Matches

The early promise shown by Danny Ings

We may only be four games into the 2018/19 Premier League season, but the early signs suggest that Southampton Football Club and Danny Ings are meant to be.

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Cast your mind back to the summer transfer window. After the acquisition of Stuart Armstrong, Angus Gunn, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Jannick Vestergaard, Southampton had shown that they were willing to spend, and at least improve the squad that so nearly slipped down to the Championship last season. But while these signings provided depth and hope for the future, there was still one area on the pitch that desperately needed addressing.

Under Ronald Koeman, Southampton scored 120 Premier League goals across the two seasons that the Dutchman was in charge. And in the two seasons following his departure to Everton, Southampton have registered a measly 79 Premier League goals.

The departures of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle’ left Saints lacking firepower upfront, and ever since, the club have failed to re-discover the goalscoring touch that they once had. Injuries to Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin denied each striker a chance to build any goalscoring momentum, while our big money signings Guido Carillo and Sofiane Boufal failed to adapt to life in the Premier League.

So after an impressive start to his career on the south coast, Danny Ings has the Southampton fanbase questioning whether we’ve finally found our starting striker…

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During Saints’ opening match of the season against Burnley, the Clarets were unfortunate not to be leading at the break, with Mark Hughes’ 5-2-2-1 formation proving ineffective.

As a result the Welshman called for changes in the 56th minute, and handed both Elyounoussi and Ings their debuts, in addition to switching to a 4-4-2 formation.

The introduction of Ings instantly gave our frontline a new look, as well as raising the intensity of others around him. There was no denying it, Hughes’ men looked dangerous in the second 45.

Both of the goals that he’s scored this season have been typical of his former Burnley self, and it’s somewhat reminded the fans what we’ve so desperately been missing over the past two seasons.

His first came at Goodison Park, where he displayed intelligent positioning to find space inside a crowded penalty area to tap home Mario Lemina’s flick-on at the near post. And his second came at Selhurst Park, where his quick reactions, pace and mobility allowed him to latch onto a through ball by Cedric Soares, and slot calmly below Wayne Hennessy.

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Following an injury hit career at Liverpool, many believed that Ings was a busted flush as he failed to make his mark for the Reds. However, when you take a look at the statistics from his first four games for the Saints, they suggest that he’s still an incredibly dangerous attacking outlet.

Ings isn’t afraid to let fly when he gets sight of goal, having registered 3.5 shots per game. In comparison to Southampton’s other attacking outlets this is the highest out of the squad. Austin has registered 1.8, Long has registered 1.0, and Nathan Redmond has registered 2.3.

In comparison to the rest of the league, Ings also ranks fourth in xG (expected goals), with a figure of 0.74 per game.

During his first four appearances, Ings has even regained possession of the ball 2.16 times per game, showing that he’s not only effective on the ball, but off it too. This is no doubt some of Jurgen Klopp’s influence shining through – and this proactive mentality can only be positive for our squad.

What was particularly pleasing against Crystal Palace, however, was the way in which Ings combined with Long upfront. In truth, many believed Long’s days were numbered at Saints following the arrival of Ings, but if they continue to work in the same fashion that they did at Selhurst Park, Long may prove to be a useful asset once again.

He’s no goalscorer, granted, but if Ings, Redmond and Elyounoussi can deliver, then he’s got a number of particularly useful assets that he can offer to the side.

What worked so well against Crystal Palace was that Long provided effective hold up play, which in turn allowed Ings to make ground behind the defensive line. They also complimented each others strengths and weaknesses. Long’s capable of playing the more physical game and peeling off out wide, while Ings is the more technical player and the better finisher.

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The only question mark that looms over the Englishman now is his injury record. At Liverpool, two long-term injuries saw him on the treatment table for a combined 498 days, making him unavailable for selection in 85 fixtures. During the 2015/16 season, Ings ruptured his cruciate ligament – and only five months after returning to full fitness, he had an operation on his knee which saw him miss the entirety of 2016/17 season.

But above all else, at a time when football fans feel more distant from the players and club than ever before, it’s nice to see a player on the pitch that seemingly cares for the club as much as those in the stands.

I’ve got a funny feeling that Ings could prove to be a real fan favourite.

Season Preview: Southampton FC

Southampton are marching into their seventh consecutive Premier League season this afternoon, after narrowly avoiding the drop in the penultimate game of the 2017-18 season.

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Such a campaign came as a shock for all Saints fans who, prior to last season, had seen their team finish in the top eight for four successive seasons since their return to the big time in 2012.

In a largely dismal campaign for everyone involved at the club, there was no single issue that could front the blame for our poor season, with our squad falling short at both ends of the pitch.

Of our 450 shots across the season, just 37 found the net. This gives a conversion rate of 8.2%; level with West Brom and above only Huddersfield on 7.7%. This resulted in a mere seven league wins from a possible 38, which was the team’s lowest total since the 2004/05 season; notably when the Saints were last relegated from England’s top division.

SUMMER BUSINESS

Southampton spent a grand total of £54.5M over this summer’s transfer window – the most they’ve ever spent as they attempt to steer clear of the relegation zone ahead of the forthcoming campaign.

Southampton secured the services of Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong, Basel winger Mohammed Elyounoussi, Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Jannik Vestergaard, Liverpool forward Danny Ings, and goalkeeper Angus Gunn from fellow Premier League outfit, Manchester City.

Meanwhile, the most notable departure is that of Dusan Tadic, who’s returned to the Eredivisie to join Ajax, after the creative midfielder’s late surge in form guided us away from the relegation zone.

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So all in all, things could have gone far, far worse. We’ve restored some physicality back into the heart of our defence in Vestergaard, added some legs and class into our midfield through Armstrong, and attempted to directly replace Tadic’s creativity and output through Elyounoussi.

Gunn’s been drafted in to provide some much-needed competition for Alex McCarthy, and while fans are still concerned that our frontline will once again fall short, the deadline day signing of Ings has helped to recover some lost confidence. Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp believes that the former Burnley forward has never been in greater physical shape, so if he can find his role in the side early on and hit the ground running, we’re surely guaranteed 10+ goals over the course of a full Premier League season.

Elsewhere, club record signing Guido Carrillo has re-joined former Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino at Leganes on a season-long loan, while Sofiane Boufal’s lacklustre relationship with current boss Mark Hughes has seen him shipped out to Celta Vigo on loan. First-team outcasts Jordy Clasie, Stuart Taylor and Florin Gardos have all moved on from St Mary’s too. Clasie has re-joined Feyenoord on loan, whilst Taylor and Gardos were released by the club early in the window.

KEY PLAYER – STUART ARMSTRONG

Based off initial pre-season performances, Stuart Armstrong already looks to be a valuable member of our squad.

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Arriving from Scottish giants Celtic for a respectable £7M, Armstrong was often at the forefront of Celtic’s success under Brendan Rodgers. During his three-year stint at Celtic Park, Armstrong scored 28 goals, recorded 21 assists and has won four Scottish Premiership titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups, earning six caps for Scotland in the process.

Armstrong is currently in and around his prime years as a footballer and the Premier League could prove the perfect next step for him in his career. Not only does he hold the ability to create the link between midfield and attack, he’s also capable of providing goals from the middle of the park – something Southampton lacked throughout the entirety of last season.

This one could prove to be an absolute bargain.

MANAGER – MARK HUGHES

Mark Hughes replaced Pellegrino in March 2018 on an initial deal until the end of the season, with his future being based on whether he could keep his new side in the Premier League or not. And after achieving this goal and guiding the Saints to their second trip to Wembley in successive seasons, the board decided to back Hughes; rewarding him with a three-year contract for his efforts.

But this year is different. This time round he’s had a full pre-season with his squad, financial backing from the board and he now has the opportunity to carry out his vision over three seasons. Premier League safety alone won’t be enough if want to consider this season a success.

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Hughes’ objectives over the forthcoming campaign won’t just be to steer us clear of relegation – it will also be about reinstalling confidence into our players, and encouraging a free-flowing attacking brand of football.

Our club has clearly neglected the values that they’ve publically prided themselves on in the past, so if Hughes is capable of turning a great deal of this fiction into fact, we’ll have made a promising start to life under the Welshman.

PREDICTION – 12TH

Southampton have made some impressive signings, but I feel as if they’re enduring too much of a transition period to currently consider challenging Leicester and Everton for a Europa League spot.

I strongly believe, however, that Mark Hughes has steadied and saved a sinking ship, and as a result, we must now focus on walking before trying to run.

Their dealings have been reassuring both on and off the pitch, and I feel that so long as Hughes has helped the squad to rediscover their confidence – and gained their trust in the process – there’s no threat of relegation.

We’ve got plenty enough quality to beat the drop, but as fans we need to be shown more over the course of this season before we can once again dream of European nights. Mid-table mediocrity would suit me just fine.

Relegation or not – Mark Hughes in

Regardless of our fate on Sunday, May 13, I believe that Mark Hughes should be appointed as Southampton manager for the upcoming season.

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After 30 Premier League games of discontent, turgid football and almost certain relegation, Southampton called quits on Mauricio Pellegrino and went for the ‘tried and trusted’ option in Mark Hughes. We’ve seen an upturn in performances and attitudes ever since, and I don’t think we can afford to roll the dice again.

By handing Hughes a longer contract, it brings about some much-needed stability and allows the club to have a clear identity after two seasons of continual regression. This alongside constant asset stripping of key players has left Saints with next to no stability on the pitch.

What the club desperately needs is time with a manager who can at last help our players find an identity within the squad, as well as getting the fans back on side with the board and establishing a new set of standards for our performances. Something which was lost with the sale of key dressing room figures and poor managerial appointments.

We all want to go back to being the ambitious club we once were, but we’ve got a long way to go before such hopes can be a reality. For now, we need to focus on putting ourselves back together again piece by piece. One step at a time.

Is Mark Hughes the man to deliver our long-term goals? Probably not. But is he capable of lifting this squad and digging us out of this rut with his many years of experience? I think so, and for that reason, I believe the club could do a lot worse than extend Sparky’s deal further than this season. Especially when you consider our last two managerial appointments have only taken us backwards. 

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It’s the little things on the sidelines that I enjoy from Hughes. From geeing up the fans to passionately hugging his players after crucial victories, it’s refreshing to see after the lack of engagement from Puel and Pellegrino. Hughes was nicknamed Sparky during his playing days for leaving all his emotions out on the pitch, and he’s certainly transferred that into his management with us so far.

Koeman was rumored to have left after not seeing eye to eye with Les Reed (on top of the substantial salary increase of course) and this why we potentially saw the likes of Puel and Pellegrino appointed. From the fans perspective they appeared to be yes men to Reed, agreeing to every command he asked. This isn’t the case for Hughes, who will be sure to make his feelings known in the event of a disagreement.

No manager is perfect, and Hughes has definitely had difficult times during his managerial career. After successful spells in charge of the Wales national team and Blackburn Rovers, Hughes was appointed as Manchester City manager in 2008. Sparky was in charge when Sheikh Mansour transformed City with his immense wealth, but unfortunately the task of managing big names and egos was too great as Hughes failed to produce the immediate winning football that the owners demanded.

After a successful season where he guided Fulham to 8th in the Premier League, Hughes found himself at Loftus Road midway through the following season. QPR were, like Saints, battling relegation and needed Hughes to keep them in the top flight. Hughes achieved this on the final day of the season.

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But it was the following campaign where the wheels well and truly fell off. Reported ‘bust-ups’ with senior players alongside a 12-match winless run saw QPR at the foot of the table. After spending substantial fees on deals on wages, Hughes, effectively, sent QPR down prior to Harry Redknapp’s arrival.

Hughes then went on to record three consecutive top half finishes with the Potters, but this season they dropped like a stone down the Premier League table, leading to Hughes’s dismissal following defeat in the FA Cup to League 2 Coventry City.

It’s safe to say the Welshman’s previous two jobs have ended on a sour note with Sparky failing to maintain strong finishes in the Premier League, but perhaps circumstances haven’t helped. Mass squad changes at QPR proved too much of a task when trying to bed-in contrasting personalities. And it’s not like any managers since have managed to steady the ship.

At Stoke, losing key players such as Marco Arnautovic and failing to replace them makes the task to progress even harder. Not to mention the horrific transfer policy installed by the higher forces at the club and the attitude problems within the squad.

Although Hughes had been dealt a bad hand in terms of keeping Saints in the Premier League, it doesn’t mean he’s exempt from criticism during his tenure either. Our approach towards the Leicester game was far too defensive when we were desperate for points, and failing to react to the shift in momentum when Chelsea pulled a goal back in the defeat at home are two examples where he’s failed to take the initiative in games.  

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But where Mauricio Pellegrino failed during his time at the club was being unable to develop and bring out the best in individuals, and already Hughes has achieved this. Dusan Tadic has regained his confidence and is once again looking to be the hub of our creativity. Nathan Redmond has looked more like the player we signed as he’s looking to take players on and turn defence into attack. Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand have had poor seasons for their standards, but already Hughes has helped them to become vital in our transitions from back to front.

All things considered, I genuinely believe that we wouldn’t have been in any type of relegation battle had Hughes been at the helm from the beginning of the season. But that’s all hypothetical, and instead we find ourselves just two games away from potentially playing Championship football next season.

The fans support against Swansea is vital and if the players show the same fight and passion that was on display against Bournemouth and Everton, as installed by Hughes, then we’ve got every hope of maintaining our top-flight status.

Southampton are reportedly open to offers for Ryan Bertrand

After four fantastic years at the club, it’s now being reported that Southampton are prepared to listen to offers for Ryan Bertrand this summer.

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The England international has arguably been the clubs most consistent performer since 2014, but over the past few months, questions have been raised over his desire to stay beyond this season. The Daily Mail have claimed that the Saints are now ready to see what offers could be placed on the table.

The Champions League winner was initially signed on loan to fill the gap created by Luke Shaw’s departure, but within just a matter of months the club knew that they were on to a winner. Bertrand had finally found a place he could call home after a number of sub-par loan spells.

In February 2015 he decided to put pen to paper, and from that day forward it’s fair to say that he’s remained a true professional throughout.

Sections of the Southampton fan base have queried his commitment in recent months, but when you consider that he’s turned up week in week out, never ran to the press, never forced a move (like so many others have) and been handed the captaincy by Mark Hughes, you’ve got to show him some respect.

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Over previous transfer windows Bertrand has been linked to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea amongst others. But with Benjamin Mendy back on the field for City and Andrew Robertson nailing his place in the Liverpool side, you can’t help but feel that the ships sailed for a move to a European giant.

Bertrand may have to look a little further down the table if he wants a move away from the South coast this summer – especially when his performances haven’t quite lived up to that of previous seasons. A move to Everton or Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle seems far more likely.

The Day Saints Became Odds On for Relegation

If you talk to fans of other teams about the Saints plight this season, almost everyone will express some kind of surprise at the position Southampton find themselves in with just six games remaining. Indeed, a flick through the websites of major newspapers and you will find no record of journalists tipping Saints to struggle when they made their early season predictions. Put it this way, Mark Lawrenson’s prediction column for the BBC has Saints in 8th position in his predicted league table. It’s clearly been a shock to everyone outside of St Mary’s.

Bookmakers were also caught on the hop with Southampton this season. An average of bookmakers’ odds at the start of the season put them at around 25/1 to be relegated, as a comparison Burnley – currently 11 places and 21 points ahead of Saints – were given odds of 7/5. Even after a terrible run over Christmas and the New Year, you could still find Southampton at a price of 4/1 or 5/1 to be relegated. They were still available at odds against after the 3-0 defeat at the hands of relegation rivals West Ham last week.

Writing was on the wall for Saints before defeat to Arsenal

The defeat against Arsenal on Sunday finally pushed convinced some bookmakers to make their move on Southampton. Bet365 were one of the first to move, cutting Southampton’s odds to 10/11 for relegation, making it the first time all season that Saints were odds on to go down. Saints’ odds to stay up are the same at 10/11. The other odds for relegation by Bet365 are West Brom (1/2000), Stoke (1/5), Huddersfield (6/5), Swansea (13/2), Crystal Palace (9/1), Brighton (20/1) and West Ham (25/1). You can check the latest Bet365 bonus code to back any side for the drop or survival.

Obviously, teams have come out of more difficult situations than Saints before. The next two games, vs Chelsea (H) and Leicester (A), look very difficult fixtures. However, they are followed by Bournemouth, Everton and Swansea. The latter could end up being a relegation six-pointer. You would even imagine the final game of the season against Manchester City at St Mary’s might be a chance to get some points, as City will have the title wrapped up by that point.

Three wins at least will be required from remaining six games for Southampton

Around 10 points, maybe more, will be required from those six games to give Southampton a solid chance of staying in the Premier League next season. On the plus side, the performance against Arsenal was one that suggested Mark Hughes has instilled plenty of fight in this side, even if it was taken a bit too literally in the case of Jack Stephens. If Southampton can rattle Arsenal like that at the Emirates, they can go one better against Chelsea at St Mary’s or Leicester at the King Power.

Moreover, it’s not as if all the teams around Southampton are going to suddenly become Barcelona overnight. Everyone from Brighton (13th place, 35pts) to Stoke (19th, 27pts) is still in this battle, with a good or bad result changing the whole outlook for a team. For Saints though, if things do not turn around quickly, they will be branded with that tag nobody wants – relegated when thought too good to go down.

 

Arsenal 3-2 Southampton: Where do we go from here?

After booking a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup in Mark Hughes first outing, optimism amongst the Southampton fan base began to grow, under the assumption that we’d turned a corner.

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Saints looked to be in a good position to pull away from the relegation zone; we’d just beaten a Wigan Athletic side that knocked out Manchester City 2-0, and had the advantage of a two-week break until our next fixture. Hughes had two weeks to communicate his ideas, learn about his squad and give them the morale boost they so desperately needed.

Going into the match at the London Stadium, both teams entered from contrasting positions. The toxic atmosphere during West Ham’s defeat to Burnley meant the Hammers were looking to appease angry and frustrated fans. While the Saints players were looking to maintain the positivity and build some momentum after securing a trip to Wembley.

However, at full time the roles were reversed as the West Ham players showed fight and determination, while the visitors succumbed to a 3-0 loss without even a whimper.

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Following such a result, you can excuse any Southampton fan for fearing the worst ahead of their trip to Emirates Stadium. The Gunners went into the game full of confidence following a 4-1 thrashing of CSKA Moscow in the Europa League, and two consecutive 3-0 wins in the Premier League.

Saints pushed Arsenal all the way though and despite leading through Shane Long, the hosts went into the break leading 2-1. Saints battled back as Charlie Austin equalised, but we couldn’t hold on as Danny Welbeck grabbed his second of the match and Arsenal’s third. It was an encouraging performance in a number of aspects, but the reality is that we’d once again failed to pick up points. So what did we learn? And where do we go from here?

After three games and under a month in the job, Mark Hughes may have found the formula to approach the last six league games. Hughes opted to play a 3-4-3 or 5-4-1 against Arsenal and it allowed Saints to stay in the game and soak up the pressure of better opposition.

Playing three central defenders with Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand acting as wing-backs provided Saints with width and cover at the back. The balance of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oriol Romeu in midfield allowed us to retrieve the ball and turn defence into attack quickly and effectively – something which has arguably been our biggest issue over the past 12 months.

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James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic gave us a creative spark with balls in behind the oppositions defensive line to the pace that Shane Long provides. The introduction of Charlie Austin gives us more fire-power upfront and with Prowse’s delivery into the box, we have more than one way to hurt teams.

Yesterday, however, was the perfect example that the constant asset stripping and poor replacements have firmly caught up with us. Selling Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk (both captains at the club) alongside not convincing Toby Alderweireld to sign a permanent deal at St Mary’s has left us lacking leadership and quality at the back.

If Wesley Hoedt had joined us two years earlier when there were defensive leaders who could hold his hand, show him the ropes and allow for a transition period, Im sure he’d be able to consistently produce the flashes of quality that we’ve seen so far. But instead we’ve thrown him in at the deep end next to a talented, but ultimately inexperienced defender in Jack Stephens. There’s no longer a clear leader at the back who sets the standards for what’s acceptable based upon years of proven quality.

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All three of Arsenal’s goals on Sunday were avoidable, especially the third. Cedric and Jack Stephens were caught ball watching as Welbeck gained space at the back post to run and head home the winner. I’ve got no doubt in my mind when I say that the defence has well and truly let us down this season – both individually and as a collective unit.

We’ve only kept two clean sheets in our last 23 outings, and on the race occasion that we do actually take the lead, It’s not long before that advantage is soon thrown away.

Six league games left. Three points adrift. One game in hand. Thats the reality of our position after only one win in 19 games. If the lads go into our remaining games with same attitude and passion as they did at the Emirates then we give ourselves a glimmer of hope. If they go into every game in the fashion that they did against West Ham, we’ll be down before our final game of the season.

Calum Chambers opens up about his move away from Southampton

Ahead of facing his former club at the Emirates this Sunday, Arsenal’s Calum Chambers has revealed how he kept his move to north London secret – and how an old friend reacted. 

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Chambers joined Southampton’s academy at seven years of age, and made his first-team debut at just 17-years-old. Over the next two seasons the right-back would prove to be strong competition for Nathaniel Clyne, as he seemingly prepared for a long-term future with the Saints.

But in the midst of the 2014 summer exodus, Arsene Wenger saw an opportunity and managed to turn Chambers’ head. The Southampton fan base originally laughed at such rumours, but in what felt like the space of a night, the transfer had been signed, sealed and agreed.

“It was funny because nobody knew about me moving to Arsenal,” Chambers told www.arsenal.com. “We literally didn’t tell anyone, not even my flatmate (Harrison Reed) at Southampton knew.

“I’ve turned up here, all dressed up in my shirt and my jeans, stood outside the office at the training ground and Chambo walks around the corner. He had to double-take! It was brilliant because he just couldn’t believe it.

“Then obviously I’ve had to call up my flatmate and say, ‘Can you give my boots to the kitman? I need my boots’. Then I had to go back, I took my Sky box with me and all that. It was quite a surprise to everyone.”

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Champions League football, training with world-class players and working under Arsene Wenger; these are just a few of the benefits that Chambers would have seen with such a move. But another was having the opportunity to play alongside an old friend, and a fellow academy graduate.

“My relationship with Chambo is quite funny. He broke through into the first team and obviously I was a couple of years younger than him, so we sort of looked up to him. Our age group thought, ‘He can do it, so one of us could do it’.

“In my first training session I trained with him and then we started getting the train in together. Me and Harrison Reed, who lived at my house, used to get the train in from Petersfield to Southampton, and he and Lloyd Isgrove would get on the train halfway. We’d get train journeys in every day together but he was always the first-team player at the time so we had massive respect for him.

“I remember the first day seeing him [at Arsenal] where I turned up and he didn’t have a clue. I stood in the corridor and he just saw me and was so surprised, it was brilliant. I can remember his face and it was so funny. It’s been quite interesting how our paths have crossed throughout our careers.”

Credit to www.arsenal.com for the quotes that have been referenced above

Preview: Arsenal v Southampton

Following a horrific 3-0 defeat to West Ham last weekend, Mark Hughes will be desperate to see a strong reaction from his relegation bound side this Sunday. 

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The only problem, however, is that we’re not getting a second crack at a team who’ve been stealing corner flags, fighting their own fans and arguing with players.

Instead, we’re facing an Arsenal side who come into this fixture off the back of four consecutive wins, and two Premier League games in which they’ve scored three without reply.

So to gain some greater insight into what we can expect from this current Arsenal side, we spoke to Sports Journalist Mason McDonagh, who’s an Arsenal fan and writer for Sportskeeda.

Considering the fact that you’re 13 points off the top four,  is Europa League glory the only way that this season could be considered a success? 

MM: Most definitely. It still won’t be much of a successful season given our terrible defence of the FA Cup, thrashing in the final of the Carabao Cup and a dreadful league campaign, but it will at least get us into the Champions League which is so important.

Which player has surprised you most by truly stepping up this season?

MM: Is it okay to say nobody? It’s hard to pick out anyone who has had a stand out season. If I had to pick, I’d say Ramsey has had another good season, but nobody has stepped up their game really.

You’ve got an abundance of quality in your frontline, but Arsene Wenger still appears to be tinkering with personnel and the formation. How would you like to see them line up?

MM: I’ve always preferred when we play with a 4-2-3-1, allowing Ozil to play as a 10. So, if it was me picking the team I’d have Mkhitaryan on the right, Ozil in the middle, Aubameyang on the left and Lacazette as striker. I’ve been a big fan of both Lacazette and Aubameyang since their arrivals, so I’d like to see a regular starting line-up with them both in it.

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How do teams get the most joy out of your defence?

MM: Based on our defensive performances this season, any way possible. I’d say a high press is what usually forces Arsenal into mistakes with their passing, giving opportunities to the opposite team. And generally, quick wingers/inside forwards usually cause Arsenal some problems.

As an outsider looking in, what have you made of Southampton’s season?

MM: At the beginning of the season, I would have never have tipped Southampton to be anywhere near the relegation zone at this point of the season, so I’d say it’s been a catastrophe. Most times when I’ve watched, Southampton have just looked extremely boring and void of ideas, so hopefully Hughes may be able to change that.

Now that VVD is gone, which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

MM: I’d have to say Sofiane Boufal. Although he has struggled to nail down a place in the Saints side, he is the biggest talent and the most technical player in the side by far. With Arsenal not having any natural wingers with most of the players who play there having being forced out wide, Boufal could certainly offer something different.

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Which Arsenal player would help to improve Mark Hughes’s Saints most?

MM: Aaron Ramsey. I know Southampton have struggled for goals this season, and Ramsey loves a goal from midfield. It would be obvious to choose Aubameyang, but he could become very isolated for a team like Southampton and I don’t think it’d work.

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

MM: There is a lot of quality in the Southampton side, as I mentioned I can’t quite believe you’re in a relegation battle. However despite that quality, I think you could be going down. I just don’t see where you will pick up any points from your remaining fixtures.

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

MM: 3-0 Arsenal. Although Southampton have been somewhat of a bogey team for Arsenal in recent years, I think it should be a comfortable victory this Sunday.

Podcast: Mark Hughes, Austin’s importance and overcoming Pellegrino’s negativity

It’s been like London buses for Fresh Saints and Southampton podcasts. We’ve waited weeks for one to come along, then all of a sudden two arrive at once… 

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So join us as we give our thoughts, views and rants to the Southampton Dellivery podcast, hosted by California based Saints fan, Matthew Markstone.

We discuss the following topics and much much more…

  • Our views on Mark Hughes and the potential impact that he could have on our squad
  • Charlie Austin’s return from injury
  • The damage that Pellegrino’s done to Oriol Romeu
  • Our admiration for Ryan Bertrand – a player who truly knows what it means to be a Saint

 

What’s next for Højbjerg under Hughes?

Before Southampton had kicked off their crunch fixture at home to Everton on November 26, 2017, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg had played just six minutes of Premier League football under Mauricio Pellegrino. Unfathomable, unintelligent and simply unjustifiable… these are just a few of the words that sprung to my mind with regards to Pellegrino’s blatant dislike towards Højbjerg.

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Skip forward two months later and our favourite dynamic Danish midfielder had just played a vital part in recording our first win in ten fixtures against Fulham in the FA Cup. But as the visibly knackered and worn midfielder left the field of play, it was followed by a chorus of boos and chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” chants to Pellegrino – ironically, I think Pellegrino was right to substitute him and save him for the Premier League fixtures, but that’s beside the point.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has quickly become a fan favourite, netting his first Southampton goal last weekend against Wigan in the FA Cup, under Mark Hughes. At just 22 years old, he is one of the most well-rounded midfielders I’ve seen for a long while – he’s a dominant tackler with a strong physique, phenomenal passing range, and the ability to drive the ball forward. Not to mention his mentality and intelligence that surpasses many of his colleagues, and his sheer captain-like presence that we’ve been missing in hard times.

To say that Pellegrino limited Højbjerg would be an understatement; not only did he have to overcome the issue of rarely starting or being played outside of his natural position, but he also had to combat the fact that our midfield was banished from displaying expansive and creative football.

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However, despite having yet to register a Premier League assist or goal this season, he still averages close to 50 passes per game (48.7 to be exact), with a pass completion percentage of 87.3%, 2.1 long balls per game, and 0.5 key passes per game. Whilst those statistics may not stand-out as world-class at this moment in time, we have to take these in relative terms. This is an extremely young talent who needs the nurturing and guidance to push him higher, he needs more game-time and a manager who will glean the best from him; step up new Southampton manager, Mark Hughes.

My hopes for Pierre-Emile Højbjerg are relatively simple: to become Southampton’s current deep-lying playmaker, and within the next couple of years, to become Southampton’s captain. His mentality and attitude, coupled with his outstanding technical footballing ability at such a young age can only pave a very bright future path for him.

He has a relationship with the St Mary’s faithful which has not been matched by many for a few years: we are never short of tweets, songs or articles that praise him. He was one of the first of the senior team to step up and shoulder blame for our disgraceful performances under Pellegrino – most notably his post-match interview after the 3-0 drubbing to Newcastle.

He has the skill-set to keep players like Oriol Romeu and Mario Lemina out of the team, and in my opinion, Højbjerg should be considered one of Southampton Football Club’s prized asset – he has an extremely bright footballing future and has the necessary mental capacity to become a club captain. So what next?

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We already know that Hughes has a huge job on his hands to keep the Saints in the Premier League for another season, but when it comes to getting the best out of Højbjerg, I’m hopeful that Sparky can do exactly that.

Pierre gave an interview after the Wigan win in which he praised our new manager’s mentality and expectancy of player performances. A manager in the mould of Hughes, who’s already expressed his desire to deploy football of a higher intensity with greater freedom, will surely enable the likes of Højbjerg to excel and become one of the first names on the team sheet. A manager like Hughes, who has won everything as a player, will also (with great hope) be able to mirror and improve the young Dane’s mentality, and hone him to become even more of a captain-like figure than he already is.

“I think I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say it has been positive,” said Højbjerg, speaking to Southampton’s official website. 

“It is a new impulse, new energy, good vibes, a fresh start. He worked a lot on intensity and discipline, and the desire to go the extra yards as individuals and as a team. The coach said before the game today the key would be mentality, desire and hard work because he knew that we had the quality.”

In Hughes and Højbjerg, we could find a brilliant manager-player partnership that helps us to excel and form a new leader at Southampton Football Club over the next eight Premier League fixtures.

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Club legends such as Rickie Lambert, Claus Lundekvam and more similarly to Højbjerg, Morgan Schneiderlin, had a number of traits in common. It goes without saying that they all boasted a wealth of talent, but most importantly, they had the desire to lead by example and always look to improve. To never accept the levels that they’re currently performing at, and to make sure that their teammates are on board too.

If we stay up – and that’s one massive ‘if’ – then we need to forget the past 18 months of failure and rebuild the same philosophies and values that got us into the Premier League in the first place. And I can confidently say that if we have any hope of doing so, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will be right at the heart of it as our catalyst for change.