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Southampton FC’s history with Wembley Stadium

In two days time, over 35,000 Saints fans will embark on their journey to the home of English football. This isn’t a journey we are entirely used to, so I, like everyone else, will savour every last second of it.

Southampton take on Manchester United in the first major final of the season as Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils battle Claude Puel’s Saints in the EFL Cup final. Saints fans have only travelled to Wembley four times in their clubs 131-year history, despite being in eight domestic finals.

Southampton’s first three major finals were held at current athletics ground ‘Crystal Palace’ as Ernest Arnfield’s men lost two FA Cup finals; the first in 1900 as Bury ran out 4-0 winners. Saints then lost 2-1 to Sheffield United in 1902 after a 1-1 stalemate resulted in a replay. Saints’ most recent major final was, again, in the FA Cup as Gordon Strachan’s men travelled to Cardiff to face Arsenal. Robert Pires broke Saints hearts as his goal in the 38th minute sealed a 1-0 win for the Gunners at the Millennium stadium. Apart from a dismal record away from Wembley, Southampton currently have a 50% win record at the national stadium, as Saints have won and lost two finals in four respective competitions. These competitions being the FA Cup; the League/EFL Cup; the Zenith Data Systems Cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

1976 F.A Cup Final

Saints’ first appearance at Wembley was in 1976 and it’s still our greatest achievement to date. Lawrie McMenemy’s Second Division side had a huge task of beating First Division Manchester United to their first major trophy. Southampton were undoubtedly the underdogs as many expected the Red Devils to ease past Saints to victory. However, as the game unravelled, McMenemy’s side showed they had the quality and fight to match Manchester United. After their opponents hit the bar, Saints took their chance. Jim McCalliog sent a ball over the top of the Manchester United defence which looped into the path of Bobby Stokes. Stokes allowed the ball to bounce once then struck a precise shot past United ‘keeper Alex Stepney. The goal was scored in the 83rd minute as the yellow end of Wembley went wild. The goal didn’t come without its controversy though, as the United players and coaching staff claimed Stokes was offside, but the linesman’s flag remained down. As the full-time whistle blew, Saints pulled off one of the great FA Cup giant killings and secured themselves their first major trophy. The sea of yellow and blue erupted when club captain, Peter Rodrigues, collected the trophy from Her Majesty the Queen and lofted it high. There are many parallels from this game to our upcoming match this Sunday. Firstly of course, we have our opponents. Just like 1976, standing in our way of a major trophy is arguably one of the biggest clubs in world football, Manchester United. Coming into this Sunday’s fixture, the Red Devils have only lost once in their past 25 games. Due to this incredible form, Saints are firmly the underdogs once again, and hopefully rather like 1976, we can use this to our advantage.

1979 League Cup Final

Three years after the FA Cup final triumph, Lawrie Mcmenemy masterminded another great cup run. Southampton embarked on their League Cup adventure by beating First Division Birmingham City and Derby County in rounds two and three. Saints then needed a replay in the fourth round to see past Fourth Division Reading. In the quarter-finals, Saints beat Manchester City 2-1 and then secured their place in the final by beating Leeds 3-2 on aggregate across two legs. In the final, Saints faced Brian Clough’s legendary Nottingham Forest side. Much like the 1976 FA Cup final, Saints were seen as the underdog as Forest were amidst their greatest ever era; Clough’s side eventually won the European Cup that season. Brian Clough was up to his usual antics before a ball was even kicked. Prior to any cup final at Wembley, opposition managers lead their teams out onto the pitch before kick-off. However, Clough did not lead his team out and gave duties to his right-hand man Peter Taylor; he followed closely behind and went straight to the dugout. Saints took the lead in the 16th minute through David Peach and the score remained 1-0 up until half time. Forest then equalised just six minutes into the second half as Garry Birtles drew his side level. Birtles then struck again to give Clough’s side the lead in the 79th minute after a closely fought second half. Forest’s number 10 Tony Woodcock looked to have sealed the tie in the 83rd minute, but Nick Holmes nicked one back five minutes later to give Saints hope of taking the tie to extra time. Unfortunately for McMenemy’s side however, Saints couldn’t grab that elusive third goal and were defeated in their second match at Wembley. This was Saints’ last League Cup final appearance.

1992 Zenith Data Systems Cup Final

After the League Cup final defeat to Nottingham Forest, Southampton had to wait 14 years until their next Wembley appearance. The opponents, again, Nottingham Forest, still managed by Brian Clough. Although this competition is far less prestigious than the previous two, it’s still a trip to the home of English football for the fans and the club. Saints were managed by the highly unpopular Ian Branfoot who famously shut out Matt Le Tissier citing that he wasn’t good enough. However, Branfoot started Le God in this particular final alongside Alan Shearer, Neil Ruddock, Francis Benali and Ian Dowie. Southampton had the worst possible first half as they found themselves 2-0 down at the break after goals from Scot Gemmill, in the 16th minute, and Kingsley Black, right on the stroke of half-time. This particular final conveyed the phrase “a game of two halves” as Southampton looked a completely different side in the second 45 minutes Matt Le Tissier pulled a goal back in 64th minute with a header from six yards out, and only six minutes later, a ball into the box found Kevin Moore, whose header crashed in off the woodwork to level the scores. The game went to extra time after Saints’ great come back from two-nil down, but once again, it was Forest who won the trophy at Wembley after a deep ball into the box found Gemmill unmarked – Tim Flowers was helpless in denying the winner.  

2010 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final

Ah, what a day. After a fall from grace which left Saints bottom of League One with a 10 point deduction, this final really showed what was in store under the guidance of Markus Liebherr and Nicola Cortese. For the first time, Saints came into this game as huge favourites as Alan Pardew’s team showed great form within the new era at the club. Players such as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte and Michail Antonio, unknowingly used this victory as their springboard to Premier League and International success. Saints took on Carlisle in the 2010 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final after seeing past MK Dons in the semi. Southampton took the lead after 15 minutes through a trademark Rickie Lambert penalty, after Peter Murphy handled in the box. Saints then netted just before and after half-time as Rickie Lambert flicked on the ball to the far post, where Lallana found himself free to knock the ball into the net. Southampton then sealed the trophy after a mistake from Horwood allowed Antonio to let fly at the Carlisle goal; Collin made a brilliant initial save, but his strong hand couldn’t stop the ball dropping to Papa Waigo, who was left with the simple tasking of nodding it into an empty net. As the game fell away from Carlisle, a ball deep into their half from Kelvin Davis found Antonio, who chested the ball down and struck a venomous low volley past Collin. Our opponents that day did pull a goal back as Gary Madine glanced the ball past Kelvin Davis, after a free-kick was whipped into the box. The waves of red and white flags flew in the air as Saints sealed their first win at Wembley since 1976. One of the great images of the day was to see our saviour savour the day as his smile beamed from ear to ear. Markus Liebherr was seen taking photos throughout on his small digital camera, as he soaked up the atmosphere from the club he saved. Back-to-back promotions soon followed as a new manager, Nigel Adkins, took the reigns. And the rest, they say, is history.  
After a 41 year wait without a major trophy, a victory on Sunday would cap off a meteoric rise under Markus and Katharina Liebherr. I’m sure the players will have Markus in their minds and hearts as they step onto the carpet that is Wembley’s pitch. After a two-week break Saints should be fresher than their counterparts who played a Europa League game away in France only two days ago. Whatever the result, the fact that Puel and his players have taken us fans to Wembley for a mouthwatering tie is something to be very grateful for. Let’s hope we return to the south coast with an EFL Cup and a performance to be proud of.  

Preview: Southampton vs Manchester United

In less than four days, I will have the joy of watching my beloved Southampton FC march out onto the field of Wembley. But sadly, standing strong in our way of cup glory is Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United; a team that are unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League fixtures, having scored 24 goals, with just six goals conceded. In terms of form, there are few better in the Premier League than the Red Devils at this moment in time, but as we all know, football is a funny old sport and over 90 minutes, anything is possible. 

So, to find out more about what we can expect from our upcoming opponents, I spoke with Elliott from United Report.

How does this seasons performances compare to the showings under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal?

Our performances under Mourinho have been the complete polar-opposite to Moyes and Van Gaal’s. We’re still somewhat building from the back but we’re doing it with a lot more intent and pace, something we lacked majorly under the previous managers. We’re now creating a lot more chances than before but are sometimes lacking that end product. Finishing seems to be one of our only weaknesses at the moment and that can be worked on.

As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?

I’m a huge admirer of Southampton. The fact that the club are constantly selling their best players (unfortunately) and somehow managing to replace them with equal talent is very impressive. Saints have a nice looking spine now – players of note are Van Dijk, Romeu, Redmond and Gabbiadini. I am however surprised at Saints’ position in the league. The current crop of players have a lot of potential and it’s a shame they’re not fulfilling that. However, I do think Southampton will climb the table towards the end of the season.

What do you make of Luke Shaw’s current situation at Manchester United?

Luke Shaw’s current situation at Manchester United – it’s nothing more than tough love from Mourinho. It worked with Mkhitaryan and seems to be working with Martial, and I’m 100% sure it will work with Shaw. The difference is that Shaw is still recovering from a career-threatening injury. Mourinho has already confirmed that he has no intention to sell Shaw and that he is very fond of the player and his potential. It’s all paper talk.

If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?

It’s got to be Virgil van Dijk. The guy’s been one of the best defenders in the league this season and he has definitely changed my opinion of him. I use to have the image of Martial helping Van Dijk with cramp at St Mary’s lodged in my head after the Frenchman put two past Southampton last season and that set my negative view of the player. In a defence that is lacking solidarity at the moment, I’m taking Van Dijk all day.

Who has been your player of the season?

It’s between a few players. My shortlist is Antonio Valencia, Paul Pogba or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Valencia is arguably the best right-back in the league at the moment – he’s unbeatable in a 1v1 and is an absolute monster going forward. As for Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, everything good goes through him. On his day, he’s unmatchable and he could have had a lot more goals and assists this season if it weren’t for the woodwork and our poor finishing. Ibrahimovic has to be included due to the pure amount of goals the Swede has scored. He’s already got 24 in all competitions and we’re only in February! The scary thing is, he could have had a lot more…

What area of the Southampton side do you feel that United should exploit this Sunday?

The absence of Van Dijk is huge for United. He’s probably one of the only players that could’ve dealt with Ibrahimovic’s physicality meaning this factor could be decisive at Wembley.

Who do you expect to be your key man this Sunday, and which Southampton player scares you most going into the game?

If Pogba shows up then we’ll play well and have a good chance of winning, it’s as simple as that. Not only will he need to be pin point attacking wise, he will need to deal with Romeu – who does not lack fight in the middle of the park. In the form he’s in, Gabbiadini is frightening. We can’t afford to give him an inch of space otherwise he’ll showcase his favourite ‘spin & shoot’, which he recently showed vs Sunderland.

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

Full-time score: United 3-1 Southampton. I think our amount of quality will shine through and pinch the win. It will be a good game nonetheless!

The ultimate 2012-17 Southampton XI

The good news is that the League Cup final is now less than two weeks away. The bad news however, is that Southampton don’t have another fixture until that season defining day. But with all this spare time until we travel to Wembley, it got me thinking about just how fortunate I’ve been to experience such a remarkable journey. From the dark depths of League One in 2009, up to the Premier League in 2012, qualification for the Europa League in 2015, and now, a League Cup final in 2017. When you take a step back and look at how far our club has come, it’s really quite remarkable.

So, in the spirit of enjoying the next chapter that Southampton FC holds for us, I decided to pick my ultimate Southampton XI since our return to the Premier League.

GK: Despite his recent slump in form, there is still no doubt in my mind that Fraser Forster deserves to stand between the sticks in my ultimate XI. Since signing in the summer of 2014, Forster has produced some sensational goalkeeping displays (much to the annoyance of every Arsenal fan), whilst also writing his name into the Southampton history books – totalling 708 Premier League minutes without conceding a goal. The 6ft 7in shot stopper has helped Southampton to better their highest ever PL finish twice over, and is it any wonder when he’s recorded 28 clean sheets in 73 Premier League appearances?

RB: Signed for just £2.15M ahead of our return to the Premier League in 2012, Nathaniel Clyne went on to not only help us steer clear of relegation, but also become a fully fledged England International. Blisteringly quick, dangerous on the overlap, and surprisingly strong in one-on-one defensive situations, Clyne takes the right back spot with ease.

Source: http://bettingtips4you.com/

CB: Given that Virgil Van Dijk is arguably one of the most sought after defenders in European football at the minute, it will come as no surprise to you that he’s placed in this side. Not only is he an incredibly intelligent tackler, but he’s also capable of spraying 40-yard diagonals with ease, whilst possessing the strength to make Christian Benteke look like Nathan Dyer – as aerial threats go, there are few better in football than Van Dijk. If Southampton can retain the Dutchman this summer, he’s as big as any signing we could possibly ship in.

CB: We may have only been able to enjoy the services of Toby Alderweireld for a single season, but my god, what a player we had on our hands. Within just three performances in the red and white shirt, I remember turning to my Dad and simply asking, “How on earth have we got this man?”. Alderweireld boasts many similar qualities to Van Dijk, but perhaps what he loses in natural physical strength, he makes up for with his exceptional reading of the game. It’s for all to see that the Belgian International has received a footballing education at Ajax.

LB: When Southampton first signed Ryan Bertrand, it’s fair to say that there were doubters. Not only had Southampton just waved goodbye to Luke Shaw, but their replacement was a loan player who had failed to shine for Aston Villa in the season before. But over two and a half years later, Bertrand has arguably become one of Southampton’s most reliable performers, proving to be a true professional along the way too. He’s shown himself to be a capable player in all areas of the pitch, allowing us to play the positive and fluid football that us fans so desire. His fine form has even helped him regain a place in the National team.

DM: Ah, the one that got away. It may sound odd to others, but I’ve never known a player to grab the hearts of so many fans in the same way that Morgan Schneiderlin did. With the combination of his crunching tackles, the fact that he rose through the divisions with us, and never left the field without giving 100%, we all truly saw him as one of us. Over countless occasions we would witness Schneiderlin single handedly dominate the midfield, and still to this day, I’m gutted for him that his big move didn’t pay off. It would take one hell of a search to find a defensive midfielder as effective as Schneiderlin during his time at Southampton.  

DM: And here we have Schneiderlin’s partner in crime: Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan midfielder slotted in alongside Schneiderlin at the start of the 2013/14 season, and right from the off, we all knew what he was about. Wanyama may not be the most technical or aesthetically pleasing player, but over his three seasons at Southampton, he proved himself to be one of the Premier League’s finest in protecting the backline. How many other players can you name that have knocked Yaya Toure, Kouyate and Fellaini to the floor in a single season?

LW: When Adam Lallana departed for Liverpool, any football fan could see that Southampton had a colossal job of acquiring a suitable replacement; and in the form Dusan Tadic, Les Reed and co found just that. The Serbian International has been the creative Spark behind Southampton’s progression over the past two seasons, recording 21 assists in 81 Premier League appearances. Tadic’s greatest form for Southampton came with Graziano Pelle in the side, but with a new Italian in town – Manolo Gabbiadini – Tadic looks to have formed a new on the field bromance. When deployed as the main creative outlet for the side, Tadic is capable of tormenting any side with his defence splitting vision and deft execution.

AM: Given the manner of which he left the club, I was debating whether to select this man for my starting XI. However, I just can’t deny plain and simple talent once I’ve seen it with my eyes. Regardless of how you view Lallana for his actions, It’s undeniable that he was a sensational player for Southampton. He could play with either foot, was capable of leading the team as a captain, and had the ability to switch a game on it’s head with just a single touch. Not to forget the many Cruyff turns too…

RW: Southampton have had the joy of possessing some pacy players over the years to work the channels and overlap, but not a single player can match Sadio Mane for pace. When he first joined the club, he was used by Ronald Koeman to solely hunt for space and ask questions of the defence. But once he found his feet in the Premier League, he soon adapted into a controlled dribbler that was capable of finding the back of the net from the tightest of angles.  Since entering English football in late 2014, Mane has scored 32 times in just 89 Premier League appearances. Further testament to his talent is that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool simply aren’t the same side without him, as their poor form in 2017 shows.

ST: To not place this man in my ultimate XI would be wrong on almost every account possible. Rickie Lambert is, and forever will be loved by each and every Southampton fan. From that first Premier League goal against Manchester City, right through to scoring in his last ever game in red and white against Manchester United, Lambert never once let us down. The man was a natural born goalscorer who certainly wasn’t short of technical ability for a big man, and his penalties weren’t half bad either. It’s fairly safe to say that Rickie Lambert will never have to buy another pint in Southampton again.  

 

Preview: Sunderland vs Southampton

Following on from six defeats in our last seven fixtures, this would normally be the perfect time for any team to face a side in the bottom three. But when that side has just picked a point and a clean sheet against Tottenham Hotspur, before going on to fire four past Crystal Palace, completing that challenge is far easier said than done.

So, we spoke to www.wearewearside.com to find out what we can expect to see from Sunderland this coming Saturday.  

Firstly, what are your thoughts on Sunderland’s season so far?

It has been a bit of a disaster in all honesty, in keeping with the start of our last four seasons. We lost our manager in pre-season because Roy Hodgson couldn’t beat Iceland, our Chief Executive told his we are skint and to top it all off we ended up signing Joleon Lescott! However, there have been periods where Sunderland have looked a decent team, most notably last week as we tore Crystal Palace apart.

How do you believe David Moyes wants his Sunderland side to play?

Moyes has spent most of the season trying to figure that out I think. We have finally settled on a system which is working decently. Right now Sunderland usually line up with three centre backs and wing backs, so the usual approach is to soak up pressure and try to create space for Jermain Defoe on the counter. We don’t have that much pace, so you normally see quite a few players trying to get forward.

How does this seasons squad and performances compare to previous years?

Not much has changed in that respect. Sunderland start the season poorly, sack the manager (looks like we will be spared that ritual this season) and win our last five games to stay up! We are closer to safety than we usually are at this time of year, so I’d say it’s going better in that respect.

After a draw at Spurs and a thrashing of Crystal Palace, are Southampton facing a Sunderland side in their best form of the season so far?

It’s hard to say really. Whilst both of those results were excellent, we are missing a lot of players through injury right now. Earlier in the season we won three games in four matches against Bournemouth, Hull and Leicester.

As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?

I’ve been very surprised by the lack of form, Southampton always strike me as the very consistent top-ten sort of team. Like one of the Evertons of the Premier League, always doing well but struggling to reach that next level. You won’t get relegated, so the question I’d ask myself as a Saints fan is would I swap a top half finish for a cup final? Of course I would. Enjoy Wembley, there is nothing like it.

If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?

That’s easy, Virgil van Djik. I’m convinced he is the best defender in the league, or at least one of them, and it still irks me to this day that Sunderland thought £10m was too much for the Dutchman when we courted him the year before he went to St Mary’s. Then we go and spend £8m on Papy Djilobodji instead, deary me.

Minus Jermain Defoe, who has been your player of the season?

With the exception of Defoe most of our players have had very inconsistent seasons. The only two exceptions to that are Jordan Pickford and Victor Anichebe. Because he is a local lad I’ll plump for Pickford and trust me this boy is going to be a top keeper very soon.

Do you believe that you have what it takes to beat the drop once again?

We’ve performed greater escapes than this so absolutely. If the last four seasons have taught me anything it’s never to write Sunderland off regardless of how crap we are.

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

This is the kind of opportunity we usually spurn. Get into good form, play a team out of form and lose. However, I can’t shake the optimism that first half against Palace has filled me with so I think it’ll be a draw which won’t be much good for either of us.

Martín Cáceres: what do we know?

Despite finishing the transfer window with a Jose Fonte shaped gap in the heart of their defence, it seems that Southampton have finally found their man.

According to numerous sources, Southampton have scoured the free agent market and believe that former Barcelona and Juventus defender, Martín Cáceres, could be the answer to their problems.

Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph – a reputable source for Southampton news – has claimed that Cáceres has already visited Staplewood for his medical, and with just a quick look on Instagram, Southampton fans will be delighted to see that Cáceres follows just one account: Southampton FC. The only remaining tasks now, involve the club waiting on a work permit, and according to Adam Blackmore, the finalisation of his weekly wage. The deal is yet to cross the line, but quite frankly, I’m delighted.

The reason being is that Southampton finished the January transfer window with a weaker defence than when the window opened; something that a successful and ambitious club should never allow to happen. But with the nearing acquisition of  Cáceres and a slice of injury-free luck, the Uruguayan International is more than capable of filling that gap. Here’s why…

When he’s on the pitch, Cáceres’ quality is evident. It’s why he spent many years with Juventus and why he’s been capped by Uruguay 68 times.

If you take a look at his career WhoScored numbers, Cáceres has averaged 2.0 tackles, 1.6 interceptions and 2.7 clearances per game, while giving up 0.7 fouls per game. Compare that to Jose Fonte, who averages 1.7 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 0.8 fouls per game. Quite comparable, if you ask me.

But here’s the big difference: our ex-captain averages a whopping 6.8 clearances per game, however, much of this can be attributed to the teams of which these two footballers have played for. Cáceres has played for European giants Barcelona and Juventus, and is used to dominating possession. Fonte has simply had to do more defending during his time with Southampton, therefore, a higher number of clearances would be expected.

Despite his injury woes, Cáceres was able to draw attention from top clubs across Europe throughout his career, and much of that was due to the wonderful development of his passing.

Taking yet another look at his stats from WhoScored, the Uruguayan massively improved his passing accuracy, beginning at Juventus with just over a 77% completion rate and ending his last season with over 94%. That brings his career average to 84.5%. Virgil van Dijk has averaged 83.1% passing accuracy for a career, and he is often lauded for his capacity to pass out from the back.

What’s more, Cáceres improved his accuracy by nearly 20% while also showcasing a solid ability to hit the long ball, averaging up to 4.0 per game during one season in Italy. His long passes per game haven’t remained consistently high, but it shows he is a willing and capable passer, depending on how his team asks him to perform.

The final and most important thing that Cáceres can bring to Southampton is the experience that he has gained through winning major trophies across Europe.

He joined Barcelona in 2008, playing behind Rafael Marquez, Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique – helping the Catalan side lift the Champion’s League trophy and complete the treble.

Cáceres then went on to have loan spells at Villareal and Juventus, but eventually wound up with the Italian giants on a permanent basis in 2012. He helped Juve go on to win five consecutive Serie A titles, as well as the Coppa Italia two times.

All things considered, we know that Martín Cáceres can bring several things to Southampton: talent, success and an elite club history (as well as a top-notch man-bun). And provided Southampton are capable of keeping Cáceres fit – a hurdle that in the past, he has struggled to avoid – then I am convinced that this deal has the potential to make amends for our nightmare of a January transfer window.

Backs to the wall

Within the space of a single week, Southampton FC have booked themselves a place in the League cup final and completed the biggest deadline day signing in the Premier League. Yet still, despite these undeniable positives, us Southampton fans were left feeling awfully frustrated as the transfer window slammed shut at 11:00 pm last night. A feeling that for the sake of our club’s success and progression, should have been avoided.

Coming into this January transfer window, our top priority was securing a forward; the fans could see it, Puel could see it, and now we just had to hope that the board could see it too. But on the 20th January, Southampton waved goodbye to Club Captain Jose Fonte, and consequently, handed themselves another priority in the market with just 11 days remaining.

Fonte clearly had his head turned after a remarkable Euro winning summer, and since joining back up with the Saints squad, he no longer seemed to be the same player; it was a sad choice to let him leave, but ultimately, it’s one I have to agree with. The club had dug themselves a hole by allowing Fonte to depart, but provided we filled that gap and acted instantly, I could just about bare losing the last remaining member of our Johnstone Paint Trophy winning side.

There was a part of me at the time that was worried we wouldn’t replace Fonte adequately, but I continued looking to the following quotes from Les Reed in faith of the opposite:

“He certainly won’t leave on the basis that he can just go. We would not consider releasing him unless there was a decent transfer fee, and secondly, that we were in a position to replace him.”

But as we now all now know, that replacement is nowhere to be seen.

In plain and simple black and white text, Southampton have finished the January transfer window with a weaker defence than when the window opened; something that a successful and ambitious club should never allow to happen.

In the modern age of football even standing still can be dangerous, let alone regressing.

First and foremost, we needed a new centre-back because of Fonte’s departure. Not only has he proved to be one of the Premier League’s most reliable defenders in recent years, but he is also a natural leader both on and off the field. Such personalities are hard to come by in football, and in my eyes, can’t be discarded without thoughtful and precise planning. Maya Yoshida has shown a remarkable rate of development under Claude Puel so far, but the Japanese International is certainly a downgrade. There is no two ways about it, a player of higher quality should have been recruited to rise above Yoshida in the pecking order.

Secondly, with Virgil Van Dijk putting in performances that could be expected from a ball-playing Barcelona defender, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that we could lose the Dutchman this summer. If that may prove to be the case, then Southampton will now be tasked with the challenge of building an entirely new centre-back partnership from scratch this summer. Pushing for a signing this January would have most certainly helped the transition if/when it occurs, as one of the defenders will be aware of his surroundings and demands at Southampton.

Finally, we have the simple fact that competition and depth will bring about the best results for any club. With Fonte now being a Hammer, we have seen that with just one simple injury to Van Dijk, Southampton’s defence has been stripped to its bare bones. And whilst I’m still all for players such as Jack Stephens earning their chances in the side, it shouldn’t have to happen out of desperation. Chances should be handed to less-experienced players in the right moment with the help of fellow experienced defenders around them (both on and off the pitch), and with the signing of another high-quality defender, Southampton would have been able to continue doing so in a controlled manner. 

In the same way that I have praised Reed for his astute business and calculated transfers over the years, I must now also criticise him here for damaging our resilient defence and failing to follow his word.

Jose Fonte and Southampton FC: the fairy tale that’s come to a crashing end

Ugh. We’re here again. In this current moment it’s looking increasingly likely that Jose Fonte will complete his move to West Ham United, with reports stating that the two sides are close to agreeing a fee in the region of £8M; my only question surrounding this latest advancement however, is why? Just why?

On the 9th of January 2010 Jose Fonte decided to depart from Championship outfit Crystal Palace, in favour of a League one side that had recently entered into administration and faced a ten point deduction: that side was of course our beloved Southampton FC.

For the fans, there was excitement and hope that this tough tackling Portuguese centre half would finally bring solidity to our side, but Fonte himself saw far beyond the short term goals of this transfer.

“I’ve come here with a purpose, which is to help this club move to the top divisions. I want to play in the Premier League and I think I can do that quickest by moving here.”

These were the very words that Fonte spoke on his first day in red and white, and the tale that soon followed is remarkable.

There’s that beautiful day at Wembley for the JPT final, the back-to-back promotions taking Southampton to the Premier League, achieving our highest ever Premier League finish, and even returning once again to the Europa League. Since the 9th of January 2010, it’s undeniable that Fonte has been at the heart of all our success.

But it was with the reward for these achievements that has since changed Fonte into a player that we seem to no longer know.

Understandably, Fonte received his call up to the Portuguese national team ahead of the Euro’s, and to say the least, us Southampton fans were thrilled – rather emotional in fact. After years of hard work, grit, and dedication, our club captain was representing his country on one of the biggest stages that a player can ever prove himself on. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling like a proud dad as Fonte first stepped out onto the pitch to face Croatia…

However, with this start in place of the injured Ricardo Carvalho, Fonte didn’t just fill the gap, he made it his own, leaving manager Fernando Santos helpless in selecting Fonte for the quarter final against Poland, and semi final against Wales. In both games Portugal were victorious, and consequently Fonte held his place in the starting XI for the final against France – a decision that would see Portugal become Champions of Europe with a 1-0 win.

Through his ability, attitude and personality, Fonte has given so much to our club throughout his career, making it simply beautiful to witness that same man achieve his childhood dream

Every Southampton fan was supporting Portugal that night as they got behind Fonte, leaving us all optimistic for yet another season with a player capable of such fine performances. But oh how wrong we were…

Fonte returned to St Mary’s with a hero’s welcome, but shortly after it was clear for all to see that his head had been turned. Fonte had tasted success of the highest level, and now he wanted more. This lead to a summer of speculation whereby papers and online sources were filled with ideas regarding Fonte’s current situation, but in truth, only those involved with the deal know what was said over that summer.

What we do know however is that the performances that soon followed from our captain were showings of a man who was no longer stimulated. Fonte’s mind was clearly elsewhere, and on the fifth of January, that was confirmed by Les Reed:

“He’s had several opportunities to improve the situation and he’s reserved his right not to do that.

“He’s made it very clear he would like to explore the opportunities for a transfer.

“That’s where we are at the moment, Jose wants to leave the club. He’s formally asked for a transfer.”

These quotes were hard for every Southampton fan to swallow. We’ve heard it all before in regards to other stars from years gone by, but hearing such news about our club captain and a man who has been with us through every step of our journey was gutting. Just gutting.

With Fonte’s agent being Jorge Mendes – the same agent as Cristiano Ronaldo – this decision to hand in a transfer request was surely used as a means to alert the big boys. Fonte clearly wanted more silverware, and had his eyes firmly placed on a move to either one of Manchester United or Liverpool.

But it seems that Fonte didn’t take into account a particular circumstance; that neither club wants him. Which funnily enough, is exactly what’s happened.

Since realising this, Fonte has been the subject of two bids from two mid-table Premier League sides, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham, with Southampton reportedly close to accepting a bid from the latter.

Fonte has played his hand, and with brutal honesty, it seems to have backfired in the most embarrassing of ways. Not only have Fonte’s dreams of a ‘big move’ amounted to absolutely nothing, but it seems that he is now completely incapable of swallowing his pride and reconciling with the club and us Southampton fans. It appears that for this reason, Fonte harbours no ambition to make life work on the south coast. So much so that I believe if Fonte knew only West Ham and West Brom were interested from the start, his notice would have remained firmly in his pocket.

I will always love and adore Fonte for the years of service and crunching tackles as a member of our original League One side, there is no doubting that. I just hate that this against all odds fairy tale will be tarnished with the same brush of so many other departures from Southampton FC in recent years.

The real reason Southampton must find a finisher this January

Since the devastating shoulder injury to Charlie Austin in early December, we’ve been left without a real goal-scoring threat. (Besides Virgil Van Djik, of course.) We can turn tough draws into hard-earned victories if we use the January transfer window to snap up a useful forward, but another crucial reason as to why we must buy a striker – and buy one NOW – is to allow Sofiane Boufal to flourish.

It’s undeniable, Sofiane Boufal is class. He can receive a pass, turn, and glide past defenders with supreme confidence, all whilst boasting the ability to put the ball into the back of the net from the most ridiculous angles. On top of this, he also shows a hunger out on the pitch that leaves him constantly demanding the ball to be played into his feet, and why wouldn’t you with magic feet like his? 

via GIPHY

But what happens if that confidence disappears?

There are plenty of examples of talented wingers who burst onto the scene only to experience a prolonged dip in form. Even some of the very best in Riyad Mahrez, Pedro, and Eden Hazard have succumbed to spells of bad play. Granted, Boufal is yet to set the Premier League alight like the aforementioned names, but I believe he possesses the talent and tenacity to become a legitimate star. 

And yet his chance to make a name for himself could be snuffed out well before he truly begins. That’s because the confidence of creative players like Boufal is strongly linked to positive play in the attacking third, something Southampton have undoubtedly lacked since losing a goal-scoring threat. 

There are only so many times a footballer can beat his man on the left flank, then proceed to look up for a cross or slicing through ball, only to have no one available – or worse, complete a pass to a player that is incapable of finishing. This type of play is tiring in its own right, but when the fruits of labor are nowhere to be seen and there is no positive reinforcement, it’s also quite demoralising. A player with dazzling skill can become frustrated at his team and lose confidence in himself – something that with a player as naturally gifted as Boufal, we cant allow to happen. 

But if Southampton can use this transfer window intelligently and purchase a recognised out and out forward, then we’ll not only perform better as a squad, but we can unlock the potential of one of our most talented players.

Interview: Talking Mamadou Sakho with Sam McGuire

Another transfer window, and yet another Southampton player wanting out. Incase you missed it earlier this week, Les Reed confirmed that Jose Fonte has made it clear that he wants to explore the possibility of a transfer, having rejected both an improved and extended contract. Once again, this places Southampton in the forever recurring position of having to find a suitable replacement for one of their stars, but just like always, Southampton already appear to have their eyes on someone.

According to Paul Joyce, Southampton have shown great interest in the availability of Mamadou Sakho, who has been told that he can leave the club after falling out of favour with manager Jurgen Klopp. The report states that the French International is supposed to be keen on a move down South, despite interest from Sevilla and Galatasaray.

Eager to find out more about the French International, I spoke with Sam McGuire – writer at TheseFootballTimes and podcast member at Anfield Index – to find out if Sakho is the right man for Southampton Football Club.

Let’s start with the positives; what strengths do you see in Sakho as a player? He’s what most top teams seem to crave these days; a ball-playing centre-back. He break the lines with passes, he’s incisive and positive with his use of the ball. The reason he doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves is because of how awkward he looks when doing it. He’s commanding in the air, he’s a leader and he’s got that grit you sometimes need to get you over the line. In the Europa League match against United at Old Trafford many forget the home side had us on the ropes in that first half and Sakho put in a MOTM performance to keep them out.

Some might say his biggest strength, and possibly the greatest compliment you could pay him, is the fact Alberto Moreno looked fairly solid beside the Frenchman.

What weaknesses has Sakho shown?

His decision making can sometimes be questionable. As in when he attacks the ball and when he lets it bounce. If you’re squeamish you probably won’t be a fan though. As mentioned earlier, he’s not the most graceful on the ball and sometimes it looks as though he’s played himself into trouble but more often than not he’s got it under control.

There’s also question marks over his off field behaviour. He did storm out before a derby after not making the squad, he did put his career in danger after taking a supplement the club didn’t know about and he was sent home for being a disruptive influence on the tour.

Paul Joyce has claimed that Sakho is keen on a move to Southampton; how reliable do you deem Joyce regarding Liverpool news?

If Paul Joyce says something Liverpool related it’s usually true. This is a guy who leaked the Sevilla team news the night before the final by posting it as his Twitter picture.

What exactly has helped Sakho become such a fan favourite at Liverpool?

He bought into Liverpool as a city and in return the fans realised he was one of their own. He’s an adopted scouser. He does a lot of work in the community and goes beyond what’s expected of him and we as fans have a lot of time for players who do that. He showed us respect and we returned it with interest.

At times it was like having a fan on the pitch because he wanted to win as much as we did.

It’s safe to say that Jurgen Klopp and Mamadou Sakho seem to have their differences; what has happened between them and how would you summarise their relationship?

It’s difficult to comment without fully understanding what happened because there’s got to me more than meets the eye. Even after the drug debacle I think Sakho had a future at the club but he had to regain Klopp’s trust. It’s unlikely the club would have given the player a new squad number if he was always on the way out. But then something on the tour, he was late for a few things and disruptive in general.

Klopp sent him home as a way to show who was boss and you have to respect that.

There is a reported £20M price tag to acquire Sakho’s this window; do you believe that he is worth such a fee?

Definitely. He only recently signed a new deal at the club, he’s 26-years-old and he’s still a quality defender.

Obviously the likes of Romagnoli, John Stones, Eric Bailly and your own Virgil Van Dijk don’t come with the baggage Sakho does but in a world that they’re all worth £50M plus Sakho is comfortably worth £20M.

Finally, what would be your overriding thoughts if Sakho leave’s Anfield this window?

A mixture of regret and resentment.

Had he not been a fool on the tour he could have been part of the Liverpool squad. I know we’re second in the league but there are still defensive problems, especially when it comes to lapses in concentration and distribution of the ball, and it’s something you can’t help but feel Sakho would be able to fix, or at least play a part.

I trust Jurgen Klopp but sometimes you see Lucas/Lovren/Klavan do something ridiculous in defence and just let out a sigh knowing Sakho is at home. It’s just best for all parties if he leaves now though.

 

January: It’s time to invest, but in who?

We’re now just over halfway through the 2016/17 Premier League season, and it hasn’t quite been the season many fans had hoped for thus far.

After another preseason of change, we once again saw some all too familiar traits from years gone by. Key players seeking pastures new and our manager moving to a rival Premier League club; giving Les Reed and the board a much busier summer than they would have anticipated. Key decisions had to made to try and push on from a sixth place finish and Europa League qualification – that is quite the task of a club playing in the third tier only five years ago. They chose a relatively unknown Frenchman to take the reigns from a record setting, Champions League winning Dutchman.

Claude Puel was appointed on the 30th of June to replace Ronald Koeman on the recommendation and advice of a certain Arsene Wenger no less. Prior to the former Monaco midfielder’s appointment, Saints had already sold Sadio Mane to Liverpool and Victor Wanyama to Tottenham Hotspur for an estimated combined total of £46 million. Saints were also in extensive talks with Chinese club, Shandong Luneng, for the transfer of Graziano Pelle, with the move being completed a few weeks into Puel’s tenure – leaving him with the unenviable task of meeting his players, assessing them, then going into the transfer market to fill the gaps. With not a huge time-frame from his appointment to the opening game against Watford, himself and the club decided to not bring in any recognised strikers and to put faith into Shane Long, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez. Puel also stated his intent to use new recruit, Nathan Redmond, as a striker – comparing him to former French protege Thierry Henry.

Redmond started life on the South Coast perfectly as he bagged Saints’ equaliser in the opening day draw against Watford, but since then, he’s gone on to score only twice more. Since the start of the season, Redmond has been a figure commonly placed in the starting eleven, meaning Puel has chopped and changed his starting partner. During the opening games of the season, the Frenchmen preferred Long to start alongside the former Norwich man, and rightly so too. After the Ireland international’s impressive goal scoring feat during 2016 he was more than deserving of his place in the starting eleven. But as the opening games of the season unraveled, Long couldn’t rediscover his form of the back end of last season as he failed to score in each of the matches he featured in.

Subsequently, Puel has rotated his frontline, featuring most commonly Austin as a strike partner with Redmond. Since the Englishman’s first start against Sunderland, Austin has netted on nine occasions in all competitions as he stated his claim as Saints’ best goalscorer. Things were going tremendously for Austin as talk of an England call up became common ahead of Southgate’s announcements. Unfortunately for him however, the call from newly appointed Southgate never came and during Saints’ final Europa League game against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, he landed awkwardly when rising for the ball and dislocated his shoulder. After Saints were eliminated by the Israeli champions, it was revealed that he would need surgery and could miss up to three months of action. This sent Puel back to the drawing board as Saints’ only prolific goalscorer so far will be sidelined for a substantial amount of time.

In comparison to this point last season, as many know, Saints have been far less clinical in front of goal. Before Saints’ game against Norwich on the 2nd of January last season, Ronald Koeman’s men had scored 45 goals in 26 games – averaging 1.7 goals per game. Whereas this season, Saints have scored 30 goals in 29 games – averaging 1.03 goals per game. When examining the stats it’s not hard to see why we haven’t been scoring as much as we could have.

Prior to the trip to Carrow road, Mane had been involved in 15 goals over all competitions; registering seven goals and eight assists. Shane Long had scored seven goals and registered two assists, whilst the beautiful Italian, Pelle, had netted nine times and assisted three times. In comparison to this season, Long has notched just one goal in all competitions, and Nathan Redmond has grabbed just three goals. As previously mentioned, Austin has scored nine goals in all competitions and Jay-Rod has scored four goals, two prior and post his injury – including a wonder strike to seal all three points away at Bournemouth.

As we are now entering the early stages of the January transfer window, it doesn’t take a mysterious black box to highlight what we need to invest in this winter; however, the black box will be able to identify the players we do need. With every transfer window, there will be guaranteed speculation of players coming in and players leaving the club, that’s just the way it is at St Mary’s. With Southampton’s lack of goals it hasn’t been hard for the press to link strikers to a move down south. Two of the names that have been linked are Liverpool striker, Daniel Sturridge and Napoli forward, Manolo Gabbiadini.

Daniel Sturridge is a name every fan in England is aware of. The 27-year-old Englishmen has been one of the most prolific forwards in the Premier League and on the international scene. During his greatest goalscoring season, Sturridge grabbed 25 goals in all competitions as Liverpool narrowly missed out on the title. Last season, the Englishmen grabbed 13 goals in all competitions as he played a bit-part role under new manager Jurgen Klopp. This poises the question ‘Why wouldn’t Liverpool want to keep hold of a player with such great talent like Sturridge?’ Well, the main cause for concern with Sturridge is that he has been plagued with injuries ever since Luis Suarez left Liverpool in the summer of 2014.

Since the end of the 2013/14 season, he has featured 68 times for club and country as regular hamstring injuries seem to be the cause of a lack in game time. Another perception Sturridge carries is that his commitment for the team isn’t the greatest. Jurgen Klopp’s style of play is much like that of Mauricio Pochettino’s. Both men like to establish a high pressing game to give the opposition as little time on the ball as possible. This could be one of the reasons why Sturridge is lower than Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi at Anfield as perhaps Klopp doesn’t feel he works as hard as the Brazilian and Belgian off the ball. The likelihood of this transfer being completed is very slim. Jurgen Klopp was quoted in saying he “doesn’t want Daniel to leave the club.” Another factor could be location. With a few London clubs interested in the striker, including West Ham, Sturridge is believed to prefer a move back to the capital; where he once played for current league leaders, Chelsea.

As previously mentioned, the second player Saints have been linked with is Manolo Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini is a 5ft 9 forward who can player as a striker or as an attacking midfielder. The 25 year old is an Italian international who has scored one goal in his six appearances for the Azzurri. The Italian forward failed to reach double figures for Napoli last season as he bagged nine goals in all competitions. So far this season, he has netted five times, so could be on course to reach double figures if he stays put. The reason why many clubs in the Premier League have been linked with Gabbiadini is due to his immense goal scoring form during the 2014/15 season; where he spent half of the season at Sampdoria before joining Napoli for €13 million. Whilst at Sampdoria, he scored eight times; prompting Napoli to fork out on such a high transfer fee. Life at Napoli started well for the Italian as he scored a further 11 times for his new club-including one against his former employers. There is a possibility Saints could sign him as he’s been linked with a move to the South Coast in a variety of news outlets in Italy. However, like always, Saints aren’t the only club interested in his services. Wolfsburg appear to be the frontrunners for him as they look to replace the now PSG man, Julian Draxler. My issue if Saints do complete the signing of Gabbiadini is that he lacks Premier League experience. At this point in the season I believe we need someone who knows and is adapted to the pace of the Premier League.

One man who is certainly that is Jermain Defoe. Former England international, Defoe, has been prolific in every Premier League season he’s featured in. With eight goals already at a struggling Sunderland side, it proves how clinical he can be when not having much quality around him. His 18 goals last season proved pivotal in Sunderland’s battle against the drop and he’s on course to match that again this season. In 276 league appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, he netted 92 times and since joining Sunderland in January 2015 he’s scored a further 27 goals in the Premier League.

Sunderland boss, David Moyes, was quoted saying that Sunderland need to decrease their wage bill if they are to bring in any new players this winter. Defoe is earning over £50,000 at Sunderland, so Saints could definitely test their resolve. Defoe would be the quick fix of goals we need from now until the end of the season, and at the age of 34, he’s certainly coming to the end of a fantastic career. The one problem many fans may have if we try to bring in the Englishmen is his ties with our South Coast neighbours. Defoe joined Bournemouth on loan from West Ham in October 2000 and scored 18 goals in 29 league appearances. Defoe has also played for the blue side of Hampshire, joining Harry Redknapp’s Pompey for £7.5 million in 2008. He scored 15 goals in 31 games for Pompey before leaving after just one season to rejoin Tottenham and Redknapp at White Hart Lane. Southampton haven’t been linked with a move for Defoe, but I would like to see Defoe bag the goals we need in the red and white stripes.

The final striker we’ve been linked with is FC Utrecht’s Frenchmen Sébastien Haller. Since joining the Dutch outfit from Auxerre he has scored 37 goals in 67 appearances. He’s only 22 years of age and is giant in stature as he stands at 6ft 2. He’s was linked with a deadline day move to Saints in the summer but a move never materialised. So far this season he has netted nine times in all competitions. This is probably the most likely transfer to be completed as Haller is familiar with Claude Puel. He has also been seen following Nathan Redmond on twitter – if that means anything!

With Haller being so young at 22 he can definitely adapt and fulfil his potential in the Premier League. My concern however would be the immediate amount of goals he would get and how long it would take him to adapt to life in England.

Claude Puel has kept his cards very close to his chest saying that Saints won’t be completing any signings during the January window; but as Saints fans know, this could mean anything. Saints have always liked to keep the transfer business in secretive fashion for as long as possible. For example, when we signed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the summer very few media outlets reported we were interested in him; then all of a sudden it was announced that we had completed the signing. The reasons Saints do this is to minimise the competition and price we have to pay. If very few clubs are aware of our interest, then those who may be interested won’t feel obliged to start a bidding war over the player, thus preventing the price to rise and rise.

I also believe Claude wouldn’t come out and say we need players so publicly for a number of reasons. Firstly out of respect for the other clubs in the Premier League. The Frenchmen appears to be a man of dignity and compassion, therefore speaking about other club’s players would go against his morals. Secondly, not to add pressure on the current squad and to keep the squad harmony high. For example, if you say that you’re perfectly happy with the squad then the current squad will feel that their efforts are being noticed and welcomed by the manager.

I’d love us to sign a striker with great Premier League pedigree, but if the board feel as though a deal will not be financially correct for the club then the last thing I’d want to see is us bring someone that we can’t afford. We also need to remember that the Southampton board like to bring in players who understand and represent the ethos of the ‘Southampton Way’, and if there aren’t any players who can fulfil that this window, I won’t begrudge a lack of activity this winter.