Blogs

Blog: Will The Real Maarten Stekelenburg Please Stand Up?

11th July 2010, the World Cup final. Maarten Stekelenburg starts in goal for Holland against Spain in world class form that showed no sign of slowing down. The Dutchman was then considered one of the world’s best shot stoppers; but, seemingly that was the peak of his career and since then it’s been all downhill for the Dutchman. So where did it all go wrong and can he reach that form once again for the Saints?

The following season Stekelenburg went on to win the Eredivisie with Ajax, picking up his second player of the season award in succession. This sparked a move to Italian giants AS Roma for around Six million euros. It seemed that his career was still on the up playing for one of the best club’s in Europe, then came the ill-fainted move to premier league side Fulham.

Some players have it all, then make that one wrong move and poof, their career falls beneath them like a house of cards. It appears this is what happened to Stekelenburg, since his move in the summer of 2013 his stock has fallen faster than Ashley Young in the penalty box. Deciding to play for Martin Jol whom he’d worked with briefly during the 2009/10 campaign with Ajax, he signed a four year deal. In his first game he came off injured in the second half with a shoulder injury and did not return to the side until the 21st of October, where he went on to lose his next four starts in goal. He did not have the best of times in goal for Fulham as they struggled to survive relegation, changing manager twice in the process. This cost Stekelenburg his place in the starting 11 and then squad all together, with David Stockdale, Jesse Joronen and Marcus Bettinelli being favoured ahead of the Dutchman. Fulham were eventually relegated from the Premier league, but can you really blame the goalkeeper for such poor form? Consider two things, one being just how good he was prior to the move to London and the second being just how bad Fulham’s defence was that year. Conceding 85 goals and finishing with a goal difference of -45 is simply too poor to blame on one individual . Clearly Stekelenburg or any keeper Fulham used didn’t stand much of a chance.

Next he moved to Monaco on loan (Fulham being in the championship needed his wages off the books) looking to resurrect a career that just two year’s previous was on the up. That season he was deputy to Danijel Subasic, playing only four games for the club, one of those being in the league. Despite this he still impressed when played, winning a penalty shoot-out against Lyon by saving Jordan Ferri’s attempt and saving two spot kicks against SC Bastia in another penalty shoot-out. Unfortunately the saves were in vain as Monaco still crashed out. At the end of the 14/15 season, Monaco announced Stekelenburg would return to parent club Fulham.

So this brings us back to Southampton. Stekelenburg finds himself once again with Ronald Koeman, the manager who gave him his professional debut at Ajax and helped build him into one of the most rated shot stoppers in Europe. So, what can saints fans expect? Its hard to tell, but with the defensive record the club so proudly boasts upon the conclusion of the season (finishing with a goal difference of +21 letting in a measly 33 goals all season) you would like to think that Stekelenburg will have a solid foundation to build upon when between the sticks. It must also be considered that this is early business, thus giving Steckelenburg a full pre-season to settle and time with England goalkeeping coach Dave Watson. With the combination, support and experience of Dave Watson and Ronald Koeman, Southampton can help Stekelenburg put issues of recent years behind him, which is all the club needs; a solid custodian until big Fraser Forster is back

On this basis, it’s a smart move. A cheap, experienced goalkeeper who has European game time and has played at the very top, deputising until Forster returns. At the end of the day, the future is in his hands : let’s hope that they are safe hands.

Jay Rodriguez: A Season Preview

With Jay Rodriguez’s long awaited return to Southampton edging closer, a question on the mind of many Southampton fans is how the 25 year old will fit into Ronald Koeman’s side.

In a recent interview the forward told BBC Radio Solent “Physically I’ve improved my stats. That’s what I wanted to get out of this. I’ve improved my speed and strength.”

A positive sign for Southampton fans of what is to come, and an even better sign for Koeman who will be dealt a manager’s best dilema.

Rodriguez was deployed under Mauricio Pochettino as an Inside forward, starting from the left, making runs into the middle. His play was largely dependant on his perfectly timed runs from deep and fantastic service from ex Saint, Rickie Lambert.

Like Pochettino’s side, Koeman also starts with a big forward. That big forward comes in the form of Italian international, Graziano Pelle, who has been integral to Southampton’s success this season. These similar philosophies in wide forward play greatly involve fast one-two exchanges and the use of a centre forward as a focal point. This style will be all too familiar for Rodriguez who scored 15 goals in the Premier Leagues 2013/2014 season.

Senegal winger, Sadio Mane, has now firmly placed himself as the main competition for Rodriguez on the left side. After recording 10 goals in 30 games he has now more than settled into life on the South Coast, overturning a shaky start to his Southampton career. Unless of course Koeman wishes to play Mane as a number 10, a role that was becoming more familiar in the later stages of the season.

Dusan Tadic however is the polar opposite to Mane, the Serbian playmaker has taken a drastic dip in form since January after struggling with injury; the kind of form that Koeman need not tolerate with such depth in his side.

The second spot up for grabs is the centre forward role. Graziano Pelle hit the back of the net 12 times in the Premier League last season, featuring in every game of Southampton’s “against all odds” campaign. However, despite his great influence in play and dream start to the season, a number of poor performances and a 4 month goal drought brought great worry to the fans on the south coast.

Many suggested that this poor run was down to fatigue. With the return of Rodriguez we now have a forward who can rest the Italian and pose great competition for his starting place.
Due to the style Koeman wishes to play, last season’s signing Shane Long, was not seen as direct competition for Pelle. Instead, the Irishman was often deployed as a right Winger or as a second man up top. With Rodriguez holding a stronger figure and standing taller than Long, it’s only logical to see Rodriguez as Pelle’s greatest threat.
The final player to rival Rodriguez is new recruit, Juanmi. Southampton payed Malaga £5m for the forward, in a deal that Spanish experts and fans are labelling as a bargain. The Spanish International is a small, fast and intelligent forward who often plays as a second striker. At just 22, he possesses skill in abundance and incredible technical ability, Juanmi is a striker unlike any other at Southampton. This will give Koeman a great option to switch play style, depending on the opponent and the demands of the game. Whilst both Rodriguez and Juanmi can play as forwards, their roles differ immensely.

With such depth in attack, Rodriguez will be spurred on to work for his place in the team and leave Koeman the choice of where to play the versatile forward. Perhaps Southampton fans will see in pre-season, what role lies ahead for Rodriguez and if he can hit the heights he once hit before.

One thing for sure however is that Southampton currently boast their greatest front line in recent years and no matter where Rodriguez plays, he will be loved by every fan in St Marys upon his return.

Can Ward-Prowse and Reed Be The Future Of England?

The future of England lays in its youth and with the recent disaster in the U21 Euros, many will be asking what is to come. Well, simply look to the endless conveyor belt of talent; better known as, Southampton Football Club.

Players such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers have stunned Southampton fans over recent years with sublime performances for both Club and Country. The Saints continue to produce talent year on year; leading to the question, who could have changed the Euro disaster and who can be the future of this sinking England side?

74 Premier League appearances to his name and the captain of the England U21 side; it is safe to say that James Ward-Prowse is as experienced as they come, for someone just 20 years old.
This last season Southampton fans have become accustomed to his range of passing and dead ball deliveries, reminiscent of a certain David Beckham. With both Gerrard and Lampard’s international retirement, there is no longer a set piece specialist in the squad; leaving a role to be filled. These central spots have since been filled by Milner and Henderson, but both lack the ability to dominate possession in a convincing manner.
Due to his awareness and desire to find space to dominate in the biggest of games, Ward-Prowse often operates as a central roaming playmaker. With a deft touch and a positive forward approach, he doesn’t retain possession solely for possessions sake. In addition, diagonal switching passes have become second nature to the youngster. Rather like a roaming spanish midfielder, he lacks the physical presence and any natural bursting pace. But with an assist return greater than David Silva, Juan Mata and World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, is that really such an issue?

The second player is the man dubbed by many as the next Paul Scholes. Harrison Reed operates as a central midfielder and has featured for Ronald Koeman’s first team, as well as the Southampton U21s this season. His success is reflected by playing a key role in winning the Premier League U21 cup and featuring for the England U20 side.
Whilst Reed possess an incredible passing ability to switch the play and exchange quick one-twos, he most likely draws the comparisons to Scholes through his size and ginger hair. Reed’s greatest strength lays in his work rate, determination and defensive duties.

Standing at 5ft 6 inches tall, its been an amusing paradox to see Reed barge Alex Song to the floor, then somehow stay on his feet after Kouyate tumbled through the back of him. England truly lack a hard working defensive midfielder with natural ability, and provided he continues to progress, England have an incredible talent on their hands. Reed’s play involves dropping deep into the gap between defence and midfield; he then looks to quickly offload to a midfield partner or switch the ball into space or wide areas, bypassing the midfield.
His defensive duties are carried out through crunching tackles and persistent hustling against midfielder runners. “Harry bite yer ankles Reed” is a far more suitable nickname for this disciplined youngster.
Where deep English midfielders such as Carrick, Barry etc. look to lower the intensity and play predominantly short balls, Reed looks to instigate counter attacks and maintain the intensity of play.

Now, it must be mentioned that by no means are these young talents greater than their current England competitors; they still have a lot to learn and many tough games ahead of them in their career. However, they both possess the raw talent that is so desired at just 20 years old and they continue to epitomise “The Southampton Way”.

After such a disastrous U21 Euro run, it’s baffling how Ward-Prowse was left out the starting XI in the final 2 games and how Reed has been entirely overlooked. Perhaps one day James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed will be the difference to take both Southampton, and England to the next level.