Blogs

Match Preview: Monk Comes To The Chapel

After being held to a goalless draw on their travels to West Bromwich Albion, Southampton returned home to St Mary’s in search for a valuable three points. In what was to be a battle of the Dutch men’s bragging rights, fans were gifted a five goal thriller – sadly for Southampton fans as we know, Manchester United came out on top with a 3-2 win. Just three days later and Southampton have ripped apart MK Dons with six away goals and a clean sheet in the league cup. But, what have we learnt from these game as we look forward to this weekends fixture against Swansea City?

Throughout the opening 30 minutes of the Manchester United game, it would have been insane to label the performance as anything other than a tactical masterclass from Ronald Koeman’s army. The perfectly orchestrated and well positioned pressing was pushing the United defence deep into their own half, bringing mistakes from both the defence and midfield in turn. Provided Southampton can start the game with this same intensity and show Gary Monk’s side their intent, Swansea’s neat possession based football could work in our favour. This is of course if we repeat the opening third of the game; if we resemble anything after this ( minus the final ten minutes ) then an inform Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew will be sure to capitalise.

In that same performance against Manchester United we were treated to an incredible attacking performance throughout – the sharp incisive football that has become a part of Southampton’s DNA was back. Most notably, Graziano Pelle was at the fore of all proceedings; if we are going to beat Swansea City, then our talisman will need to continue his rich early season form. Each and every pass played into the Italian’s chest, feet or head was recycled with just a single touch, allowing runners to put the United defence on the back foot. With Swansea holding no true defensive midfielder, the pocket of space in front of the centre halves will play a key role in the outcome of this game. Ronald Koeman will certainly look to bring Mane and Tadic into this space, to benefit from the knock downs of Pelle.

All of this was play was carried out whilst Pelle continuously humiliated Daley Blind with a number of flicks, tricks and raw strength. With six goals in nine appearances this season, he’s the man that teams will be doing their homework on.

So, who have we got to look out for in this current Swansea side?

Jonjo Shelvey – fresh from his recent return to International football, Shelvey will be high on confidence and sure to show Hodgson why he deserves a starting spot. Not only has the roaming playmaker taken his game to yet another level this season, but he also holds fond memories of his visits to St. Mary’s – having scored an incredible strike from distance in the same fixture of the 2014/15 campaign, securing all three points in the process.

If Southampton show the same defensive sloppiness that has been displayed many times this season, then Shelvey will be in dream land. His right foot is one that can spray a 40 yard ball to the corner of the pitch, penetrate a defence and even sail a shot into the top corner – a scene that sadly Southampton fans know all too well.

If given space then he will be used as the centre piece of the side, dictating the game’s tempo with ease. Games of which Shelvey has been allowed space and time on the ball are when Swansea show their greatest displays.

Besides the hat trick of braces from the forward line, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the mid week fixture was the return of Ryan Bertrand, adding a positive attacking element to the full back role, mirrored by Cedric on the other side. Which as we all know, was an important factor in last seasons success. Welcome back, Ryan.

With both sides playing open and attractive football, we are sure to be in for an entertaining afternoon.

Who’s bringing the Mars bar then?

 

Season Review: Five Things Learnt With Five Games Gone

Were well underway in the 2015/16 season and so far it’s been one of mixed emotions for fans on the South coast. Southampton have been battered, done the battering, sent fans to away games more effective than sleeping pills and most importantly, kept hold of stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama. So, what have we learnt?

1) Standing ground in the market

The first and perhaps most important lesson is that we have managed to keep a firm grip on our African stars. Both Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane played key roles in last years against all odds season; with such mesmerizing performances, fans were understandably fearing a summer exodus 2.0. All had prepared for yet another social media mockery.

However, Southampton chairman Les Reed ensured to make it clear that no player was to be leaving Southampton for the remainder of the window – this followed from the departures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne. Despite manager Ronald Koeman continuing to reiterate Reed’s promise, the rumour mill stops for no one. Tottenham Hotspur fans remained confident of securing the Kenyan’s signature, and in turn, many Southampton fans trembled at the knees. Yet here we are.

Since the Norwich City game it seems that Wanyama’s toys have returned to his pram and all can be dusted behind us. The board have remained strong and it’s an act that fans could certainly get used to.

We wouldn’t have it any other way, would we Saints fans?

well…

2) The Black Box Has Worked Its Magic Once Again

Had it not been for this wonder working machine, Southampton football club may well have been the laughing stock that the media wanted so badly last season.

Now it seems that Southampton have uncovered yet more gems in the form of Romeu ( 4.9 Million from Chelsea ) Cedric Soares ( 4.55 Million from Sporting Clube De Portugal ) and Virgil Van Dijk ( 11 Million from Celtic ). Romeu has offered a much needed presence in midfield after the departure of Schneiderlin to Manchester United. Fans have been wowed by his wide range of passing, passion on the field and crunching tackles; he’s fast becoming a fan favourite, proving to be our best player of the new season along the way.

Then we have the Portuguese International Cedric Soares who has provided an incredible option from the right side with persistent movement, a beautiful cross and stamina to make Steven Davis proud. Our new right back has already notched up one assist in his first five games, beating Nathaniel Clyne’s assist tally from last season. On top of that he has created six more chances than Clyne’s disappointing two for Liverpool; not half bad for a debut season.

To round it off we have the newly capped Dutch International Virgil Van Dijk who was a shining light in the recent fixture against West Bromwich Albion; with a classy touch, an eye for a pass and a composed defender, he’s a shoe in fit for Toby Alderweireld. Were yet to see a true reflection of Juanmi, Jordy Clasie and Marteen Stekelenburg’s talents, but with the track record that Southampton hold, it would come as no surprise for them to soon flourish under Ronald Koeman.

3) Europe Can Wait

 

After last seasons displays, Southampton fans held every reason to be positive about the European journey that lay ahead.

Sadly however it wasn’t to be, Southampton steered clear of their beautiful fluid football and poorly exchanged it with a Sam Allardyce tactical dream. To fans it became apparent that we had lost our core – thanks to th departure of Schneiderlin – and we needed time for our new faces to settle in. After all, it’s hard to maintain your identity with just two familiar faces in the seven defensive positions.

In a season that will largely be focused on transition and cohesion, European football would simply be an unneeded headache at the cost of League form. For now, the European nights can wait until we are ready to march on.

 

4) Koeman’s Favoritism

It’s slowly becoming more and more evident that Ronald Koeman holds his selected favourites. Whilst I applaud his man management and belief that he installs in his players, you have to worry that it could be at the cost of performance and team morale.

In light of the recent Wanyama transfer saga, James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu proved to form a perfect partnership in his absence. Despite wiping the floor clean with Norwich City and producing the first and only high quality game of the season, it wasn’t enough. Wanyama returned, Romeu was dropped and subsequently James Ward-Prowse was pushed forward into a less familiar position; the result? a share of the spoils in what was to be a 0-0 snoozefest against West Bromwich Albion. Granted, this is a point against a well structured Tony Pulis side that went out with the intent not to lose. However, you just can’t help but wonder what may have been if we stuck with our winning formula. Even more so if the returning player “Isn’t mentally ready” after a blocked transfer away. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, Ron.

5) We Can Still Play That Beautiful Football

Early season form was not only worrying, but ugly in the process. As mentioned before, our football shown against FC Midtjylland on the European stage was nothing to be proud of and a million miles away from the standards we had set last season. Fans were especially worried about the aesthetics of our play when you tie this performance in with the defensively poor showing against Newcastle and Everton. It had seemed we lost our identity; our beautiful and crisp passing that helped to make us everyone’s little soft spot was nowhere to be seen. Whilst fans questioned if that football had made its move to The Theatre Of Dreams, Koeman’s army produced the greatest response to silence the doubters… a dominating three nil masterclass. Southampton proved to be superior in every position against Norwich City in a performance that proudly and rightly belonged at St. Mary’s.

With our number one summer target Virgil Van Dijk still settling in and Clasie joining Bertrand on the way back from injury, play can only improve.

The overlapping runs, quick one touch passing, constant movement and sharp decisions were back, let’s hope they are here to stay.

 

 

Talking Points: Bertrand On Targett For Return?

During yesterday’s press conference it was confirmed that Ryan Bertrand has not yet recovered in time for Saturday’s trip to the Hawthorns.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman then went on to say “I hope that he will start training with the whole group from Monday” You have to understand that he didn’t have a pre season and that’s always difficult for a player”. The England International has been sidelined for just over three months now and with his return on the horizon, can he replicate last seasons success and where does this place Matt Targett?

Confidence is the key factor in the comparison between both players; however, the reasons are quite different. In a Southampton XI with the oh so reliant Bertrand, each player around him is fuelled with confidence in both his ability and movement; defenders, midfielders and attackers alike take great risks in play due to the trust they hold with Bertrand. This confidence allows the left side of the field to play in the instinctive manner that has been drilled into their minds through Koeman. This instinctive and fast paced football is the play that we have grown to love.

Where as 19 year old Matt Targett desperately relies on self confidence – of which he has lacked – and the trust of his team-mates in order to perform well; both of which Bertrand holds in abundance. During Targett’s forced promotion to the starting line up, we have seen two sets of performances. One being a shaky and error prone youngster, the better side being an expressive and positive player that lives up to the Southampton academy reputation. In fixtures such as Norwich (Home) and Vitesse (Away) we have seen the brighter sides to his game, but for now those performances come around all too little.  

So, upon the inevitable occurrence of Bertrand reclaiming his starting spot, what could be next for Targett?

The club could look to give Targett the same chance that Gallagher, Stephen’s and Turnbull are currently experiencing on a loan spell; whilst this may be effective for the growth of Targett as an individual, it would damage the squad depth in turn and therefore force the club to bump into some avoidable transfer expenses. Combine this financial irresponsibility with Southampton’s academy ambitions and this looks like a weak possibility.

Instead, I expect to see Targett reinstalled in his role as backup. During his recent run of Premier League fixtures you could easily argue that as just a raw talent, Targett’s demands have been all too high. At such a young age he has been thrown into the starting line up with the responsibility/expectation that comes with it, all whilst he has no genuine competition. Being just 19 years old, competition is key in the unfortunate event of falling out of depth; this added bonus of quality is a safety net for the morale and health of a youngster, a safety net that Targett has had to deal without.

We have seen flashes and flickers of his talent during Bertrand’s absence and provided he stays within the first team plans, he has much more to learn from a manager who knows it all about defending. As for Bertrand, a player of his quality surrounded by the talents on show at St Mary’s will only continue to star in the red and white stripes. Perhaps Bertrand can mentor Mathew to keep him on Targett?

 

James Ward-Prowse: Is It Time To Kick Off Under Koeman?

Coming off the back of an incredible performance against Norwich City, James Ward-Prowse has been named as the England U21 captain – this reward will see Ward-Prowse take charge on the pitch for the forthcoming Euro qualifier against Norway. Southampton fans would agree that this achievement is a testament to the youngsters recent showings in the red and white stripes. So, is this the moment for Ward-Prowse to truly nail down his starting place?

A mature set of performances, International recognition and a current starting spot in the first team; the 20 year old is certainly doing his career no harm.

Though Victor Wanyama’s tantrum has given a helping hand to Ward-Prowse, it didn’t mean he was guaranteed to fill the boots. Yet here we are, Ronald Koeman shall be dealt a manager’s best nightmare upon the players return from International duty.

In the past two seasons Ward-Prowse has dealt battle with one of the league’s strongest midfield partnerships. Sadly however for the now England U21 captain, it was a partnership that held quality in abundance and rarely fell short of fitness; thus forcing Koeman to predominantly place Ward-Prowse in a less familiar advanced role. Whilst he has undeniably come up with the goods in assists and creativity, his lack of bursting pace, quick feet and poor finishing has left him ineffective when played as an attacking midfielder. His talent is clear to see, but for quite some time now we have been wanting to witness him apply his trade in a more natural position; perhaps a place in the midfield partnership, Ron?

With Morgan Schneiderlin now spending every waking moment studying the almighty Van Gaal “Philosophy” and Wanyama coming out the tail end of a disruptive transfer saga, this really is the moment for the young Portsmouth born boy to earn his spot.

In Southampton’s three nil domination over Norwich City, the La Masia academy star Romeu joined Ward-Prowse in the middle of the park. This partnership seemed to click from the very first whistle as it provided the much needed base to push Southampton onto victory. With both players holding incredible technical ability and an intelligent mind, the two put an end to the hoof ball that Southampton fans have become accustomed to as of late. Instead, fans were treated to the site of a classy Romeu – playing as the anchor from deep – and Ward-Prowse splitting the defence open and co ordinating in perfect harmony. Simply put, it was the perfect midfield balance and if either of the duo were not to start on Southampton’s visit to The Hawthorns, it would be a despicable decision. Fans have labelled the performance as their most attractive in recent games and best of all, it placed a smile back upon the face of Ronald Koeman.

You could easily argue that to see Southampton play in such a positive and attractive fashion is no surprise, given that Ward-Prowse was handed the chance. In previous fixtures we have seen a mistake filled and sluggish paced transition from defence to attack, this has strongly damaged our power at both ends of the field in turn. Most notably, these uninspiring performances have occurred when Wanyama and Steven Davis form a pair; whilst both players hold fantastic attributes in the correct system, they both rely on their physical strengths.

At this point to restore Southampton’s beautiful fluid football they need reassurance and class on the ball. Strangely enough, thats exactly what was shown against Alex Neil’s Norwich last weekend. The young man offers a calming influence on the ball, the ability to switch play over any distance, the intelligence to find space, a positive approach to play and not to mention his beautiful set piece deliveries.

If Ward-Prowse is able to maintain his position in the first team, it would not only be an incredible achievement for him, but also for the fans and the club. It’s a proud moment as a fan to watch over a player and know that he is one of your own, a feeling that as a Southampton fan, will never die.

 

Ronald Koeman: Mess Or Messiah?

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved” – Sun Tzu

I feel like these wise words from Sun Tzu sum up Ronald Koeman’s recent situation perfectly. Everybody can see the tactics that he has deployed in the past few Premier League fixtures, but no one apart from Ronald Koeman himself can fully understand his thoughts. The critics can all criticise (I’m looking at you Trevor Sinclair) but none will know his true intentions. Starting off with what is quite clearly a sore point for Southampton fans, the 0-0 draw away to Watford. Is that the game that could bring us back to basics? The start of the Koeman master-plan?

 

After conceding five goals in the opening two games of the Premier League season, with defending has been incomparable to last season it’s difficult to believe that this is the same side that had one of the best defences in England last season, let alone Europe.

But… upon closer inspection, such poor displays could be understood. Most notably, four of the back five that built the base in Koeman’s army are unavailable through departure and injury. Could the side really expect to kick on in the same manner when fielding an out of depth Matt Targett, a back up in Maya Yoshida and two whole new faces (Marteen Stekelenburg and Cedric Soares). It seems some have forgotten that it will take time to gel and for everything to settle down, the Dutchman has said it himself.

Once the so consistent Ryan Bertrand returns from injury – after the international break – and our mystery big money centre back (Virgil Van Dijk) partners Jose Fonte, our leaky defence can be boarded up once again. But for now, and certainly in the Watford game, Southampton didn’t  have that luxury of added quality.

The 3-5-2 formation that was blasted as ‘naïve’ by the aforementioned Trevor Sinclair added defensive solidity, making Southampton hard to breakdown. For the first time this season, Southampton looked sound and confident that they could keep a side out. Steven Caulker added to this, winning the majority of his aerial duals and bringing confidence to the side; he was fantastic.

Although, in the decision to return solidity at the back, the formation was a sacrifice in attack. This bluntness going forward was certainly not helped with Sadio mane having to go of with slight concussion. Mane is a true game changer and has the ability to produce something special in the dying moments of a game; many would argue he is the only Saints player to hold such traits.

Had Mane stayed on, we could have been discussing the tactical master-class to put Southampton’s first win on the table.

However, because of this unforeseen eventuality, I believe that Koeman wasn’t too far off getting his tactics spot on. The idea was to sit back, hit Watford on the counter and run play through Mane. Southampton could have easily won the game, but that’s football. The game wasn’t about smashing Watford out of the park, the new boys who were apparently there for the taking (which I believe to be quite an offensive stance) are an organised squad that have the ability to cause an upset at the scent of complacency. Despite the outcries of ‘we should be beating them easily’ etc etc, this is a side that drew 2-2 with the same Everton team who beat Southampton 3-0 at St.Mary’s. The game was about getting back to basics and ensuring that Southampton kept a clean sheet.

Moving on from the Watford game, what does Koeman need to do in order to move forward?

The key to success with the current crop of players is to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders. The reason being is that Southampton hold a strong central core which acts as the focus in all stages of play. This strong core is the reason Southampton held such a tight knit defence and penetrative attack last season; the midfield pair act as a second wall in front of the defence whilst also encouraging full back overlaps, plugging the gaps of those who push forward. Not to mention that with a fully fit squad, Southampton will hold variations of the formation for particular games; Jordie Clasie being the option for games in which you expect to dominate in possession and Romeu acting as the destructive midfielder for those hard battling fixtures against the elite.  

The problem in recent games however, is that with the loss of Schneiderlin, Koeman has been playing Steven Davis alongside Wanyama and this has caused chaos in a subtle fashion. Davis is required to carry out roles that simply aren’t a natural part to his game, a square peg in a round hole so to speak. Yet with Romeu – a natural defensive minded midfielder – the balance is restored.

Well… kind of. Its no mystery that Southampton place great importance on the impact of their full backs, but perhaps we didn’t realise quite how important they really are. With Ryan Bertrand injured and Cedric Soares struggling to play back to back games, we’re weakened in quality and the team are less familiar of their surroundings. Not only are our full backs required to keep Skekelenburg’s gloves squeaky clean, they are also a key figure in freeing up space for the forwards and wingers – neither tasks have been carried out in Southampton’s difficult start to the season. Its clear for even the simplest of football fans that Matt Targett, Maya Yoshida, Steven Caulker and Cuco Martina offer half the options that Cedric and Bertrand provide at both ends of the field. Upon return of both full backs starting, I’m certain that Southampton will improve in every department.

For the moment however, Koeman is having to make do and every point gained is a very good one. We cant really tell just how good (or bad) Southampton will be until everyone is back fit and there is the full use of the squad. Only once the option of a fully fit squad arises, can we see our most dangerous front line and strongest defensive showings; then of course everyone will be saying Koeman is The Messiah once again and the best thing since chips and Mayonnaise.
All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. –  remember them when Southampton are flying once more, never question Big Ron , EVER.

Talking Point: Why Saints Fans Shouldn’t Worry About Sacrificing League Form For a European Run

After ex Saint Tim Sparv stunned St.Mary’s last Thursday by snatching FC Midtjylland an away goal and a share of the spoils, Southampton have it all to do this coming Thursday. With the score tied at one apiece, Ronald Koeman’s side will have to score at least one goal to book their place in the group stages of the Europa League.

 

The height of optimism by some for the season ahead is what I can regrettably only describe as, unrealistic – just like any other club would after a successful season, Southampton host a group of naive fans who think we can finish in the top seven, reach a domestic final and make the later knockout rounds of the Europa League. These same fans are those who scream MELTDOWN, claim that we are not reinvesting the money and that we are “going backwards” after a goalless draw to an inform Watford that have a point to prove.

The way I see it, Southampton are due a major trophy. If that were to mean a 14th place finish rather than a top half spot, I think I’d be content – as would many others upon watching club legends Jose Fonte and Kelvin Davis lift the trophy. After all, what’s the difference between 10th and 14th anyway? bragging rights over other mid table sides? extra prize money that is equal to one weeks wages?

Its safe to say we are no European Giants. The last time Southampton prepared for those oh so desired European nights was back in 2003 – even then, that was only two qualification legs against Steaua Bucharest.

However, this time round with an experienced European manager and a squad with greater depth, we have already beaten our 2003 European tour – If you can even call it that.

There are some big names in Europe’s second biggest club competition this year and Saints fans could have some extraordinary away trips. The electrical atmosphere of those Eastern European sides and jaw-droppingly vast stadiums such as Westfalenstadion – the battlefield of Borussia Dortmund – are certainly something to look forward to.

Realistically, we don’t have the squad to go far in all four competitions. If by the odd chance that we did go all the way in every competition, were talking about an 81 game season. However, that just won’t happen. Not only would that drain the players physically and mentally, but it would also destroy each player’s marriage in turn.

Now, lets take our mandatory 38 Premier League games and chuck in an early cup exit, getting to a respectable Europa League finish and a half decent FA cup run. We are now presented with our “What could be” 60 game season. Fans must understand that in a season consisting of 60 games, our form will peter out at some point; tired legs and sloppy passes happen to the big guns and we are certainly no exception.

So Saints fans, we can’t have it all. But that’s not to mean we can’t give it our best shot. Simply remember where we were six years ago and enjoy the journey, for were all going on a European Tour.

Juan Migel Jimenez Lopez: What Can We Expect?

Juan Miguel Jimenez Lopez is already a capped Spanish International at just the age of 22. Having risen through the ranks at his home club Malaga, the next chapter in the young Spaniard’s career is already underway; its an exciting one to say the least. Thanks to a five million pound transfer, Southampton fans are optimistic of whats to come – La Liga experts are labeling Juanmi a gem.

But what will he bring to Southampton and why did they choose to bring him to St.Mary’s?

The black box. The magical black box. This same system that brought talents to the club such as Fraser Forster, Toby Alderweireld and Sadio Mane is at it again. Juanmi is yet another chosen one from this almighty system, and judging by the track record… its looking positive. With a sprinkle of Koeman’s magic, all of these statistically analysed players contributed to Southampton’s highest ever finish in the Premier league – a Seventh place spot and Europe League qualification. So its safe to say the black box can be trusted, it hasn’t thrown us a dud yet.

So, why Juanmi?

Juanmi is a technically gifted player and just the sight of the ball at his feet is enough to understand why Koeman sees him as an asset for the squad. Importantly for Southampton, he has a silky deft touch when gliding with the ball. One too many times last season Koeman’s men needed that neat touch, close control and innate intuition to unlock the defence. Juanmi is that key to the door.

What better therefore to compliment that Spanish flair than with the bonus of Juanmi’s pace.  His most famous goal to date being the perfect illustration of his blistering speed. That game winning goal against Barcelona last season saw Juanmi pinch the ball, slip past Dani Alves and then accelerate clean through on goal, leaving Jordi Alba for dead. I repeat… Dani Alves and Jordi Alba. Its an enjoyable trait that strikes excitement into fans on the terrace. Not to mention that it’s incredibly useful when facing those ageing old school centre halves legs. “You cant kick em if you cant catch em”, as Mane found out in his debut season.

Once you combine that dangerous duo of class and pace with his slight of frame and low centre of gravity, Juanmi will have no troubles settling into the physicality of the division. All that is stopping him from making an instant impact, is getting an  understanding his role in the side.

To say that Juanmi’s aura is comparable to David Silva’s is not a stretch of the imagination; not yet, but potentially so. He plays with the same jinking style, he will leave defenders in knots as the ball clings to his feet effortlessly . No-one knows what he’s going to do, when he’s going to do it, or how. He has an unpredictability about his play.

Oddly, all of these skills were shown in the Vitesse Arnhem home leg for the third goal of the game. When Shane Long stormed through on goal and Room parried the shot, Juanmi was there. With the ball down and under control he left their keeper scampering across the box and drew the defender off the line. When all in the crowd were convinced he would shoot, the new boy flicked the ball to the back post and left both defenders stranded and helpless – Long was there to head home into an open goal. It was a pass that seemed alien to witness by a player in the red and white stripes; a moment of sheer quality. Juanmi had gained the attention of 30,000 Southampton fans with a single touch of his boot.

Although he’s not been the most prolific of scorers so far in his career, this doesn’t mean he won’t develop a more clinical eye for goal. After all, if there is any club to bring the best out of a player, it’s Southampton.

It’s a player Ronald Koeman said the club simply couldn’t miss. Five million. Spanish international. Quick. Low centre of gravity and a quick thinker with gifted feet. To tie it all together, he can play at any point in the front diamond – cover, is a necessity for every position, given the congested fixtures the club will face (The introduction of Europa League Football).

Although I’m sure he will be blooded into the Premier League slowly, when playing with Pellé , Mane and Tadic opportunites will arise a-plenty.

There is something both Vincete Del Bosque and Ronald Koeman have seen in this young talent; is much more approval needed?

This signing is another one that has gone under the radar and another very astute one from the club.
The black box may have found another gem, but only time will tell.

Transfer Scouting: Wherefore Art Thou Romeu ?

Back in 2011, Oriol Romeu Vidal decided to swap Barcelona for Chelsea at age twenty. This came after featuring as a first team player for Barcelona B and making his first appearance in La Liga. He seemingly had the world at his feet. So why did he leave and where did it go wrong?

Granted, getting into Barcelona’s first team is no picnic. With the emergence of Busquets, plus Inesita and Xavi as competition, this is as hard as a fight can possibly get. Understandably, a fight he clearly didn’t fancy.

This world class competition soon helped to pave way the way for a move to Premier League giants, Chelsea. A club with bags of money, Premier League titles and… a worrying reputation in developing young talents for their own use.

Its a well known fact that Chelsea are not the greatest at inter-grating young talents into the first team, whether that be through the academy or as transfer. Josh Mceachran, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohammed Salah just to name a few in recent years. This is something that Romeu clearly wasn’t advised on. So what would have happened if he’d stayed at Barca?

We know he was highly thought of at the Catalan giants. Although he moved on to Chelsea, Barcelona still ensured to put in place a five million transfer fee and first refusal buy back clauses. Ten million if they bought him back in 2012, or 15 million if they brought him back in 2013. Why would you put in place buy back clauses if you couldn’t see something special?

Not to mention that he had already played his first game for the club before HE decided to move on. He was not forced out of the club, if anything, they wanted to keep him.

Had Romeu stayed injury free and continued in the same vain as his first season at Chelsea, Barcelona would have acted on the buy back clause. This would have been nothing out of the ordinary- Fabregas, Alba and Pique are three perfect examples of what could have happened. It goes without saying that Barcelona hold an incredible number of talents. As a result, they have allowed players to make their name elsewhere, only to bring them back home. This may well have been the master plan for Romeu.

He started brightly at Chelsea, going on to make 24 appearances in the number six shirt. This featured a number of bench appearance’s but as the season went on, Chelsea fans saw more and more of the Spaniard. He was becoming a fan favourite. Good on the ball, the eye for a pass and able to carry out his defensive duties; he was the complete midfielder. The prospect of Romeu partnered with Frank Lampard was an exciting one. At twenty years old, Romeu was making an impression, you could tell he was schooled at La Masia. He had that air about him, he always had time on the ball. He was calm, playing for Chelsea didn’t seem to phase him.

He even featured in the build up to Chelsea’s famous 2012 Champions League win against Bayern Munich, under manager Roberto Di Matteo. Romeu was seemingly unfazed by the competition at all times, making 3 appearances.Throughout his Chelsea career he won the Champions League, the Europa League (Chelsea’s only European triumphs to date) and the FA Cup. That experience will prove vital during Southampton’s European involvements this season. This is experience that only Romeu’s ex team mate Ryan Bertrand shares.

His impression at the club was growing and in 2012, Roberto Di Matteo stated that Yossi Benayoun, Michael Essien and Raul Meireles would all be leaving the club – resulting in more opportunities for the young Spaniard. Then it all came crashing down, on the 11th of December he suffered a knee injury against Sunderland, an injury that would keep him out for the rest of the season. That is arguably the injury that changed it all.

With such an injury at a club like Chelsea, its almost the beginning of the end. On return from his injury set back, Romeu was sent home to Valencia. The La Liga club are one with ambition and a pedigree as one of the best teams in Spain, it was a smart move for both clubs and the player.  During his time at the club he made 18 appearances as the club finished 8th. A solid season. He did however pick up a training ground injury to his knee that kept him out for a month. But it happened the once, and hasn’t happened since.

After returning from his loan spell he went ahead to sign a new contract until 2017 at Chelsea (another indicator of his obvious talent) and went out on loan (again) to Stuttgart. He played 27 times for the club in a season of turmoil, narrowly missing relegation by the skin of their teeth. One point to be exact. But, he was an ever-present shining light, doing the best job possible in a side that lacked players with the quality or desire to compete.

So, here we are. He’s joined Southampton having just today made his first Premier League appearance for over two years. With a midfield void that needs to be filled and Romeu having a point to prove, this could be the move to get his career back on track. Rather the same way that Southampton helped to guide Ryan Bertrand back into the England set up.

To put it simply, this looks to be a very smart signing. To secure a talented 23 year old in a much needed position can be considered brilliant business, especially given Southampton’s ability to squeeze every drop of talent to the surface. Even more so for just five million pounds.

Fans along the south coast will be hopeful that it is yet another piece of genius pulled from the black box.

Those who have witnessed Romeu play will be very aware of the positions he likes to take up on the field, therefore knowing that he can fill in for the now departed Morgan Schneiderlin. With Romeu’s addition, Southampton can once again revert to playing two centre defensive midfielder’s, in front of the back four; this successful system has become second nature for Southampton and helps to add protection for the back line. Whenever Southampton move away from this defensive partnership, the chances of picking up all three points quickly fade away. This may well be a shoe in fit for Romeu.

Finally, working under Barcelona legend Ronald Koeman shall be that of an honour to the La Masia academy starlet.

Oriol Romeu Vidal, your career is in safe hands. Welcome to Southampton.

Talking Point: Will Pellé Improve On Last Seasons Performances?

As a point was picked up in Sunday’s 2-2 trip to St James Park, Graziano Pellé scored  his first Premier League goal of the season.

The burly Italian has started the 2015/16 season with admirable form, showing all his critics why he deserves to keep his spot as the focal point of the team. In a Europa League debut season for Southampton, Pellé has ensured to keep the fans dreams of European nights alive – scoring a goal in each fixture against Eredivise side, Vitesse Arnhem. Now, fans are wondering if this stunning form can continue into the season that lays ahead.

Last season was a record breaking year for Southampton and new boy Pellé was at the very front of it all – finishing the season on what looked to be a respectable 12 goals.  However, those fans in the red and white stripes know that he so easily could have been a 20 goal forward. The only issues that seemed to stand in his way from reaching that target was both confidence and well… luck.

Its no secret that once Pellé gets that first goal, his confidence hits the hights and good fortunes soon follow for Southampton. But as we found out last year, getting him back on the score sheet can prove to be a tricky task. So much so that the Italian international faced a troubled 1,245 minute goal drought last season; match that statistic with just one away goal and it’s clear to see that Pellé thrives on confidence.

As for the luck, he struck the woodwork 9 times in his debut season.

To simply label Pellé as a goalscorer however, wouldn’t give him the credit he so deserves. Standing at 6ft 4 in and holding the ability to embarrass any of the strongest defenders in the league (with almighty strength and looks), he has a dominating presence as the spearhead of Koeman’s army. At times when the goals weren’t flowing and shots were being shanked, his beautiful flicks and through balls continued to put points on the board for Southampton. Without Pellé in the side, our attack can only be described as toothless.

new pelle comparison

 

Above: Graziano Pellé in comparison to the league’s top forwards

For a player to become so influential after just 12 months at the club is an astonishing achievement by both Koeman and Pellé, giving fans great confidence that there is yet more to come from our top goalscorer. After all, he can only gain more Premier League experience and greater understanding of his team mates. Oh, and did I mention he is beautiful?

Pellé will not be the only player going into his second season at Southampton with something to prove; Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane will also be looking to add an element of consistency to their game. With all three attacking players having incredible Premier League debut seasons, it’s an exciting thought to consider how they may influence the Italian’s season and vice versa.

A once again fit and creative early season Tadic, mixed with a mid season goal scoring Mane is enough to make your mouth water. If Southampton can strike a tune out of Mane and Tadic at the same time – something we are yet to see, Pellé will be in a strikers wonderland.

Then we have the new boys who can help push Grazi into the next tier of Premier League forwards. One of which, Portugese International Cedric Soares, has already shown his qualities in supporting Pellé from the fullback position.

In past seasons, Southampton fans have bared witness to Nathaniel Clyne’s often poorly drilled and disappointing looping crosses. Instead, just 25 minutes into the new season, Cedric’s inviting ball was met by the head of none other than Graziano Pelle’ to put the away side 0-1 up. One game and one assist, he’s already beating Clyne’s zero assists for Southampton in the previous campaign.

With Cedric’s high quality crossing ability and Southampton putting high importance in wide play, this won’t be the last time these two combine.

As for Spanish International Juanmi, Pellé has another much needed pacey forward to add to his arsenal. Juanmi will look to build his play, off and around Pellé, making darting runs in behind the defence.

In return, Pellé can expect the service that Shane Long received during his goal in the home fixture against Vitesse Arnhem. This frontline relationship between Pellé and others, is one that can only benefit all of those involved. The more options that we hold, the more opportunities that Pellé has to improve upon last years records.

The only worry of Pellé’s importance is the matter of his age; being 30 years old and becoming such a key figure for the side, is an idea that worries some fans. Short term gain but longer term pain perhaps?

Yes, until you remember the kind of forward that Pellé is. With age, comes the loss of pace and mobility that was there once before; these are effects that hunt down and kill the quick hardworking wingers, darting midfielders and skillful mavericks of the game. Not the Pellé’s. Miroslav Klose (37), Dimitar Berbatov (34) and Aritz Aduriz (34) are living proof that as an ageing forward within the correct set up, you can’t lose the knack of being in the right place at the right time.

Fans are still raising questions over the Italian’s head, but most calming of all,  Ronald Koeman believes Pellé is the right man to keep us moving forward. Besides, with the year on year progress that Southampton make; would it surprise anyone if Pellé rose to the challenge?

 

Season Preview: Gallagher, Turnbull and Stephens Season Ahead

Another pre-season goes by, another loan move for some of Southampton’s promising youngsters. Jack Stephens and Jordan Turnbull have once again moved out on temporary deals – Sam Gallagher is set for his first loan spell – but what does it mean for the careers of these potential stars?

Equally what does it mean for the future of Southampton’s squad?

Last season, Stephens and Turnbull were loaned out together to Swindon Town. The young pair went on to form a top partnership, in a side who narrowly missed out on League One promotion. Such a feat can only stand them in good stead. In fact, Turnbull left County Ground having won young player of the year, as Swindon failed in the play-offs. The long hard campaign and playing at Wembley would have worked wonders for the two young centre backs. Having become a fan favourite, Turnbull has since been loaned out once again to Swindon Town, where he will look to finish the job he started. However, Jack Stephens being older than Turnbull, has been loaned out to big spenders Middlesbrough, who under the safe hands of Aitor Karanka will look to win the Championship. With such pressure applied to the 21 year old, this will massively aid Stephens progression and help him reach the next step in his career, Southampton’s first team. The final bonus of Stephens’ selection is working under a manager of Karanka’s calibre; since joining up with the Spaniard, Middlesbrough have shown a clear philosophy of passing out from the back – similar to that of Ronald Koeman’s Southampton.

Then there’s Sam Gallagher who broke into the first team during Mauricio Pochettino’s ruling at Southampton. Granted, he got two goals during a string of substitute appearances and the playing time against Arsenal will no doubt prove valuable over time, but those on the South coast knew he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t a superstar and he wasn’t going to score 15 goals in the Premier League at such a young age, but that’s to be expected.

Despite this, he still found the development league too easy, scoring goal after goal when fit. His most glorious of all coming in the form of a 25 yard strike to win the Premier League cup final against Blackburn.

So, loaning him out makes sense. Southampton have found that level in-between the two.

Loaning him out to a progressive side such as MK Dons, who play beautiful silky football, under a young talented manager like Karl Robinson, is a master stroke. Benik Afobe and Patrick Bamford are clear evidence of MK Dons’ success with young forwards; Robinson has taken young talented players and turned them into sought after proven goal scorers. With Afobe smashing in goals at Wolves and Bamford now at Palace in the premier league, sending Gallagher to the Dons is a considered move by the club. A move that COULD turn Gallagher into the superstar that his potential promises.

Something that is strikingly similar about all three loanees, is that they feature in positions where you need to be ready for the highest standard of English football. As a striker you have to score goals regularly, its as simple as that. Goals win games and you only see young strikers thrust into the hustle and bustle of the Premier League if they are extremely talented.

The same goes for centre backs. These are two key positions, where you very rarely see youngsters. Sadly, the only time many clubs show their young players any sort of “trust” is when injury strikes, thus leaving the squad paper thin. So, for Southampton to send these 19, 20 and 21 year old’s out on loan is certainly no negative move by any stretch of the imagination.

It must also be noted that these are two positions where Southampton are rather strong; with another senior centre back still to come in and the likes of Pelle, Rodriguez, Long and Mane for competition, the youngsters would struggle to get worthwhile minutes under their belt. At the stage that Southampton so clearly see these players, it will only halt their progression if they refuse to offer game-time – nice move Southampton.

Finally, we have to take a look at who they have played with and where they have come from; after-all, this is the Southampton way. In the immediate first team squad you currently have 3 top quality youngsters who are showing early signs that they are ready for the top. James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed and Matt Targett are the most recent crop of fully fledged senior players. With Matt Targett comfortably slotting in at left back for the injured Ryan Bertrand, Ward-Prowse becoming a stat man’s golden boy and Reed injecting a so desired fight in the midfield, many now wonder who is next to stamp their place on the first team. The academy youngsters have worked with one another throughout their childhood, so to see their fellow friends be given that opportunity to succeed, shall only motivate them further ahead of their loan moves. With Southampton deeming Stephens, Turnbull and Gallagher worthy of high quality Football League game time, is it a sign of what may be their next step? That next step being the opportunity that Ward-Prowse, Reed and Targett have embraced.

For those however who still have their doubts about Stephens, Turnbull and Gallagher ( For being sent on loan ) then just take a look at some of England’s current hottest prodigies, Harry Kane and John Stones. Between 2011 and 2013, Harry Kane found himself on loan at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich City and Leicester City; Gallagher is currently just one year older than Kane was upon the Tottenham boys first loan move.

Throughout 2011 and 2013, Everton defender and Chelsea target John Stones gained his experience through two tough relegation battling seasons in the Championship with Barnsley; Stephens and Turnbull will arguably be featuring in more expansive sides at a similar age.

The point being that through Stones and Kane’s time in The Football League they gained invaluable experience, game time to match their current ability and the know how to make the step up to the Premier League.

With the way Southampton produce the young stars of the future, it should be a set of loan moves that fans can trust are at the heart of the clubs best interests. Surely it wont be too long before we see the majority of our squad once again being young, talented English players from our esteemed academy.