Fight and a physical presence has returned to Southampton’s spine

Whilst goalscoring woes have been the go-to talking point surrounding Southampton Football Club in recent weeks, it appears that many are failing to see the remarkable work being completed down the other end of the pitch.

I’m of course talking about the addition of Mario Lemina, and Wesley Hoedt.

Last season Claude Puel was forced into fielding a makeshift defensive midfielder alongside Oriol Romeu, whilst having to fight the fires of Virgil Van Dijk’s injury and Jose Fonte’s mid-season departure.

And whilst individuals such as Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens were consequently able to develop themselves as top flight defenders, we were undeniably prone to conceding sloppy goals, crumbling late on, and being bullied in the air.

With thanks to Mauricio Pellegrino, the boards investment and the infamous black box, however, Southampton have once again been able to forge a strong, physical and dependable defensive spine – a common feature of the most successful Southampton sides in recent Premier League seasons.  

Each of those sides were composed of two defensive midfielders that can impose themselves on the opposition off the ball, whilst still holding the technical ability to cooly maintain possession and effectively break from back to front. Similarly the centre-backs must have an aerial presence and be able to work the opposition’s midfield out of shape, whilst also having the eye to execute an inch perfect diagonal ball (see Toby Alderweireld, Virgil Van Dijk, and now Hoedt).

With the signings of Lemina and Hoedt, Southampton have the potential to replicate that same spine.

Lemina has so far proven himself to be the athletic box to box that everyone was hoping for, and a whole lot more. He’s intelligent in possession, boasts quick feet, a fantastic defensive work rate, and upper body strength that’s incomparable to others his size. Over the past 12 months, Southampton have been rightfully criticized for lackluster play in their midfield, with players all too often turning toward the safe option. Lemina, however, is quite the opposite, with his style largely revolving around bringing a high intensity to the game both on and off the ball.

It seems that Romeu has finally found himself a midfielder partner that he can rely on week in, week out…

Then we come to Wesley Hoedt, who’s added the muscle and aerial presence that our backline severely lacked during Van Dijk’s absence. Yoshida and Stephens improved ten fold last season in terms of their defensive awareness and distribution of the ball, but despite this, they still held the tendency to miss out on those all-important aerial duels – an issue that no longer exists with Hoedt leading our backline.

At this moment in time, Southampton not only boast a supreme amount of quality both in front and at the heart of the defence, but also an abundance of options.

You have, Mario Lemina – the heartbeat of our midfield. Oriol Romeu – the anchor. Wesley Hoedt – the man mountain. Virgil Van Dijk – the complete defender. Maya Yoshida – the ideal backup. And even Jack Stephens – the clubs work in progress.

Here we have the personnel to effectively play numerous formations, apply great competition on fellow team-mates, and even approach fixtures in a number of different manners.

Southampton most certainly failed in their hunt for goals in the previous summer transfer window, but credit must be given for their seemingly impeccable defensive recruitment. If we’re going to continue struggling to score goals, we should at least be aiming to make the opposition do the same…

Preview: Manchester United vs Southampton

Last weekend’s showing against Crystal Palace was the perfect response to our gutless defeat against Watford the previous week; the entire team showed a  fantastic understanding of their role in the side, whilst Mario Lemina dropped a midfield masterclass like few others we’ve seen in red and white colours.

But whilst that was a promising showing for what the remainder of the season could yet hold for the Saints, tomorrow will be a task like none other they’ve faced under Pellegrino. So, to get the inside track on what to expect from Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, I spoke to Utd Report and Jack West from Man United Panel.

What have you made of United’s season so far? 

UTDreport: What can I say? Our goalscoring has been phenomenal in comparison to previous seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. We’ve been solid in pretty much all areas of the pitch. It’s still early doors but things are looking good.

West: We are a Saturday night setback in Stoke away from the perfect start. Our ability to take the lead, absorb pressure, grind the game for 70 minutes and let loose on opposition defences has just been impeccable. Our squad depth has hit excellent heights and substitutions are a huge reason for our success in the early stages of this campaign. The likes of Martial, Lingard, Fellaini all offer diversity and it becomes difficult for teams to work us out as a unit. We’ve finally managed to shake off the post Fergie tagline of “Predictable United” (so far) … it finally feels good to be a Manchester United fan again.

United appear to have reached a new level of performance this year; what do you put that down to?

UTDreport: Nemanja Matić, mainly. He’s doing all the dirty work that Paul Pogba had to do last season, meaning our no.6 can now push forward and chip into the final 3rd of the pitch. Also, we’ve been a lot quicker on the counter-attack and that’s very much down to Romelu Lukaku. He holds the ball up so well – gives and goes – and he’s off. We have so much pace on the counter.

West: I would say keeping a group of players together is always key as it allows the squad to get to know one another’s key assets, strengths/weaknesses etc but this also applies to a manager and what he does in his second season. Jose Mourinho worked with the resources he had last season and bought a fair amount of success, to which he then recruits his own talent in the following seasons to come, especially the spine of our squad. We all know that Jose is one of the best when it comes to emulating a solid core for any side, and that firmly applies to what he’s done with United this season. The average height of our spine is now 6”2, and that means we can bully sides again with power and pace.

How did you rate your clubs dealings in the summer transfer window?

UTDreport: Lukaku was possibly the best replacement we could have bought for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. We lacked clinical finishing last season and Lukaku has made us forget about all that. Matić has filled a huge gap in our midfield and he has such a massive presence. The idea that teams have to try and get through him before even testing our defence gives us peace of mind. Victor Lindelof has had a shaky start to life at Manchester United but it’s never an easy task transferring from the Portuguese League to the Premier League – he’ll come good.

West: A solid 8.5/10. Needed recruitment that scatters a dash of World Class around the United dressing room once again, creating near on perfect squad depth. However, I believe there was room for improvement as I feel that amongst all the hype of the high profile Lukaku, Matic, Zlatan and Lindelof signings, we should have been hunting for another full back – in particular on the left hand side. I say this on the condition that Luke Shaw doesn’t return to form and make the LB spot his again – if that were to happen then I have no concerns at all.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

UTDreport: Paul Pogba. It’s a real shame he’s picked up an injury but last time it happened, he came back even stronger. The guy is absolutely mesmerising and i’ve never been so confident of a player becoming elite.

West: The stats will tell you that Romelu Lukaku will be our key man this year, which I have no doubt in my mind that may be true, however in my eyes its Nemanja Matic. He is the key to everything at Manchester United with his ability to sit and assert control of a midfield on his own. He can start attacks and break them down when opposition charge at us. It’s simply joyful to watch, but I feel a lot of his hard-work goes un-noticed, simply because he isn’t scoring or assisting every week. He’s also the reason that the likes of Fellaini and Pogba care coming alive this season, as he frees space up for them and allows them to break forward to join the attack.

What would make for a successful season?

UTDreport: Obviously us United fans are fully expecting to challenge for the Premier League. We’ve got what it takes to win it but we just have to hope the likes of Manchester City carry on their trend of conceding goals due to their somewhat dodgy defence.

West: I think a successful season would be perhaps a Quarter Final or above finish in the UCL, a top 2/3 league finish and a domestic Cup Final.

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

UTDreport: It’s got to be Virgil van Dijk. I gave him some stick in his first season at Southampton as all I could remember was Anthony Martial skinning him at St Mary’s. He’s now established himself as one of the best in the league and I am very thankful he’s still at Southampton and not one of Liverpool or Chelsea.

West: If fit and his head’s in it, then of course Virgil Van Dijk. One of a handful of defender’s in this league with the ability to back pocket the likes of Lukaku and shut them out for 90 minutes. If he starts tomorrow and he plays the way we know he can, then it could cause us problem’s going forward. Another mention goes to Mario Lemina who was phenomenal last week against Palace, and could be the catalyst for a Saints shock?

You’re stuck on an island and the only possible company you can have is from a United player; who’s it going to be?

UTDreport: Juan Mata. Our Spanish wizard possesses a lot of wisdom so hopefully he’d keep the two of us alive!

West: I may have to keep it simple here and opt for Paul Pogba to accompany me on the island. His “class clown” persona on and off the field means that there would never be a dull moment but here’s to also hoping that his footballing ability compliments his performance in life or death situations in the sense that the man can do a little bit of everything. More of the same please, Paul.

The United squad decide to host a Royal Rumble; who will be the last two standing? And who wins?

UTDreport: It would be between Lukaku and Ibrahimovic. I don’t think any explanation is needed, and I also wouldn’t like to call a winner!

West: No debate here. Matic and Bailly the last two standing, the winner is simply too tough to call. 3rd place would go to Victor Lindelof.

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

UTDreport: It’ll be a difficult game for us as always in Southampton but I think we might just knick a win. 2-1 to United.

West: I think with Southampton’s lack of goals in recent times and United’s reborn knack of pulling teams apart late on, I think it could be comfortable, but ultimately anything can happen on the day. 0-2 United.

Shane Long ready to “kick on” under Pellegrino

After a dire and gutless 2-0 home defeat against Marco Silva’s Watford, Mauricio Pellegrino knew that his side needed change. The return of Mario Lemina in the midfield was desperately needed (whilst inevitable), but it was the curveball decision to start Shane Long which helped Southampton to find joy in attack.

The Irishman failed to score on his return to the starting XI, but his fine back-to-basics performance will have no doubt impressed Pellegrino.

Southampton have lacked a presence up top in recent weeks, with Italian International Manolo Gabbiadini continually being starved of service. Long’s re-introduction to the side however added a new found urgency to the frontline, with each loose ball and centre half being chased and hurried at every available opportunity.

Long’s goalscoring and technical ability is certainly there to be questioned, but it’s undeniable that he’s proven himself to be a nuisance up against any type of centre-back.

It seems that even Long himself is aware of the his own strengths and weaknesses.

“What he (Pellegrino) wanted from the striker was to test in behind by stretching their defence. It creates holes in the pockets for Redderz, Davo and Dusan to get on the ball and I think I am the man for that job,” Long said, speaking on the 1-0 win over Palace.

“But if it’s going to be a deep lying defence and he wants someone to come to the ball he wants different options. It depends on who we’re playing against and as I said I thought I played well today and everyone seemed happy with how I did”

Regardless of whether you’re a 6ft 5 unit at the heart of a Tony Pulis defence, or a ball player in the Barcelona back-line, there’s not a single defender that enjoys being pressed and forced back to their goal.

But with hot competition on his back, Long knows that this form has to follow through into next week…

Speaking to the Daily Echo, Long stated “It’s been frustrating. The gaffer’s got a few options up front with me, Gabbi and Charlie.

“He likes to play one striker so someone will be frustrated, but I’ve just kept my head down, trained hard, and tried to prove my point. I’m just waiting for my chance to come.

“[Against Palace] I feel like I played well but I didn’t get that goal, so the next game I’ll try and put that right and kick on.

“For me it’s all about game time. Goals come with game time. I remember my Reading days even I think I scored one in 13 but finished with 25 goals by the end of the season,” he said.

“Hopefully [Pellegrino] will be happy with me today and I can now get a run of two, three, four games in the team and the goals will come.

“I feel like I’m playing well and the chances will come. I’ve been scoring in training, I’ve been flying on the pitch. It’s just a matter of time.”

Preview: Crystal Palace vs Southampton

After a 2-0 home defeat to the Hornet’s last weekend, Mauricio Pellegrino and his squad will be looking to bounce back tomorrow as they prepare to face Crystal Palace. But whilst Palace are sitting rock bottom, having failed to score in a single fixture this season, they have a new boss who will be aiming to give them the morale boost they so desperately need. 

So to gain a better understanding of our upcoming opponents, we decided to speak to The Eagles Beak – an independent fan site that provides opinions on all things Crystal Palace.

TEB: Well, there’s only one place to start really; how was life under Frank De Boer?

Life under FdB wasn’t great. The appointment was always a bold but exciting one but the Premier League is unforgiving and has no mercy for anyone. He has learnt the hard way by trying to get a new ethos and formation implemented across the club needs time and the players to be able to play it. Perhaps he was foolish to think all players are capable and perhaps the club were foolish giving him the opportunity in the first place. Regardless, it was an experiment that has proved not worth taking. We wish FdB all the best for the future though of course.

TEB: What have you made of the Hodgson appointment?

Hodgson will see us okay I think. More of the type of manager we have employed in recent years and one that like Big Sam has a point to prove after being in charge of England. West Brom and Fulham fans talk highly of him and they are similar clubs to Palace so hopefully it will work out for us. He is from Croydon after all and it all began for him at Palace.

TEB: How did you rate your clubs dealings in the summer transfer window?

Not hugely busy but the additions on loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah could both prove to be very valuable indeed. Amazed neither are considered first team players at their respective parent clubs in truth. The signing of Mamadou Sakho was the one all the fans wanted and thankfully that came through in the end. Still short in a few areas though particularly up front with Christian Benteke our only fit striker.

TEB: Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

I said it in the summer and will say it again now, Wilfried Zaha. The fact that we have missed him hugely since he was injured on opening day just supports that fact.

TEB: What would make for a successful season?

A successful season now would most definitely be staying up after the awful start we have had. We really are playing catch up but it is achievable with this bunch of players.

TEB: Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you, and who would you take to join the Eagles?

Not sure what kind of form he is in at the moment but I would have to say Nathan Redmond. I know Palace were interested in him when he was at Birmingham and he is still a player I’d like to see at the club. Quick talented winger with an eye for goal and one that should be watched carefully on Saturday.

TEB: You’re stuck on an island and the only company you can have is from a Palace player; who’s it going to be?

Great question! If you mean a current player I would have to say Mamadou Sakho. He comes across a cool fun kind of guy.

TEB: Which Palace player would you least want to get in a scrap with?

Damien Delaney or Mamadou Sakho

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

It’s all set up to be a draw, so I will go for 1-1

Variety is the spice of life – looking at the past as a blueprint for the future

A new season, a new manager, and a new beginning; but to the frustration of every Southampton fan, our shortcomings in the final third are still there for all to see.

After a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Marco Silva’s Watford, Southampton have now mustered up just three goals in their last last nine fixtures at St Mary’s – two of which came from the spot.

This would lead anyone to believe this is the same frontline that saw Claude Puel sacked for uninspiring football at the end of last season, and well, that’s because it is. To my disbelief, the Southampton board failed to recruit a single attacking player this summer, allowing us to march on into the new season in desperate need of reinforcements.  

In recent weeks this has left Southampton fans reminiscing about former squads (specifically Ronald Koeman’s), thinking back to days when our frontline could pose a threat against any Premier League outfit.

Now I’m not going to sit here and act as if everything about that team and frontline was all rosey, because it most certainly wasn’t. They had their troubles, boasted the tendency to underperform, and on occasions, played some awfully turgid and direct football.

But regardless of how that team was playing, you always had a feeling that they could turn it around, or at the very least, continue knocking on the oppositions door. Something that our current squad is guilty of failing to do over the past 12 months…

But what was it about that Koeman side that managed to produce so many miraculous comebacks and upsets? And why is our current squad so short of inspiration to do the same?

In my eyes, the answer lies with the departures of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle. And more specifically, our failure to replace the two outstanding qualities that this duo brought to the table.  

Every team will have their off days; those predictable and infuriating games when the countless hours of work put in on the training ground, fails to transpire onto the field. The manager know’s how he wants his side to break the opposition down, but it just won’t click.

It’s in these moments that you need a versatile squad that are capable of adapting, and turning to a plan B – even if that means going back to the absolute basics.

In the form of Pelle, Southampton had a strong centre forward that could act as the spearhead of their attack. When our neat and intricate build up play was proving unsuccessful, the defence and midfield used Pelle as an easy outlet for taking the pressure off the side.

With a quick sharp pass into Pelle’s feet, Southampton suddenly had the ball around the opposition’s backline in a matter of seconds. This gives you an opening to get in behind the defence, having bypassed the crowded midfield, and here’s when Mane comes into the picture.

The Senegalese international offered a spark in our frontline unlike any other player in our current squad; blistering pace and the bravery to get beyond and directly attack the opposition’s defence.

This outstanding quality of Mane’s gave Southampton the flexibility to sit deep and look to break, knowing full well that Mane would be capable of either carrying the ball the length of the field, or providing an option for Pelle in the final third.

We currently have a number of players who are capable of beating their man, but not without slowing down the attack and allowing the oppositions defence to regroup; Mane’s ability to attack the defence with such urgency and directness was outstanding, as he seemingly picked up pace with each stride he made towards goal.

Some may point to Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond as being his replacement, but in my eyes, both are completely different players. Boufal is a more creative and technical focused player who doesn’t find his edge through speed, whilst Redmond is quick over short distances and sharp in tight areas – not a direct and powerful runner.

Different styles of players with different qualities help to ask different questions of the oppositions defence; this leads me to believe that the loss of Pelle’s brute strength and Mane’s blistering pace, has left Southampton asking too many of the same questions.

When you look at the attacking options available to Ronald Koeman, and then take a look at our current squad, it’s really no surprise to me that we’ve struggled so much in front of goal.

We don’t have the pace to counter, and we don’t have that physicality to play a direct and rough style. We have a number of extremely technical and aesthetically pleasing players, who generally flourish in a high-intensity possession based system.

The issue here however is that when that possession based football isn’t quite clicking (as we’ve seen on countless occasions over the past 12 months) we’re left looking embarrassingly one dimensional in attack – continually challenging the opposition defence in the same manner, but suddenly expecting a different result.

In reality, the only type of goals that our squad are typically capable of producing, is a fine piece of passing play that’s finished inside the box. But just how many of those are we actually creating and converting? And given that so many PL sides play two DM’s and sit deep against us, it’s certainly plausible to suggest that our approach to games needs adjusting.

Quite simply, Southampton need another method to break teams down and deal that killer blow. And be that through the transfer market (as I claimed so often this summer) or through the coaching of Mauricio Pellegrino, we need to find it fast.

Preview: Southampton vs Watford

With the international break finally over, Premier League football returns to St Mary’s this weekend, as Southampton prepare to face Watford.

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The two sides drew their first game of the season and went on to win their second, before both were held to a goalless draw by a newly promoted outfit. The similarities don’t stop there either, as both Southampton and Watford have made managerial changes since they last met in the 2016/17 season. Mauricio Pellegrino is of course in charge of the Saints, whilst Marco Silva – once reportedly wanted on the South Coast – is the boss of the Hornets.

During the pre-Watford press conference, Mauricio Pellegrino confirmed that Virgil Van Dijk has returned to training with the first team, whilst Matt Targett has also recovered from his injury troubles. This means that the entire Southampton squad currently boasts a clean bill of health.

But in order to find out more about our upcoming opponents, I spoke to The Golden Pages – a Watford FC fanzine produced by the fans, for the fans.

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It’s very much early days, but what have you made of the season so far?

It’s been a positive start. The opening day draw against Liverpool was an unexpected point and I don’t think many had us down to win at Bournemouth. The draw to Brighton was disappointing, but we can put that down to Britos being sent off because of an idiotic challenge.

How did you rate Watford’s dealings in the summer transfer window?

Fantastic. I’d go as far to say we had one of the best windows of all clubs in the Premier League. Nathaniel Chalobah at £5m may well be the bargain of the summer, while Will Hughes and our new winger Richarlison also look like excellent acquisitions at very reasonable prices. The only criticism may be that we didn’t strengthen our defence enough, but hopefully the late arrivals of Molla Wague and Marvin Zeegelaar are up to the job.

Once upon a time Southampton also had Marco Silva on their watch-list; what have you made of the boss so far?

It is early days, but he’s showing good signs. We seem to know exactly how we want to set up our team, and we have signed many of the players we need to play this way. Silva’s rapport with our fans has already surpassed what Walter Mazzarri managed in a year, helped hugely by the fact he speaks the English language.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

Abdoulaye Doucoure in the centre of midfield has been a beast so far, and I would put my money on him to be our player of the season. However, Richarlison’s flair coupled with his ability to get stuck in will almost certainly make him a key player for us going forward.

Where is the weak point in your side? and how do opposition teams typically find joy against your defence?

Our defence has struggled for some time. We have a lot of capable defenders, but very few great ones, and for this reason we often get caught out. We pick up plenty of injuries too, meaning we rarely have the same back four play together for an extended duration, and our full-backs seem to enjoy going forward more than actually defending.

What would make for a successful season? 

This year we will be hoping to avoid relegation again, and that has to be viewed as an acceptable season. But with the squad we now have, and Silva in charge, we will be looking towards mid table rather than a relegation dog fight.

Which player from this Southampton side would you take to join the Hornets? 

Virgil van Dijk would be more than welcome. Some top clubs were in for him this summer and we could really use a top defender at the back.

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

I think we could get a result if we set up the right way. We’ve got goals in us but we still can’t defend. I’ll say 2-2.

Loan report: Olufela Olomola

A number of Southampton’s academy graduates have been sent out on loan this season in desperate need of vital first team experience, but one youngster in particular has made their mark at their new club quicker than anybody else.

Whilst many academy graduates initially struggle to handle the physicality and competitive nature of the Football League, Olufela Olomola has appeared unfazed, kicking off his loan move with Yeovil Town in the finest of fashions.

After five League Two appearances, Olomola has already found the back of the net on four separate occasions, averaging a goal for every 93 minutes that he’s played. What’s even more impressive about this however, is that he’s managed to do this with just six attempts at goal – missing the target with just one attempt in green and white colours so far.

But believe it or not, I haven’t spent my last few Saturday’s keeping a close eye over Olomola and Yeovil Town. So rather than sitting here and rambling away about his fine form whilst out on loan, I decided to speak to Stephen D’Albiac – a sports writer at the Western Gazette and the Somerset Live.

How have the Yeovil fans taken to Olufela Olomola so far?

SD: So far, very well. Fela has made a great start and provided a constant attacking threat. He’s clearly a determined young player and his attitude has certainly endeared him to the supporters, along with the goals that he has added.

What does he bring to the side that you didn’t have before?

SD: He has helped Yeovil become an attacking threat, which is something that was lacking last season. He’s strong, direct and not afraid to run at defenders, and his pace and the way in which he has linked up with fellow attackers Francois Zoko and Otis Khan has been a real threat to the opposition.

What strengths has he shown?

SD: As before, he’s strong and direct, able to run past defenders and his finishing has been very good. He never stops running either which is a quality that any supporter likes.

What areas of his game still need work?

SD: There have been a couple of times during games this season where he has decided to go it alone when he should have picked passes out, but that is only a very minor criticism given what he has brought to the team so far.

Olomola’s loan deal ends in January; do you think the club should look to extend his stay?

SD: Absolutely, and I would go so far as to say it should be the club’s number one priority between now and January. I’m sure the club will try to extend his deal. They were stung in the loan market last season when they lost Ryan Hedges – who was equally impressive – to Barnsley in January and they will want to do everything they can to avoid a repeat of that. As long as Fela keeps scoring goals and continuing his development, I don’t see any reason why Southampton would not be happy to agree an extension.

And finally, have the fans conjured up a song for him yet?

SD: Not yet, but there’s still plenty of time! If he keeps banging in the goals then I’m sure he’ll get one.


Review: The Ins and outs of Southampton’s summer transfer window

The 2017 summer transfer window has had all the drama and rumours of recent seasons, except there’s just one little difference; no key departures.

So, with that being said, there’s only one place to start as I begin my review of Southampton’s summer transfer window.

There’s been social media stalking, airplane tracking, and even hunts for a certain Mercedes people carrier, but with August now behind us, the future of Virgil Van Dijk has finally been decided.

The Dutchman will remain on the South Coast until at least the January transfer window, after not a single bid was filed for the center back throughout the entire summer.

Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Juventus and even Barcelona reportedly held an interest in Van Dijk, but with thanks to Les Reed and co, the club have been able to retain their finest asset.

Being able to have a player of Van Dijk’s quality in the side is obviously a huge boost for the club, but most importantly, we’ve now set a precedent for future transfer windows. The pressure that the club have been under with Van Dijk has been like no other saga before, so to stand strong against the players wishes will send a message to any players in the future who wish to follow in Virgil’s footsteps.  

Van Dijk now has to get his head down, apologise and give his all to Southampton Football Club. If he decides not to do this and therefore not play, then he misses the opportunity to play for his country in the World Cup (if Holland even qualify, of course).

Regardless of if they do however, he will still wish to be firing on all cylinders when the time of his inevitable transfer does come around. He simply has no other choice but to find any last professionalism he has left in him, and right his wrongs of the summer.

From here Van Dijk can get back to showing his incredible talent on the field, Southampton get an extra years service from a world class defender, and he gets his dream move at the end of it all. Everyone’s a winner.


Jan Bednarek – signed from Lech Poznan for a reported £5M, the Polish U21 International appears to be one for the future. With Hoedt, Van Dijk, Stephens and Yoshida above him in the pecking order, it looks likely that the 21-year-old will spend his first season at the club working with the U23’s. I’ve seen little so far to leave me excited about this signing, but developing players is what Southampton do best, so give this one some time.

Mario Lemina – pinched from Juventus for a club record fee of £18.1M, this is yet another example of Southampton’s latest transfer strategy; snatching the fringe players from Europe’s elite. Lemina is an athletic, powerful, box to box midfielder, who boasts the defensive mindset to help Oriol in the middle of the park. Early showings suggest that he will be used as Southampton’s midfield outlet for turning defence into attack. He adds much needed energy into a Southampton midfield that was previously lacking legs.

Wesley Hoedt – The arrival of Hoedt for £15M is one that truly met the needs of the fans. Whilst Yoshida has stepped up massively and Stephens is an incredible prospect, the two have their weaknesses as a partnership; they are prone to being dragged out of position, have often crumbled under pressure and are painfully weak in the air. With the addition of Hoedt however, these issues have certainly been addressed (particularly the latter). Of those to contest 50+ aerial duels in Serie A this term, only Bruno Alves (79.3%) came close to Hoedt in the air, who recorded a staggering 84.1%. Standing at 6ft 4 it would be easy to label him as this battering ram of a defender, but in truth, he’s built up quite the reputation as a ball playing center back (watch out for some delightful 40-yard diagonals with his left foot). It’s brilliant to see that this signing is an addition to the squad, rather than a replacement.


Jay Rodriguez – Jay had a wonderful five years at the club and left us fans with nothing but good memories, but this transfer was best for all parties involved. The club had moved on and no longer saw a space for him in the side, whilst Rodriguez needed a new challenge to rediscover his love for the game – with that considered, accepting a £12 fee from West Brom is just common sense. Rodriguez is (was) a fantastic system based player, so given how organised a Tony Pulis side tends to be, this move could certainly work out. Back when Rodriguez was working under Pochettino, he would persistently make runs from the wide left into the edge of the box; this is a typical feature of a Pulis wide man, so I wouldn’t mind betting he can notch a fair few this season. All the best Jay, just don’t go scoring against us.

Jordy Clasie – once linked with a move to Manchester United to work under Louis Van Gaal, it’s fair to say that this transfer never quite worked out, and it’s all rather sad really. Having dropped behind Lemina, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Davis and even Hojbjerg in the pecking order, Clasie’s loan move to Club Brugge was needed simply for the players own development. He never really put a foot wrong when he stepped out onto the pitch, but at the same time, it never really clicked either. Whether it was the Premier League’s physicality, pace, or maybe just a lack of trust from managers, I know that Southampton fans will now be sure to keep a close eye on the Belgian First Division title race…

This brings about an end to my review for the summer transfer window, but I’ve got to admit, I find myself a tad frustrated that I’m not writing about an addition to our front line –  we’ve been crying out for a goal-scoring winger for over 12 months now.

All too often Southampton have worked so effectively in the first two-thirds of the pitch, only to lack that final touch of quality when it really matters. I can’t help but feel this is one hell of a gamble to take, and for that, I can’t particularly label this window a true success. We could easily be left looking red faced two months down the line when we continue to lack that missing piece in attack. 

From here on I can only pray that with the fine management of Mauricio Pellegrino, we can put an end to our misery in front of goal, and return to our fluid and free-scoring ways.

Les Reed himself stated at the end of the season that this summer would be a quiet one – in terms of both ins and outs – so for that Les, I take my hat off to you. He’d have been the first and main figure to take criticism and abuse if he wasn’t true to his word word, so when a job is well done, credit is certainly due. 

The same old story

Mauricio Pellegrino remains undefeated in the Premier League, yet the cracks of last season are still there to be seen.

After once again failing to deliver the thrilling and fluid attacking football that so many fans desire, some initial worries and fears appear to be settling in. My answer to this is that whilst they are indeed justified, it’s important to remember that Pellegrino is no magician.

We can see that the Argentine is looking to implement a controlled style of play coupled with a high intensity in pressing and defending. This has seen Southampton record two clean sheets from three Premier League fixtures without the services of both Virgil Van Dijk, and our new boy Wesley Hoedt.

This limited defence has shown fantastic maturity at times, displaying a fine understanding of Pellegrino’s defensive demands, whilst the midfield pairing of Mario Lemina and Oriol Romeu hold fantastic promise looking forward. Romeu offers defensive security and physicality, whilst Lemina is an outlet to turn defence into attack with his athleticism.

Unsurprisingly however, we’ve continued to crumble in the final third, with inexcusable mistakes letting both us (the fans) and the manager down. Poor touches, wayward passing and out-right embarrassing composure in front of goal; you name it and we’ve done it.

It’s clear to see just how well Pellegrino has already organised both his backline and those protecting it, so with that and our poor form in front of goal last season considered, I cannot help but conclude that this issue runs far deeper than the manager.

This is an issue within the personnel of our squad, and regardless of who we could ever possibly have in charge, the issue would still remain.

Southampton are a club famed for their tendency to coach and develop players rather than run to the cheque book, but in our current situation this is something that we simply can’t afford to do.

We’re crying out for a pacey and unpredictable goal threat from wide areas – someone that’s in the same mould of Sadio Mane, a player who I personally believe, sparked the beginning of Southampton’s poor form in front of goal.

No, I’m not slipping into meltdown, and no, I’m not even fearing relegation. I’ve seen plenty that’s left me positive for the season ahead, but we are a club that boasts ambitions to once again fly our flag in European competitions and challenge the status quo.

Such ambitions will be hard to obtain (and quite frankly ridiculous to expect) without investment before the window closes. So let’s act now in the market and as a club truly get behind our manager, Mauricio Pellegrino – something both the board and fans arguably failed to do last season.

Hoedt’s transfer to Southampton confirmed as imminent

The wishes of Southampton fans will soon come true, with Wesley Hoedt’s transfer from Lazio to Southampton all but complete.

For weeks now the rumours have been circulating regarding the future of the Dutch centre-back, but yesterdays quotes from Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi have brushed aside any remaining doubts.

“The boy wants to play with more continuity. He just doesn’t have the opportunity here. A dissatisfied player can not stay. By tomorrow he will go to Southampton. He and (Balde) Keita will have to be replaced.”

This follows on from comments made by Lazio’s sporting director Igili Tare, who stated that Hoedt “requested to be transferred.

“He wants to be a starter in England and will be transferred to Southampton in the near future.

“He has had a positive experience here in Rome. I wish him all the best.”

The original fee offered to Lazio was believed to be in the region of £15.5M, but Sky in Italy have since stated that the final deal is nearing £17M. This would mean that Southampton have now twice beaten their club-record transfer fee prior to this window – £16M paid for Sofiane Boufal last summer.

What appears to be most encouraging about this deal however, is the numerous reliable sources claiming that this transfer bears no implications on Virgil Van Dijk’s future. Hoedt is being signed to strengthen our defensive options and hopefully form a double Dutch partnership within our back line – only time will tell with the latter however.

Will Hoedt make an instant impact for the Saints this season? See for yourself as tickets for Southampton games this season are available from Footballticketpad.comWhilst the club may be looking for more goals this season, adding Hoedt’s quality to the defence can only help the teams performance.

With Hoedt’s arrival on the South coast imminent and Southampton standing strong over Van Dijk, it’s not long now until we can see a Mauricio Pellegrino team firing on all cylinders.