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Vive La Différence: Morgan Schneiderlin

Crunching last ditch tackles, calculated yellow cards and a perfectly crafted French beard; I’m of course talking about Morgan Schneiderlin. It’s now been 163 days since the Frenchman left for Manchester United – obsessed? I hear you ask. Maybe, and the task of replacing our defensive midfielder of seven years is proving rather difficult, nigh on impossible in all honesty.

To the average football fan, the £27M deal to Manchester United last summer plays testament to Schneiderlin’s talent. However, to us Southampton fans, he was far more than just the (brilliant) central link in the spine of our team. Schneiderlin embedded himself into the Southampton family and became one of the poster boys for our rise to the Premier League. We were all watching on when he arrived as a weedy 18-year-old, making it all the better to see him tame the Premier League’s finest attackers.

Through growing up with the club and the players around him, Schneiderlin managed to learn each player and his own game inside out. He knew exactly where to be, where to order others and where to recycle the ball. He knew that if Nathaniel Clyne was about to bomb forward, he would release the ball and pull wide without a seconds thought. He knew that if there was a gap on the edge of the box, Adam Lallana would glide inside from the wide areas; his game was played by instinct and my god did he do it well. Games would pass by where his influence on the match seemed minimal; in truth, he was often so perfectly positioned that rarely, not even for a split second was he caught out. They say the best defensive midfielders go unnoticed. He was always there, picking up through balls, chopping down an overlapping fullback and switching the play.

The combination of an incredible talent with years of experience was on show for all to see when under the Premier League’s spotlight. For Schneiderlin to be replaced sufficiently, we would need a midfielder with greater talent, in order to make up for the loss in his understanding of Southampton, tactics in place and those around him. We simply can’t attract a player of that quality; our midfield is weaker and that’s the way that it will stay for now. As a fan of an ambitious Football Club, it’s hard to come to terms with.

To put it into facts, Southampton have conceded 21 Premier League goals in 17 fixtures this season. Last season – with Morgan Schneiderlin – Southampton only conceded 33 goals in 38 games. If we continue in this fashion then we are scheduled to concede 47 goals. 47.
Then let’s take a look at Manchester United. With Morgan Schneiderlin in the side, they have played nine games, winning six and drawing three. All whilst averaging 0.33 goals conceded per game.
Without Schneiderlin? Eight games, two wins, two draws and four defeats. Averaging 1.875 goals conceded per game. If his influence on a side wasn’t clear to see by the naked eye, it certainly is when printed in black and white.

There has been much talk about summer recruit Jordy Clasie being the one to fill Morgan’s boots, despite the fact the Dutchman’s qualities are that of a roaming playmaker. Whilst his technical ability is clear to see and his name now fills the gap where Morgan’s used to be, he can’t carry out the same destructive midfield role. As a result, a forced change of system and time needed for integration has affected our results and performances.
For Clasie, also read fellow Frenchman Giannelli Imbula of Porto; another name that has been tipped as the must-have replacement for Morgan.

Fans have been fixated with finding the player that they can name “The Next Morgan”, but sometimes however, the boots are too big to fill. Sometimes, you simply can not replace. Look to Gareth Bale at Tottenham Hotspur, Luis Suarez at Liverpool and on a smaller scale, Christian Benteke at Aston Villa. All four of the above players were picked up as young prospects that flourished during their time at their respected clubs – sadly, bigger clubs come calling for the bigger players. The cycle goes on.

Rather than looking to fill the gap that Schneiderlin left behind, we need to look forward and rebuild. Aiming to replace this exact position and role will only result in failure as a comparison to what we have seen with the Frenchman. It’s time to build a new role that is better suited to the players at our disposal.

Where we have gone against the odds in the past and replaced when many believed it to be an impossible task, we may have to admit defeat this time. There is no harm in doing so when we know that Morgan Schneiderlin is a world class footballer.
Allez, Morgan.

 

Talking Point: What Are We Breeding?

“We don’t just buy success, we breed it” as Ralph Krueger, the chairman of Southampton Football Club continues to voice. But over the past two years, it’s questionable as to what we are breeding. The academy conveyer belt has apparently been halted and the spine of players who truly understand Southampton Football club, are nowhere to be seen. The success of last season masked the lack of breeding, with results turning, its possibly come to the surface. Breeding is one thing, retaining is just as important.

Take a look at two squads that have recently been the focus of the media; Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth. What do these two clubs have in common? Togetherness forged by success achieved by the group: Bournemouth’s promotion and Leicester’s survival. That same warmth and sense of belonging that has slowly diminished piece by piece, since our second season in the top flight. All fans love to make that journey home knowing that their side has clinched all three points; but that feeling of doing so is all the more special when players and fans share that family feeling. Southampton fans know that better than most.

That is exactly the thrill that AFC Bournemouth are currently experiencing, having defeated Chelsea and Manchester United in seven days. On ability, both fixtures should have been a simple 3-0 drubbing to the big guns. Football is a mad game however, and the Cherries came away with six points. Why? Each and every one of  Eddie Howe’s men would throw their body on the line for a fellow team-mate. Even the new boys that have been drafted in are onboard with what it means for the club. Despite being down to the proverbial “bare bones” and deprived of their finest talents through injury, the core remains. AFC Bournemouth are breeding that family feeling throughout the squad. I’m not sure how many of our players understand Southampton Football Club anymore; how could I blame them? How many remaining players have that feeling?

The importance of a tight knit squad is illustrated perfectly by Chelsea and Manchester United. Despite all the talent and money thrown around during previous windows, if the dressing room is gone, the performances go too, leaving their fans looking quizzically at the paupers of Leicester and AFCB.

Perhaps this signals a time when Jim White will report excitedly on Deadline Day ™ on players signing contract extensions, as opposed to multi-million pound transfers.

By no means am I saying to stop signing players. Bringing in new talent can inspire a squad, add dimensions that you have never held before and perhaps leave a tasty looking bank balance when they move on. Players such as Sadio Mane, Toby Alderweireld, Dusan Tadic and even Dejan Lovren have provided Premier League moments that will live long in the memory of our fans.

However, when results aren’t going your way and you no longer hold that core, motivating and bringing the fight out of a squad made from new faces can prove difficult. We must find that balance before it’s too late, leaving the club to potentially come tumbling down like Lovren’s career post Southampton or *cough* Newcastle *Cough*.

“Where were you at Tranmere away?” screams Jose Fonte, to which only Kelvin Davis raises his hand.

The damage of selling players such as Jack Cork, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin runs far deeper than just a loss in quality. They held a bond with the fans and the club, ensuring that every new signing was made to be a part of the family. It appears that the departure of Schneiderlin has proved just one too many this season, with results and performances far from that of the past two seasons. They were after all, the identity of Southampton’s rise from League One.

During Mauricio Pochettino’s reign there was a number of academy prospects with their foot in the first team door – Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher just to name a few. The only regular youngster selected by choice under Ronald Koeman has been England U21 captain, Ward-Prowse. This certainly isn’t the “breeding” that Krueger talks about. We need to breed a new family feeling at the club.

With academy opportunities coming at a premium and familiar faces leaving, I ask you Ralph Kreuger; What are we breeding? Is it the future of our family club or just a strap line to help sell the concept of the academy and The Southampton Way worldwide?

Transfer Talk: Seven Suggestions For Upcoming Windows

Whilst I and many other fans believe that their will be no real injection of talent in January, we can hope that the board has been swayed by Koemans recent words; even our captain, Jose Fonte is an agreement, stating “ I’m sure they’ll be looking to add some quality” If you don’t keep up you see very clearly that you start dropping, so we need to keep up.”

So, as the rumour mill begins to link our stars away once again, I decided to have my own fun and list a few potential attacking talents on our radar.

1)     Charlie Austin 

Many fans have called for Southampton talisman, Graziano Pelle, to have some high quality competition on his back. Austin would be the perfect proven signing given that he scored an impressive 18 goals in his debut Premier League season and boasts eight goals in 14 appearances this season – it’s clear to see that Austin should be applying his trade higher than the Championship. The current QPR man has even spoke of finding the “right opportunity” in the upcoming January transfer window. Not to mention that given the Englishman’s loyalty shown in the past summer and QPR’s unlikely chance for promotion, the asking price will be reasonable at a time when fees become so inflated. The only problem is that it seems just a little too obvious for Southampton.

2)     Juan Quintero

This Colombian attacking midfielder has been on the the lips of many fans and reporters in previous windows. With Koeman’s hunt for a number 10 still underway, the interest shall most likely reignite with Porto when his loan spell at Rennes comes to an end. Having made 13 appearances for his country at the age of 22, the little magician has made quite the name for himself.

3)    Denis Cheryshev

Last season at Villarreal, Cheryshev scored four goals and created nine assists in 26 La Liga outings.

However, with only two appearances to his name so far this campaign, Cheryshev’s start to the 2015/16 season has been one of false promise under Rafa Benitez at Real Madrid. With such a lack of game time, he would certainly be open to a January loan move – the Russian will want to be back at his best in time for Russia’s Euro 2016 participation.

4)     Loic Remy

No matter how many windows of opportunity open for Remy to show his talents, Mourinho simply slams them back down with denial and stubbornness. With Costa only holding four goals to his name this campaign and the goalless Eden Hazard ahead of him in the number nine pecking order, Remy surely cant wait much longer for first team action. If Roman Abramovich dips into his wallet, then Remy will most likely be shown the door.

5)     Alen Halilovic 

Halilovic has been touted as a wonderkid by many and his exceptional talent has been on show for Sporting De Gijon this season. But, with the Barcelona frontline currently as strong as it is, another loan deal may be on the cards for the little Croat. Perhaps a Barcelona buy-back clause is a possibility? We’ve seen the Catalan club send out their fine talents in the past, only to snatch them back once their ripe.

This deal could be encouraged by Southampton’s work with youngsters and the great development on Deulofeu during his time in the Premier League. Koeman’s strong relationship with Barcelona is also a factor in attracting such a talent. It’s a high hope, but football is one mad game.

6)     Georginio Wijnaldum

This Dutchman has been what many would argue as the only bright spark in the current Newcastle side. He’s scored seven goals since joining in the summer, creating 17 chances along the way; imagine the destruction he could cause in an organised and free flowing unit.

Both the Koeman brothers have made it clear that they are admirers of the 25 year old and It would come as no surprise to me if Southampton were to place a bid come the end of the season.

7)     Solly March

The England U21 International has been in exceptional form for the Seagulls this season, attracting Southampton in the previous summer and once again now. He’s quick, sharp, busy and possesses an excellent delivery, playing a key role in Brighton’s 19 unbeaten games. Our fans love to watch a young English player, even if they aren’t from the Southampton academy. Put on those red and white stripes and you’re one of us.

Talking Point: The Recent Reluctance On Academy Promotion

Ronald Koeman recently spoke out about his role as Southampton boss, stating that he sees himself as a day-to-day manager, rather than looking at his job as a three year project. Having dealt with two gruelling transfer window’s that saw key players depart for big money moves, such a viewpoint is understandable; as a matter of fact, it’s been the perfect take on a challenge that many managers wouldn’t be fit to face. However, this outlook from Koeman could also explain his reluctance to promote youth into the first team.

Since his arrival in 2014, Ronald Koeman has seen Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Calum Chambers, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and even loanee Toby Alderweireld leave the club. Losing five first team players in the first season, followed by three star players in Koeman’s second summer was always going to result in a call for experience. Once a club has been shaken as much as Southampton have been, dependable players with a strong mentality are the first to be called upon –  fragmenting academy players in turn.

Southampton needed to find their feet and steady the ship at the start of both seasons; calling upon young players at that time would have been a classic case of trying to run before you can walk.

When aiming to integrate academy players into the first team, you need a strong spine and experienced players alongside. The academy players need to be familiar with their surroundings and how those around them play, in order to impress when given their chance. That integration proves rather difficult once your experienced players have been poached by other teams.  Throwing a young inexperienced player in a side that is still under great development can be damaging on results and the youngsters mentality.

Simply take a look at how Premier League sides fair in the League Cup when they throw a collection of academy players, first team stars and second string choices together. The combination ultimately results in a not so unpredictable cup upset.

The best time to integrate young players is once you have a settled squad, but how frequently throughout his reign has the Dutchman held a settled squad? This period of fire fighting and balancing the team has taken up a vast amount of Koeman’s time on the South coast. Not mentioning our push for European football; which the Dutchman succeeded in achieving. Koeman has been thrown countless challenges and with each problem, he has come out on top.

The real catalyst behind our recent lack of academy progression is with the senior management and powers that be. Whilst they continue to provide spectacular facilities and develop one of the best academies in Europe, they also shoot themselves in the foot with the sale of our stars. This decision has blocked the pathway for academy players into the first team. However, preventing this is far easier said than done.

Koeman is so focused on having to rebuild the squad and get points on the board, that he is simply unable to place faith into academy players. You need a balance of experience, stability, quality and youth to bring long term success to a football club. Koeman has been limited on all four at the start of both seasons.

I’m certain that with a promise from the executives that we stand strong in the market, Koeman will provide a stream of home produced youngsters into the first team.

Jay Rodriguez: Where Does This Leave Southampton?

In Ronald Koeman’s latest press conference it was confirmed that Southampton forward and fan favourite, Jay Rodriguez, is set for yet another spell on the sidelines. The severity and time frame of the injury however is still unknown after Koeman told the media “Jay is not good, it’s now a long time and we have to make a really tough decision how we have to do the treatment”. So, where does this leave Southampton who are now a forward down?

Truthfully, pretty comfortable provided everyone in the squad is well and injury free. It’s no secret that Rodriguez – or any other player in fact – plays second fiddle to a fit Graziano Pellè, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane.

Pellè’s influence in play and clinical finishing makes him unbenchable, not to mention that he’s one of Koeman’s favourites.

Sadio Mane offers immense pace, intelligent movement and quick feet. Whilst these are traits of Rodriguez, it’s a case of anything you can do, I can do better.

Finally we have Tadic who provides the creative spark for the front line. When a game needs that deft touch and classy pass, the Serbian comes up with the goods.

Every attack needs strength, pace and creativity. Unluckily for Rodriguez, those needs are already being met. Simply put, he’s not a set starter with a fully fit squad.

As for backup, this is when the issues rise to the surface.

Shane Long is without argument, our only proven Premier League attacker on the bench. When injury strikes or a tactical change is needed, the Irishman is the first name to be called upon.

Then we have former Malaga man Juanmi, who has struggled to settle into the ways of English football. So far, the Spaniard has found game time coming at a premium due to his slight frame.

The final option is 19 year old Ryan Seager. He will be a familiar name to those who follow the U21’s.

A strong and match fit Rodriguez would prove to be incredible competition for the Southampton XI. He would without doubt be the best player from those options on the bench, and be placed into the squad at the sight of poor performances; most likely retaining his place in the first team when in his best form too.

The only issue however, is that he is still yet to be match fit. With this new setback, Rodriguez could be looking at over two years of being unfit. It goes without saying that time like that out of the game is heavily damaging to a player’s career, both physically and mentally.

Injuries like this stop a player taking the risks they once took. It stops a player from pushing themselves to the limit. It can eat away at a winning mentality.

When Rodriguez had played this season, the safe option was taken all too often. We weren’t treated to a single one of those trademark inside runs or charges down the wing. He didn’t even fancy the idea of closing down or a shoulder to shoulder battle.  However, after the challenges he has had to overcome, not the slightest of blame is going on Rodriguez; some players are able to return from such a damaging injury, some can not.

I’m just not sure that people realise the possible severity of both his first injury, and this new setback.

The only light to be seen in this unfortunate event is the possibility of a signing in the January window. We’ve seen time and time again that a series of injuries in quick succession can severely affect a squads season, making the need for a new signing all the more crucial with Rodriguez now side lined. One more injury on top of Rodriguez and we will be short on supplies. If a deal was to be struck, expect a loan signing like the Filip Djuricic and Eljero Elia deals of last season.

After 19 months since that injury versus Manchester City, it will be a delight to see Rodriguez back doing what he does best; because in all honesty, was he ever really back? The Rodriguez we know is yet to return.

The Year Of Liebherr: Where Are They Now?

The day that it all changed. On the 8th of July 2009, a Swiss businessman stepped in to save Southampton Football Club. That businessman was called Markus Liebherr and he is the reason for Southampton obtaining their first silverware since 1976, achieving back to back promotions and becoming THE Premier League model club . For if Mr Liebherr had not stepped forward, we wouldn’t have a club to support. With our six years of success and never ending drama, It’s easy to forget where it all started. So, where is that first Liebherr team now?

Let’s start with the men between the sticks

Kelvin Davis – 271 appearances for Southampton. Current club captain and club legend.

Bartosz Bialkowski – The Polish Keeper is currently applying his trade at Ipswich Town, having made 32 appearances since joining in 2014.

Tommy Forecast – Oh we have a cracker already. Since he joined Southampton in 2008, Forecast has turned out a rather shocking 34 career appearances over seven years for seven different teams. Since 2013 he has found work as a taxi driver in Essex, whilst hosting children’s Football parties on the side.

The boys at the back

Jose Fonte – Come on, really? Do I have to say anything?

Wayne Thomas – Thomas now finds himself as a Worcester City regular having spent two seasons in the Greek Superleague.

Chris Perry – Since being released at the start of the 2010/11 season, Perry has found work as a summariser for TalkSport and BT sport. His only outings relating to Southampton have been as a weak link of opinion for Tottenham Hotspur transfer targets.

Radhi Jaidi – After Jaidi slipped down the pecking order through injury troubles in 2012, he took on a role as overseas development officer. Since then his role has increased at the club – the Tunisian now works as an assistant manager for Southampton’s U21 side.

Dan Harding – Despite Dan Harding proving his worth at both Millwall and Nottingham Forest in the past two seasons, the former Saint has taken the drop to Eastleigh Football club. The man has had an incredibly emotional 12 months and some tough decisions to make on his journey. Take a read http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/sport/13579896.Ex_Saint_Harding_opens_his_heart_about_joining_Eastleigh/

Joseph Mills – Having shown impressive performances in the first team at just 19 year’s old, Mills never kicked on further in the way that he was expected to. He is still lingering down in League One having made 30 appearances since June 2014 for Oldham Athletic.

Danny Seabourne – Having spent time in every division of The Football League and even the Conference, Seabourne has taken his career to the Scottish Premiership with Partick Thistle.

The Midfield Magic

Morgan Schneiderlin – This all doing defensive midfielder is now showcasing his talents for the world’s third most valuable Football Club, Manchester United. Schneiderlin has even wormed his way into Didier Deschamps French national team.

Dean Hammond – Many would have been pleased to see Hammond get his much deserved Premier League runabout for Leicester City, but perhaps Southampton fans were even more delighted to see him rejoin ex-manager, Nigel Adkins. He has been at Sheffield United since the start of this season.

Adam Lallana – Lallana has made a strong early impression under new manager Jurgen Klopp, whilst continuing to be a part of Roy Hodgson’s plans.  Most notably however, he features as a prop in Nivea adverts.

Jason Puncheon – As a once inconsistent winger, Puncheon has become a reliable Premier League starter for Crystal Palace. He’s even built himself up to be a bit of a set piece master in this reinvented  “Number 10 role”.

Lloyd James – The 27 year old has made 95 appearances for Leyton Orient since joining in 2012 – the Welshman has scored six along the way.

Anthony Pulis – After spending two years at USL club Orlando City, Pulis retired to hold greater focus on full time coaching. This has now seen him take charge of Orlando City B, who start playing in 2016.

Paul Wotton – Paul Wotton has been fortunate enough to hold a lengthy career spanning from 1994-2015. After returning to his beloved Plymouth Argyle in 2013, Wotton decided to hang up the boots at the end of the 2014/15 season. He is currently working as a first team coach after being offered a role to continue at the club.

Lee Holmes – After an impressive loan spell at Exeter City, Holmes re-joined the League Two side from Preston North End on a permanent basis.

Michail Antonio – After an incredible 2014/15 season at Nottingham Forrest, Antonio had Premier League clubs circling. Desperately in need of a winger, West Ham snapped up Antonio for £7M in the past summer window. However, he has struggled with game time at The Hammers having only made one Premier League appearance. Club Chairman David Gold was pranked by a fan into retweeting a missing person appeal – that missing person being Antonio.

Goals, Goals and more Goals

Lee Barnard- After a number of loan spells from Southampton, Connolly made the switch to Southend United. However, he proved unsuccessful having only scored one goal throughout his time at the club. Now in League Two with Crawley Town, he is yet to score in nine appearances.

David Connolly – Rather like Barnard, Connolly too took the drop down the divisions; sadly, his goalscoring also replicated Barnard’s struggles. After joining AFC Wimbledon on the 5th January 2015, he scored once in eight appearances. On the 7th March 2015, Connolly retired from playing.

Papa Waigo – The Senegalese forward currently plays for Al-Ittihad Kalba SC in the United Arab Emirates. Over two seasons in the UAE, he has maintained a goal every two games; the Waigo dance should be fairly familiar by now. I wonder if he is still offside?

Who better to end this trip down memory lane with than Sir Rickie Lambert? 207 appearances, 106 goals. By now, everyone knows the story of the Liverpool born striker; but none quite like the Southampton fans who enjoyed five years of belting free kicks, rifled penalties and net ripping volleys. Having only scored one goal in ten games for West Bromwich Albion, it’s up for debate whether Lambert still has it. However, one thing for sure is that he looked a damn sight better in red and white.

Match Preview: Sunderland vs Southampton

Surely any team in the league would currently feast their eyes, licking their collective lips in anticipation of a weekend trip to the Black Cats. Especially when the team making the journey to the Stadium Of Light is a free flowing, goal scoring, in-form Southampton. The recent appointment of Sam Allardyce was unsurprisingly an attempt to sure up what is the Premier League’s worst defence – the 2015/16 campaign has seen them concede 25 goals in just 11 games. But with seven goals conceded in three games and a 6-2 humiliation at the hands of Everton, all has not gone to plan for Allardyce. So, what can be expected?

Reflecting on the drubbing at Goodison Park seems a positive start for Southampton fans. During the opening 20 minutes it was a new look Sunderland side on show; fullbacks were bombing on, runs were made from the midfield and efforts were oh so close to putting them one goal to the good. However, after the visitors rattled the post twice early on, Everton smelt blood and proceeded to take a two goal lead, courtesy of strikes from Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone. In all the excitement of Sunderland’s attacking play, they left themselves wide open to Everton’s clear strengths of wide play and pace.

With the same attack-minded approach, Sunderland soon clawed two goals back to level the scores. These goals came in the form of a smart individual finish by Jermain Defoe and a textbook Steven Fletcher header. Yet once again, Sunderland’s naivety prevailed and they steered away from Allardyce’s strict defensive priority. Just 26 minutes later and Sunderland found themselves having to overhaul a four goal deficit – that’s a goal every six minutes.

Despite fielding five defenders, no formation can compensate for defensive ill-discipline and a severe lack of pace. Where John O’shea and Wes Brown would have swept the ball with a clean crunch years ago, they now run on empty with lazy legged lunges, watching wingers bound past.

As for fullback Patrick Van Aanholt… well… defending isn’t his forte. So much so, that it’s a rare sight to catch him in defence.

Credit where it’s due however, Van Aanholt is certainly an attacking threat. The Dutchman has blistering pace and given the space to run into, he can deliver a fantastic cross. His style of play as a free spirit attracts positive and negative comments in equal measure. With Cedric typically holding high positions on the pitch, Koeman will be sure to find the right balance between attack and defence. The Sunderland fullback is a familiar face to Koeman, through their shared time in the Eredivise – Van Aanholt was under contract with Chelsea at the time, but spent a two year period on loan with Vitesse.

What will be key to Koeman’s boys winning this game? Runners from deep and confidence in their own ability.

It goes without saying that the Black Cats defence presents just about every weakness possible; own goals, a lack of pace, a disjointed unit and an ever-present likelihood of the away fans singing a chorus of “Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio” as any one of the backline walks down the tunnel.

The last thing Koeman wants to see is hesitance to bomb forward or a missing sense of urgency; such a style of play would only invite Sunderland to get bodies behind the ball and then hit us on the break. With the quality we boast in our frontline and our current goalscoring form, free expression should be encouraged. Putting any of the Sunderland centre halves on the back foot is the order of the day and will be an exciting sight to this weekend’s away fans.

This is where Southampton’s danger man, Sadio Mane, comes into play. The Senegalese international would be picked out by any fans in the league as Southampton’s biggest threat, understandably so, with his recent form. It’s common knowledge that the combination of his ability to play on the last shoulder and pace has embarrassed some of the best defenders in the league. If Southampton want to come away with three points, getting in behind Van Aanholt and charging down on O’shea, Brown or Coates is key. Southampton must capitalise on Sunderland’s sluggish defence with Mane’s intelligent movement and natural pace.

Whilst the suspension of Victor Wanyama will be hard felt and no doubt a disadvantage, Sunderland operate without an established and recognised number 10. In theory this should reduce the damage caused by the Kenyan’s absence, but, Big Sam may well look to exploit this middle avenue. The gap will most likely be plugged by Oriol Romeu, who has proved his worth as a fantastic destructive defensive midfielder.

A worrying stat however is that Southampton have only beaten Sunderland once in their last ten travels up North. But, with Pelle, Mane and Tadic all riding high in confidence and form, there couldn’t be a better chance to put that stat to bed.

 

Virgil Van Dijk: Southampton’s Latest Transfer Triumph

In recent years Southampton have become famed in the footballing world for their astute deals in business and undeniable eye for talent. However, after last summer’s departure of Toby Alderweireld, even Southampton fans worried how a player of that quality could be replaced. The media and fans alike believed that the previously lauded Southampton transfer committee, had finally met their match. But dare I say it, they may well have surpassed themselves once again with the signing of Virgil Van Dijk.

The slow start to the season and early exit from Europe reinforced those fears; this coincided with the protracted negotiations to bring in the clubs number one target, Celtic’s number 5.

After much haggling and dispute, an agreement was struck between both parties, allowing Virgil Van Dijk to join Southampton.

Since Van Dijk took to his place in the side alongside Jose Fonte, the defence has once again found its feet. Its no surprise that as a result, the beautiful football and results that fans became so accustomed to last season has returned.

The Dutchman’s influence on the team is clear for any Southampton fan to see; a quick look at football statistic site WhoScored proves just that.

Since Van Dijk’s Premier League debut versus West Bromwich Albion, only eight other players in the league have averaged a higher performance score.

His dominance in the air is also reflected by winning an average of 5.3 aerial duels per game – target men Christian Benteke, Rudy Gestede and Troy Deeney are the only players to have won more duels than the Dutch giant. Van Dijk also holds two man of the match performances and two goals in just seven appearances. As dangermen from set pieces come, Van Dijk is as good as they get.

Whilst Van Dijk’s defensive ability is a joy to behold, his influence on the pitch runs far deeper than tackles, headers and blocks. At moments of high pressure, Van Dijk remains as confident and cool on the ball as ever, ensuring to find the right pass.

That right pass can be anything from a midfield splitting ball, a 40 yard Hollywood ping to Sadio Mane or an inch perfect chip to an overlapping fullback.

These traits that make up a ball playing centre half breed confidence throughout the entire team.

Without this so desired confidence and brand of players, Southampton’s style of play would do more harm than good.

However, perhaps one of his greatest traits so far has been what many thought would be his early downfall, settling in to the Premier League. Van Dijk has taken to the Premier League like chips to mayonnaise, forming a formidable partnership with Jose Fonte as the core of the team. A player can hold all the ability and physical presence they wish, but without communication and being in the right place at the right time, that ability is rendered useless.

Much to the annoyance of Celtic fans, Van Dijk recently told the media how he has learnt more in five games at Southampton than his entire time at Celtic Park. Such recognition for the standard of our play and management can only bode well for the future. Should we have ever expected anything else? After all, Southampton’s latest gem was hand picked by fellow countryman, Ronald Koeman, and the almighty black box.

 

Podcast: Liverpool vs Southampton Preview

I joined @anfieldindex to talk about this weekends clash against Liverpool at Anfield. Southampton come into this fixture having recently thrown away a two goal lead against Leicester City at St Mary’s. Goals however have been flowing with Southampton netting an impressive 16 times in the past five fixtures.

In Liverpool’s last Premier League fixture, they were held to a goalless draw against ex-Southampton manager, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs. The most recent result came in the Europa League, having once again drew, this time to Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.

We talk about misconceived perceptions of both clubs, how we expect both sides to approach the game, who to watch and a prediction for Jürgen Klopp’s first home game.

Follow the link here and be sure to let us know what you think about this weekends fixture at @freshsaints

 

Review: The International Break That Has Southampton Flying Higher Than Before

Coming off the back of what is usually branded as a boring and uninspiring International break, Southampton couldn’t be higher in confidence. Before catching the plane to carry out their duty, the boys in red and white had put 3 back to back wins together – including a domination at Stamford Bridge that will live long in the memory of many Southampton fans.

Unsurprisingly, the first mention will go to Steven Davis. After the midfielder ended his lengthy goal drought – the last goal coming in February 2014 – he told the media how he hoped the floodgates would now open. However, even Davis himself wouldn’t have anticipated quite how quickly the next goals would come. Davis scored a game winning brace during the Euro qualifying clash with Greece at Windsor Park; those two goals would prove to be the crucial point in Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro qualification.

This wasn’t the only strong performance over the ten games either, Davis featured in the Euro qualifiers team of the tournament.

The second man to note is Graziano Pellè; the Italian has started the season in incredible form having netted an impressive five goals in just eight Premier League games. Not to mention joining Davis as a goalscorer in the preceding fixture against Chelsea.

With thanks to his move to the Premier League and Ronald Koeman, Pellè has become somewhat of a regular for the Azzuri. Every touch in recent games has turned to gold and the fixture against Norway was no exception; Pellè was on the receiving end of a lashed cross and with a clean strike of the left boot, he fired the ball into the bottom corner in the 82nd minute with what would prove to be the winner. The resulting goal placed Pellè as Italy’s top qualifying goalscorer, allowed them to top their group and extended their unbeaten run in European qualifying to 50 games.

The third big star of the break was Ireland’s new poster boy and cult hero, Shane Long. To the annoyance of the Republic of Ireland fans, Long once again began the fixture against world champions, Germany, as second fiddle to Jonathan Walters. But as Martin O’Neill looked to his options in the 65th minute, it was the Southampton man he turned to for a moment of genius. Just five minutes after stepping onto the pitch, Darren Randolph sent Long bounding through on goal to fire into the top left corner. Manuel Neuer stood no chance.

The goal resulted in Long being awarded with a start against Poland; however, this proved to be a poisoned chalice as the Irishman now finds himself sidelined for the next two weeks with an ankle injury.

Even England senior, Ryan Bertrand, and the U21 boys came away with strong results and showings to match. After missing out on pre season and the early Premier League fixtures, Bertrand would have been delighted to earn himself an instant recall to Roy Hodgson’s first XI. The full back gained 90 minutes under his belt during a routine 2-0 win versus Estonia, Bertrand was ever-present.

James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett also recorded a full 90 for Gareth Southgate’s U21 side. During their 3-0 victory over Kazakhstan’s U21’s, Ward-Prowse delivered a number of impeccable set pieces that should have made the scoreline all the more merrier.

Where International breaks are often seen as a time for teams to re identify in times of crisis, Southampton can use such results and performances to continue their recent rich vein of form. Afterall, if an International break can be used to re organise, then why can’t it be used to improve? Morale is running high and performances are even higher, the Tinkerman is next on Koeman’s list.