Matches

Fraser Forster: Facts, stats and stopping attacks

It’s been widely documented how Fraser Forster’s return of form has been the true beginning of Southampton’s season. Having struggled to combine their usual fluent attacking play with strong defensive performances over the first 20 fixtures, Forster came back into the side with the Saints sitting in 13th place. Fast forward five games and Southampton are now in contention for European Football, scoring freely and have leapfrogged Liverpool for 7th place.

But, just how good has he been?

“He’s so quiet but he gives a lot of confidence to defenders. It’s not a coincidence that when he comes back we start keeping clean sheets.” said Ronald Koeman on the goalkeeper that he calls “Magic”. Koeman is right, and the statistics are there to prove just that.

Since Forster put the gloves back on, he’s seen the opposition line up 62 shots. That includes 15 placed on target, which reflects Forster’s shot stopping ability. Whilst also including 47 shots off target, which tells us the low probability shots that the defence is forcing the opposition to make.

Forster has placed confidence in the defence, which allows the back line to hold a strong, yet high-risk position on the field. By Forster allowing the defence to play further up the pitch, thus pushing the opposition deep into their own half, it’s not just the defence that has reaped the benefits of Forster’s presence.

In turn, he can also authorise the defence to drop deep and carry out a “backs against the wall” performance with confidence and desire, rather than fear. As shown in the closing stages against Arsenal (A) and most recently, against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham (H).

To take risks, you need to be confident. To win, you need to take risks. And judging by Southampton’s poor early season form, It seems fair to suggest that Marteen Stekelenburg places lower levels of confidence in the defence than Forster.

It’s been 479 minutes of Premier League football since the six-foot-seven-inch monster returned and not once has he had to pick the ball out from the back of the net.

Not to mention that after Southampton’s 1-0 home win over West Ham, Fraser Forster’s clean sheet percentage is the best of any goalkeeper with 30 or more Premier League appearances. That’s 18 clean sheets from his 35 games (51.4%).

Forster has been the catalyst to Southampton’s incredible form and such feats can never be a coincidence in a League as competitive as the Premier League. Watch out Joe Hart, the Euros are coming and Forster certainly wants a taste of the action.

 

Why Sadio Mane wasn’t and still isn’t top-four material

After 53 minutes of strict organisation and pressing had passed, Southampton’s moment to capitalise arrived.

Third choice Gunners centre-half Gabriel Paulista lazily dragged the ball across the middle of the park and there was Sadio Mane to pick the ball up on the halfway line. Bounding toward the goal, Mane placed Koscielny on the back foot and forced himself an opening to the right-side of the box. But as he reached the 18-yard line, he scuffed it. With no balance and a weakly hit strike, the ball simply rolled into the hands of Cech. Sadly, this has been the Sadio Mane of recent weeks. And luckily for us, this is why Mane’s not yet ready for his dream move.

Unlike most that are labelled as “wantaway” players, it’s not Mane’s effort levels that I’m criticising. In fact, as wingers come, few can match Mane’s defensive contribution. Fans know each and every week that when the Senegalese International is on the pitch, we will be receiving nothing less than 100%. As fans, that’s all we can ask for.

However, when I see Mane being mentioned as the world class player that Manchester United need, I can’t help but question why and how.

Rather like Yannick Bolasie – another player that is continuously linked with a “big” move away – he is exciting and thrilling to watch from the terrace. His skills are dazzling, he can single-handedly win games and he can leave you laughing at the humiliation that he has just put poor Sunderland through. But, if they can still bring frustration to fans of mid-table sides, then they certainly aren’t ready for the heights of Champions League football.

We as fans of a mid-table team have the patience that allows a raw talent to flourish, and unsurprisingly, we have a lower expectation of performance in comparison to fans of clubs such as Manchester United. Those dodgy touches, wasted chances and poor decisions by Mane would get chewed up and spat out on the big stage. Simply look at the decline of Memphis Depay – the incredibly talented Dutchman has been unable to deal with the immense pressure that comes with being a Red Devil.

Despite being gifted a number of routine 1 v 1’s, continually finding space between the defensive lines and having half chances carved out for him, Mane last hit the back of the net on the second of December against Liverpool. For someone who operates as a goalscoring winger and often partners the forward, no goals in 11 games is hardly Champions League form.

On his day, Mane is unstoppable, there is no doubting that. He can simply skip past defenders with the deftest of touches and appear to glide past full-backs without breaking a sweat. But at this point in his career, for every ten games of magic, were shown ten games of shanked shots, first touches that clang of his shin and over-running the ball for a goal-kick.

To play for one of Football’s greatest clubs, consistency is key. And at Manchester United, these dips in form will result in a reserved heated seat alongside Memphis and Fellaini. Whilst his movement, work-rate, ability and relentless efforts are always clear to see, Mane must develop that killer instinct to beat the final man and bury his chances. Doing so will help him reach the level he so desires.
Mane has the ability to make it to the top. Ronald Koeman’s thoughts on the winger and the interest from Bayern Munich/Manchester United reflect just that. But has anyone stopped to consider that Mane is currently playing at his level? Has anyone considered that a big move this summer could stunt his growth? After all, there is few better than Southampton at developing young stars into the best they can be.

Why Europa could be on the cards for Koeman and co

We are now 23 games into the Premier League season and finally, it seems Southampton have found their feet. In a season where Leicester City are three points clear at the top and Chelsea have dealt battle with Bournemouth, Norwich and Villa for relegation, It would hardly be preposterous to suggest that Southampton can compete in Europe for the second season running. Here’s why.

The opening fixtures were greeted by fans as periods of transition, but as Southampton approached the midway point of the season, attractive football and results were few and far between.
Matchday 19 saw Southampton suffer a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Slaven Bilic’s Payet-less Hammers. Matchday 20 brought even more misery, with Southampton leaving Carrow Road empty handed. And one week later, Alan Pardew’s Palace dumped Southampton out of the FA cup.

But then, with a change of system, the return of Fraser Forster and the revenant of Shane Long, Southampton find themselves having played three games with nine points, six goals and three clean sheets to show for it.
Despite this being the first time Southampton have clicked all season, they sit in the comfortable heights of eighth place in irrepressible form. All of this makes for good reason to be optimistic for the remainder of the season, right?

Since being in the Premier League, one of Southampton’s biggest downfalls has been squandering those crucial moments and failing to bury half chances; quite frankly, this is what separates mid table teams from the top four. This season especially, Southampton have started the first half brightly, carving a number of key chances for themselves. However, putting them away has proved rather difficult to watch.

With Charlie Austin now in Southampton’s ranks, they have their proven goal scorer; they have a game winner. To put it into facts and stats, Pelle has taken 175 shots since the start of the 2014/15 Premier League season, scoring 18 goals. In that same time, Austin has taken 179 shots and scored 29 goals in a far less able attacking outlet.

Southampton fans have every reason to be optimistic about the prospect of Austin’s movement, positioning and finishing in the red and white stripes. One can only hope that with the addition of Austin, fans won’t have to rue those wasted chances come the final whistle.

The signing of Charlie Austin has been made all the more thrilling as its coincided with the return of England International Fraser Forster, the integration of England U21 Matt Targett and the simply faultless performance from James Ward-Prowse versus West Bromwich Albion.

Why may this help us achieve European football? we have our identity back. Youth development and an English spine have gone hand in hand with Southampton over previous years and during the first half of this season, it was nowhere to be seen. Whilst we all love watching Pelle tuck one away, it’s all the sweeter watching an England International rifle one home.

The fans are once again thrilled to watch local boys represent their club, impressed to see that we have a set direction and that foreign players can understand what we’re all about. A club losing its identity is dangerous and hard to recover, simply look at Manchester United. But right now, It’s exciting. Really exciting.

So exciting in fact that wantaway transfer rebel, Victor Wanyama, has reportedly told friends and family that he wants to sign a new deal. Refusing to sell our finest talents has been a big step toward growing as a club, but convincing them to extend their stay, that’s a sign of ambition to all players currently in the squad and potential future signings. Not only does it provide a mental boost to the team, but it also allows Koeman to plan for the future and know that he can rely on Wanyama. Pinning down stars on a new contract means far more than just retaining the talent.

Now we come to Fraser Forster. It could easily be argued that the England International has been the catalyst in Southampton’s revival of form. Since returning from injury, Forster and our now discipline defence have kept Watford (H), West Bromwich Albion (H) and Manchester United (A) at bay. That’s three clean sheets from three possible fixtures. Before Forster returned, we kept three clean sheets in our previous 17.

Whilst the six-foot-seven-inch shot-stopper has not been pushed into any hard work yet, his influence is clear to see. He’s installed that much-needed confidence back into our defence and allowed us to once again play out from the back.

As for competition, a goal-shy Crystal Palace are falling down the table, Everton’s inability to defend completely undoes the hard work of their frontline, Stoke simply don’t hit the back of that big white thing enough and Swansea have found themselves in a surprising battle for Premier League survival. At this moment in time, It looks to be a four horse race between Manchester United, West Ham, Liverpool and Southampton for European football.

In reality however, Southampton will only achieve Europa League qualification through the triumph of two already European qualified teams in the FA cup and Capital One Cup. Never the less, it would require us to finish somewhere in the top seven spaces; what an incredible turnaround that would be given Southampton’s poor early season form.

Yes, it’s a big ask. Yes, we will be relying on the work of others and yes, our form may well collapse over the next 15 games. However, we’ve all followed the Premier League and Southampton far too long to know that the unpredictable is rather predictable.

Austin Powers: Yeah baby

Southampton fans awoke yesterday morning in the hope of securing a back-to-back Premier League win during their three o’clock fixture against West Brom. However, Southampton made the fans day by early morning, after Sky Sports revealed that the club had agreed on a fee with Queens Park Rangers over Charlie Austin. By the time 12:00 struck, all the paperwork was finished and Austin was now a saint. But, is this yet more astute business for Southampton, what are the worries and how will he fit in?

First things first, the deal. Austin had six months remaining on his contract at QPR, taking him through to the summer as a free agent – clearly aware of the competition for the Englishman, Southampton acted fast, smooth and quiet. The result? acquiring a forward who scored 18 Premier League goals last season for a reported fee of four million. You’ve only got to look as far as Southampton’s south coast neighbours Bournemouth, to see the value held in this deal – the Cherries have forked out £18 million on unproven Premier League talent in Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban.

Not to mention that if Southampton had allowed negotiations to run through into the summer, a rather greedy agent would be wanting his contribution covered by a nice big cheque. As for wages, Southampton can afford to spend bigger on the wage bill due to the discounted asking price.

Four million to obtain a proven goal scoring Englishman is incredible business, no matter how you look at it.

Another area which must be touched upon is his record of injuries; however, as a matter of fact, that argument seems rather fallacious. Austin has scored at least 17 goals in each season as a professional footballer. Clocking up 160 appearances over the past five seasons, that’s over 32 games per season. Not bad for someone that has falsely been labelled as injury ridden.

Regardless of what many bitter fans may say about Austin’s injuries, were guaranteeing at least 13 goals per season. Why is that? well…

18 goals in a side that finished rock bottom of the Premier League last season. 18 goals in a team with next to no service. A player with such class in the box and the ability to create a chance from nothing is mouth watering for a Southampton side that needs a killer instinct. Swapping Matt Phillips for Sadio Mane and Junior Hoilett for Dusan Tadic can only bode well for Southampton fans expectations.

But where will Austin fit in? At this moment in time, it’s rather difficult to say given the sudden form of Shane long and the new change of system. Southampton originally operated as a 4-3-3 this season, but poor form and predictable play resulted in switching to a 5-3-2 formation. Austin typically flourishes when around a player who can help to free up space for him. Given that, the movement, aerial threat and work rate of Shane Long seems a logical match for Austin’s play. To bench the Irishman after recent showings would be simply criminal. This then leaves Koeman the task of finding space for Mane, Davis, Tadic. Rodriguez, Pelle and Targett – Koeman is being presented the best type of managerial nightmare.

Charlie Austin is a name mentioned many times in previous transfer windows for Southampton. Throughout this time, Southampton fans have had that funny old feeling that he would end up leading the line for us. Now it’s come true, we can only hope that the feeling of this transfer being the bargain of the window comes true too.

Le Tiss gives his thoughts and the truth on Mane’s meeting mix-up

 

On the second of January, Sadio Mane became the latest player at Southampton football club to take centre stage, turning up late to the pre-game meeting versus Norwich City. However, club legend Matthew Le Tissier believes that Ronald Koeman’s treatment was “A little bit harsh” after finding out what really happened.

Speaking to Le Tissier, he told us his thoughts on how Ronald Koeman dealt with the situation.

I think he’s obviously got rules in place in terms of timekeeping that he felt he would be compromised if he didn’t punish Sadio Mane for turning up late for the meeting before the Norwich game

Le Tisser then went on to give details about the situation and explain that it was in fact, a miscommunication.

There was an issue where the time of the meeting actually got changed.

Sadio turned up for the original time of the meeting, but, he wasn’t aware that the meeting had been brought forward ten minutes said Koeman.

As a result of Koeman’s rather one-sided story, Mane has received some now undeserved abuse through social media.

Having all the facts, it might have been a little bit harsh to have dropped him from the side that that day.

Interview: Talking with Le Tiss

Today we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about Southampton Football Club with the legend himself, Matthew Le Tissier. We talk about the season so far, the effect of confidence on a team, players of the past, transfers, Wednesday’s win over Watford, the famed academy, Ronald Koeman and Matt’s expectations for the remainder of the season. 

00:05 – The season so far

00:45 – The January transfer window and Rodriguez’s return date

02:23 – How to overcome squad confidence issues

03:12 – The Morale of squads in Tiss’s time

04:28 – Cliques in clubs

05:23 – The effect of morale on performance

06:04 – The most effective mid-season signing for Le Tiss

06:55 – Koeman under pressure and beating Watford

08:02 – A team full of home grown players?

09:03 – Who from the current crop of youngsters does Le Tiss have his eye on?

09:47 – How Koeman has dealt with Wanyama

10:03 – The full story on Mane’s late arrival to the team meeting

10:42 – Season expectations

 

Why I worry for Koeman

Southampton come into this important week under heavy pressure, having only once come away with three points in their last 11 games. However, no one is feeling that pressure quite as much as Southampton boss, Ronald Koeman. With such a poor run of form, the two upcoming home fixtures versus Watford and West Brom are made all the more important – especially when the South Coast club are just seven points away from the drop. Results are needed quickly and if we are unable to come up with the goods, I worry for Koeman.

Here’s why…

Two years ago, Southampton were hailed by the media and all football fans as THE model club. They gained Premier League safety, played attractive football and most importantly, built an English core – something that has become a rarity in the modern game.  Since Koeman took over, Ryan Bertrand and Fraser Forster have been the only English additions. With Koeman already ruling out the possibility of signing Charlie Austin, you have to wonder when and who the next English addition may be.

Not only has English talent decreased in signings, but English academy progression has fallen too. The promotion of talent from the academy to the first team is an achievement that the club has worn proudly on its sleeve; sadly, that has vanished since Koeman joined. Minus his recent attendance at Staplewood to watch Forster play, Koeman has stopped visiting the U21’s fixtures. The notable omissions from first team chances are fan favourite Harrison Reed and Ryan Seager, who still maintains his goal-a-game strike rate at U21 level.

Finally, this is a Ronald Koeman team. The club has invested just over one hundred million since Mauricio Pochettino left, with Koeman having the choice on who to bring in. These personally selected players have been performing well below their expected levels; signings such as Juanmi, Martina, Caulker and Stekelenburg have been disastrous in actual fact. Even Virgil Van Dijk who started the season so positively has allowed errors and poor decision making to creep into his game. No excuses here.

Despite these troubles that Koeman has faced, the fans have been and still believe that the Dutchman is the right man for the job. As fans of a club that has so often been shown a lack of loyalty by players, we must continue to show our loyalty toward a manager who has gifted us many special moments.

We’re behind you, Ronald.

 

Thoughts On Koeman’s Latest Quotes

During yesterday’s pre-Crystal Palace presser, questions were continually thrown toward Ronald Koeman regarding the future of the usual transfer suspects. If there wasn’t already enough headlines surrounding Sadio Mane, then his decision to arrive late for the team meeting threw a gallon of fuel on the already burning speculation surrounding his future at the club; Victor Wanyama’s rather pathetic dismissal certainly didn’t help the situation either. With both incidents falling perfectly in time with the January transfer window, the dodgy transfer links and “ITK” sources were in full swing.

However, the message is clear from Koeman, no one is leaving. The Southampton boss told the media that “If there is any player thinking if his behaviour is not good that makes it easier for the player, then I’ll put the player in the stands until the end of their contract.”

In my opinion, that’s not the way you have to do your job as a football player”

Koeman has reiterated time and time again throughout the season that no one is for sale, but this message is rather different. He’s spoken about behaviour, the need to be focused and told the fans the exact plan that he would enforce, should it be necessary. All too often Southampton fans have been left in the shadows of decisions, completely unaware of the approach that their own football club is taking. Over previous transfer windows, it’s hard to decide whether Southampton as a club want the money, respect of our own players (It’s remarkable I’m having to suggest that) or just to chuck the bad eggs out.

It’s not only a message to current players, but a statement to players who may look to join Southampton this window, this summer or in future seasons. This club has demanded respect from its players for the fans and the success of the club.

If a big money move is on a player’s mind, then so be it. We can hardly expect a 22-year-old Senegal-born player who spent two years in Austria with a history of forcing transfers, to fall at his knees with love in his eyes at Southampton. Every player has ambitions and If our club can be of help in that, brilliant. All we ask for in exchange is a positive attitude and 100%, week in, week out. Provided the situation is clear, the deal remains intact and intentions are known, there is nothing wrong with being used as a “stepping stone”.

It was a hard-hitting statement at a much needed time; Southampton fans have been crying out for such clarification. With the club’s stance on outgoing transfers now settled, it’s time to settle the players on-pitch performances.

Talking Point: What Are We Breeding?

“We don’t just buy success, we breed it” as Ralph Krueger, the chairman of Southampton Football Club continues to voice. But over the past two years, it’s questionable as to what we are breeding. The academy conveyer belt has apparently been halted and the spine of players who truly understand Southampton Football club, are nowhere to be seen. The success of last season masked the lack of breeding, with results turning, its possibly come to the surface. Breeding is one thing, retaining is just as important.

Take a look at two squads that have recently been the focus of the media; Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth. What do these two clubs have in common? Togetherness forged by success achieved by the group: Bournemouth’s promotion and Leicester’s survival. That same warmth and sense of belonging that has slowly diminished piece by piece, since our second season in the top flight. All fans love to make that journey home knowing that their side has clinched all three points; but that feeling of doing so is all the more special when players and fans share that family feeling. Southampton fans know that better than most.

That is exactly the thrill that AFC Bournemouth are currently experiencing, having defeated Chelsea and Manchester United in seven days. On ability, both fixtures should have been a simple 3-0 drubbing to the big guns. Football is a mad game however, and the Cherries came away with six points. Why? Each and every one of  Eddie Howe’s men would throw their body on the line for a fellow team-mate. Even the new boys that have been drafted in are onboard with what it means for the club. Despite being down to the proverbial “bare bones” and deprived of their finest talents through injury, the core remains. AFC Bournemouth are breeding that family feeling throughout the squad. I’m not sure how many of our players understand Southampton Football Club anymore; how could I blame them? How many remaining players have that feeling?

The importance of a tight knit squad is illustrated perfectly by Chelsea and Manchester United. Despite all the talent and money thrown around during previous windows, if the dressing room is gone, the performances go too, leaving their fans looking quizzically at the paupers of Leicester and AFCB.

Perhaps this signals a time when Jim White will report excitedly on Deadline Day ™ on players signing contract extensions, as opposed to multi-million pound transfers.

By no means am I saying to stop signing players. Bringing in new talent can inspire a squad, add dimensions that you have never held before and perhaps leave a tasty looking bank balance when they move on. Players such as Sadio Mane, Toby Alderweireld, Dusan Tadic and even Dejan Lovren have provided Premier League moments that will live long in the memory of our fans.

However, when results aren’t going your way and you no longer hold that core, motivating and bringing the fight out of a squad made from new faces can prove difficult. We must find that balance before it’s too late, leaving the club to potentially come tumbling down like Lovren’s career post Southampton or *cough* Newcastle *Cough*.

“Where were you at Tranmere away?” screams Jose Fonte, to which only Kelvin Davis raises his hand.

The damage of selling players such as Jack Cork, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin runs far deeper than just a loss in quality. They held a bond with the fans and the club, ensuring that every new signing was made to be a part of the family. It appears that the departure of Schneiderlin has proved just one too many this season, with results and performances far from that of the past two seasons. They were after all, the identity of Southampton’s rise from League One.

During Mauricio Pochettino’s reign there was a number of academy prospects with their foot in the first team door – Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher just to name a few. The only regular youngster selected by choice under Ronald Koeman has been England U21 captain, Ward-Prowse. This certainly isn’t the “breeding” that Krueger talks about. We need to breed a new family feeling at the club.

With academy opportunities coming at a premium and familiar faces leaving, I ask you Ralph Kreuger; What are we breeding? Is it the future of our family club or just a strap line to help sell the concept of the academy and The Southampton Way worldwide?

Talking Point: The Recent Reluctance On Academy Promotion

Ronald Koeman recently spoke out about his role as Southampton boss, stating that he sees himself as a day-to-day manager, rather than looking at his job as a three year project. Having dealt with two gruelling transfer window’s that saw key players depart for big money moves, such a viewpoint is understandable; as a matter of fact, it’s been the perfect take on a challenge that many managers wouldn’t be fit to face. However, this outlook from Koeman could also explain his reluctance to promote youth into the first team.

Since his arrival in 2014, Ronald Koeman has seen Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Calum Chambers, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and even loanee Toby Alderweireld leave the club. Losing five first team players in the first season, followed by three star players in Koeman’s second summer was always going to result in a call for experience. Once a club has been shaken as much as Southampton have been, dependable players with a strong mentality are the first to be called upon –  fragmenting academy players in turn.

Southampton needed to find their feet and steady the ship at the start of both seasons; calling upon young players at that time would have been a classic case of trying to run before you can walk.

When aiming to integrate academy players into the first team, you need a strong spine and experienced players alongside. The academy players need to be familiar with their surroundings and how those around them play, in order to impress when given their chance. That integration proves rather difficult once your experienced players have been poached by other teams.  Throwing a young inexperienced player in a side that is still under great development can be damaging on results and the youngsters mentality.

Simply take a look at how Premier League sides fair in the League Cup when they throw a collection of academy players, first team stars and second string choices together. The combination ultimately results in a not so unpredictable cup upset.

The best time to integrate young players is once you have a settled squad, but how frequently throughout his reign has the Dutchman held a settled squad? This period of fire fighting and balancing the team has taken up a vast amount of Koeman’s time on the South coast. Not mentioning our push for European football; which the Dutchman succeeded in achieving. Koeman has been thrown countless challenges and with each problem, he has come out on top.

The real catalyst behind our recent lack of academy progression is with the senior management and powers that be. Whilst they continue to provide spectacular facilities and develop one of the best academies in Europe, they also shoot themselves in the foot with the sale of our stars. This decision has blocked the pathway for academy players into the first team. However, preventing this is far easier said than done.

Koeman is so focused on having to rebuild the squad and get points on the board, that he is simply unable to place faith into academy players. You need a balance of experience, stability, quality and youth to bring long term success to a football club. Koeman has been limited on all four at the start of both seasons.

I’m certain that with a promise from the executives that we stand strong in the market, Koeman will provide a stream of home produced youngsters into the first team.