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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.

Austin Powers: Yeah baby

Southampton fans awoke yesterday morning in the hope of securing a back-to-back Premier League win during their three o’clock fixture against West Brom. However, Southampton made the fans day by early morning, after Sky Sports revealed that the club had agreed on a fee with Queens Park Rangers over Charlie Austin. By the time 12:00 struck, all the paperwork was finished and Austin was now a saint. But, is this yet more astute business for Southampton, what are the worries and how will he fit in?

First things first, the deal. Austin had six months remaining on his contract at QPR, taking him through to the summer as a free agent – clearly aware of the competition for the Englishman, Southampton acted fast, smooth and quiet. The result? acquiring a forward who scored 18 Premier League goals last season for a reported fee of four million. You’ve only got to look as far as Southampton’s south coast neighbours Bournemouth, to see the value held in this deal – the Cherries have forked out £18 million on unproven Premier League talent in Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban.

Not to mention that if Southampton had allowed negotiations to run through into the summer, a rather greedy agent would be wanting his contribution covered by a nice big cheque. As for wages, Southampton can afford to spend bigger on the wage bill due to the discounted asking price.

Four million to obtain a proven goal scoring Englishman is incredible business, no matter how you look at it.

Another area which must be touched upon is his record of injuries; however, as a matter of fact, that argument seems rather fallacious. Austin has scored at least 17 goals in each season as a professional footballer. Clocking up 160 appearances over the past five seasons, that’s over 32 games per season. Not bad for someone that has falsely been labelled as injury ridden.

Regardless of what many bitter fans may say about Austin’s injuries, were guaranteeing at least 13 goals per season. Why is that? well…

18 goals in a side that finished rock bottom of the Premier League last season. 18 goals in a team with next to no service. A player with such class in the box and the ability to create a chance from nothing is mouth watering for a Southampton side that needs a killer instinct. Swapping Matt Phillips for Sadio Mane and Junior Hoilett for Dusan Tadic can only bode well for Southampton fans expectations.

But where will Austin fit in? At this moment in time, it’s rather difficult to say given the sudden form of Shane long and the new change of system. Southampton originally operated as a 4-3-3 this season, but poor form and predictable play resulted in switching to a 5-3-2 formation. Austin typically flourishes when around a player who can help to free up space for him. Given that, the movement, aerial threat and work rate of Shane Long seems a logical match for Austin’s play. To bench the Irishman after recent showings would be simply criminal. This then leaves Koeman the task of finding space for Mane, Davis, Tadic. Rodriguez, Pelle and Targett – Koeman is being presented the best type of managerial nightmare.

Charlie Austin is a name mentioned many times in previous transfer windows for Southampton. Throughout this time, Southampton fans have had that funny old feeling that he would end up leading the line for us. Now it’s come true, we can only hope that the feeling of this transfer being the bargain of the window comes true too.

Interview: Talking with Le Tiss

Today we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about Southampton Football Club with the legend himself, Matthew Le Tissier. We talk about the season so far, the effect of confidence on a team, players of the past, transfers, Wednesday’s win over Watford, the famed academy, Ronald Koeman and Matt’s expectations for the remainder of the season. 

00:05 – The season so far

00:45 – The January transfer window and Rodriguez’s return date

02:23 – How to overcome squad confidence issues

03:12 – The Morale of squads in Tiss’s time

04:28 – Cliques in clubs

05:23 – The effect of morale on performance

06:04 – The most effective mid-season signing for Le Tiss

06:55 – Koeman under pressure and beating Watford

08:02 – A team full of home grown players?

09:03 – Who from the current crop of youngsters does Le Tiss have his eye on?

09:47 – How Koeman has dealt with Wanyama

10:03 – The full story on Mane’s late arrival to the team meeting

10:42 – Season expectations

 

Why I worry for Koeman

Southampton come into this important week under heavy pressure, having only once come away with three points in their last 11 games. However, no one is feeling that pressure quite as much as Southampton boss, Ronald Koeman. With such a poor run of form, the two upcoming home fixtures versus Watford and West Brom are made all the more important – especially when the South Coast club are just seven points away from the drop. Results are needed quickly and if we are unable to come up with the goods, I worry for Koeman.

Here’s why…

Two years ago, Southampton were hailed by the media and all football fans as THE model club. They gained Premier League safety, played attractive football and most importantly, built an English core – something that has become a rarity in the modern game.  Since Koeman took over, Ryan Bertrand and Fraser Forster have been the only English additions. With Koeman already ruling out the possibility of signing Charlie Austin, you have to wonder when and who the next English addition may be.

Not only has English talent decreased in signings, but English academy progression has fallen too. The promotion of talent from the academy to the first team is an achievement that the club has worn proudly on its sleeve; sadly, that has vanished since Koeman joined. Minus his recent attendance at Staplewood to watch Forster play, Koeman has stopped visiting the U21’s fixtures. The notable omissions from first team chances are fan favourite Harrison Reed and Ryan Seager, who still maintains his goal-a-game strike rate at U21 level.

Finally, this is a Ronald Koeman team. The club has invested just over one hundred million since Mauricio Pochettino left, with Koeman having the choice on who to bring in. These personally selected players have been performing well below their expected levels; signings such as Juanmi, Martina, Caulker and Stekelenburg have been disastrous in actual fact. Even Virgil Van Dijk who started the season so positively has allowed errors and poor decision making to creep into his game. No excuses here.

Despite these troubles that Koeman has faced, the fans have been and still believe that the Dutchman is the right man for the job. As fans of a club that has so often been shown a lack of loyalty by players, we must continue to show our loyalty toward a manager who has gifted us many special moments.

We’re behind you, Ronald.

 

Thoughts On Koeman’s Latest Quotes

During yesterday’s pre-Crystal Palace presser, questions were continually thrown toward Ronald Koeman regarding the future of the usual transfer suspects. If there wasn’t already enough headlines surrounding Sadio Mane, then his decision to arrive late for the team meeting threw a gallon of fuel on the already burning speculation surrounding his future at the club; Victor Wanyama’s rather pathetic dismissal certainly didn’t help the situation either. With both incidents falling perfectly in time with the January transfer window, the dodgy transfer links and “ITK” sources were in full swing.

However, the message is clear from Koeman, no one is leaving. The Southampton boss told the media that “If there is any player thinking if his behaviour is not good that makes it easier for the player, then I’ll put the player in the stands until the end of their contract.”

In my opinion, that’s not the way you have to do your job as a football player”

Koeman has reiterated time and time again throughout the season that no one is for sale, but this message is rather different. He’s spoken about behaviour, the need to be focused and told the fans the exact plan that he would enforce, should it be necessary. All too often Southampton fans have been left in the shadows of decisions, completely unaware of the approach that their own football club is taking. Over previous transfer windows, it’s hard to decide whether Southampton as a club want the money, respect of our own players (It’s remarkable I’m having to suggest that) or just to chuck the bad eggs out.

It’s not only a message to current players, but a statement to players who may look to join Southampton this window, this summer or in future seasons. This club has demanded respect from its players for the fans and the success of the club.

If a big money move is on a player’s mind, then so be it. We can hardly expect a 22-year-old Senegal-born player who spent two years in Austria with a history of forcing transfers, to fall at his knees with love in his eyes at Southampton. Every player has ambitions and If our club can be of help in that, brilliant. All we ask for in exchange is a positive attitude and 100%, week in, week out. Provided the situation is clear, the deal remains intact and intentions are known, there is nothing wrong with being used as a “stepping stone”.

It was a hard-hitting statement at a much needed time; Southampton fans have been crying out for such clarification. With the club’s stance on outgoing transfers now settled, it’s time to settle the players on-pitch performances.

Calum Chambers: Boo Who?

It’s the 73rd minute and down upon the St Mary’s touchline, ex-Saint Calum Chambers is preparing for his return. Throughout the game, there had been applause for Theo Walcott and a warm reception for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, yet Chambers was met by a chorus of boos. Why?

Having broken into the first team under Mauricio Pochettino, Chambers went on to make 22 appearances during the 2013/14 season – this was all whilst in competition with Nathaniel Clyne. Southampton fans had been greatly impressed with the full back’s defensive capabilities and were excited for what the next season may hold. However, when Pochettino walked out the door and the club’s finest talents were stripped, Arsene Wenger came calling.

The opportunity to work under a manager of Wenger’s class and status is a footballing honour. As much as we moan that our players are jumping ship and leaving something special, with players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in Arsenal’s ranks, things are rather special there too. It’s not hard for a managerial great like Wenger to sway the mind of a 19-year-old, especially whilst he watches his manager-less club seemingly come crashing down. The current Arsenal squad, players of the past and some of the greatest players to ever grace the pitch sing the Frenchman’s praises for a reason. No blame here.

But what about game time? Was this a financially motivated move? Southampton fans have certainly suggested it and to that, I say, no chance.
To begin with, Pochettino was effectively alternating between Chambers and Clyne. A staggering number of people seem to be implying that Chambers was taking the jump from an integral, 40 game-a-season player, into a Capital One/FA cup back up. Not so; during his debut season at Arsenal, he went on to make 23 appearances.

With the combination of an impressive performance against Bournemouth and a sudden drop of form in Mathieu Flamini, Chambers will now look to make his mark on the first team once more.

Add to that the fact that Arsenal pick up injury, after injury, after injury. With Chamber’s able to play at right back, centre back and as a defensive midfielder, there is always a window of opportunity for this versatile youngster. His mind is certainly focused on his football.

Finally, and most importantly, however, Southampton never objected to this move. The board were happy to conduct business with Arsenal and that saw a handsome £16M transaction take place for a player that wasn’t the first choice right back. Astute business once again from Southampton.

Our fans anger and judgment toward Calum Chambers is implicitly linked to one horrible, painful summer. We’ve dragged a nice and respectable young player who was presented an incredible opportunity into the same category as liars, players who refuse to play and players who bad mouthed the club. The money was right, the negotiations were honest and had this not deal not taken place in such a dark period for the club, we would have all wished him well. So, upon Chamber’s next return to St Mary’s, have a moment’s thought and change the tune for a young man trying to chase his dream.

 

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?