Preview: Southampton vs Manchester United

Over the course of the Premier League season so far, Southampton have failed to pick up three points against a single side in the top six. Tomorrow night however, Southampton will be given one last chance to break that record as they prepare to face Manchester United at St Mary’s.

To find out more about our upcoming opponents, I spoke with Jack West of Manchester United panel

Just how important is the Europa League final now that top four is out of the question?

In my view, it will decide how we judge this season, but I’m unimpressed with where we are. I’ve not been a fan of putting all of our eggs in one basket for the last two months or so, in the sense that Jose has solely invested in the Europa League. We could have been in the top four. We dropped silly points at home against the likes of Hull, Burnley, West Brom and Swansea, which would see us edge into that bracket. Not only this, but we can’t see another Manchester United season without Champions League football. Not only would the defeat cost the club about £50m, but we would find it a real challenge to sign the world class players that we need to allow us to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich etc; that is where we should be. If we win next Wednesday, I would brand this season a huge success; two trophies and Champions League football in Jose’s first season would be a huge step, but goodness me haven’t we made it difficult for ourselves at the best of times.

As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?

I think Southampton are one of the most respected and admired sides in the league. Not just down to the attractive football they can play at times, but the way that they have invested their money after their initial financial scares. A state-of-the art training ground, beautiful facilities, and a strong investment in youth has helped to mould some of the top players in the English game. But you’re also respected for signing players for a reasonable fee, developing and selling them on at a premium. My one negative, however,  is that I believe you need to be more stubborn and competitive when it comes to the transfer market. The majority of them have annoyingly moved on to better things, but Les Reed and his team really need to stick there neck out this summer; it’s a big window ahead if you want to keep the likes of Van Dijk in your side. As for the football, I think there is a problem with your lack of cutting edge in front of goal, and in recent weeks, the football has been dull too.

If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?

I think you know what’s coming here… It has to be Virgil Van Dijk. Prior to his injury, he was quite easily the best centre-half in the league alongside Toby Alderweireld, and he would be the perfect partner to accompany Eric Bailly at the centre of the United defence. His presence is certainly felt and his distribution out of the back is exceptional. Daley Blind possesses this trait, but Van Dijk has the build and physique to go with it. Van Dijk is such an excellent all-rounder.

Who has been your player of the season?

It’s got to be Oriol Romeu. When he’s fit and Van Dijk and Gabbiadini aren’t, he’s got to be the first name on the team sheet. Finally found a club where he can nail down a first team spot, and boy is he reaping the rewards with solid performances on the pitch.

If you were Claude Puel, how would you set your side up to beat Manchester United?

Well, its two sides that have found scoring at home a real challenge this campaign, but I feel Puel should set up exactly how he did against Liverpool. The only difference, however, is that you should set out initially to absorb all of United’s pressure; we love a lot of possession but when we can’t find a way in behind the defence, we really struggle. Once United become increasingly stressed and their defence becomes stretched, make sure you have plenty of pace going forward and charge at United on the break. That’s certainly your best bet in my view.

Who do you expect to be your key man tomorrow night, and which Southampton player scares you most going into the game?

It’s really hard to tell who Jose will play and who he will rest tomorrow, but I’m hoping to see Martial start again – he was our best player by a country mile against Spurs, and on his day is a defender’s nightmare. The lad can groan all he wants but he is far more effective on the flanks as opposed to the centre; his pace and tricky footwork could cause Saints defenders real problems. The Southampton player that scares me the most on his day is Manalo Gabbiadini. We saw what he can do against us in the EFL cup final and when provided with service, is almost unplayable when he fancies it. His off the ball runs are exquisite as well, and this is something a little more rare to find in the English game of late.

And finally, what do you think the score will be?

Southampton haven’t been clinical at home enough this campaign, and United have been far better away from home when it comes to scoring goals. However, United will rest players due to the Europa League Final next Wednesday, and ultimately neither side really have anything to play for. We also love a draw so I feel with all of these factors, the game has draw written all over it. 1-1.

An in-depth review of Claude Puel’s first season as Southampton boss

Footballs a funny old game, Isn’t it? If you asked any Southampton fan at the start of the season if they’d take a top half finish and a chance in the League Cup final, they’d bite your hand off for it. Yet despite this, Claude Puel is dividing opinion amongst fans, with pressure piling up as each game passes.

It’s already been well documented in the media that the higher forces at Southampton FC will look to review Puel’s position come this summer, and with that in mind, I’d like to be the voice of reason for the Frenchman’s first season with the Saints.  

Kicking things off with the positives of our season seems like a logical beginning, and with that, there is really only one place to begin; the League Cup final.

The bottom line here is that in one single season, Puel has done more for Southampton FC than Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman ever achieved.

Granted, the direction of the club under both of those managers certainly had a more positive feeling, and it’s undeniable that their Premier League campaigns were a damn sight more thrilling. However, I know I’m not alone in saying that day at Wembley was better than anything I’ve experienced since our return to the Premier League.

On top of this, Puel’s management has helped a number of bit-part/underperforming players to become dependable Premier League regulars. Oriol Romeu picked up both fans and players player of the year, Maya Yoshida was awarded the president’s choice award, whilst Cedric Soares has finally become the technical full back that we thought we purchased. Meanwhile, even Nathan Redmond is having the greatest season of his career so far.

This moves me swiftly onto the Frenchman’s willing nature to integrate youth into the first team. This season alone, Jack Stephens has been given the chance to prove his worth on a weekly basis, whilst Sam McQueen has picked up 13 PL appearances and starred against Inter Milan. Not to mention that both Josh Sims and Jake Hesketh played vital roles in helping Southampton reach the League Cup final. Creating a path from the academy to the first team is always a welcome characteristic as a Southampton manager.

But in comparison to Southampton’s previous seasons under Pochettino and Koeman, this is where the positives run out. Beyond Southampton’s thrilling cup run, that night in Milan, and the opportunity of watching some academy products flourish, there’s an over-riding feeling amongst fans that we’re going backwards under Puel…

Based on our current crop of players and years gone by, bravery and expression on the field has gone hand in hand with football on the St Mary’s turf. But under Puel, it’s been anything but that.

Time and time again this season, our attacking play has been static, predictable, and quite simply, dull. Southampton currently boast the 4th worst home record in the league, and have scored the 3rd least goals at home; one more than Hull and Boro with 16, and 8 less than Burnley’s 25. For crying out loud, even relegation fighters Swansea City and Crystal Palace have outscored the Saints.

Combine this with the fact that Southampton have failed to beat a single top six side in the Premier League this season, and there are certainly questions to be asked regarding Puel’s overly cautious tactics. Questions that fans want answered now.

It’s not just results that are frustrating fans either. On numerous occasions this season Puel has shown inconsistencies with his team selections; when players such as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jordy clasie have put in promising performances, they are instantly demoted to the bench the following week. Yet the wasteful Dusan Tadic appears to currently be untouchable from being dropped, or even substituted. This ties in with Puel’s negative in-game decision making, by which he’s shown zero tactical flexibility to force a goal with his substitutes.

These factors alongside Puel’s uninspiring mannerisms have created a toxic divide between the fans and the manager.

My one standout worry, however, is that Puel appears to have lost the players, and this is ultimately where my final decision on the Frenchman’s future lies. If Puel has the players on board with his ideas and expectations, then I believe that he deserves to begin the forthcoming season as Southampton manager.

But If the players are unmotivated and struggling to buy into Puel’s management style, then I believe that the board should cut their losses this summer. The reason being is that whilst Puel appears to be a knowledgeable coach and tactician, he doesn’t seem to command respect from his players or even appear to be much of a man manager. Without either of these vital characteristics, I seriously worry about how Puel could possibly wrestle back control from such a situation.

Southampton offered cash and Christensen for Van Dijk

Surprise surprise, we’re here again. According to an exclusive from The Sun, Chelsea currently lead the race for Virgil Van Dijk this summer, having blown away Arsenal’s offer of £150,000 a week.

Whilst Southampton are obviously reluctant to sell Van Dijk, the game-changing aspect of the offer is the fact that Andreas Christensen is also included in the deal.

Christensen spent the majority of his youth career at Danish outfit Brondby FC, before being snapped up by Chelsea at just 16-years-old. From here, he worked his way up through the academy and after two years of fighting for a chance in the first team, it arrived at the age of 18-years-old. The Dane then went on to feature once again in the League Cup, before making his first Premier League appearance on the 24th of May 2015 – just like many other Chelsea youngsters though, the opportunities stopped here.

This prompted both Chelsea and Christensen to look for game-time through a loan move, and in the form of Borussia Monchengladbach, Christensen has found exactly that. Two seasons and 76 first team appearances later, and Christensen has proved to be a stellar piece of business for the Bundesliga side.

During his two seasons with the club, Christensen has placed himself at the heart of the Gladbach defence, showing himself to be an extremely intelligent defender, who is more than capable with the ball at his feet. Quick concise passes around the defence and midfield are a regular feature of Christensen’s play, as he aims to push the team further up the field.

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Christensen is also extremely aware of his surroundings, and whilst there is still some work to do with the clumsiness of his close quarters tackling, time is on his side at just 21-years-old.

All in all, I have to say that if Southampton do go through the heartbreak of losing Van Dijk this summer, a cash plus Christensen deal would certainly soften the blow. Not only does the player suit Southampton’s style of play, but his age also helps him to be a suitable signing and a valuable asset.

It’s worth noting that we are approaching the summer transfer window, however, so with papers needing to be sold and articles hunting for clicks, it’s always worth taking each rumour with a pinch of salt. Southampton were linked with Nathan Ake and Christopher Jullien only earlier this week.

Whilst the potential acquisition of Christensen excites me, this certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve heard a report like this, and I’m certain that it won’t be the last.

Match preview: Southampton vs Hull City

Southampton are coming off the back of two consecutive Premier League defeats, having faced Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. But with Hull City travelling to St Mary’s Stadium tomorrow afternoon, Southampton will be looking to right their wrongs of the last two fixtures. 

What can we expect from our upcoming opponents? I spoke with Rick, an avid Hull City blogger, to find out just that. 

Firstly, what are your thoughts on Hull City’s season so far?

I think to call it up and down would be an understatement. We’ve had times of utter despair, long runs without a win but also pulled off several shocking results and since the change of manager we’ve been on an upward trajectory.

A day before the season started, we had 13 fit players and no hope. Then we beat Leicester. A week before the end of the January transfer window, we’d sold two of our best players and signed no-one, then we brought in half of Europe on loan and we’ve played really well since. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

Who has been your player of the season?

Sam Clucas. We’ve had some really good performers this year, in spite of results, but Clucas has been the pick for me. We signed him from League One Chesterfield in the summer of 2016 and that was his third step up in as many seasons. He had a good year in the Championship and showed his was full of energy and versatile but he’s been outstanding this season. Playing at an elite level and showing the technical ability and composure he has in central midfield as well his usual determination and incredible workrate is exceptional. His goal last week is probably goal of the season too!

As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?

It’s been a good season overall. To finish in the top half, which you should do, and reach a Cup Final is never a bad season for anyone outside the biggest 5 or 6 clubs. Some of the players signed in the summer don’t look up to your usual standard but Gabbiadini was a great buy. Going out of Europe from that group was a big missed opportunity and Saints probably could have finished higher up the league without being involved but not enough to make a difference.

If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?

I’ll resist the temptation to say Shane Long, who I still adore, or Charlie Austin, who slipped through our fingers once upon a time. I think I’d go for Gabbiadini. He’s a funny looking striker but is intelligent and just has the knack of scoring goals. We’ve needed someone like that forever.

Just how big of an impact has Marco Silva had on your season?

Huge. Mike Phelan was a good guy and was let down by the owners but he was out of his depth and we’d be down already with him in charge. Silva is a breath of fresh air. He’s had an impact like Pochettino had at Saints and is making pundits look stupid in much the same way. Even before he made signings, he was getting excellent performances out of the team and certain individuals and has changed the way we press, how we squeeze up from the back and how we break at speed. Most impressively, he changes games that we’re behind in with his subs and tactical tinkering. That’s even a step up on Steve Bruce.

If you were preparing to face Hull City, what would your game plan be?

 Just play at home. The fixture list hasn’t been kind to Marco but we’re just a different team away. We counter attack well but don’t take chances and we make defensive mistakes that we don’t make at home. It’s utterly frustrating.

Do you think you have what it takes to beat the drop?

We probably need a result from one of our two home games but I think in giving ourselves a chance from an awful position – we’ve shown we’ve got what it takes. The fixtures are neither good nor bad so it’s in our hands. As usual with City though, it’s the hope that kills you.

And finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?

Being ultra-optimistic, I think we’ll get only our second point on the road this year! 1-1.

Christopher Jullien joins Southampton’s centre-back shortlist

According to the Sun, Southampton are watching over Toulouse defender, Christopher Jullien, as a potential target for this summer transfer window.

Standing at 6 ft 4 inches, the 24-year-old plys his trade in Ligue 1, and has built up a reputation this season as a reliable and commanding centre back.

Despite this being the Frenchman’s first year in the top flight of his home country, he has missed just three game this season, featuring in 31 League fixtures – this has helped Toulouse climb up to 11th place in the table with four games still to play.

This season has been somewhat of a breakthrough year for Jullien, who prior to becoming a dependable first choice Ligue 1 centre-back, has been playing at a much lower standard.

Jullien started his senior career with Auxerre in Ligue 2, having fought his way into the first team through the academy. But after just two years with the club, the Frenchman was snapped up by Bundesliga side FC Freiburg on a free transfer. He failed to make an impact with the first team however, and went on to play 49 games for the second team, before being loaned to Ligue 2 side Dijon for the 2015-16 season. It was here that Jullien truly started to impress, and as a result, Toulouse offered him a four-year-deal in the top flight at the end of the season.

Unsurprisingly given his size, Jullien takes up a physical and combative approach to defending, often showing his greatest strengths through set pieces and aerial duels.

Jullien has also been known for his no-nonsense style of defending, showing no hesitation in clearing the ball at any cost, and having the ability to instigate attacks with long balls up to the forwards.

Jullien isn’t just effective in his own box either, as he’s managed to conjure up an impressive five goals in all competitions this season too – the same tally as both Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long!

But whilst many many be hoping that this transfer would be a nice ‘addition’ to the squad, the report states that Jullien would be signed as a replacement for Virgil Van Dijk. And whilst this may well prove to be typical gutter journalism to simply generate more clicks, my opinion of such as a transfer strategy remains unchanged; any centre-back shipped in this summer should be there to join Van Dijk, not replace him.

Southampton keeping close watch on Nathan Ake

With Virgil Van Dijk expected to be a wanted man this summer, it’s been reported that Southampton have their eyes on Chelsea’s Nathan Ake as a potential replacement.

Above: Nathan Ake wearing the Mansion sponsored AFC Bournemouth shirt – Mansion are the owner’s of the online casino platform

Southampton Football Club aren’t expected to be alone in their pursuit of the 22-year-old however, with both The Telegraph and the Metro stating that AFC Bournemouth will also join the race for the Dutchman.

Ake’s 2016/17 season got off to a frustrating start, with his loan move at The Cherrie’s providing few first team opportunities for development – in fact, Ake failed to start in any of Bournemouth’s opening 11 League fixtures.

But with the AFC Bournemouth defence continuing to leak goals and results showing no sign of improving, Ake was called into the starting XI, and from here, their fortunes instantly changed.

Eddie Howe’s side were once again capable of playing their free-flowing football, with Ake operating as the main ball player in the back line. Better yet, results were on the up too, with wins over Stoke, Liverpool, Swansea, and Leicester, coming in quick succession.

Sadly however, just days after a thrilling 3-3 draw against Arsenal, Ake’s loan was cut short in the January transfer window, and since then, his season has come crashing down.

In the space of just a few months, Ake has gone from starting Premier League games week in week out, to becoming a third choice centre back that is yet to feature in a single minute of Premier League action. It’s safe to say that this career decision hasn’t gone to plan for Ake, and if this continues, he will surely be left with no other option but to seriously consider his future this summer.

If reports are to be believed and Ake is available this summer, then I personally would love to see Southampton make a move for the versatile defender. Not only is he strong in the tackle and mature beyond his years, but he also possesses great technical qualities that would allow him to fit seamlessly into Southampton’s back four.

When you consider that the Dutchman boasts undeniable technical ability and is also left footed, it’s worth noting that Ake could prove to be an extremely valuable asset with the recent trend of five at the back defensive systems. If Ake can reach his promised potential, then Southampton could certainly command a monstrous fee in a number of years.

One problem I hold over these reports though, is the suggestion that Ake would be Van Dijk’s replacement – let’s not forget that in January, Southampton sold club captain Jose Fonte, and failed to find a replacement. If Ake is shipped in this summer, then I would wish to see him line up alongside his fellow Dutchman come the start of the 2017/18 season.

Overview: Southampton vs Manchester City

 Claude Puel’s Southampton faced a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City yesterday, but whilst the encounter was frustrating, there is certainly no need to be worried. 

First and foremost some credit to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who quite simply, were exceptional. Whenever you leave a game following a defeat such as yesterday’s, it’s only natural to feel like you need something to blame. Of course, there were a number of factors that lead to our defeat, but sometimes, we just need to face the facts and realise that the opposition really were a class above us.

Any football fan can see the quality that Manchester City boast within their squad, and when a manager such as Guardiola is able to make those components tick, few teams are able to stop them. Right from the off, Manchester City’s midfield were free-flowing and effectively dominating possession, constantly on the hunt for dangerous pockets of space within our midfield.

Leroy Sane, in particular, was immense on the left wing, providing composure when working from deep and controlled flair when driving at the defence. Cedric Soares would be considered a rather pacey full back by many, but on numerous occasions, the sheer speed of the German International was just too much for Cedric to handle. On top of this, Sergio Aguero’s movement was typically flawless, whilst Kevin De Bruyne’s vision and final ball were just too much to counter.

Southampton’s game plan was clear from the start; they would sit deep, soak up the pressure, and look to break with speed through Redmond or either full back. And in all honesty, this makes sense. Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida have picked up form in recent fixtures, but to have played a high line against Sane and Aguero would have been defensive suicide.

For arguably the first 80 minutes, Southampton’s defence genuinely held a rather strong defensive line, and given City’s quality and pace in attack, allowed very few runners in behind. We sat deep effectively and certainly soaked the pressure too, however, our issue’s came with breaking. On the rare occasion that we would eventually win the ball back in a dangerous zone, our passes failed to truly penetrate City’s defensive lines, with Vicent Kompany and co alive to almost every loose ball.

Southampton failed to consistently break away, and much of this was greatly down to Guardiola’s demands of his City side, who are expected to recover the ball at lightning speed – a plan that was executed superbly yesterday by both the midfield and defence. It’s worth noting however that the absence of Oriol Romeu, Southampton’s main destructive midfielder, would have certainly gifted City more attacking joy, whilst also reducing the number of promising ball recoveries for Southampton. On multiple occasions this season the Spaniard has shown his tendency to initiate counter attacks with a smart interception or crunching tackle, and that’s exactly what we needed.

As the game came to a close, I started seeing more and more fans suggesting that we should have stepped higher up the field and pushed City further back to their box. But in all honesty, I couldn’t disagree more.

Firstly because Romeu’s absence would leave a gaping hole between the midfield and defence, and secondly because for City, this would have been a case of anything you can do, we can do better. By forcefully aiming to go on the front foot, Southampton would most certainly leave gaps in behind themselves, and whilst this may create a number of chances, players such as Silva and De Bruyne would no doubt occupy these gaps – something that no defender ever wants to handle. Without Romeu, such an approach to the game would be mindless gambling.

This was illustrated in the later stages of the game when James Ward-Prowse was replaced by Shane Long in the 60th minute, and consequently, Southampton naturally took up a more offensive approach to the game. We went from having a strong and structured team shape in the first 60 minutes, to creating pockets of space for City to exploit and charge at.

Whilst Ward-Prowse provided little attacking threat, he put in a mature performance that allowed Southampton’s midfield to hold their shape, which when playing a team of City’s calibre, is a very important quality to boast. Even more recently against AFC Bournemouth, the very same thing happened after Ward-Prowse was once again substituted. There’s a lesson to be learnt here – either Puel substitutes another attacking player, or Ward-Prowse is replaced by someone who can carry out a similar role.

Yesterday was an extremely frustrating game, and just like any other fan, I always want to see us win. All in all, however, I would say that yesterday was more of a reflection of Manchester City’s talent, rather than Southampton’s shortcoming’s.

We’ve dealt with far bigger blows since our return to the Premier League, and I’m certain that this won’t harm us during our final run-in to the season.

Southampton must get midfield pairing right against Manchester City

Oriol Romeu has been tenacious all season-long, providing exceptionally timed tackles and interceptions in front of Southampton’s back four. But when we take on Manchester City, Romeu will be serving the second of a two-match ban. Can our midfield contain the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva?

Should Pierre-Emile Højbjerg replace Steven Davis? Højbjerg is certainly a gifted and intelligent footballer, coming to Southampton by way of Bayern Munich. He has an all-around game, and he is capable of making timely interceptions as well as spraying long balls to surging wingers. Højbjerg was superb against West Brom, reaching an 88 percent pass completion, winning two aerial duels and two tackles.

Steven Davis, while not perhaps possessing the technical ability of PEH, may be be able to provide senior leadership and stability in a game against one of the strongest sides in the Premier League. It should also be noted that Davis performed very well in Southampton’s victory against a dangerous Crystal Palace, providing an assist for Nathan Redmond.

Ultimately, Claude Puel may decide to give the nod to Højbjerg in order for him to gain experience in relatively low-stakes contest versus a top-quality side. But if the Dane is to find success on the pitch come Saturday, he will need assistance from Jordy Clasie.

Clasie, like Højbjerg, had an outstanding match against the Baggies, scoring a fantastic goal from outside the box. He managed an 84 percent pass completion and made three tackles. In this particular match, though, Southampton had the majority of possession, taking pressure off of the midfield pair of Clasie and Højbjerg. This will surely not be the case against Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

Expect Guardiola’s men to play with their usual, possession-based style, with David Silva pulling the strings in between the lines. City’s players, especially their attackers, play with fluidity and intricacy. Southampton’s defensive midfielders will need to display a strong sense of positional awareness to contain their movement.

City will almost certainly have their chances against our defence, but their own defence has had issues all season long. There will be opportunities for Southampton to penetrate and create chances on the counter, and if Gabbiadini is to return, his exceptional movement will pose many problems for a young John Stones and returning Vincent Kompany.

If Southampton are to come away from this contest with more than a draw, our midfield pairing must be at their very best. The recent form of Højbjerg and Clasie suggests they should start this Saturday at Saint Mary’s–these lads are more than up for the challenge.

Maya Yoshida: from bench-warmer to first-team baller

Since signing for Southampton Football Club in 2012, Maya Yoshida has faced exceptional competition, brutal criticism, and countless hurdles to worm his way back into the side. But in this very moment, the Japanese International is in the finest form of his career, and one by one, is stealing the hearts of each and every Southampton fan.

The January transfer window was a hard pill to swallow. Whilst the club managed to solve it’s goalscoring woes with the acquisition of Manolo Gabbiadini, Southampton finished the January transfer window having failed to find a replacement for club captain, Jose Fonte.

But when one door closes, another door is opened.

Following the departure of Jose Fonte to West Ham and a season ending injury to Virgil Van Dijk, someone had to step up. Southampton’s defensive options had been stripped down to the bare bones, and they were left with no other option but to find a leader from within. That someone has been Maya Yoshida.

Since being handed the responsibility of leading the backline, Yoshida has well and truly flourished into a player that few Southampton fans would have ever anticipated. I’m sure I won’t be alone in thinking that Yoshida’s recent performances have surpassed all initial expectations.

In seasons gone by, Yoshida has been the first port of call when injuries strike the first team, but truth be told, this was a situation that many fans would ultimately dread. He’s certainly not quick off the line, is no man mountain, is hasty in one v one’s, and when it comes to promoting an attractive brand of football, there are many players better for doing so in the Premier League.

This season however, Yoshida has a new-found confidence and is playing with more intelligence than ever before. In terms of his physicality and technical ability, little has changed from previous years, but the difference now is that Yoshida’s decision making and anticipation is that of an experienced Premier League defender.

When Yoshida would previously panic with the ball in tight and tricky situations, he would now remain composed and maintain possession in an effective manner. And in those moments when he used to gain a rush of blood and step too high out of the defence, he now holds the line and time’s his tackle.

Yoshida is a limited defender, but with staggering dedication and countless hours on the training ground, he has risen to the challenge of starting regular Premier League fixtures.

It’s also worth noting that whilst Yoshida has had to focus on proving his own worth, he’s had to take England U21 International, Jack Stephens, under his wing too. It’s hard enough trying to effectively make your own mark in a top flight side, let alone having to ensure that a youngster does so too.

And whilst yes, I do still believe that defensive reinforcements were required in January, that mistake from the club is now in the past. From February 1st, we could only work with what we have, and given those circumstances, Puel, Yoshida, and Stephens have done a fantastic job.

Let’s not get carried away, there is still plenty of room for improvement, and this current partnership is obviously levels below the Fonte/Van Dijk duo of last season. However, how can’t you be delighted that we are showing defensive solidarity with what would have been our third and fourth choice centre backs at the start of this season.

Yoshida’s development has been thrilling, and not least because we now boast an extremely dependable third choice centre back for next season. For such a role, a player of Yoshida’s current qualities are incredibly useful; he never struggles with fitness, is a valuable member within the squad, is understanding with squad rotation, and as proven in recent months, can be trusted over the course of 90 minutes.

When this summer comes around, Southampton Football Club’s main priority in the transfer market should still be finding a partner for Virgil Van Dijk. But through Fonte’s departure and Van Dijk’s injury, Yoshida has been presented the opportunity to earn himself a new contract and an important role within the squad, and my god has he grabbed it with both hands.