Matches

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.

Jay Rodriguez: Where Does This Leave Southampton?

In Ronald Koeman’s latest press conference it was confirmed that Southampton forward and fan favourite, Jay Rodriguez, is set for yet another spell on the sidelines. The severity and time frame of the injury however is still unknown after Koeman told the media “Jay is not good, it’s now a long time and we have to make a really tough decision how we have to do the treatment”. So, where does this leave Southampton who are now a forward down?

Truthfully, pretty comfortable provided everyone in the squad is well and injury free. It’s no secret that Rodriguez – or any other player in fact – plays second fiddle to a fit Graziano Pellè, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane.

Pellè’s influence in play and clinical finishing makes him unbenchable, not to mention that he’s one of Koeman’s favourites.

Sadio Mane offers immense pace, intelligent movement and quick feet. Whilst these are traits of Rodriguez, it’s a case of anything you can do, I can do better.

Finally we have Tadic who provides the creative spark for the front line. When a game needs that deft touch and classy pass, the Serbian comes up with the goods.

Every attack needs strength, pace and creativity. Unluckily for Rodriguez, those needs are already being met. Simply put, he’s not a set starter with a fully fit squad.

As for backup, this is when the issues rise to the surface.

Shane Long is without argument, our only proven Premier League attacker on the bench. When injury strikes or a tactical change is needed, the Irishman is the first name to be called upon.

Then we have former Malaga man Juanmi, who has struggled to settle into the ways of English football. So far, the Spaniard has found game time coming at a premium due to his slight frame.

The final option is 19 year old Ryan Seager. He will be a familiar name to those who follow the U21’s.

A strong and match fit Rodriguez would prove to be incredible competition for the Southampton XI. He would without doubt be the best player from those options on the bench, and be placed into the squad at the sight of poor performances; most likely retaining his place in the first team when in his best form too.

The only issue however, is that he is still yet to be match fit. With this new setback, Rodriguez could be looking at over two years of being unfit. It goes without saying that time like that out of the game is heavily damaging to a player’s career, both physically and mentally.

Injuries like this stop a player taking the risks they once took. It stops a player from pushing themselves to the limit. It can eat away at a winning mentality.

When Rodriguez had played this season, the safe option was taken all too often. We weren’t treated to a single one of those trademark inside runs or charges down the wing. He didn’t even fancy the idea of closing down or a shoulder to shoulder battle.  However, after the challenges he has had to overcome, not the slightest of blame is going on Rodriguez; some players are able to return from such a damaging injury, some can not.

I’m just not sure that people realise the possible severity of both his first injury, and this new setback.

The only light to be seen in this unfortunate event is the possibility of a signing in the January window. We’ve seen time and time again that a series of injuries in quick succession can severely affect a squads season, making the need for a new signing all the more crucial with Rodriguez now side lined. One more injury on top of Rodriguez and we will be short on supplies. If a deal was to be struck, expect a loan signing like the Filip Djuricic and Eljero Elia deals of last season.

After 19 months since that injury versus Manchester City, it will be a delight to see Rodriguez back doing what he does best; because in all honesty, was he ever really back? The Rodriguez we know is yet to return.

Match Preview: Sunderland vs Southampton

Surely any team in the league would currently feast their eyes, licking their collective lips in anticipation of a weekend trip to the Black Cats. Especially when the team making the journey to the Stadium Of Light is a free flowing, goal scoring, in-form Southampton. The recent appointment of Sam Allardyce was unsurprisingly an attempt to sure up what is the Premier League’s worst defence – the 2015/16 campaign has seen them concede 25 goals in just 11 games. But with seven goals conceded in three games and a 6-2 humiliation at the hands of Everton, all has not gone to plan for Allardyce. So, what can be expected?

Reflecting on the drubbing at Goodison Park seems a positive start for Southampton fans. During the opening 20 minutes it was a new look Sunderland side on show; fullbacks were bombing on, runs were made from the midfield and efforts were oh so close to putting them one goal to the good. However, after the visitors rattled the post twice early on, Everton smelt blood and proceeded to take a two goal lead, courtesy of strikes from Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone. In all the excitement of Sunderland’s attacking play, they left themselves wide open to Everton’s clear strengths of wide play and pace.

With the same attack-minded approach, Sunderland soon clawed two goals back to level the scores. These goals came in the form of a smart individual finish by Jermain Defoe and a textbook Steven Fletcher header. Yet once again, Sunderland’s naivety prevailed and they steered away from Allardyce’s strict defensive priority. Just 26 minutes later and Sunderland found themselves having to overhaul a four goal deficit – that’s a goal every six minutes.

Despite fielding five defenders, no formation can compensate for defensive ill-discipline and a severe lack of pace. Where John O’shea and Wes Brown would have swept the ball with a clean crunch years ago, they now run on empty with lazy legged lunges, watching wingers bound past.

As for fullback Patrick Van Aanholt… well… defending isn’t his forte. So much so, that it’s a rare sight to catch him in defence.

Credit where it’s due however, Van Aanholt is certainly an attacking threat. The Dutchman has blistering pace and given the space to run into, he can deliver a fantastic cross. His style of play as a free spirit attracts positive and negative comments in equal measure. With Cedric typically holding high positions on the pitch, Koeman will be sure to find the right balance between attack and defence. The Sunderland fullback is a familiar face to Koeman, through their shared time in the Eredivise – Van Aanholt was under contract with Chelsea at the time, but spent a two year period on loan with Vitesse.

What will be key to Koeman’s boys winning this game? Runners from deep and confidence in their own ability.

It goes without saying that the Black Cats defence presents just about every weakness possible; own goals, a lack of pace, a disjointed unit and an ever-present likelihood of the away fans singing a chorus of “Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio” as any one of the backline walks down the tunnel.

The last thing Koeman wants to see is hesitance to bomb forward or a missing sense of urgency; such a style of play would only invite Sunderland to get bodies behind the ball and then hit us on the break. With the quality we boast in our frontline and our current goalscoring form, free expression should be encouraged. Putting any of the Sunderland centre halves on the back foot is the order of the day and will be an exciting sight to this weekend’s away fans.

This is where Southampton’s danger man, Sadio Mane, comes into play. The Senegalese international would be picked out by any fans in the league as Southampton’s biggest threat, understandably so, with his recent form. It’s common knowledge that the combination of his ability to play on the last shoulder and pace has embarrassed some of the best defenders in the league. If Southampton want to come away with three points, getting in behind Van Aanholt and charging down on O’shea, Brown or Coates is key. Southampton must capitalise on Sunderland’s sluggish defence with Mane’s intelligent movement and natural pace.

Whilst the suspension of Victor Wanyama will be hard felt and no doubt a disadvantage, Sunderland operate without an established and recognised number 10. In theory this should reduce the damage caused by the Kenyan’s absence, but, Big Sam may well look to exploit this middle avenue. The gap will most likely be plugged by Oriol Romeu, who has proved his worth as a fantastic destructive defensive midfielder.

A worrying stat however is that Southampton have only beaten Sunderland once in their last ten travels up North. But, with Pelle, Mane and Tadic all riding high in confidence and form, there couldn’t be a better chance to put that stat to bed.

 

Virgil Van Dijk: Southampton’s Latest Transfer Triumph

In recent years Southampton have become famed in the footballing world for their astute deals in business and undeniable eye for talent. However, after last summer’s departure of Toby Alderweireld, even Southampton fans worried how a player of that quality could be replaced. The media and fans alike believed that the previously lauded Southampton transfer committee, had finally met their match. But dare I say it, they may well have surpassed themselves once again with the signing of Virgil Van Dijk.

The slow start to the season and early exit from Europe reinforced those fears; this coincided with the protracted negotiations to bring in the clubs number one target, Celtic’s number 5.

After much haggling and dispute, an agreement was struck between both parties, allowing Virgil Van Dijk to join Southampton.

Since Van Dijk took to his place in the side alongside Jose Fonte, the defence has once again found its feet. Its no surprise that as a result, the beautiful football and results that fans became so accustomed to last season has returned.

The Dutchman’s influence on the team is clear for any Southampton fan to see; a quick look at football statistic site WhoScored proves just that.

Since Van Dijk’s Premier League debut versus West Bromwich Albion, only eight other players in the league have averaged a higher performance score.

His dominance in the air is also reflected by winning an average of 5.3 aerial duels per game – target men Christian Benteke, Rudy Gestede and Troy Deeney are the only players to have won more duels than the Dutch giant. Van Dijk also holds two man of the match performances and two goals in just seven appearances. As dangermen from set pieces come, Van Dijk is as good as they get.

Whilst Van Dijk’s defensive ability is a joy to behold, his influence on the pitch runs far deeper than tackles, headers and blocks. At moments of high pressure, Van Dijk remains as confident and cool on the ball as ever, ensuring to find the right pass.

That right pass can be anything from a midfield splitting ball, a 40 yard Hollywood ping to Sadio Mane or an inch perfect chip to an overlapping fullback.

These traits that make up a ball playing centre half breed confidence throughout the entire team.

Without this so desired confidence and brand of players, Southampton’s style of play would do more harm than good.

However, perhaps one of his greatest traits so far has been what many thought would be his early downfall, settling in to the Premier League. Van Dijk has taken to the Premier League like chips to mayonnaise, forming a formidable partnership with Jose Fonte as the core of the team. A player can hold all the ability and physical presence they wish, but without communication and being in the right place at the right time, that ability is rendered useless.

Much to the annoyance of Celtic fans, Van Dijk recently told the media how he has learnt more in five games at Southampton than his entire time at Celtic Park. Such recognition for the standard of our play and management can only bode well for the future. Should we have ever expected anything else? After all, Southampton’s latest gem was hand picked by fellow countryman, Ronald Koeman, and the almighty black box.

 

Podcast: Liverpool vs Southampton Preview

I joined @anfieldindex to talk about this weekends clash against Liverpool at Anfield. Southampton come into this fixture having recently thrown away a two goal lead against Leicester City at St Mary’s. Goals however have been flowing with Southampton netting an impressive 16 times in the past five fixtures.

In Liverpool’s last Premier League fixture, they were held to a goalless draw against ex-Southampton manager, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs. The most recent result came in the Europa League, having once again drew, this time to Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.

We talk about misconceived perceptions of both clubs, how we expect both sides to approach the game, who to watch and a prediction for Jürgen Klopp’s first home game.

Follow the link here and be sure to let us know what you think about this weekends fixture at @freshsaints

 

Review: The International Break That Has Southampton Flying Higher Than Before

Coming off the back of what is usually branded as a boring and uninspiring International break, Southampton couldn’t be higher in confidence. Before catching the plane to carry out their duty, the boys in red and white had put 3 back to back wins together – including a domination at Stamford Bridge that will live long in the memory of many Southampton fans.

Unsurprisingly, the first mention will go to Steven Davis. After the midfielder ended his lengthy goal drought – the last goal coming in February 2014 – he told the media how he hoped the floodgates would now open. However, even Davis himself wouldn’t have anticipated quite how quickly the next goals would come. Davis scored a game winning brace during the Euro qualifying clash with Greece at Windsor Park; those two goals would prove to be the crucial point in Northern Ireland’s first ever Euro qualification.

This wasn’t the only strong performance over the ten games either, Davis featured in the Euro qualifiers team of the tournament.

The second man to note is Graziano Pellè; the Italian has started the season in incredible form having netted an impressive five goals in just eight Premier League games. Not to mention joining Davis as a goalscorer in the preceding fixture against Chelsea.

With thanks to his move to the Premier League and Ronald Koeman, Pellè has become somewhat of a regular for the Azzuri. Every touch in recent games has turned to gold and the fixture against Norway was no exception; Pellè was on the receiving end of a lashed cross and with a clean strike of the left boot, he fired the ball into the bottom corner in the 82nd minute with what would prove to be the winner. The resulting goal placed Pellè as Italy’s top qualifying goalscorer, allowed them to top their group and extended their unbeaten run in European qualifying to 50 games.

The third big star of the break was Ireland’s new poster boy and cult hero, Shane Long. To the annoyance of the Republic of Ireland fans, Long once again began the fixture against world champions, Germany, as second fiddle to Jonathan Walters. But as Martin O’Neill looked to his options in the 65th minute, it was the Southampton man he turned to for a moment of genius. Just five minutes after stepping onto the pitch, Darren Randolph sent Long bounding through on goal to fire into the top left corner. Manuel Neuer stood no chance.

The goal resulted in Long being awarded with a start against Poland; however, this proved to be a poisoned chalice as the Irishman now finds himself sidelined for the next two weeks with an ankle injury.

Even England senior, Ryan Bertrand, and the U21 boys came away with strong results and showings to match. After missing out on pre season and the early Premier League fixtures, Bertrand would have been delighted to earn himself an instant recall to Roy Hodgson’s first XI. The full back gained 90 minutes under his belt during a routine 2-0 win versus Estonia, Bertrand was ever-present.

James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett also recorded a full 90 for Gareth Southgate’s U21 side. During their 3-0 victory over Kazakhstan’s U21’s, Ward-Prowse delivered a number of impeccable set pieces that should have made the scoreline all the more merrier.

Where International breaks are often seen as a time for teams to re identify in times of crisis, Southampton can use such results and performances to continue their recent rich vein of form. Afterall, if an International break can be used to re organise, then why can’t it be used to improve? Morale is running high and performances are even higher, the Tinkerman is next on Koeman’s list.

Tactical Analysis: Focus On Tadic

Entering a new season, football fans will always have their expectations, hopes and unanswered questions.  One of the great questions for Saints fans at the outset of the  2015/16 campaign, was whether we’d see the return of Dusan Tadic’s immense early 2014/15 form.

During Tadic’s debut season, he began to struggle with numerous muscular strains and knocks from December 2014, right through until the summer. Understandably, this affected his performances and in turn, we did not see that creative spark shine as bright again. Southampton fans were screaming out for the Serbian International to return to his previous lofty heights; this season however, he has done just that.

Coming off the back of beating Jose Mourinho’s title winning side at Stamford Bridge, Southampton have now produced three wins on the bounce – scoring 12 goals in the process. Whilst the transfer gossip subjects, Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama continue to reap the majority of the plaudits, Tadic’s work has truly been at the front of our stunning recent form. As a result, the Saints are flying high once again.

Over time, Tadic’s role in Southampton’s play has become more and more influential.

It goes without saying that the former FC Twente playmaker has incredible technical ability and vision; seven assists last year and a current season tally of 25 created chances, proves just that. However, his most recent flourishing has been due, in no small measure, to his mental attributes. Whilst his physical and technical ability has facilitated the execution, his intelligent play combined with world class positioning, has allowed Tadic to ply his trade so effectively.

So, What is the “role” that allowed for such a development in his play?

Upon face value, Tadic is deployed as a winger on the left hand side of Italian talisman, Graziano Pelle – Sadio mane playing on the right of course.

To use this simplistic label to describe his role in the side however, would be an insult to both Tadic and Ronald Koeman.

As we all know, Dutch managers have become famed for their promotion of fluent football and most notably, the era of beautiful play that goes by the name of “Total Football”. Total football, put simply, was a label given to a tactical theory in football, that any player can take up any position at any time. However, with the advent of more robust and defensive minded teams, down came Total Football, along with the rare breed of players to fit the mould.

Whilst the application of Total Football throughout the whole XI has died, that doesn’t mean it can’t live on for certain players. Dusan Tadic is one of those select few.

In games where Southampton are on top of play and pinning the opposition back, Tadic takes up his natural left wing position in a 4-3-3 formation. From there it puts best use to his quick feet in tight spaces, his ability to unpick a banked defence and hard drilled crosses with his strongest foot. When Tadic moves into this wide area, Mane knows to detach himself as a strike partner of Pelle and one of the midfielder three,  typically James Ward-Prowse or Steven Davis, push themselves into the number 10 position.

However, in games where Southampton themselves are under pressure and looking to counter, Tadic tucks inside and plays through the middle as a roaming playmaker. Playing as a number 10 allows for Tadic to be the main source of creativity, whilst Bertrand, Cedric and Mane amongst others know to bomb forward (Look below at the first image to see the runs when Tadic is playing as a number 10).

Pelle will be sure to stay central and ask questions of the centre halves, thus freeing up space for Tadic to run into. If need be, it gives Tadic the option to also pull wide on either side, provided someone occupies this central spot. (Look below at the second photo to see Tadic playing on the right, Mane on the left, Davis occupying the central spot and Bertrand as the furthest forward)

Tadic central with run

Bertrand through

Thirdly, Tadic takes up the role of a wide playmaker in moments where Southampton need to pick up their dominance of possession and play. This involves moving alongside the central midfielders to allow for greater stability and options from deep. The Serbian’s crisp and reassured passing will begin to dominate play from the left side of the field; typically, Tadic will look to dictate the play until an overlapping run occurs. When playing as a wide playmaker, Mane knows to join Pelle as a strike partner – forming a 4-4-2 formation. As a result, this means more options from deep, a stronger defence with two banks of four and a greater attention to the retention of the ball. ( Look below to see Tadic on the left wing as a wide playmaker with Pelle and Mane as a partnership )

Tadic playmaker

These movements from Tadic set the formation and positions of each and every other player on the field. Wherever Tadic plays, its down to the rest of the team to adjust accordingly. Tadic’s positioning dictates Mane’s role, it decides how far Bertrand can push forward, when the defensive midfielders should cover his wide area and when a centre half should cover the left side.

To suggest that Koeman is implementing an aspect of total football in Tadic’s play is certainly an argument that holds water.

So for now, in Tadic, those pre-season expectations and hopes are being met to the delight for the fans in red and white.

Match Preview: Monk Comes To The Chapel

After being held to a goalless draw on their travels to West Bromwich Albion, Southampton returned home to St Mary’s in search for a valuable three points. In what was to be a battle of the Dutch men’s bragging rights, fans were gifted a five goal thriller – sadly for Southampton fans as we know, Manchester United came out on top with a 3-2 win. Just three days later and Southampton have ripped apart MK Dons with six away goals and a clean sheet in the league cup. But, what have we learnt from these game as we look forward to this weekends fixture against Swansea City?

Throughout the opening 30 minutes of the Manchester United game, it would have been insane to label the performance as anything other than a tactical masterclass from Ronald Koeman’s army. The perfectly orchestrated and well positioned pressing was pushing the United defence deep into their own half, bringing mistakes from both the defence and midfield in turn. Provided Southampton can start the game with this same intensity and show Gary Monk’s side their intent, Swansea’s neat possession based football could work in our favour. This is of course if we repeat the opening third of the game; if we resemble anything after this ( minus the final ten minutes ) then an inform Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew will be sure to capitalise.

In that same performance against Manchester United we were treated to an incredible attacking performance throughout – the sharp incisive football that has become a part of Southampton’s DNA was back. Most notably, Graziano Pelle was at the fore of all proceedings; if we are going to beat Swansea City, then our talisman will need to continue his rich early season form. Each and every pass played into the Italian’s chest, feet or head was recycled with just a single touch, allowing runners to put the United defence on the back foot. With Swansea holding no true defensive midfielder, the pocket of space in front of the centre halves will play a key role in the outcome of this game. Ronald Koeman will certainly look to bring Mane and Tadic into this space, to benefit from the knock downs of Pelle.

All of this was play was carried out whilst Pelle continuously humiliated Daley Blind with a number of flicks, tricks and raw strength. With six goals in nine appearances this season, he’s the man that teams will be doing their homework on.

So, who have we got to look out for in this current Swansea side?

Jonjo Shelvey – fresh from his recent return to International football, Shelvey will be high on confidence and sure to show Hodgson why he deserves a starting spot. Not only has the roaming playmaker taken his game to yet another level this season, but he also holds fond memories of his visits to St. Mary’s – having scored an incredible strike from distance in the same fixture of the 2014/15 campaign, securing all three points in the process.

If Southampton show the same defensive sloppiness that has been displayed many times this season, then Shelvey will be in dream land. His right foot is one that can spray a 40 yard ball to the corner of the pitch, penetrate a defence and even sail a shot into the top corner – a scene that sadly Southampton fans know all too well.

If given space then he will be used as the centre piece of the side, dictating the game’s tempo with ease. Games of which Shelvey has been allowed space and time on the ball are when Swansea show their greatest displays.

Besides the hat trick of braces from the forward line, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the mid week fixture was the return of Ryan Bertrand, adding a positive attacking element to the full back role, mirrored by Cedric on the other side. Which as we all know, was an important factor in last seasons success. Welcome back, Ryan.

With both sides playing open and attractive football, we are sure to be in for an entertaining afternoon.

Who’s bringing the Mars bar then?

 

Season Review: Five Things Learnt With Five Games Gone

Were well underway in the 2015/16 season and so far it’s been one of mixed emotions for fans on the South coast. Southampton have been battered, done the battering, sent fans to away games more effective than sleeping pills and most importantly, kept hold of stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama. So, what have we learnt?

1) Standing ground in the market

The first and perhaps most important lesson is that we have managed to keep a firm grip on our African stars. Both Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane played key roles in last years against all odds season; with such mesmerizing performances, fans were understandably fearing a summer exodus 2.0. All had prepared for yet another social media mockery.

However, Southampton chairman Les Reed ensured to make it clear that no player was to be leaving Southampton for the remainder of the window – this followed from the departures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne. Despite manager Ronald Koeman continuing to reiterate Reed’s promise, the rumour mill stops for no one. Tottenham Hotspur fans remained confident of securing the Kenyan’s signature, and in turn, many Southampton fans trembled at the knees. Yet here we are.

Since the Norwich City game it seems that Wanyama’s toys have returned to his pram and all can be dusted behind us. The board have remained strong and it’s an act that fans could certainly get used to.

We wouldn’t have it any other way, would we Saints fans?

well…

2) The Black Box Has Worked Its Magic Once Again

Had it not been for this wonder working machine, Southampton football club may well have been the laughing stock that the media wanted so badly last season.

Now it seems that Southampton have uncovered yet more gems in the form of Romeu ( 4.9 Million from Chelsea ) Cedric Soares ( 4.55 Million from Sporting Clube De Portugal ) and Virgil Van Dijk ( 11 Million from Celtic ). Romeu has offered a much needed presence in midfield after the departure of Schneiderlin to Manchester United. Fans have been wowed by his wide range of passing, passion on the field and crunching tackles; he’s fast becoming a fan favourite, proving to be our best player of the new season along the way.

Then we have the Portuguese International Cedric Soares who has provided an incredible option from the right side with persistent movement, a beautiful cross and stamina to make Steven Davis proud. Our new right back has already notched up one assist in his first five games, beating Nathaniel Clyne’s assist tally from last season. On top of that he has created six more chances than Clyne’s disappointing two for Liverpool; not half bad for a debut season.

To round it off we have the newly capped Dutch International Virgil Van Dijk who was a shining light in the recent fixture against West Bromwich Albion; with a classy touch, an eye for a pass and a composed defender, he’s a shoe in fit for Toby Alderweireld. Were yet to see a true reflection of Juanmi, Jordy Clasie and Marteen Stekelenburg’s talents, but with the track record that Southampton hold, it would come as no surprise for them to soon flourish under Ronald Koeman.

3) Europe Can Wait

 

After last seasons displays, Southampton fans held every reason to be positive about the European journey that lay ahead.

Sadly however it wasn’t to be, Southampton steered clear of their beautiful fluid football and poorly exchanged it with a Sam Allardyce tactical dream. To fans it became apparent that we had lost our core – thanks to th departure of Schneiderlin – and we needed time for our new faces to settle in. After all, it’s hard to maintain your identity with just two familiar faces in the seven defensive positions.

In a season that will largely be focused on transition and cohesion, European football would simply be an unneeded headache at the cost of League form. For now, the European nights can wait until we are ready to march on.

 

4) Koeman’s Favoritism

It’s slowly becoming more and more evident that Ronald Koeman holds his selected favourites. Whilst I applaud his man management and belief that he installs in his players, you have to worry that it could be at the cost of performance and team morale.

In light of the recent Wanyama transfer saga, James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu proved to form a perfect partnership in his absence. Despite wiping the floor clean with Norwich City and producing the first and only high quality game of the season, it wasn’t enough. Wanyama returned, Romeu was dropped and subsequently James Ward-Prowse was pushed forward into a less familiar position; the result? a share of the spoils in what was to be a 0-0 snoozefest against West Bromwich Albion. Granted, this is a point against a well structured Tony Pulis side that went out with the intent not to lose. However, you just can’t help but wonder what may have been if we stuck with our winning formula. Even more so if the returning player “Isn’t mentally ready” after a blocked transfer away. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, Ron.

5) We Can Still Play That Beautiful Football

Early season form was not only worrying, but ugly in the process. As mentioned before, our football shown against FC Midtjylland on the European stage was nothing to be proud of and a million miles away from the standards we had set last season. Fans were especially worried about the aesthetics of our play when you tie this performance in with the defensively poor showing against Newcastle and Everton. It had seemed we lost our identity; our beautiful and crisp passing that helped to make us everyone’s little soft spot was nowhere to be seen. Whilst fans questioned if that football had made its move to The Theatre Of Dreams, Koeman’s army produced the greatest response to silence the doubters… a dominating three nil masterclass. Southampton proved to be superior in every position against Norwich City in a performance that proudly and rightly belonged at St. Mary’s.

With our number one summer target Virgil Van Dijk still settling in and Clasie joining Bertrand on the way back from injury, play can only improve.

The overlapping runs, quick one touch passing, constant movement and sharp decisions were back, let’s hope they are here to stay.