and where Liverpool went so right, then be sure to give our latest podcast with Anfield Index a listen. 

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Throughout the show we discuss…

  • Southampton’s gameplan
  • Our inability to bounce back from going behind
  • The importance of Mario Lemina
  • Life under Mauricio Pellegrino so far
  • Virgil Van Dijk’s future

Manchester City set to challenge Liverpool for Van Dijk this January

According to a report from The Mirror, Manchester City could be challenging Liverpool for Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk this January.

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Pep Guardiola’s City were once again victorious at the weekend defeating Leicester City 2-0, but the three points came at a cost, with John Stones being ruled out for up to six weeks.

Guardiola hinted, however, that his side have been hunting for defensive reinforcements even before this injury.

“We’re going to discuss when January is coming” said the Spaniard.

“We are going to think about it, but not because John is in that position.

“To play in all the competitions, you need a bigger squad because the players don’t have time for regeneration before the next game.”

The England International has played an important role in City’s remarkable start to the season, so with Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi being the only remaining cover at centre-back, Van Dijk makes for the perfect target.

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Not only does he boast the ability to grow with a squad of City’s trajectory, but he would also perfectly compliment Stones, who would no doubt be his long-term partner in the side.

Standing at 6 ft 4 in tall, and built like a genetically modified modern day centre-back, Van Dijk would add some much-needed steel at the heart of City’s defence, without losing even a touch of technical ability.

Liverpool were forced to make an apology to Southampton last summer, after their attempts of luring the Dutchman to Anfield failed spectacularly. That stance shown by the Southampton board received plenty of praise at the time, but Mauricio Pellegrino’s latest comments regarding Van Dijk’s future don’t stand quite as strong.

Pellegrino said: “I don’t know. I can’t control the market.

“You never know, because when we talk about money everybody has got a price.The budget is to sign players and the biggest teams have got money to try to sign players.

“I can’t decide about that. This is a question for our owners.

“Everybody is focused on their area, to try to bring the best players possible for their club. It is something that happens every single transfer window.

“We have got a lot of good players and most of the teams want to sign them.”

Dani Osvaldo: I prefer beer and barbecues to money

Having once claimed that he retired from football to pursue a career in rock and roll, former Southampton talisman, Dani Osvaldo, has since offered another remarkable reason for leaving the game.

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During a recent interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, the controversial forward spent no time beating around the bush, saying he prefers “beer and barbecue to money”.

The Italian became somewhat of a cult hero during his short time on the south coast, but certainly not for the right reasons.

Despite having the ability to turn a game on its head with the slightest of ease, Osvaldo will long be remembered for punching Southampton’s then club captain, Jose Fonte, and going down in history as one of the clubs greatest transfer flops.

Oh, and that goal against Manchester City.

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After seeing his contract terminated at Southampton, Osvaldo went on to make seven appearances for Porto, before joining Boca Juniors in January 2016. Just four months later he saw yet another one of his contracts terminated, after being caught smoking in the changing room.

However, Osvaldo seems to have a rather different account of his time in Argentina, saying that he quit Boca as “There was too much gossip,”

With a track record of causing unrest at just about any club that he’s played for, you’d think that Osvaldo would have been starved of options in the footballing world, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Do you want a laugh?” asked Osvaldo.

“In December 2016 [Jorge] Sampaoli contacted me, he was at Sevilla at the time,”

“He said to me: ‘Dani, I’m not asking anything of you, you can do what you want on the pitch and off, but I need a striker’.

“I told him ‘but boss, there’s the Cosquín Rock festival!’. He said ‘I forgot! Go, of course, you can’t miss it’. Two crazy people!”

Preview: Liverpool v Southampton

After falling to defeat against Burnley in their last Premier League outing, Southampton will be desperate to right their wrongs this weekend as they look to kickstart their disappointing season so far.

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Liverpool, however, come into this fixture in fine form, having recorded three back to back victories across all competitions – finding the back of the net 10 times along the way. Something Southampton could only dream of at this moment in time.

But In order to gain greater insight into our upcoming opponents, we spoke with Hari Sethi – the host of Anfield Index’s Premier League preview podcast.

How would you summarise your season so far?

Liverpool’s season so far has been wrought with frustration. Failing to address the defence in the summer was pure negligence from the club, despite the faith Klopp seemingly has in his current options. Though the Reds are capable of producing scintillating attacking spells and new signing Mohammed Salah has settled incredibly well, there’s the still the feeling amongst the fanbase that we’re building on sand and until that changes we aren’t able to invest ourselves in this project fully.

What would make for a successful season?

A successful season would be consolidating our place in the top four, securing CL football and perhaps, just maybe, improving the defence by replacing Dejan Lovren.

How do teams get the most joy out of your defence?

Targeting either our young options at RB – Gomez or Trent Alexander Arnold or Dejan Lovren who’s been very poor so far this season. Very often, however, teams won’t have to do anything special to get joy out of our defence, they’re especially generous and often gift goals through individual errors.

Which player has surprised you most by stepping up?

It’s not been a surprise to me, but Alberto Moreno has been great so far this season. Adding a great deal to our attack with well-timed overlapping runs, showing a more considered side when needed and also pressing effectively.

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

Roberto Firmino. One of the hardest working members of the team, a good laugh and he’d also be able to start a fire by reflecting the sun off his teeth.

Minus Virgil Van Dijk, which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

Lemina. A promising young defensive midfielder.

As an outsider looking in, which Southampton player needs to step up to help Pellegrino’s Saints?

Tough question as what you really need is a lively and ruthless striker. However, if Tadic could form a more effective partnership with one of your wingers or even take on greater responsibility this could provide some temporary respite.

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

I think Liverpool will win 3-1 .