Blogs

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.

Talking Point: Why Southampton Fans Shouldn’t Be Disheartened By Lack Of English Signings

 

Unsurprisingly, this summer has been yet another busy one for Southampton; seeing three familiar faces leave and six new bodies enter the building, Steven Caulker is the latest recruit that has Southampton fans talking. Whilst business to build and replace in the squad has been swift, some fans have voiced their displeasure over Caulker being the only English recruit. So, are Southampton losing their English core that they have become so famed for owning?

Judging by Southampton’s outgoing transfer business it would be hard to argue any other case. In the past two summer windows Southampton have waved goodbye to England stars Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw and most recently Nathaniel Clyne – Fraser Forster and Ryan Bertrand being the only incoming English talent on permanent deals. Point taken, Southampton have let go of a first team English core – through an incredible set of business worth £85.5M – and it’s understandable for fans to want English replacements, that is of course until you ask “With who?”.

Southampton are a club who strive for progression and success. A club that prides itself on never settling for less. Following that theory, any transfer should therefore be an upgrade.

In positions such as right back, attacking midfield, wingers and especially defensive midfield, Southampton would be searching for English players who simply don’t exist.

In terms of a realistic English signing, Charlie Austin could be considered the only upgrade. Whilst that would be a move that I welcome with open arms, Graziano Pelle’ is the focal point of Koeman’s side and removing the Italian from the starting XI is something of a large risk. On paper, Charlie Austin would bolster our attack; however, in terms of the team’s final position come the end of the season, I’m not so sure.

The Dutchman has implemented a style of football that requires a very specific forward with incredibly demanding needs, this has allowed for other forwards and midfielders to thrive from Pelle’s service. Sadio Mane for example recorded an impressive 10 goals during his debut season, thanks to the space Pelle’ helps to create.Whether Charlie Austin could fulfill these   tasks is a question that for now will remain un-answered.

But is it all so bad losing these oh so treasured English stars when Koeman and co continue to discover some of Europe’s biggest gems?

Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Dusan Tadic are players that have surely doubled their market value since playing for the South coast club.

As for new recruits, the early signs are that Cedric Soares could be an improvement on Clyne, Juanmi is already amongst the goals and Maarten Stekelenburg has shown his worth in experience during a crucial period against Vitesse.

But back to the financial talk, a topic that is often first to arrive when talking about English talents.

Cedric is a portuguese International at 23 years old, Clasie is a Dutch International at 24 years old and Juanmi is a Spanish International at just 22 years old. All of these talents collectively reached a fee of £20.3M, you certainly wouldn’t be insane to suggest the fee would be in the region of £50M if they were to be English. Simply put, If Southampton wish to continue to strive to join the big guns, then they must conduct their business overseas.

The lack of English signings however, does not mean that the club will lose its English core, for we are Southampton football club; with that name comes our world famed academy. To onlooking lovers of football, Southampton are considered the “Model club”.

Year on year, new talents emerge from the academy and grace the hallowed St. Mary’s turf.

The faithful fans on the terrace dream of watching local lads fly their sides colours, and this season, Southampton’s youngsters shall be doing so in Europe.

Harrison Reed, Matt Targett, James Ward-Prowse, Ryan Seager and Sam Gallagher are just a few academy stars who made first team appearances last season.

Best of all, these English talents were handed appearances through hard work and talent shown in training, ensuring that Southampton continue to strive for excellence within the academy. With Southampton academy products Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale going on to make appearances for their National team, it’s no far fetched thought to believe that Southampton could build a first team in years to come with 50% home grown players; after all, that’s just another step in the five year plan…

Markus would be pleased.

Talking Point: Why Cant Yoshida Shake Off The Past?

Why is Maya Yoshida still shackled to the past? With what many would have labelled as a shaky first season in England’s top flight, Yoshida has since come on in in leaps and bounds – Yet that season 3 years ago continues to haunt the Japanese International. Why is this the case when others who had also struggled in their first season – most notably Jose Fonte and Jay Rodriguez – are now free of their past?

On the 30th August 2012, Southampton announced the signing of Maya Yoshida from Dutch Eredivisie side VVV-Venlo for a fee in the region of 3 million. At the time it seemed an impressive signing, Southampton had acquired a Japanese international who came with a reputation as one of the best centre back’s in Holland; at only 23 years old he was showing great signs of promise for the future.

At least that is what we thought… The start of his Southampton career was, to be said, a train wreck. He made his debut during a 6-1 mauling at the hands of Arsenal, coming on after 28 minutes to replace Dutchman Jos Hooiveld. To say that he was out of his depth wouldn’t even begin to describe Yoshida’s first showing in the red and white stripes. On more than one occasion, he was shown up – his poor positioning and apparent lack of pace was instantly clear to fans. A loss of this magnitude did not help to adhere Yoshida to the Saints fans and neither did the 1-1 draw with Swansea. Yoshida produced an under-hit back pass to rookie goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, which allowed former saint Nathan Dyer to equalize. Two vital points had just been thrown away and the Northam end did not take kindly to Yoshida’s misgiving’s.

The season came to an end and Southampton survived through the skin of their teeth thanks to Maurico Pochettino, the Argentinian took the club to a 14th place finish. However it must noted that steady improvement started under Nigel Adkins, due to Maya Yoshida being replaced in the team by Jos Hooiveld.

He did not have the maiden season in the premier league that many had expected and the Southampton fans were not keen on the Japanese International. Yet he was not the only player to have a poor first season in the Premier League. Club captain Kelvin Davis was simply shocking, being replaced by Artur Boruc. As for the now Portuguese international, Jose Fonte was continuously in and out of the side, making costly mistakes and errors that proved he was not ready for the Premier League. Then their was new signing Jay Rodriguez, who only managed six goals in the premier league (although he showed great improvement under Mauricio Pochettino).

These players have since gone on to become key figures for Southampton, with Artur Boruc solidifying his first team spot for a full season before leaving for Bournemouth. Jose Fonte then became one of the best centre backs in the premier league, as well as taking on the roles of captain, leader and sweetheart of the club. Even Jay Rodriguez progressed in the side, scoring 15 goals in the 13/14 season of the premier league. They’ve all been forgiven for their poor early showings in the premier league… all except Yoshida, who simply cant shake off his unreliable tag.

Like those mentioned, Yoshida has shown steady improvement during his time in the Premier League and to those who can forget that first season, he is now a reliable centre back. Thanks to Ronald Koeman, Yoshida has taken his game to a level that many would have never believed he could reach; he can always be relied upon to step up to the plate when needed and he’s also versatile, plugging in the gaps at left/right back when Southampton have been struck by injury. But most importantly he always gives 100% for the cause and has not once complained, even when being forced to the bench through better competition. When others have gained super stardom and left St.Mary’s, Yoshida has remained faithful. The faith shown by the players who chose to stay at the club during the summer exodus will forever be appreciated by the fans.

When it seemed no one else would stay and that the journey of 6 years was crumbling before our very eyes, Yoshida was working toward the new season. There’s never been stories of Yoshida refusing to train, having disagreements or finding himself in trouble…he’s a saint (pardon the pun). He was one of the few players that Southampton fans knew they could count on.

A testament of his improvement under Koeman is the new deal he signed in January, extending his stay until at least 2018. With Alderweireld deciding to move on to Tottenham and Gardos facing a long spell out with injury, maybe now is the time to finally let Maya Yoshida step up and prove himself that he can be Jose Fonte’s centre back partner.

Hopefully, what ever the outcome, the Southampton faithful will finally realize that Maya Yoshida has flourished into a dependable Premier League centre back.

With a huge opportunity to further showcase his talent with the introduction of the Europa League this season, we can only hope that he will win over that minority of Southampton fans who think otherwise. After all, Ronald Koeman of all people will know a centre back when he sees one.

Talking Point: What If A Southampton Villain Returned?

With Toby Alderweireld’s departure and injury to Florin Gardos, Southampton’s defence has been reduced to it’s bare bones, which has coincided with tabloid comments about a certain villain who once played at St Mary’s.

Last season Southampton boasted the second best defence in the league – conceding just 33 goals all season – an achievement that Ronald Koeman and Southampton fans have taken great pride in holding. Sadly however, with the current players that are at the Dutchman’s disposal, it would prove an incredible task to repeat. So much so, that Koeman himself has told the media how the defence is “Too small with Maya and Jose” and that another two centre halfs are required.

Meanwhile some 6,278 miles away from Stadium De Kuip, there has been yet another horror show for Liverpool outcast Dejan Lovren.

How much of a horror show I hear you ask? Being left for dust by a binman named Patrick Ronaldinho to be exact. Fans of the Merseyside club can be heard begging Southampton to take back the Croatian they now label as a “fraud”.

On the surface this looks to be an interesting talking point for any football fan; Southampton need a centre half and Liverpool want shot of Lovren for the right price. That same Lovren who Southampton fans hailed and supported as one of the finest defenders in the league.

So, what if Southampton were to take him back? Would we?

Dejan Lovren’s £20M transfer during the 2014 summer exodus was one that brought a number of emotions to Southampton fans. Anger was the overriding feeling due to the way the Croatian International conducted his transfer; Lovren not only refused to train in order to force his “dream” move but he also made a number of snide remarks about the club. Stating “don’t let small minds ruin big dreams” in reference to the board and even worse, telling fans “My mind is already at Liverpool” whilst under contract at Southampton.

With the current positive feeling and togetherness that has been moulded into the club, bringing in such a hated player will only leave a sour taste in the mouth of fans.

Then came the inability for Southampton fans to hide their spite. That came about purely because we had lost what we believed to be an irreplaceable defender, the man who would end the inconceivable task of fixing Liverpool’s defence.

Oh how times change.  The transfer turned out to be the opposite of what the pundits and fans had predicted. Lovren had built up a formidable partnership with Jose Fonte and yet a year later he still has to make is mark on the Liverpool team, increasingly finding himself on the bench and being pulled off early for poor performances. His time at Liverpool appears to be rather different to what he had imagined, In a recent interview Lovren even seemed to be reminiscing of his time at his previous club, saying  “At Southampton it was different. There was a good atmosphere and I was happy. If I am not playing well, I cannot be happy. I didn’t pretend.”

It’s been fairly evident to Southampton fans as to what has been at the root of the lowering in the standard of Lovren’s performances since arriving at Anfield. During his time at Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino placed strict demanding philosophies on defensive play and ensured clear instructions were made to Lovren. Under Brendan Rodgers however, it has been argued by many that he has shown naivety in recent years over defensive play and many would argue that no single defender has flourished whilst under his management. With this in mind, footballing wise, a return to st Mary’s may not be a bad move – In fact it would be a strong signing, even more so with Ronald Koeman’s management; the Dutchman would not only share his expertise in defence, but also give Lovren the arm around the shoulder that he once had and so desires.

However I strongly emphasize that the transfer would only prove beneficial in a theoretical sense, this is because of a new found weakness in his game… confidence.

Whilst playing for Liverpool it has become known that Lovren crumbled under the new found pressure of being the club’s most expensive centre half ever. With such a large price tag, comes large expectations and Liverpool fans were willing to offer no support when the Croatian failed to hit the ground running. This proved to form a vicious cycle of unhappy fans leading to a fragile Lovren, resulting only in failure. You can therefore only imagine and worry how poorly he would respond to abuse from Southampton fans, if he were to rejoin the Saints with shattered confidence.

In summary IF Lovren does regret the move, IF he wants a fresh start, IF an acceptable deal for all parties can be struck, IF he were to be offered a clean slate, we MIGHT all benefit and the brilliant centre half that saints fans were so sad to lose MIGHT be seen again. Quite frankly there are too many IF’s and MIGHTs  to lead to any other conclusion other than we are halfway through the transfer window and there are newspaper columns to fill and mischief to be had.