Matches

2016: One damn good year for Southampton Football Club

As far as the 2015/16 season was concerned, Southampton fans had labelled the campaign a write off by late December. The club had seen their French sweetheart depart for Manchester United, had crushed their own dreams of success in the Europa League in the most unattractive fashion possible, and were sitting in 12th place as they entered the new year. But, just five months later, those troubles seem a world away, and maybe as Southampton fans, we should have known better. 2016 is proving to be quite the year for Southampton Football Club.

And it all began with the luck of the Irish(man) – Shane Long. As 2015 was coming to a close, Southampton fans were growing tired of the turgid football, low intensity and predictable play that had oddly, become a recurring issue under Koeman in the winter months. But with just one change, those issues were no more. With Shane Long’s introduction to the side on December 26th – Southampton’s 4-0 win over Arsenal – Southampton put into practice the hardest thing to do in the simple game that we all love; play simple football. Since then, Long has surpassed 10 goals in a Premier League season for the first time in his career, Southampton have a newfound fluidity up top, and they have returned to defending with the first line of defence; the attack. In just six months, Shane Long has transformed his title from super-sub, into one of the first names on Koeman’s team-sheet.

But whilst fans enjoyed the free-flowing football on offer, there stood one more problem, and that problem was standing between the sticks. To me, the goalkeeper is the most important player on the pitch, and Southampton’s early-season shot-stopping predicaments illustrated that perfectly. A strong goalkeeper is the root of the defences confidence, so when a weak link is placed under such pressure, don’t be surprised if it all comes crashing down. In contrast, when you place a strong keeper behind the back-line – such as Fraser Forster – the defence flourishes. Prior to the big man returning, Stekelenburg averaged 1.42 saves per goal and claimed just 35 catches in 17 appearances. In Forster’s 17 appearances over 2016, he has recorded an average rate of 2.75 saves per goal and claimed 61 catches. Fraser Forster’s statistics are vastly superior to Stekelenburg’s, and consequently, results have been prominent too. Without Forster’s return to the starting XI, I firmly believe that we wouldn’t be in such a promising position.

Soon after Forster’s return, Southampton’s attack was about to receive yet another injection of firepower in the January transfer window. With the £4 Million signing of Charlie Austin, fans of all clubs were labelling the deal the bargain of the window. And whilst the forward has only scored one goal since joining the club (what a goal it was at that) Austin has the perfect opportunity to prepare both physically and mentally over pre-season. Simply look to Shane Long as hope for what Austin could achieve with Southampton after a strong pre-season, continual hard work and remaining patient for his chance to arise. There is no doubting Austin’s ability, and at such a price, he is yet another positive for Southampton’s prosperous year so far.

Squad depth is a facet needed in any succesful side, providing the opportunity for players to rest, suspensions to be covered and competition for positions. Four years since Southampton’s return to the Premier League, this has been acheieved. After Jay Rodriguez’s hard fought battle with injury, I remember looking down at our team sheet in complete awe of the progress made as a squad. There sat on our bench on April 9th, 2016, was Jay Rodriguez, Cedric Soares, Oriol Romeu, Charlie Austin, Maya Yoshida and Maarten Stekelenburg. In previous years, Southampton have tailed off at the end of the season due to jaded physical conditions in the squad. But in 2016, Southampton have been able to take up the unprecedented act of injecting first-team quality players into the game from the bench – it’s no coincidence that with this wide array of options to change the game and keep players fresh, Southampton have beaten both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s in their final run-in. It’s hard to see Ronald Koeman accepting anything other than making this squad bigger, better and stronger this summer.

Finally, we come to an act that shows all Premier League Clubs that Southampton Football Club means business. On the 7th of March, Southampton tied down players player and fans player of the season, Virgil Van Dijk, on a new six-year contract. Not only was this an astute piece of business due to the Dutchman’s clear talent, but it’s also a statement. A statement of intent and ambition. A statement that tells Mane and Wanyama, that Southampton is the place to be if you want to further your career. In seasons gone by, the clubs ripest and rawest talents have been prized away by the League’s “Big boys”, causing stalled development of the club. Yet still, we manage to progress each year through the incredible planning and management of the club; by no means can this be labelled fortuitous. But as a fan who wants to see his team be the best they can possibly be, I have to wonder, what would have been if we held onto our finest talents? After this statement from the club, we may well find out this summer.

But just how good of a year has this been for Southampton? Well, second only to the Premier League Champions Leicester City to be exact. Over 2016, only Leicester City (41) have recorded more Premier League points than Southampton (36). Given our results in the latter stages of 2015 this season, Southampton being on the cusp of achieving back-to-back Europa League qualification isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s an incredible story that without Leicester City’s dream season occurring, would most likely be filling the back pages. However, whilst this would be a fully deserved achievement for the club, we want to keep growing, and therefore, this should only be seen as the beginning of something special. As Claudio Ranieri would say “Let’s dream”.

 

The Southampton “Never beens” XI

The Barclays Premier League champions have been decided, one team has already sealed their fate in the Championship next season, and a number of other sides have secured their place in England’s top division for another year. So, what else can the back pages and Twitter pages possibly use to fill their space and time? The Summer transfer window. In the spirit of those ludicrous stories and unbelievable rumours that are beginning to surface, I’ve collated my personal favourites that have been linked with a move to Southampton Football Club over the years. Welcome, to the Southampton “Never beens” XI.

Line up XI

Jack Butland

It’s 2012 and Southampton have just booked their place in the Barclays Premier League. All the promoted squad have done themselves proud, but Nigel Adkins and Southampton were always looking to the future. That summer, it was reported that Southampton bid £6M in an attempt to lure Jack Butland from Birmingham, but it proved unsuccessful. Looking back, it’s hard to know we’ve missed out on such a star, but we should take pride in knowing that as always, Southampton saw the talent within and went on to secure the signature of the six-foot-seven-inch giant that is Fraser Forster.

Davide Astori

Every. Single. Year. During the transfer windows of the previous three seasons, the name of this Italian defender has been a broken record for Southampton fans. Regardless of our defensive situations, online sources have always managed to find a way to link Astori to the Saints – be that as defensive backup, or as a sure starter alongside Jose Fonte, his name will always pop up. One thing is certain, however, and that’s that there never was, and never will be any truth in this now famous transfer rumour.

Terence Kongolo

It’s 2014 and Dutchman Ronald Koeman is the new boss of Southampton Football club. Having moved from Feyenoord and being instantly presented the task of finding a new centre-back at Southampton, transfer pages were jumping with joy at the believable rumours that they could conjure up. Being Dutch, a player of Feyenoord and vacating the Eredivisie sides centre-back spot, Kongolo was the obvious target for transfer rumour stirrers.

Ron Vlaar

To complete the back-line is yet another man who was linked to Southampton via the most logical reasons possible. Vlaar is Dutch, he had previously worked under Ronald Koeman and was running down his contract at Aston Villa in 2015, in search of bigger and better things. However, despite Koeman admitting he is an admirer of Vlaar, he never once tried to sign the Dutch defender, even as a free agent last summer.

Saphir Taider

The Algerian midfielder was linked with Southampton many times over the 2014/15 window, but he eventually… oh. Moving on…

Leon Goretzka

Despite being only 21-years-old, one of the Bundesliga’s hottest young talents, a regular for Germany’s U21 side and playing at the Bundesliga’s finest developers of young talent – Schalke – we managed to get our hopes up of signing this German prodigy. It was reported that Southampton placed a bid for the midfielder last summer, but after much discussion over his future, it all simmered down. Before we knew it, we were all onto the next rumour.

Wesley Sneijder

Simply put, this man who would have ended Southampton’s long-running desperate need for a goalscoring number 10. And what makes this even harder to swallow, is that the club were genuinely monitoring the Dutchman’s situation at Galatasaray in January 2015. Despite the transfer looking like the usual (insert comment about the manager and player both being from the same country and therefore making the transfer ten times more likely) rumour, the interest only came to a close due to wage demands. What could’ve been, eh?

Jesus Navas

When a newly promoted team reaches January in the Premier League, it’s seen as a window of opportunity to right your team’s wrongs of the season so far. So, when Southampton had been struggling to get in behind defences and fans went online to see that we were being linked with Jesus Navas, it was looking to be a beautiful deadline day. However, it looked like the Southampton fans had jumped the gun. So much so, that there was never even a gunshot.

Philippe Coutinho

The one that got away. All fans know and admire the talent that this midfield maestro holds, but perhaps few more so than Southampton. Not only has he built up quite the knack of scoring wonder goals against the boys in red and white, but there was a time when the Brazilian looked to be on his way to St Mary’s. After having a £10.2M bid accepted by Inter Milan, fans were ecstatic at the prospect of watching the magician. However, Coutinho held other ambitions and opted for Liverpool instead. On the bright side, maybe it saved us the heartbreak.

Danny Ings

Having continually been linked to Southampton from the second he started firing goals in for the Clarets – back in 2011 – it would have been no surprise if Danny Ings was recruited to either one of Adkins, Pochettino or Koeman’s army. Up until the ex-Southampton academy boy put pen to paper on a deal with Liverpool FC, It was a go-to transfer rumour for all sources looking to hit some numbers online.The fans certainly bought it every time it popped up, but perhaps what was best about this on-going rumour was the nightmares that Ings’ Southampton born family caused. Whenever Ings was spotted in Southampton to visit family, excited Southampton fans would be quick to post images and fuel the fire on Ings’ next move. I wonder how much the bookies have made from these sightings?

Leandro Damiao

If anyone in this XI could challenge Astori for the title of the greatest Southampton “never been”, then it’s Leandro Damiao. Since early 2012, the Brazilian forward has been linked with almost every club under the sun, but Southampton were mentioned each and every time until 2014. The reason for the reports stopping? Damiao claimed that Southampton weren’t ambitious enough as a club. Since those comments, Damiao has enjoyed (or not) two poor spells at Santos and Cruzeiro (loan), followed by two appearances at Real Betis. I believe that the chant is “Who the f*ck is laughing now” Leandro.

So, that was our Southampton “never been” XI, but we would love to hear what you think! Send us a tweet @freshsaints to let us know your views on this XI, and if there are any players you think should be in this team, be sure to tell us.

Life after Fonte

On the 9th of January 2010, twenty-six-year-old Jose Fonte of Crystal Palace dropped down a division into League One, after being impressed by the ambition that Southampton Football club showed. Fast forward six years, and I think we can all agree that this decision paid off. Southampton are now an established Premier League club, with Fonte holding the title of captain and fan favourite of the St Mary’s faithful. But, after an illustrious tenure on the South Coast and slight cracks beginning to show, is it time we look for his replacement?

Fonte joined the club for a fee believed to be around £1.2 million in 2010, and since then, he’s paid that back ten fold – his form during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 Premier League campaigns especially, play testament to this. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has been ever-present in the side since his debut against Millwall in 2010. During his six years with the club, Fonte has played alongside eight different centre back partners. This not only highlights his quality to fend off competition, but it also displays his immense leadership skills and consistency throughout the years and divisions.

When Saints were promoted back to the Premier League after their 2011/12 Championship season, many were sceptical whether Fonte would be able to cope with the pedigree of Premier League attackers. During our debut season, Fonte ,unfortunately, lost his place in the side to newly recruited Maya Yoshida. At this time, it appeared that Fonte was struggling to adapt to life in the Premier League. However, after a full Premier League season under his belt, Mauricio Pochettino knew that Fonte was more than capable to rub shoulders with the Premier League’s best. To help take Fonte and the defence to the next level, Pochettino recruited Dejan Lovren. Fonte and Lovren formed a formidable partnership at the back which stemmed after Saints’ 1-0 opening day victory at West Brom. There were a few raised eyebrows when Fonte was on the team sheet to partner Lovren, but he proved valuable in keeping a clean sheet to secure the three points that day. Forgetting his actions at the end of the season, it was undoubtable that Lovren brought the best out of Fonte. The Portuguese international finished the season in the top ten best defenders in the Premier League, with 75 interceptions and 312 clearances, above Lovren.

After a summer exodus at St Mary’s with key players leaving for seemingly better clubs – including Fonte’s defensive partner Lovren – Fonte remained loyal and is currently reaping the rewards. With Southampton appointing Barcelona’s legendary centre-back Ronald Koeman as manager, this allowed Fonte to continue his progress in becoming one of the best defenders in the league. He was appointed captain when Adam Lallana left, and alongside loanee Toby Alderweireld, Fonte remained a rock at the back, helping to guide the Saints into the Europa League. Fonte also received recognition from the Portuguese national team, making his debut in a European qualifier against France. This gifted Fonte the opportunity to line up with his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.

This season, however, it appears Fonte’s age is beginning to catch up with him. During our worst run of the season, with one win in ten, Fonte appeared to be sluggish in decisions, off the pace physically and lacking his usual instinctive defensive style – It wouldn’t take a genius to see that our defence was the weak point during that barren run. Only when Fraser Forster returned from a lengthy injury, did Fonte and the defence look as solid as it did the previous year. The defensive line then went on to achieve six consecutive clean sheets, with Fonte and Van Dijk showing their best form of the season. However, the Portuguese international did receive a red card against Sunderland when bringing down Borini. A smart foul you may argue, but that cost Southampton, as they only managed to draw to the relegation-threatened Sunderland at home. To me, it proved what we all know, that Fonte is an excellent defender. However, what fans may find hard to accept is that when ageing in such a fast paced division like the Premier League, errors will begin to creep into his game more and more regularly. It’s only natural and it happens to us all. Simply look at John Terry’s past two contrasting seasons as proof of age suddenly catching up.

The main question, however,  is who would be able to replace such an adored and established Southampton legend?

One candidate could be Stefan de Vrij. The Dutch international formerly worked under Koeman at Feyenoord and was once linked with a move to St Mary’s. After an impressive World Cup, Lazio were quick to sign the central defender. De Vrij is currently eight years younger than Fonte and has a lot of years to improve his already impressive game. In this season’s Serie A, De Vrij averages 4 tackles and 6.5 clearances per game. In comparison, Fonte registers 1.4 tackles and 5.8 clearances per game. One major factor which sees de Vrij a suitable replacement is an already formed partnership with Van Dijk. Due to international commitments and the Danny Blind’s newly reformed Holland side, Van Dijk and de Vrij are first choice centre-half partners.

Staying in Italy, another potential replacement could be 23-year-old centre-back Antonio Rüdiger who plays for Roma, on loan from VFB Stuttgart. He made his professional debut for the first team against Borussia Mönchengladbach at the age of just 19 and since then, he’s been capped nine times by the German national team – making his debut in 2014 during a 0-0 draw against Poland. The overriding problem here, however, is that he’s only on loan at Roma this season, and they are likely to make the loan permanent with a €9 million transfer fee already in place at the end of the season.

The third centre-back who would be a suitable fit is Niklas Süle. Süle has been capped for the German U21 side 10 times and has played 70 games for 1899 Hoffenheim. He is widely regarded as a hot prospect in Germany and has a strong all-round game, especially in his ability to time a tackle and retrieve the ball back. After sustaining a horror ACL injury, Süle has returned to be an indispensable member of the Hoffenheim back four. Süle may be available this summer due to Hoffenheim being threatened with relegation, but Liverpool are keeping tabs on the youngster.

The final player is Aleksandar Dragovic, who could be considered a like-for-like replacement. At just twenty-three years old, he has proved himself to be an incredibly smart, strong and tactically aware centre-half. He has built a reputation as a tough-tackling defender with technical ability in abundance. Any who have watched Dynamo Kiev, will be aware that they play a fast-paced brand of football, with Dragovic playing a key role in that link up between defence and attack. Such a role can be physically demanding on a player, even more so in the Premier League. But Dragovic has the natural stamina and ability to dig deep in the dying moments; lazy last minute lunges and tired legs are not a feature in his game.

I’m not saying Fonte’s race is run, far from it, but I think we should act now if we are to sign a suitable replacement. Jose has been the perfect example of what’s been great about the club since Markus Liebherr took over in 2009, and I will be deeply saddened to see the day where he isn’t leading the team onto the St Mary’s turf. However, if we bring in a replacement now, they could learn and be moulded into the next Fonte and fill the void that he will leave when he’s gone.  

 

The saintly triumvirate of Southampton’s season

As we enter the closing stages of the 2015/16 season, its time for us all to look back over the course of the year to find our star man. Moments of class, consistency throughout the year and making fans rise from their seat with excitement are all on the checklist, so without further ado, here are my top three players of the season.

When Toby Alderweireld departed Southampton in the summer of 2015, there was not only a feeling of sadness from losing who we believed to be the best defender in the league, but there was also worry for the defensive nightmares that could soon follow into the next season. That was of course until Virgil Van Dijk stepped in.

Having made a name for himself as the Scottish Premier League’s best defender, there was not only pressure for Van Dijk to maintain his reputation, but to also live up to his £11.5M price tag and hit the high standards that Alderweireld reached before him. But quite simply, Van Dijk has exceeded all expectations.

Right from the off, Van Dijk has shown Southampton fans his monstrous ability in the air, his calming presence on the ball and ability to distribute from the back like few others in the Premier League. Consistency has been an incredible area of his game over the course of the season, but by no means does that mean Van Dijk has played it safe. With his charging runs, silky drag backs and trademark diagonal switches, he’s an entertainer too. In games where Southampton have lacked that alertness and concentration at the back, Van Dijk has been there to save us. And In moments where we hold the chance to hit a team on the break, you guessed it, Van Dijk is the man to start the attack.

The 6ft 4in giant has even chipped in with three goals along the way. And having signed a five-year deal in the summer, Southampton fans will be hopeful that there is much more to come. Virgil Van Dijk is my player of the season.

 

Second in line is a man who sorely missed out on the top spot at no fault of his own – Shane long. At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, if anyone told you that Ronald Koeman would pick the Irishman as one of the first names on the team sheet, you would assume that a mass of injuries had struck the squad. Yet here we are, with 12 goals and four assists to his name this season, Long is arguably Southampton’s most important player, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down either.

Back in December of 2015, Southampton were showing onlookers at St. Mary’s their most rigid and uninspiring performances since their return to the Premier League in 2013. To our disbelief, we were allowing teams to build from the back, showing no movement in attack and severely lacking the fighting passion that is needed to lift a squad from a slump in form. But It was in Shane Long that Southampton found their remedy. Suddenly, our first line of defence was once again with the talisman, our attacks were free-flowing and he was loving every last minute of it. It was clear for the fans in the stand to see that Long knew exactly what was missing, and he was going to give everything to get it back.

Since the 26th of December – when Long was given the chance to start in the centre-forward role – he has struck the back of the net seven times in 19 appearances. In football, certain players will time and time again turn their back on the club during hard times, but to others, it’s seen as a moment where the stage is set and it’s their time to bed themselves into the hearts of the fans – the Irishman has been the latter, and Long may it continue. Shane Long is my player of 2016.

The third player is a man who since joining the club, has been everything you could ever want from a professional in your sides colours. An incredible attitude, a mature head, away from the media’s spotlight and boasting talent in abundance – I’m of course talking about, Ryan Bertrand.

Frustratingly for all Southampton fans, the Saints began the 2015/16 season without Bertrand, and consequently, bailed out of the Europa League and recorded just one win in their first six Premier League fixtures. But upon his return, the boys in red and white continued to go the next six league games unbeaten.

Throughout the course of the season, Bertrand has not only further proved himself to be one of the League’s best left-backs, but also as a classy centre-half in a 3-5-2 formation, and as a makeshift winger.

Without Bertrand’s sharp technical ability and undeniable versatility this season, Ronald Koeman would have struggled to overturn such poor blips in form. Perhaps what is most admirable about this, however, is not his superb on pitch showings, but the way he spoke off the pitch. Many other players would have potentially spoke sourly of being shifted out of position ahead of International fixtures and the Euros, but not Bertrand. Instead, he kept his head down, played for the badge on the front of the shirt, and continued to deliver the classy and consistent performances that we have become so accustomed to, over the past two seasons.

 

Preview: We talk Southampton vs Newcastle with NUFC360

Coming into this weekend’s clash, Southampton have won five of their last seven Premier League home games and they will be facing a Newcastle side, that have lost their last eight away games in the Premier League. With Southampton in eighth place and Newcastle now seven points adrift of safety, all statistics point in the direction of a routine home win. However, this is the Premier League and no game is a given.

We spoke with NUFC360 to find out more about our opposition, the perception of Southampton and Georginio Wijnaldum – a favourite of Ronald Koeman.

In three words, how would you describe your season so far?

No lessons learnt

Who is your player of the year?

It’s a toss-up between Rob Elliot & Chancel Mbemba, but I think Elliot just about edges it. He hadn’t covered himself in glory prior to Tim Krul’s season ending injury & plenty of fans had reservations about his capabilities, but he’s been absolutely superb. At times, he has single handedly won us games & stopped the opposition from hitting double figures. Without him, I fear we’d be in a similar position to Villa.

Despite results going against you, has Rafa Benitez added a new look to Newcastle?

The side certainly looks more organised, but the players at his disposal just aren’t good enough. We look more of a threat in the final third & in the last two games, we’ve finally started providing Mitrovic with the service he’s needed all season. He’s capable of changing a game with substitutions too, something our previous managers have struggled with. I do fear it’s too little too late, though, he should have been brought in after the 5-1 defeat at Chelsea.

If you could change one thing about your club, what would it be?

One thing!? Now that’s a tough one. There’s too much wrong with Newcastle at the moment & the club is rotten from the top to the bottom. Rafa’s arrival & the head coach model being scrapped was a real positive for fans, but if/when we go down & he leaves, it’s going to be one step forward and five steps back. Lee Charnley, the man responsible for appointing John Carver & Steve McClaren, really needs to go. He’s completely out of his depth & his ineptitude looks like it’s going to cost us our Premier League status.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman is an admirer of Georginio Wijnaldum, if the unthinkable happened and Newcastle were to be relegated, do you think he would suit Southampton and could it happen?

Wijnaldum is a good footballer, there’s no doubt about that, & I think in a good football playing side like Southampton, he could be a hit. Unfortunately however, his form has nose-dived dramatically over the second half of the season & he goes missing away from home. He will certainly leave if we’re relegated, he’s far too good for the Championship. Spurs are rumoured to be monitoring his situation so Koeman might have to move quickly in the summer.

What is your perception of Southampton Football Club?

I like Southampton. They’re a good club, with good fans, who play good football. A proper club. I think Koeman’s done a stellar job again this season & I’m a big fan of the way he gives young players a chance. I think he’s amongst the best managers in the league.

Who from this Southampton side scares you most?

I’d probably say, Pelle, as he seems to reek havoc every time we play Southampton. He’s commanding in the air & we don’t seem capable of dealing with that. Charlie Austin, a player we courted for a long time, worries me too. It seems destined that he will put a nail in our coffin on Saturday to rub salt into the wounds.

If you were reporting back to Ronald Koeman on how to beat Newcastle, what would you say?

Target our full backs. Daryl Janmaat has been pitiful defensively this season & any one of Steven Taylor or Fabricio Coloccini, will struggle to deal with pace or a physical presence. We’ve conceded 58 goals this season, only four less than Villa, which is a pretty shocking statistic.

What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?

2-0 Southampton. We’ve been thrashed on our last few trips to St. Marys and I can see a repeat on Saturday. There’s been a lot of talk about the side tightening up & winning ugly in the week, so we may look to stay compact & organised as we did against Leicester, but ultimately I think your firepower will overwhelm our frail defence.

And finally, the harsh reality of Premier League survival. Will you? won’t you? And why?

We’re six points behind Norwich now & with seven games remaining, that’s a huge gap to breach. I fear the worst & have for a long time. We just aren’t good enough at either end of the pitch & with only 6 wins all season I can’t see how we’re going to turn it round now.

 

Has Ramirez finally found his level, or is there yet more to come?

Back on the 26th on January, Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough snapped up Gaston Ramirez for the remainder of the 2015/16 season on a loan deal. But just three months later, it seems that Boro fans have found themselves a new poster boy. After just 10 appearances, Ramirez has found the back of the net six times, carved 21 opportunities for his teammates and is once again, enjoying his football. We spoke with EverythingMFC to find out more about Ramirez’s sensational run of form. 

When Middlesbrough announced the signing of Gaston Ramirez, what were you initially expecting?

I was expecting a player with an abundance of attacking quality, a player that would make the no.10 position his own

Having now been given a number of games to assess his ability, how have Boro fans taken to Ramirez?

He’s gained a lot of admirers in the stands, people love him. He went off in his last game to a standing ovation, and richly deserved too!

What has been his standout quality in England’s second division?

His technical ability, it really does make him a joy to watch. I think his off the ball work has been admirable too; his first goal against Huddersfield epitomised that, straight from kick off he was pressing, intercepted a pass and went on to score.

Is he a cut above the rest in the Championship?

Definitely, he’s different class. I felt sorry for the Huddersfield players in our last game, they didn’t know what to do with themselves!

During his time in the Premier League, Gaston struggled with the physicality of the division and appeared to lack confidence, is that still the case?

The Championship is known for being a very physical league and he has thrived in it, so I wouldn’t say it’s been a problem for him. He definitely doesn’t lack confidence either, he looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying his football here and it’s definitely reflecting on his performances

If any, what are your worries or concerns with the Uruguayan playmaker?

That inconsistency could creep in. It has been a familiar story with our previous no.10s where they hit a purple patch and then go missing for the next handful of games, but hopefully Gaston is an exception.

Do you think that Southampton could live to regret allowing Ramirez to head out on loan?

Possibly, he has been a revelation for us in attack, but he is playing under a manager who believes in him and appears to be getting the best out of him, whereas at Southampton it seems like he wasn’t in the plans of Ronald Koeman to start with

And last of all – If Boro were to be promoted – has Ramirez shown enough quality to suggest that he can finally establish himself as a Premier League player?

Yes, as long as he’s under a manager like Aitor Karanka who allows him the freedom to express himself on the football pitch

Southampton’s race for European football

After last week’s exhilarating performance and result against Liverpool, Ronald Koeman’s side showed they have the fight, resolve and quality to challenge for European qualification. With Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane replicating their great early season form, all whilst Shane Long and Charlie Austin have popped up with vital goals, Southampton are now breathing down the neck of their fellow European football competitors.

As we approach the final few hurdles of the remaining season, the teams that join Southampton in this mouthwatering finale are Liverpool, Stoke City, Man Utd, West Ham and Manchester City. Liverpool are currently sat in 9th position, Stoke are in at 8th, with Manchester Utd in 6th, West Ham are on the brink of Champions League football, sat in 5th place, and Manchester City are slacking in 4th. With only seven points separating Man City in 4th and Liverpool in 9th, the Premier League will surely have a few more twists and turns as these sides challenge for a European spot, be it the Europa League, or the Champions League.

However, the race for these European spots will become much clearer when all teams have played the same total of games. Due to European and domestic cup commitments, not every team has featured the same amount of times in the league this season. Liverpool have the most games in hand, with two, which could potentially move the reds one place higher to 8th –  leapfrogging Stoke in turn. Then, with results going their way, Liverpool could move as high as 7th, but only if they were to better Southampton’s goal difference.

All three teams above Southampton have a game in hand, due to FA cup and Capital One cup appearances.

These could prove to be crucial points for West Ham, Manchester City and Manchester United to gain breathing space from the following pack. Manchester United and West Ham could go six points clear of Southampton if results fall in their favour, and Man City could push their margin to seven points. The pressure is well and truly with the four teams who have their games in hand.

On paper, Liverpool and Manchester City have the ‘easiest’ run-in in terms of times facing the current top four. Liverpool will only play against Tottenham on the 2nd of April, whilst Man City will only face Arsenal. Unfortunately Saints fans, you guessed it, we have the toughest run-in on paper. Southampton will play against three of the current top four in the last seven games of the season. And of course, that would include the current top two battling it out for the Premier League crown – Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. The King Power Stadium is Southampton’s next stop in the Premier League, whilst our final away outing of the season is at White Hart Lane, against Pochettino’s Spurs. Before Southampton make the trip to North London, however, St Mary’s will be the host of a potentially season-defining match against Man City on the 1st of May.

As for the Hammers and the Potters, West Ham will face Arsenal and Leicester, whilst Stoke will play against Man City and Tottenham. Manchester United will also compete with the current top two – Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. United’s clash against the Foxes will be held at Old Trafford, whilst they also travel, like Southampton, to North London to face Tottenham.

Worryingly, the final table would be grim reading for Saints if the remaining fixtures finished how the reverse fixtures finished earlier in the season. If Saints’ remaining seven games finished how they did earlier in the campaign, we would only gain three more points, leaving us with 50 points in 9th place. Manchester City would rise to 3rd with 73 points, whilst Arsenal would slip down to their familiar surroundings of 4th place with 68 points.

Manchester United would finish the season in 5th and gain automatic qualification to the Europa League, whilst West Ham, who would finish in 6th place, qualify through Manchester City’s Capital One Cup win. Liverpool would finish in 7th with 59 points and Stoke would finish one place below the reds in 8th.

However, there’s no need to panic Southampton fans. During the reverse fixtures, Southampton were in their worst form of the current season. We have to remember that during those games, we were missing Pelle, Forster and Rodriguez. Not to mention that we were still trying to find our feet after the loss of Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweireld. Now, however, with the return of Forster, the defence has looked as strong and reliable as it did the season before. To add to the positives, Pelle and Mane are both back amongst the goals, Shane Long is in the best form of his career, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez will be back from injury and Wanyama looks to have turned a corner after his five-match ban. With all these factors present, there’s no reason why we can’t get the results to gift us an immediate return to European football for Ronald Koeman’s side.  

 

Ronald Koeman: This summers most important deal

Since Ronald Koeman took over in June 2014, Southampton fans have been gifted their highest Premier League finish and shown some of the league’s most attractive football – but it was the raw and hard felt passion on show from Ronald Koeman against Liverpool, that has left me desperate for more.

With just a single year left on his contract, It’s already been revealed that the club have opened talks with Ronald Koeman about a new deal – but the Dutchman insists he won’t decide on his future until the summer.

My point, however, is that I don’t just want the club to enter negotiations, I want them to impress. I want the board and higher forces to match, or potentially even surpass the clear ambition held by Ronald Koeman. This is the moment for our club to make a statement and show others, that we shall no longer be stripped of our finest assets.

Rather than chop, change and replace, we have to ensure that we maintain and build. Koeman signing a new contract would certainly do just that, as I believe that he is the man to take our club forward, here’s why…

Over the previous two summer transfer windows, Koeman has been presented the task of replacing and recovering a side striped of their core. Yet through these grueling months, Koeman has managed to pick out some of the Premier Leagues finest bargains and push Southampton on as a club.

Teams such as Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea crumbled beneath themselves with the departures of Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Wilfried Bony. Yet little old Southampton managed to survive, and progress, with the loss of seven guaranteed starters over a 12 month period.

You have to wonder, that if Koeman can bring such success in a side that was predicted for failure, imagine what he could conjure up without any departures?

Secondly, and unsurprisingly after last weekend’s madness, it’s the passion and class of Ronald Koeman. This personality has allowed for a connection between Koeman and the fans, something we so desired after a season with Mauricio Pochettino.

Under the Argentinian boss, the fans chants and praise were never met by a response. Instead, he would keep his head down and place all focus on the game – or the next move as we soon found out.

We were left out in the cold by Pochettino, but his results and the side’s performances helped to mask his lack of desire to truly be part of the club.

With Koeman, however, it’s a different story. Every chant is applauded. Every result is for the fans. Failure to perform is failing the fans. And as for that celebration when Sadio Mane struck the back of the net against Liverpool, it needs no explanation.

Koeman has embraced our club and it allows the fans to feel like we’re all part of a family. The way a football club should feel.

From his attractive style of football, his appreciation for English talent and his intelligent integration of youth, Koeman’s principles are also spot on. In fact, they work as a perfect match alongside the philosophies of Southampton Football Club. Finding a manager who can successfully embed all three principles into a club, are not only placing English football in a positive light, but are also rare.

And finally, his loyalty. As fans, we always talk about the desire to have individuals who show loyalty and the hunger to want more with Southampton. In the past, we’ve had players throw their handbags, demand for transfers as if they were a god given right and leave the club with the attempt to poison every last crevice. But now, we have a manager who loves his job at Southampton and a manager who wants to achieve… with us. Koeman took on a job that papers were calling a “nightmare” and continued to keep his cool as he helplessly watched the big boys raid our club twice over. Yet still, Koeman has promised to see out the final year of his contract with Southampton.

Considering the pressure and challenges that we have placed a manager of Koeman’s calibre  under, he has shown class and loyalty in abundance throughout.

Can we so willingly allow a man who has all of the above – whilst remaining the coolest and suavest manager in the league – to simply leave from a job that he loves?

This is an opportunity to create something truly special with an intelligent, professional and classy manager – a rare breed in modern football. To date, each and every decision that Koeman has made for the club has been calculated and undeniably successful. So, now that he is evidently hunting for greater funding and the means to push on, let’s show any who ever doubted Southampton Football clubs ambition, that they are wrong.

Premier League Podcast Preview Show: Southampton vs Liverpool

I was fortunate enough to join Hari Sethi and John Ritchie on the AnfieldIndex Podcast show to preview this weekend’s fixture against Liverpool. We look ahead to Southampton’s upcoming game and discuss everything you could possibly want from a preview show – including an opening question at Arry’s new role at Derby County.

Follow the link here to give it a listen

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We discuss…

Who would ‘Arry Redknapp scout for Derby County?

What can we expect from this weekend’s game?

Can Liverpool record four League wins on the bounce?

Who have been Southampton’s standout players this season?

How have Southampton managed to recover so well following a tough season with injuries?

We also round up the show with our predictions for this weekend – we hope you enjoy the show.

Be sure to let us know what you think over at FreshSaints and AnfieldIndex

 

Charlie Austin: Following the footsteps of a Southampton great?

Since Rickie Lambert left Southampton for his boyhood club, Liverpool, there has been a 6ft 2 Liverpudlian shaped gap left on the St Mary’s turf and in Saints fan’s hearts. But, could that gap be filled once again?

With the arrival of Graziano Pelle back in 2014, Southampton fans thought they had an immediate replacement.
Sadly, this was not the case. Whilst the Italian may possess some of Lambert’s mean heading ability and a strong presence up top, this is rivaled by a habit to moan at teammates, storm down the tunnel and find himself amongst long goal droughts – three traits that were never seen in Lambert’s game. Pelle has been a brilliant forward for Southampton and has given fans some unforgettable memories, but he just can’t fill that gap left by Lambert.

However, on the 16th of January, Southampton announced the £4 million signing of Charlie Austin from QPR. The England international striker was in high demand from other Premier League rivals and Saints’ fans were licking their lips at their new found potential Lambert replacement. The similarities are there for all to see.

Back in 2009, Southampton were sitting rock-bottom of League 1 with -10 points. They were crying out for someone who had experience in the lower leagues and the man to change that was Rickie Lambert. Lambert was brought in for £1 million at the age of 27 and those who knew League One, knew that Southampton had found themselves a bargain.
Prior to putting on his red and white stripes, Lambert had scored 29 goals in his previous season for Bristol Rovers – with 59 goals for the Pirates in 155 appearances.
Rather like Lambert, Austin joined Southampton with a goalscoring record to boast about – scoring 46 goals in 79 appearances for QPR. Both strikers joined Southampton with a strong reputation, knowing that if they receive service, then the goals would quickly follow. All fans can agree that both signings are a bargain given their proven records.

Successful debut seasons in the Premier League are yet another similarity between the two. As both strikers were playing for newly promoted sides, the same question marks were lingering over them. Could they handle the physical nature of Premier League defenders? Could they adapt and impress in England’s top division? The answer was of course, yes.
Lambert finished his debut season with 15 league goals, making him the League’s joint highest English goalscorer alongside Frank Lampard.
Charlie Austin also went on to have an amazing breakthrough season in the Premier League, scoring a total of 18 goals – making him the League’s second highest English goalscorer that season.

As for debut goals, yes, you guessed it. They both struck gold on their Southampton debut. Lambert opened his account in a League cup tie against Northampton at St Mary’s, heading home Lloyd James’ cross to open the scoring.
A little more glamorous admittedly, Austin was presented the challenge of grabbing his debut goal at Old Trafford. This looked to be an unlikely feat from the first whistle, as Ronald Koeman opted to start Shane Long. But Austin clearly thought otherwise.
With only seven minutes left on the clock and the game poised at 0-0, Southampton won a free-kick right by the corner flag. With a signature Ward-Prowse set piece, Austin found himself a free header that powered past David De Gea in the United goal.

Best of all, however, both forwards share the same rags-to-riches story. At just 15 years-old, both players were released and forced into the everyday jobs that helped to create their widely documented success stories that we now all know.
After being released by Reading for his slight frame, Austin found work as a bricklayer. Life wasn’t any sweeter for Lambert either, who took up a job at a beetroot factory after being released by Liverpool.
But their dreams of playing football were far from over, as they both went on to join non-league sides. Austin was considerably more prominent in non-league football, having played for Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town, and Poole Town. Lambert briefly trained for non-league side Marine, but soon joined Blackpool as a trainee.

For now, though, we should enjoy knowing that we have a forward in our side who has always found the back of the net at all levels of English football. However, to see the best of Austin, it would come as no surprise to me if we must wait until the new season.

The reason being is that he needs time to fully adapt to our style of play. Simply look to Austin’s strike partner Shane Long for a lesson in the importance of patience and time with new signings. During the Irishman’s debut season at Southampton, Long just couldn’t nail down a first team spot. Instead, he would drift into the side with two good games and then frustrate fans with a series of underwhelming and wasteful showings. His £12 million price tag was mocked by many. But now, having been given time to adapt and learn his role in the side, Long has become one of our most influential and exciting players.

But truth be told, the gap left by Lambert will never be filled, no matter how successful Austin is. It was a case of the right man being here at the right time with his and the clubs own two stories merging into something truly special.
It’s certainly exciting and intriguing to see the similarities between the two, but I want to see Austin create his own legacy.

With an eye for goal, clinical finishing and a potentially formidable partnership with Long on the horizon, Southampton fans have every reason to be hopeful that Charlie Austin can one day stand alongside Sir Rickie Lambert in St Mary’s folklore.