Has Ramirez finally found his level, or is there yet more to come?

Back on the 26th on January, Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough snapped up Gaston Ramirez for the remainder of the 2015/16 season on a loan deal. But just three months later, it seems that Boro fans have found themselves a new poster boy. After just 10 appearances, Ramirez has found the back of the net six times, carved 21 opportunities for his teammates and is once again, enjoying his football. We spoke with EverythingMFC to find out more about Ramirez’s sensational run of form. 

When Middlesbrough announced the signing of Gaston Ramirez, what were you initially expecting?

I was expecting a player with an abundance of attacking quality, a player that would make the no.10 position his own

Having now been given a number of games to assess his ability, how have Boro fans taken to Ramirez?

He’s gained a lot of admirers in the stands, people love him. He went off in his last game to a standing ovation, and richly deserved too!

What has been his standout quality in England’s second division?

His technical ability, it really does make him a joy to watch. I think his off the ball work has been admirable too; his first goal against Huddersfield epitomised that, straight from kick off he was pressing, intercepted a pass and went on to score.

Is he a cut above the rest in the Championship?

Definitely, he’s different class. I felt sorry for the Huddersfield players in our last game, they didn’t know what to do with themselves!

During his time in the Premier League, Gaston struggled with the physicality of the division and appeared to lack confidence, is that still the case?

The Championship is known for being a very physical league and he has thrived in it, so I wouldn’t say it’s been a problem for him. He definitely doesn’t lack confidence either, he looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying his football here and it’s definitely reflecting on his performances

If any, what are your worries or concerns with the Uruguayan playmaker?

That inconsistency could creep in. It has been a familiar story with our previous no.10s where they hit a purple patch and then go missing for the next handful of games, but hopefully Gaston is an exception.

Do you think that Southampton could live to regret allowing Ramirez to head out on loan?

Possibly, he has been a revelation for us in attack, but he is playing under a manager who believes in him and appears to be getting the best out of him, whereas at Southampton it seems like he wasn’t in the plans of Ronald Koeman to start with

And last of all – If Boro were to be promoted – has Ramirez shown enough quality to suggest that he can finally establish himself as a Premier League player?

Yes, as long as he’s under a manager like Aitor Karanka who allows him the freedom to express himself on the football pitch

Southampton’s race for European football

After last week’s exhilarating performance and result against Liverpool, Ronald Koeman’s side showed they have the fight, resolve and quality to challenge for European qualification. With Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane replicating their great early season form, all whilst Shane Long and Charlie Austin have popped up with vital goals, Southampton are now breathing down the neck of their fellow European football competitors.

As we approach the final few hurdles of the remaining season, the teams that join Southampton in this mouthwatering finale are Liverpool, Stoke City, Man Utd, West Ham and Manchester City. Liverpool are currently sat in 9th position, Stoke are in at 8th, with Manchester Utd in 6th, West Ham are on the brink of Champions League football, sat in 5th place, and Manchester City are slacking in 4th. With only seven points separating Man City in 4th and Liverpool in 9th, the Premier League will surely have a few more twists and turns as these sides challenge for a European spot, be it the Europa League, or the Champions League.

However, the race for these European spots will become much clearer when all teams have played the same total of games. Due to European and domestic cup commitments, not every team has featured the same amount of times in the league this season. Liverpool have the most games in hand, with two, which could potentially move the reds one place higher to 8th –  leapfrogging Stoke in turn. Then, with results going their way, Liverpool could move as high as 7th, but only if they were to better Southampton’s goal difference.

All three teams above Southampton have a game in hand, due to FA cup and Capital One cup appearances.

These could prove to be crucial points for West Ham, Manchester City and Manchester United to gain breathing space from the following pack. Manchester United and West Ham could go six points clear of Southampton if results fall in their favour, and Man City could push their margin to seven points. The pressure is well and truly with the four teams who have their games in hand.

On paper, Liverpool and Manchester City have the ‘easiest’ run-in in terms of times facing the current top four. Liverpool will only play against Tottenham on the 2nd of April, whilst Man City will only face Arsenal. Unfortunately Saints fans, you guessed it, we have the toughest run-in on paper. Southampton will play against three of the current top four in the last seven games of the season. And of course, that would include the current top two battling it out for the Premier League crown – Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. The King Power Stadium is Southampton’s next stop in the Premier League, whilst our final away outing of the season is at White Hart Lane, against Pochettino’s Spurs. Before Southampton make the trip to North London, however, St Mary’s will be the host of a potentially season-defining match against Man City on the 1st of May.

As for the Hammers and the Potters, West Ham will face Arsenal and Leicester, whilst Stoke will play against Man City and Tottenham. Manchester United will also compete with the current top two – Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. United’s clash against the Foxes will be held at Old Trafford, whilst they also travel, like Southampton, to North London to face Tottenham.

Worryingly, the final table would be grim reading for Saints if the remaining fixtures finished how the reverse fixtures finished earlier in the season. If Saints’ remaining seven games finished how they did earlier in the campaign, we would only gain three more points, leaving us with 50 points in 9th place. Manchester City would rise to 3rd with 73 points, whilst Arsenal would slip down to their familiar surroundings of 4th place with 68 points.

Manchester United would finish the season in 5th and gain automatic qualification to the Europa League, whilst West Ham, who would finish in 6th place, qualify through Manchester City’s Capital One Cup win. Liverpool would finish in 7th with 59 points and Stoke would finish one place below the reds in 8th.

However, there’s no need to panic Southampton fans. During the reverse fixtures, Southampton were in their worst form of the current season. We have to remember that during those games, we were missing Pelle, Forster and Rodriguez. Not to mention that we were still trying to find our feet after the loss of Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweireld. Now, however, with the return of Forster, the defence has looked as strong and reliable as it did the season before. To add to the positives, Pelle and Mane are both back amongst the goals, Shane Long is in the best form of his career, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez will be back from injury and Wanyama looks to have turned a corner after his five-match ban. With all these factors present, there’s no reason why we can’t get the results to gift us an immediate return to European football for Ronald Koeman’s side.  


Premier League Podcast Preview Show: Southampton vs Liverpool

I was fortunate enough to join Hari Sethi and John Ritchie on the AnfieldIndex Podcast show to preview this weekend’s fixture against Liverpool. We look ahead to Southampton’s upcoming game and discuss everything you could possibly want from a preview show – including an opening question at Arry’s new role at Derby County.

Follow the link here to give it a listen


We discuss…

Who would ‘Arry Redknapp scout for Derby County?

What can we expect from this weekend’s game?

Can Liverpool record four League wins on the bounce?

Who have been Southampton’s standout players this season?

How have Southampton managed to recover so well following a tough season with injuries?

We also round up the show with our predictions for this weekend – we hope you enjoy the show.

Be sure to let us know what you think over at FreshSaints and AnfieldIndex


Charlie Austin: Following the footsteps of a Southampton great?

Since Rickie Lambert left Southampton for his boyhood club, Liverpool, there has been a 6ft 2 Liverpudlian shaped gap left on the St Mary’s turf and in Saints fan’s hearts. But, could that gap be filled once again?

With the arrival of Graziano Pelle back in 2014, Southampton fans thought they had an immediate replacement.
Sadly, this was not the case. Whilst the Italian may possess some of Lambert’s mean heading ability and a strong presence up top, this is rivaled by a habit to moan at teammates, storm down the tunnel and find himself amongst long goal droughts – three traits that were never seen in Lambert’s game. Pelle has been a brilliant forward for Southampton and has given fans some unforgettable memories, but he just can’t fill that gap left by Lambert.

However, on the 16th of January, Southampton announced the £4 million signing of Charlie Austin from QPR. The England international striker was in high demand from other Premier League rivals and Saints’ fans were licking their lips at their new found potential Lambert replacement. The similarities are there for all to see.

Back in 2009, Southampton were sitting rock-bottom of League 1 with -10 points. They were crying out for someone who had experience in the lower leagues and the man to change that was Rickie Lambert. Lambert was brought in for £1 million at the age of 27 and those who knew League One, knew that Southampton had found themselves a bargain.
Prior to putting on his red and white stripes, Lambert had scored 29 goals in his previous season for Bristol Rovers – with 59 goals for the Pirates in 155 appearances.
Rather like Lambert, Austin joined Southampton with a goalscoring record to boast about – scoring 46 goals in 79 appearances for QPR. Both strikers joined Southampton with a strong reputation, knowing that if they receive service, then the goals would quickly follow. All fans can agree that both signings are a bargain given their proven records.

Successful debut seasons in the Premier League are yet another similarity between the two. As both strikers were playing for newly promoted sides, the same question marks were lingering over them. Could they handle the physical nature of Premier League defenders? Could they adapt and impress in England’s top division? The answer was of course, yes.
Lambert finished his debut season with 15 league goals, making him the League’s joint highest English goalscorer alongside Frank Lampard.
Charlie Austin also went on to have an amazing breakthrough season in the Premier League, scoring a total of 18 goals – making him the League’s second highest English goalscorer that season.

As for debut goals, yes, you guessed it. They both struck gold on their Southampton debut. Lambert opened his account in a League cup tie against Northampton at St Mary’s, heading home Lloyd James’ cross to open the scoring.
A little more glamorous admittedly, Austin was presented the challenge of grabbing his debut goal at Old Trafford. This looked to be an unlikely feat from the first whistle, as Ronald Koeman opted to start Shane Long. But Austin clearly thought otherwise.
With only seven minutes left on the clock and the game poised at 0-0, Southampton won a free-kick right by the corner flag. With a signature Ward-Prowse set piece, Austin found himself a free header that powered past David De Gea in the United goal.

Best of all, however, both forwards share the same rags-to-riches story. At just 15 years-old, both players were released and forced into the everyday jobs that helped to create their widely documented success stories that we now all know.
After being released by Reading for his slight frame, Austin found work as a bricklayer. Life wasn’t any sweeter for Lambert either, who took up a job at a beetroot factory after being released by Liverpool.
But their dreams of playing football were far from over, as they both went on to join non-league sides. Austin was considerably more prominent in non-league football, having played for Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town, and Poole Town. Lambert briefly trained for non-league side Marine, but soon joined Blackpool as a trainee.

For now, though, we should enjoy knowing that we have a forward in our side who has always found the back of the net at all levels of English football. However, to see the best of Austin, it would come as no surprise to me if we must wait until the new season.

The reason being is that he needs time to fully adapt to our style of play. Simply look to Austin’s strike partner Shane Long for a lesson in the importance of patience and time with new signings. During the Irishman’s debut season at Southampton, Long just couldn’t nail down a first team spot. Instead, he would drift into the side with two good games and then frustrate fans with a series of underwhelming and wasteful showings. His £12 million price tag was mocked by many. But now, having been given time to adapt and learn his role in the side, Long has become one of our most influential and exciting players.

But truth be told, the gap left by Lambert will never be filled, no matter how successful Austin is. It was a case of the right man being here at the right time with his and the clubs own two stories merging into something truly special.
It’s certainly exciting and intriguing to see the similarities between the two, but I want to see Austin create his own legacy.

With an eye for goal, clinical finishing and a potentially formidable partnership with Long on the horizon, Southampton fans have every reason to be hopeful that Charlie Austin can one day stand alongside Sir Rickie Lambert in St Mary’s folklore.

Calling all Football League clubs

Having burst onto the first-team scene back in August 2013 as a 19-year-old, there was much promise that this industrious midfielder would be breathing down the necks of Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin over the next two seasons. However, with the strong additions of Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu, all whilst James Ward-Prowse has been maturing into a first team regular, appearances have arrived at somewhat of a premium. Now being 21-years-old, It’s time for first-team football to be his priority. Harrison Reed has to kick on.

Since that first team debut against Barnsley, the England U20 regular has featured 21 times in the famous red and white stripes – 14 appearances of which have come in the Barclays Premier League. Now, whilst this may be an impressive accolade for most young talents who wish to forge their way into their sides first team, I ( and I’m sure many others ) would agree that these numbers are not representative of Reed’s talent.

He’s sharp, aggressive, passionate, hard working and where others with these traits usually fall short in technically ability, little Harry does not.

For the past three seasons now, Harrison Reed has been a sure starter in Martin Hunter’s U21 side. But that level can only develop and aid the ability of a player for so long. You only have to watch one game of U21 football to see that Reed is far superior to others whilst on the ball, off the ball and physically. He has truly surpassed the standard of the U21 League.

So, why is he still plying his trade at this level?

It seems that the midfielder – who has been likened to Paul Scholes – has found himself in a grey area of selection at Southampton.
At this point, he remains one of the few experienced players for the U21 side – making him a valuable member to Martin Hunter.
This is due to Matt Targett being tied down to first team commitments, Jason McCarthy being on loan at Wycombe Wanderers, Jack Stephens being on loan at Coventry, Jordan Turnbull being on loan at Swindon Town and even Sam McQueen being sent out on loan to Southend.

Perhaps the club feel that losing a player of Reed’s quality and experience would damage the other youngsters development? Whilst results at the U21 level are said to be irrelevant, playing attractive football and breeding the club’s philosophy is important – doing so would be made a damn sight harder with the absence of Reed.

Not to mention that when Southampton boss Ronald Koeman was asked who stood out in the U21 side, the Dutchman said: “Harrison Reed is close to the first-team.”.
Reed was one of only two academy prospects to be mentioned, so it’s clear that Koeman is viewing the possibility to embed Reed into his side. Most encouraging, the other player mentioned was Matt Targett, who has since picked up a handful of Premier League appearances. Maybe Reed’s chance is just over the horizon?

To me, however, all factors are pointing toward a loan move being the best decision. Reed is all too good for the U21 league, he will only be handed first team appearances if injuries were to strike and now being 21, he has to make a name for himself. Gametime is a priority and I believe that could be found in the middle of the Championship table or at a high-flying title challenging League One side.

Truth be told, Reed faces the threat of stalling his development if he doesn’t find a higher level of play.

He must ensure to find new challenges and place himself in high-pressure situations. Afterall, that is what makes players the best they can possibly be. If you ask any player who worked their way to the very top of the game what made them who they are, they will all speak of facing daunting situations as an unknowing youngster. Given Reed’s ability, continuing to settle for U21 football will hold him back from hitting the heights we all know he can reach.

If Reed’s attitude to be the very best is anything like his desire on the field, then he can make a loan move work and return to make a first team spot his own.

Interview: James Ward-Prowse

Here at FreshSaints, we were fortunate enough to grab an Interview with Southampton starlet and England U21 captain, James Ward-Prowse. 

Follow the link here to give it a listen and look below for details on our interview.

00:10 – Scoring his first free-kick

00:41 – Signing his first professional contract

01:11 – Going away with England from young

01:48 – Failing at the U21 Euro’s

02:32 – Southampton’s youth academy

03:08 – Why aren’t young players in the Premier League being given a chance?

We hope you enjoyed the interview – be sure to tell us what you think on Twitter at FreshSaints

Shane Long: Breaking down that ten goal barrier

Shane Long is in hot form right now, and after netting the winning goal against Swansea City last weekend, the Irishman is on course to reach double figures for the first time in his Premier League career. It’s safe to say he’s cemented his name into Ronald Koeman’s starting XI. But, can Shane Long break past that ten goal barrier? And why is this season different to his previous years with Reading, West Brom and Hull City?

Long started his career in England when he joined Reading FC from Cork City for an undisclosed fee in 2005. However, he struggled for game time in his first few years at Reading, with Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita placed ahead of him in the pecking order. He scored three goals in eleven appearances in his first season, which resulted in Reading being promoted to the Premier League.

Coming into his first Premier League season, Long disappointed in the top flight, scoring just two goals – thankfully, however, Reading had done just enough to steer clear of the drop. But it was to be yet another frustrating season for Long, who knew he had to better last season’s goal tally. Having mustered up just three goals throughout his second season in the Premier League, Reading were relegated back to the Championship.

Whilst relegation was hard to take for the Royals, it was to be seen as a fresh challenge for Shane Long. Long became Readings first choice striker when Doyle left the club, going on to score 21 league goals for Reading in the 2010/11 Championship season. Reading made the play-off final that season, but, unfortunately, lost 4-2 to Swansea City. Reading remained in the Championship for yet another season.

As a result of his immense goal scoring form, Long was sold to Premier League side West Bromwich Albion – the transfer fee was believed to be around £4.5 million. In his first season for the Baggies, he came close to reaching double figures as he scored eight goals, including strikes against Manchester Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal. In the following season, Long once again fell short – matching the eight goals he scored during his previous campaign.

In the 2014/15 season, Long started the season at West Brom – scoring three goals in 15 appearances – but later moved to Hull City in January. Whilst all looked promising for Long when he scored on his home debut against Tottenham, his goal-scoring tally remained similar to that of previous years – scoring four goals in 15 appearances for the Tigers.

After only half a season at Hull, Long jumped ship to join Southampton in a £12.5 million deal. With strong opposition from Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane, Long struggled to maintain a first-team spot in his first year with Saints. Despite that, he managed to score 5 goals in 32 Premier League appearances – 21 of which were from the bench.

His first two goals came in a match against Leicester City at St Mary’s, where he bagged a brace after being introduced as a second-half substitute with only 20 minutes to go.    

But now, after a year of hard work, training with the best squad of his career to date and working under Ronald Koeman, Long has been able to take his game to a level that he hasn’t reached before. He said it himself upon joining Southampton: “Southampton play a brand of football that’s enjoyable to watch, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable to play in as well”

Long has already scored six Premier League goals in 18 appearances this season, with his usual his nonstop work rate and pace being influential for the way Southampton play.  However, he has been far more than the player of years before.

Long has been learning to play in an expressive and established top-flight side that persistently play on the front line for the first time in his career.

Previously, he would play for sides that drop deep and look to greatly play off his defensive contributions, rather than focusing on his build up play and dangerous movement. This has been a big step up for Long.

During his first season for Southampton, Long would mis-hit crosses, shank his shots and rush decisions. But having now settled into an attack-minded team, were being treated to skillful lay-offs, calm finishes and composed thinking too.

With goals against Arsenal and Manchester City already this season, Long is playing with a calmness and confidence in front of goal.

There are now 12 games remaining in the 2015/16 season, including matches against rock bottom Aston Villa and a struggling Sunderland side in freefall. With it almost being a guarantee for Long to start those games at the minute, there’s a great chance he can break that ten-goal barrier. Who’s to say what could come next?


Match Preview: Six clean sheets in a row?

Southampton have taken 13 points from their last five fixtures. During that time, they have kept five clean sheets in a row; totalling 509 minutes since a red and white shirt had to pick the ball out the back of the net. Better yet, Southampton face a goal-shy Swansea side this Saturday that will be fearful of the challenge that Manchester United and Arsenal failed to overcome. Could yet another clean sheet and three points be on the cards?

All was going so swimmingly for Swansea. After Francesco Guidolin took hold of the club alongside Alan Curtis, the impact was instant. Swansea recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this Premier League season and fans were confident in avoiding the drop. Since then, Swansea have been held to draws by a blunt Crystal Palace side in free fall and a West Bromwich Albion team that is tearing at the seams. Both the Eagles and the Baggies came into the game with poor form, making it plausible to suggest that Swansea have just thrown away their relegation-get-out card.

Worst of all, they are set face a ruthless, clinical and robust Southampton side that are in their best form of the season so far.

Who have Southampton got to watch out for?

Gylfi Sigurdsson –  The Icelandic international has been in fantastic goal scoring form as of late, with five goals in his last six appearances. Having scored in each of Guidolin’s first three games in charge, the Italian said “I think Gylfi could score 15 goals in a season because he has quality and he has intelligence.”

It’s clear to see that Sigurdsson is Swansea’s most potent attacking outlet.

Over recent weeks, Southampton’s defence has been tight, organised and compact, with little room for the opposition to force an opening. As a result of this game plan, teams have been forced into crossing and striking from distance. However, with the common known knowledge of Sigurdsson’s ability to strike a ball from distance, Koeman will have a tough call to make.

Alberto Paloschi – The 26 year old Italian is somewhat unknown to the common football fan, but his lively style of play has been clear to see so far. Paloschi stands at just five-foot-nine-inches, flourishes with the ball at his feet and will look to be a handfull by finding space in the channels between both centre backs. Southampton have been used to dominating at the back through aerial duels, but this battle will take place on the ground. After all, it’s Swansea City.

Who can shine for the Saints?

Oriol Romeu – Romeu has put in a succession of impressive performances this season, yet he just can’t nail down that first team spot. With Victor Wanyama now suspended for five games after receiving his third red card of the season, there is a gap to fill. A gap that the Spaniard will want to make his. Romeu will not only see this as his time to push Southampton into Europe, but also his time to show Koeman why he needs to be the main man next season. Go get em Rom.

Charlie Austin – Since joining in January, Austin has so far been available for selection in only two games – starting from the bench on both occasions. Having brushed off his injury that left him out of the side at the Emirates and now being more aware of his role in the team, Austin will be raring to go. Even more so when Swansea’s defending still leaves much to be desired. If Austin starts, then you can bank on a ball falling handsomely in the box for him.

Swansea City Form – 2-4 loss vs Sunderland (A) 1-0 win vs Watford (H) 1-2 win vs Everton (A) 1-1 vs WBA (A) 1-1 vs Palace (H)

  • Seven goals scored over these five games
  • Seven goals conceded over these five games
  • In Swansea’s last fixture they drew against the worst form team in the League – Crystal Palace
  • Swansea lost and conceded four to 19th place Sunderland
  • Sigurdsson (5), Ayew (2) and Williams were the scorers over these five games

Southampton Form – 2-0 win vs Watford (H) 3-0 win vs WBA (H) 0-1 win vs Manchester Utd (A) 0-0 vs Arsenal (A) 1-0 win vs West Ham (H)

  • Seven goals scored over these five games
  • Five clean sheets in five games
  • Southampton beat fifth place Manchester United and beat sixth place West Ham
  • Southampton drew against third place Arsenal
  • Tadic (2), Ward-Prowse (2), Long, Austin and Yoshida were the scorers over these five games

Prediction: Austin and Van Dijk to gift Southampton a 2-0 away win

Who do you think will leave the Liberty Stadium with all three points? Perhaps a share of the spoils?

Let us know on twitter @freshsaints


Why Sadio Mane wasn’t and still isn’t top-four material

After 53 minutes of strict organisation and pressing had passed, Southampton’s moment to capitalise arrived.

Third choice Gunners centre-half Gabriel Paulista lazily dragged the ball across the middle of the park and there was Sadio Mane to pick the ball up on the halfway line. Bounding toward the goal, Mane placed Koscielny on the back foot and forced himself an opening to the right-side of the box. But as he reached the 18-yard line, he scuffed it. With no balance and a weakly hit strike, the ball simply rolled into the hands of Cech. Sadly, this has been the Sadio Mane of recent weeks. And luckily for us, this is why Mane’s not yet ready for his dream move.

Unlike most that are labelled as “wantaway” players, it’s not Mane’s effort levels that I’m criticising. In fact, as wingers come, few can match Mane’s defensive contribution. Fans know each and every week that when the Senegalese International is on the pitch, we will be receiving nothing less than 100%. As fans, that’s all we can ask for.

However, when I see Mane being mentioned as the world class player that Manchester United need, I can’t help but question why and how.

Rather like Yannick Bolasie – another player that is continuously linked with a “big” move away – he is exciting and thrilling to watch from the terrace. His skills are dazzling, he can single-handedly win games and he can leave you laughing at the humiliation that he has just put poor Sunderland through. But, if they can still bring frustration to fans of mid-table sides, then they certainly aren’t ready for the heights of Champions League football.

We as fans of a mid-table team have the patience that allows a raw talent to flourish, and unsurprisingly, we have a lower expectation of performance in comparison to fans of clubs such as Manchester United. Those dodgy touches, wasted chances and poor decisions by Mane would get chewed up and spat out on the big stage. Simply look at the decline of Memphis Depay – the incredibly talented Dutchman has been unable to deal with the immense pressure that comes with being a Red Devil.

Despite being gifted a number of routine 1 v 1’s, continually finding space between the defensive lines and having half chances carved out for him, Mane last hit the back of the net on the second of December against Liverpool. For someone who operates as a goalscoring winger and often partners the forward, no goals in 11 games is hardly Champions League form.

On his day, Mane is unstoppable, there is no doubting that. He can simply skip past defenders with the deftest of touches and appear to glide past full-backs without breaking a sweat. But at this point in his career, for every ten games of magic, were shown ten games of shanked shots, first touches that clang of his shin and over-running the ball for a goal-kick.

To play for one of Football’s greatest clubs, consistency is key. And at Manchester United, these dips in form will result in a reserved heated seat alongside Memphis and Fellaini. Whilst his movement, work-rate, ability and relentless efforts are always clear to see, Mane must develop that killer instinct to beat the final man and bury his chances. Doing so will help him reach the level he so desires.
Mane has the ability to make it to the top. Ronald Koeman’s thoughts on the winger and the interest from Bayern Munich/Manchester United reflect just that. But has anyone stopped to consider that Mane is currently playing at his level? Has anyone considered that a big move this summer could stunt his growth? After all, there is few better than Southampton at developing young stars into the best they can be.

Why Europa could be on the cards for Koeman and co

We are now 23 games into the Premier League season and finally, it seems Southampton have found their feet. In a season where Leicester City are three points clear at the top and Chelsea have dealt battle with Bournemouth, Norwich and Villa for relegation, It would hardly be preposterous to suggest that Southampton can compete in Europe for the second season running. Here’s why.

The opening fixtures were greeted by fans as periods of transition, but as Southampton approached the midway point of the season, attractive football and results were few and far between.
Matchday 19 saw Southampton suffer a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Slaven Bilic’s Payet-less Hammers. Matchday 20 brought even more misery, with Southampton leaving Carrow Road empty handed. And one week later, Alan Pardew’s Palace dumped Southampton out of the FA cup.

But then, with a change of system, the return of Fraser Forster and the revenant of Shane Long, Southampton find themselves having played three games with nine points, six goals and three clean sheets to show for it.
Despite this being the first time Southampton have clicked all season, they sit in the comfortable heights of eighth place in irrepressible form. All of this makes for good reason to be optimistic for the remainder of the season, right?

Since being in the Premier League, one of Southampton’s biggest downfalls has been squandering those crucial moments and failing to bury half chances; quite frankly, this is what separates mid table teams from the top four. This season especially, Southampton have started the first half brightly, carving a number of key chances for themselves. However, putting them away has proved rather difficult to watch.

With Charlie Austin now in Southampton’s ranks, they have their proven goal scorer; they have a game winner. To put it into facts and stats, Pelle has taken 175 shots since the start of the 2014/15 Premier League season, scoring 18 goals. In that same time, Austin has taken 179 shots and scored 29 goals in a far less able attacking outlet.

Southampton fans have every reason to be optimistic about the prospect of Austin’s movement, positioning and finishing in the red and white stripes. One can only hope that with the addition of Austin, fans won’t have to rue those wasted chances come the final whistle.

The signing of Charlie Austin has been made all the more thrilling as its coincided with the return of England International Fraser Forster, the integration of England U21 Matt Targett and the simply faultless performance from James Ward-Prowse versus West Bromwich Albion.

Why may this help us achieve European football? we have our identity back. Youth development and an English spine have gone hand in hand with Southampton over previous years and during the first half of this season, it was nowhere to be seen. Whilst we all love watching Pelle tuck one away, it’s all the sweeter watching an England International rifle one home.

The fans are once again thrilled to watch local boys represent their club, impressed to see that we have a set direction and that foreign players can understand what we’re all about. A club losing its identity is dangerous and hard to recover, simply look at Manchester United. But right now, It’s exciting. Really exciting.

So exciting in fact that wantaway transfer rebel, Victor Wanyama, has reportedly told friends and family that he wants to sign a new deal. Refusing to sell our finest talents has been a big step toward growing as a club, but convincing them to extend their stay, that’s a sign of ambition to all players currently in the squad and potential future signings. Not only does it provide a mental boost to the team, but it also allows Koeman to plan for the future and know that he can rely on Wanyama. Pinning down stars on a new contract means far more than just retaining the talent.

Now we come to Fraser Forster. It could easily be argued that the England International has been the catalyst in Southampton’s revival of form. Since returning from injury, Forster and our now discipline defence have kept Watford (H), West Bromwich Albion (H) and Manchester United (A) at bay. That’s three clean sheets from three possible fixtures. Before Forster returned, we kept three clean sheets in our previous 17.

Whilst the six-foot-seven-inch shot-stopper has not been pushed into any hard work yet, his influence is clear to see. He’s installed that much-needed confidence back into our defence and allowed us to once again play out from the back.

As for competition, a goal-shy Crystal Palace are falling down the table, Everton’s inability to defend completely undoes the hard work of their frontline, Stoke simply don’t hit the back of that big white thing enough and Swansea have found themselves in a surprising battle for Premier League survival. At this moment in time, It looks to be a four horse race between Manchester United, West Ham, Liverpool and Southampton for European football.

In reality however, Southampton will only achieve Europa League qualification through the triumph of two already European qualified teams in the FA cup and Capital One Cup. Never the less, it would require us to finish somewhere in the top seven spaces; what an incredible turnaround that would be given Southampton’s poor early season form.

Yes, it’s a big ask. Yes, we will be relying on the work of others and yes, our form may well collapse over the next 15 games. However, we’ve all followed the Premier League and Southampton far too long to know that the unpredictable is rather predictable.