Alex McCarthy: waiting in the wings

Rewind to just under eight weeks ago and Southampton had been mauled by Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs on Boxing Day, with Fraser Forster doing little by the way of prevention. The England International had been in dire form for a number of months at this stage, but with ‘no competition’ waiting in the wings, a number of Southampton fans were hesitant for change. Oh, how wrong they were.

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Since being handed his first genuine opportunity to represent the Saints (which for the record kicked off with a clean-sheet against Manchester United) Alex McCarthy has quite frankly been faultless in goal for Southampton F.C.

Behind any resilient defence is a man between the sticks who the backline can trust, and while our defensive fragilities are still far from being solved, McCarthy’s sheer presence has given us a stronger core defensively.

Earlier in the season we were let down all too often by Fraser Forster, who continually failed to step up when we needed him most. Whenever the pressure began to pile on to the Saints, Forster retreated mentally and appeared to already accept defeat in claiming a cross, rushing off his line or getting down low.

There’s no denying his capabilities, after all, he still holds the record for our longest run without conceding a goal in the top flight – 708 minutes. But he was clearly no longer in that same mental state and we simply couldn’t afford to gamble on his return to form any longer. It’s gutting to see Forster go backwards, but in truth, we haven’t looked back since.

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Perhaps one of the greatest compliments we can pay McCarthy is that at a time when Mauricio Pellegrino’s team-sheets are slandered and questioned on a weekly basis, McCarthy’s name has never once been mentioned.

Fans were initially shocked when he was handed his Premier League debut at Old Trafford, simply because Pellegrino had finally decided to show some courage in a decision, but since then, he’s arguably been the first name on the Argentinian’s team-sheet.

Last weekend’s FA Cup performance against West Bromwich Albion proved exactly why.

The clip shown above perfectly illustrates the impact that McCarthy’s had on our side already. The scoreline at the time of Krychowiak’s deflected effort was 1-0 to the Saints, and just one minute later we went up the other end to double our lead. These are the tight margins that truly count in football, and in all honesty, these are the moments where Forster failed to show his worth this season.

Were yet to gain truly detailed statistics of McCarthy’s impact on Pellegrino’s side, due to the 28-year-old only playing his part in ten fixtures over all competitions, but the early signs are certainly encouraging.

Southampton have recorded two losses and three clean sheets in our ten fixtures with McCarthy, which is in stark contrast to Forster’s final ten games, where he recorded zero clean sheets and faced defeat on six separate occasions.

And with thanks to research provided by Euan Dewar, we’re also able to see that McCarthy’s seriously helped with getting the ball to safety following a save too.

No other team in the Premier League has conceded more goals than Southampton directly following a save from their keeper this season. The point still stands when you extend the scope to ten seconds after the save too. But since McCarthy’s come into the side, we’ve only conceded one goal that meets the criteria, which for the record, was a stunning tipped-save onto the crossbar that was bundled in on the rebound against Watford.

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But sometimes in football, you don’t need stats to prove your point; sometimes the difference is just there for all to see, and that’s certainly been the case with McCarthy. Despite knowing full well that he was considered the second choice keeper at the club, McCarthy snatched the opportunity handed to him with both hands, took his place between the sticks and instantly oozed confidence.

With my hand on my heart, I can honestly say that from his early showings so far, I’m yet to see a single standout weakness to his game. He’s been assertive with every cross that he’s had to claim, been decisive with every shot fired his way, and rushed off his line at every available opportunity. Not to mention that his distributions been more than capable too – a quality that’s long overdue from a Southampton keeper, given that we pride ourselves on playing attractive football in all areas of the field.

At a time when it’s all too easy to hide away and not take responsibility for the position that we find ourselves in, McCarthy’s truly stepped up and decided that enough is enough. Long may it continue.

With judgment day for our top-flight status just around the corner, McCarthy serves as a fine example to our squad of what can happen if you believe in your ability and take your chances.

West Bromwich Albion vs Southampton F.C. – An FA Cup preview

Just under two weeks ago, these same two sides met at The Hawthornes in a relegation six pointer, which arguably served up one of the games of 2018 so far. Southampton came out on top in a 3-2 win over WBA, and in doing so, clawed back some pride and managed to put themselves in a much better position in the fight for survival.

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So let’s fast forward two weeks; Southampton are back in the relegation zone after a dire display against Liverpool, and West Brom have all but given up in their fight for survival, should their fans on twitter be believed. So what’s in store for the FA Cup 5th round tie?

In an ideal world Southampton would play some young guns and those that have not featured as much, and in turn rest some of our more important players. However, that is unlikely to happen. Due to Pellegrino’s tactical incompetence, we’ve offered few curve balls via team selection and formation this season, meaning Southampton will most likely line-up in a deep 4-2-3-1 formation, looking to absorb pressure and win the game 1-0. Our next Premier League fixture takes place exactly a week on from this FA Cup clash, so I naturally expect few changes to be made against the Baggies.

Pellegrino’s team will most likely lineup as follows:

McCarthy, Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, Romeu, Lemina, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg, Tadic, Carrillo.

Pellegrino will most likely continue with the same back four that has leaked goals all season and in recent weeks has seemed fatigued, despite our crunch fixtures in the fight for premier league survival

Hojbjerg, for some reason unbeknownst to me will likely act as the furthest forward of the three central midfielders, as Pellegrino likes to play him as support behind Carrillo – again something that seems at best illogical.

Tadic and Ward-Prowse will look to provide the width, despite both players being more-suited to central roles, and look to cross the ball into our target man, Carrillo.

Boufal may well find his way into the starting XI, however, after being dropped against Liverpool last weekend. If I had my way though, he’d be saved for our trip to Turf Moor. Burnley are a team that have mastered the deep block and that’s something that Boufal specialises in breaking down. 

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My starting XI would look something like this, in a Koeman-esque 4-3-3:

Forster, Pied, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Davis, Redmond, Sims, Gabbiadini.

In defence, I think Forster needs another run out, and the cup is the perfect opportunity, alongside Yoshida and Pied, who need to replace Cedric and Hoedt after the pair’s poor run of form, as both also seem to be fatigued.

In this formation we allow Romeu to sit and hold so he can regain his confidence after what’s quite frankly been a poor season by his standards. Davis and Hojbjerg will then act as two box-to-box midfielders, with one sitting deeper as one pushes forward (and vice-versa). Davis needs some game-time, and whilst Lemina has been in better form than most, he needs to be saved for our crunch Premier League fixtures, especially after our knock in confidence against Liverpool.

Finally, our frontline definitely needs a mixup, I think that Redmond, Sims and Gabbiadini would provide a breath of fresh air, in a dreary and lacklustre strike force. I would hope that we’d play some flowing football, start to hit low-crosses for Gabbiadini’s front-post runs, with Redmond and Sims swapping wings in order to confuse defenders.

In spite of the fact that West Brom are in troubles of their own, and that Saints beat them just two weeks ago, I fully expect a 1-1 draw and a replay. Neither team will want to be overzealous in their attempts to win the game, given their dire straits in the Premier League, so will likely rest players and look to keep it tight and win by a slim margin, but I can see both teams cancelling each other out. Predicted goal scorers: Jay Rodriguez (WBA) and Tadic (Saints).

Podcast: Reflecting on Southampton’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool

Following a return to winning ways against West Bromwich Albion last week, involving attacking flair, a clear gameplan and an obvious change in mentality, our most recent defeat at the hands of Liverpool acts as quite the contrast. 

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After conceding early on in our usual fashion, we reacted superbly for the next 30 minutes and asserted ourselves as the dominant force. But as we’ve seen so many times already this season, we not only failed to take our chances while on top, we also opted to take our foot off the gas and display a gutless second-half performance. Something that’s inexcusable while in the midst of a relegation battle.

So just how much blame should be placed on Mauricio Pellegrino for this showing? Which players are giving their all to drag us out of this mess? and just how important are Southampton’s upcoming fixtures?

Join us as we answer these questions and much more alongside Anfield Index in our review of Sunday’s clash.

Ward-Prowse and Stephens: two bright lights in a dark time for Southampton F.C.

In spite of the horrific situation that Southampton currently find themselves in, there are are a number of positives that we can take away from our recent fixtures. After all, if you can’t learn to savour the little pockets of joy when your teams struggling for form, football may not be for you…  

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In a season that’s been underwhelming at the very best, 2018 has provided us with some of the only highlights, and most importantly, they’ve come from two players who have risen the ranks at Southampton alongside each other. While others have shied away from taking responsibility for our embarrassing rut, this duo have displayed the leadership qualities that are oh-so important in a relegation battle.

Jack Stephens recently recorded three goals in three games having never scored previously for Southampton. Some of them have been of utmost importance; an equaliser in a relegation six-pointer vs Brighton, probably saving MoPe his job, on top of giving us the lead vs West Brom, which led us to our first Premier League win in 12 games. He’s even contributed outside of our battle to beat relegation too, by scoring against Watford in the 5th Round of the FA Cup to place our name in the next round of the draw.

Oh, and before anyone says, yes I know we bought him from Plymouth, but please just let us have some joy. The work that’s required to turn a 17-year-old who’s playing U18’s football into a regular starter in the Premier League is extraordinary. We can take our credit.

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However, goals aren’t the most important part of his game, given that he’s a centre-half. What’s been most impressive for me is his seemingly new-found mentality. The way he handled Boufal’s moaning at James Ward-Prowse over the free-kick vs West Brom really impressed me; he knows who our chosen set-piece taker is, he took Sofiane away and calmed him down, and showed the captain-like qualities that he needs. An attitude like that, with a bit more of a steely resolve and leadership, is what we’ve been missing this season; Stephens looks like he’s making a huge step to become a leader in our squad, and if he continues in the same fashion, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him go on to fight for Southampton F.C. captaincy in the future, which is only mirrored and improved by the way in which he carries himself in pre and post-match press conferences.

With all of that said, he is still a young, rough gem. He’s not nearly physical enough, nor does he have the aerial prowess required to be considered a top-class Premier League centre-back. If you look at our past central defenders, such as Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte, Virgil Van Dijk, even going back as far as two of my all-time favourites, Claus Lundekvam and Michael Svensson, you can see a natural trend of ball-playing ability, leadership qualities, physicality and aerial dominance. Jack Stephens is on the road to becoming as good as some of the aforementioned players but seriously needs to improve his defensive dominance. I have every faith that he one day will.

James Ward-Prowse is another player who’s stepped up massively in the last two months, with important goals against Fulham, Watford and West Brom. His set-pieces have also proved to be an incredible attacking outlet in those games, too. His dead-ball ability is second to none in the Premier League, and he has all the makings of an old-fashioned right-midfielder, but there’s still something lacking in the former England U21 captain’s game.

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The Premier League these days is all about pace and power, neither of which James Ward-Prowse really has. I wouldn’t be surprised if his career as a right winger will most likely be short-lived, especially if Saints bring in Quincy Promes. However, that’s all depending on if we beat the drop and believe that there is indeed a “deal in principle” as numerous local journalists suggest.

So where does JWP fit in? He’s not quick or skilful enough to become an inside forward on the left wing, and there are at least three central midfielders who are better than him, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. However, his set-piece ability, the leadership qualities he’s demonstrated alongside Stephens, and his bond with the fans having come from the academy are just a few reasons as to why he needs to be playing week-in-week-out at Southampton, furthered even more by his recent form.

In my eyes, Ward-Prowse has to become an attacking midfielder, who’s capable of pushing out to the right in the mould of Hakan Calhanoglu – with phenomenal set-piece ability, defence-splitting through balls and more goals to his game. Realistically, should we keep Lemina, Hojbjerg and Romeu in the long term, Ward-Prowse must cement a role outside of central midfield if he wishes to remain a regular in the side.

There’s no denying that Ward-Prowse has the ability, and if recent months can act as a measuring stick, then in a more free-form and fluid attacking team, he could genuinely thrive as our future playmaker and attacking midfielder.

Podcast: Talking Pellegrino, Van Dijk and the January window with Anfield Index

Having picked up their first Premier League win in 12 League fixtures last weekend, Southampton now finds themselves unbeaten in six ahead of Virgil Van Dijk’s return to St Mary’s.

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But with Liverpool’s frontline still firing on all cylinders, having scored 29 goals in their last 11 fixtures, it can easily be argued that the Saints defence have their toughest task of the season so far.

So join us as we speak with Anfield Index to discuss a number of the following topics…

  • Our first league win in 12 fixtures
  • Southampton fans opinion on Pellegrino
  • Our failures in the January transfer window
  • How will we approach Sunday’s clash?
  • And where will the key battles take place on the pitch?


Virgil Van Dijk prepared for return to St Mary’s

Jeers and boos have become part and parcel of Southampton and Liverpool fixtures in recent years, with what feels like an endless supply of ex-Saints making their return to St Mary’s year on year.

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Dejan Lovren’s been crucified numerous times, while Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane have certainly received their fair share of stick. Rickie Lambert’s just about the only player to return home with a hero’s welcome.

It remains to be seen just what type of reception Virgil Van Dijk will receive this Sunday, but it seems rather fitting that he’s likely to partner Lovren at the heart of the Liverpool defence.

The £75M man came under fire from Saints fans after downing tools in a bid to force his ‘dream move’, despite holding the privilege of the captain’s armband at that moment in time.

Mauricio Pellegrino was quick to tell Van Dijk that no move would materialise, especially as he’d only played 18 months worth of football for the club. This approach appeared to work initially, but after the dressing room started to become a victim of the saga, action simply had to be taken.

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Speaking to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo earlier this week, however, the Dutchman claimed that his focus would be solely placed on three points and three points only.

“What can you do? Maybe they can boo the whole game. But what can you do about it? You can’t do anything about it. I made the decision, I have enjoyed every bit of it and I am very grateful for everything that they (Southampton) did for me. I have moved on, they have moved on.

“I know they are struggling and we need to win. I am going there with only one mindset and that is to win. Obviously, it will be nice to see the players I have played with and the friends I have there but, for me, it is going to be about one thing only and that is to win the game.”

These are stern words from the world’s most expensive defender, but it’s worth noting that Lovren was pulled off at halftime against Southampton in March 2016, for an overly emotional display.

Van Dijk is no doubt a level of class above his Croatian defensive partner, but it goes to show that a stadiums atmosphere and a players emotions are more than capable of blurring their focus on any given day. Food for thought?

Review: Southampton’s January transfer window

When the early sale of Virgil Van Dijk went through, fans initially took comfort in the fact that we’d have £75M to correct and amend the issues within the squad. Yet here we are on the other side of the window with a team that’s arguably weaker than before.

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First and foremost, however, it must be said that this squad shouldn’t have ever needed investment for the reasons that currently stand – to avoid relegation. There are certainly areas of weakness within the squad and a number of players in the market that could have provided qualities we simply don’t possess, but this investment should have been made for ambitions of Europa League football. Not as something to mask Mauricio Pellegrino’s managerial incompetence.

The Argentinian has failed to implement any recognisable style of play, develop and nurture any individual, or even fit into the ethos of the club. We appear destined for the Championship under the guidance of Branfoot 2.0, but in the form of some news signings, fans were hopeful that the Saints could be given a much-needed boost, with new life, ideas and options added to the squad.

So where did we go wrong? And what positives can we take from this window, if any?

The subject of Van Dijk’s departure seems like a suitable place to begin, given that’s how we kicked off the January Transfer window before it had even started. Outsiders looking in may lazily say that this is just another example of Southampton selling their best players, but I strongly believe we handled this saga incredibly well.

After standing strong in the summer – as so many fans, pundits and ex-pro’s have demanded – we hoped that his mind would once again be focused on Southampton, ready to earn his ‘big club’ move the following season. But this simply wasn’t the case.

Despite holding the armband and therefore being a role model to many within the club, Van Dijk threw his toys out the pram and downed tools for his ‘dream move’. I’ll be the first to admit that he’s without a doubt world class quality, but when that comes at the cost of damaging the dressing room and undermining the club, action has to be taken.

Out of fear that our transfer window would fast become the latest episode of the VVD saga, we waved goodbye to the Dutchman for the small price of £75M – a world record transfer fee for a defender.

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Southampton finally had a clean slate to work from; the ‘dark cloud had passed’, we had £75M in the bank and 31 days to conduct our business. Any side outside the top six would bite your hand off for such a platform to work from. Yet somehow, we’ve managed to fall flat on our face with our pockets loaded and our Premier League status in serious jeopardy.

Southampton have been widely criticised for continually selling their finest assets over the years, but one thing that they can’t be knocked for is their ability to replace them.

Remarkably in this window, however, Southampton only wished to play their part in the first half of this often effective, yet painful cycle. Despite selling our best defender (and arguably best player) we simply opted to stand still in the market and come to the conclusion that no replacement was needed.

The excuse from the board will no doubt be that they wished to hand the vacancy to Jack Stephens, a product of the Southampton academy since the age of 17. But I can’t help but feel this is a cop-out of spending another £15M-£20M.

I’m a massive fan of Stephens and think that he has a serious future in red and white – he’s calculated in his tackling, an incredible carrier of the ball and more than capable of operating as a ball-playing defender. His inability to dominate in the air is just about his only clear weakness at this moment in time.

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But compare the partnership of Stephens and Wesley Hoedt to our defensive partnerships of the past and it’s a clear downgrade. I refuse to believe that the addition of a new centre-back would block the pathway for Stephens either. Instead, we’d have heightened competition and some extremely useful options in the common eventuality of injuries, bad form or suspension. Not to mention rotation.

Failing to replace your best player must always be considered a failure in the transfer window – it doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. Which brings us on to the topic of Spartak Moscow’s Quincy Promes – a player that I would have considered to be Sadio Mane’s long overdue replacement.

Over 18 months on from selling Mane and I’ve once again been left in disbelief that we’re yet to add a second recognisable goalscorer to our starting XI. It’s despicable that we talk about ambitions of Europa League football, yet on the pitch at any time, we only have one player that’s capable of 10+ goals per season.

Pellegrino’s negative tactics have no doubt played a vital part in hindering the development of numerous attackers, but nevertheless, our squad’s been screaming out for a winger that’s able to take up the responsibility of hitting 10+ a season. Someone that can partner our striker in the final third. Someone with a proven record of finding the back of the net.

Dusan Tadic is there for eye of the needle passes, Sofiane Boufal’s there to operate between the lines and bring the magic, while Nathan Redmond should be used as an impact sub to stretch our play. We shouldn’t be placing such high goalscoring responsibilities on these players, who’ve simply never taken up such roles before. It isn’t and hasn’t ever been their game, and it’s harming them in return.

I want them to be able to focus on what they do best; stretching play, beating their man and threading passes. I think the board bit off more than they could chew in terms of thinking they could develop Boufal and Redmond into goal machines.

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In the form of Promes, however, we’d have had someone who’s more than capable of playing in such a role. It’s safe to say that in recent years Promes has consistently produced in the final third, registering 13, 18, 12 and 15 goals in each of his last four seasons. Totalling 53 goals in 101 for Spartak.

From the outside looking in he appears to be perfect for Southampton’s current shortcomings; he’d act as our second biggest goal threat, add some much-needed pace close to our lone striker and add a direct style of play to our frontline.

I’m well aware that his £30M valuation made this transfer a nightmare to get over the line, as well as Spartak’s need for a replacement, but if the club were aware of this from the start, why did they place all their eggs in one basket? Especially just a few days before the transfer window ended…

It’s not all doom and gloom though. If Pellegrino does stay on until the end of the season, as many are currently fearing, the addition of Guido Carrillo to our frontline will hopefully suit the Argentinian’s more physical demands of a centre-forward. He stands at 6ft 3, is a proven threat in aerial duels and has become known for his effective flick-ons during his time at Monaco. If we manage to utilise our new number nine in the same way as Charlie Austin earlier in the season, then it’s certainly a welcome addition to our squad.

Pellegrino’s football may have failed to convince the vast majority of the Southampton fanbase, but if the board really do believe that he’s the man to keep us up, at least he’s being given the tools that he wants for the job.

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One can only hope that this spells the end of Shane Long’s days as a lone forward.

This January window was arguably Southampton’s most important since returning to the Premier League – we currently reside in 18th place with teams around us starting to strengthen with managerial changes and new signings. There’s simply no denying that the club have fallen short of fans expectations, both on and off the field.

I’ll continue to back the Saints each and every week as I always do, but at a time when our manager continues to be mindlessly backed as each horrific gameweek passes, this transfer window was an opportunity missed for the higher forces to show the fans that they still see eye-to-eye.

Out with our old ways, in with the new

After two promising results within a week, Southampton now have to use the momentum gained to do something they haven’t done all season – record back-to-back wins.

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A well-earned point against Tottenham followed by an F.A Cup victory against Watford may well have kept Mauricio Pellegrino in his job for a little while longer. Throw in the addition of Guido Carrillo for a club-record fee and heavy rumours of the highly rated Dutch winger Quincy Promes joining him, and there’s a slight optimism surrounding the club at the moment. However, all of these promising factors will be meaningless if we fail to beat the teams in and around us.

It’s truly been the story of our season; picking up points against top teams and then failing to gain maximum points where it truly matters – a prime example of this is during the festive period. After the boxing-day drubbing to Tottenham, Pellegrino’s side travelled to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. After fears of another thrashing, Saints performed valiantly and gained a point at Old Trafford.

However, Saints failed to build on this performance and lost at home in a real relegation six-pointer against Crystal Palace. At St Mary’s the usual traits in our performances under Pellegrino became apparent. Southampton took the lead through Shane Long’s first goal of the season, buring the second half Pellegrino instructed his side to sit deep and Palace took full advantage.

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Southampton have failed to win in the league for 11 matches which has seen the Saints drop into the relegation zone. They obviously believe he can turn this situation around, but these so called ‘signs of improvement’ still haven’t come to fruition. It’s quite apparent that the board have decided to back him instead of sack him.

In our most recent match against Watford, Saints were controlling the game expertly and limiting the Hornets to virtually no chances. With twenty minutes to go, Pellegrino decided to replace our most creative outlet on the day, Sofiane Boufal, with Maya Yoshida. Saints then dropped deeper and deeper and invited unnecessary Watford pressure. The last twenty minutes shifted the dynamic of play from Saints dominating, to looking shaky as they desperately trie  to defend for the final moments of the match. Unlike recent fixtures, however, Saints survived a late scare and booked their place in the 5th round of the F.A Cup.

Our next two games are arguably our biggest since Southampton returned to the Premier League in 2012. First up is Brighton at home, followed by West Brom away. The Seagulls have one more point than us at this moment in time and are currently two places higher in the league table. The Baggies are currently one place below in the league and two points worse off.

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The enormity of these games go without saying and if we truly wish to retain our Premier League status, we simply can’t afford to lose either.

In the reverse fixtures Saints actually played relatively well. At the AMEX, we controlled much of the first 45 and through a sublime curling free-kick from James Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis was able to nod home the opener on the rebound. In our usual style, however, the Saints decided to soak pressure in the second half and through a weak Glenn Murray header that was matched by an even weaker reaction from Fraser Forster, Brighton shared the spoils. At St Mary’s, West Brom were arguably playing their worst football of the season, but thanks to a Boufal wonder goal, Saints grabbed all three points.

We find ourselves currently sitting in 18th place in the table,meaning it’s now or never to pull ourselves out of this situation. The fans have been great in backing the team and now it’s their turn to deliver. Southampton have only three home games against sides outside the top eight remaining and the only way we climb out of the bottom three is by picking up vital points from those teams around us. We can no longer rely on other teams doing us favours – It’s a far too risky game that we can no longer afford to play.

Swansea picked up all the points against Liverpool and the teams around us are now starting to find their flow under new management. With Pellegrino seemingly set to stay at this moment in time, there are no longer any excuses for the Argentinian to hide behind; the Saints need to show that they’re capable of dominating a game for an entire 90 minutes, and that starts with three points against Chris Hughton’s Brighton tomorrow night.

Manolo Gabbiadini: a victim of Pellegrino’s centre forward demands?

Manolo Gabbiadini’s start to life on the South Coast couldn’t have gone any better when he cemented his place as a fan favourite at Wembley on just his third appearance for the club. But these past few months have been quite the turn of fate for the Italian.

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Despite maintaining a professional attitude throughout, training hard and gracefully accepting his place on the bench, Mauricio Pellegrino’s continued to starve the forward of first-team opportunities, initially in favour of the in-form Charlie Austin, and since then, Shane (three lungs) Long.

The reasons behind this decision have been quite the topic of discussion amongst the Southampton fan-base, but with the clubs acquisition of Guido Carrillo, a 6ft 2 Argentinian centre forward, we’ve been offered our best explanation yet…

Since taking over as Saints manager, It’s safe to say that Pellegrino’s failed at forming an effective and coherent front-line, often turning to rotation in the hope that one of these days, something will just click into place. But one player that appeared unfazed throughout all of this apparent unrest is Charlie Austin, who simply went about business as usual under the Argentinian.

The Englishman’s recorded an xG of 5.53 in just 587 minutes – the highest of any Southampton player this season. Meanwhile, Manolo Gabbiadini’s xG stands at 1.76 in 921 minutes of game-time. That’s over three times more than the Italian in almost half the amount of minutes.

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Just a matter of hours before Carrillo’s arrival had been officially announced, Pellegrino claimed that Carrillo has the qualities to replace the profile of Austin, and that the front-man “Has a big body, can hold the ball and is good in the air.”

Through looking at these comments and statistics, it’s clear as day for anyone to see that Austin’s fine form encouraged Pellegrino to chase Carrillo – a player who clearly boasts similar qualities to the former QPR man.

And this is where we find our possible explanation for Gabbiadini’s lack of game-time…

The Italian’s at his best operating between the lines, making smart illusive movements or spinning off the shoulder of his man. He typically aims to lose his marker in the box rather than physically challenge them, and consequently this means that his teammates must constantly be aware of his movement – something we’ve failed to do consistently since his remarkable start in red and white. He’s not fast, nor particularly strong, but he gains his edge over his opponent through his intelligent movement.

Pellegrino, however, clearly has very different demands of how he wants his forward to play. As mentioned in his presser on the morning that Carrillo signed, the Argentinian wants his front-man to boast a big frame, be capable of playing with his back to goal and physically challenge defenders in the box.

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These qualities aren’t in Gabbiadini’s natural skill set, and perhaps this goes some way to explaining how Long has so often been given the nod over him. Despite having a disastrous goal scoring record over the past 12 months, it seems that Pellegrino believes Long meets more of his physical demands of a centre forward, and even if you don’t agree with him (which for the record, I don’t) it’s worth trying to understand his logic at the very least.

Austin’s never been the most technical player and playing his part in build up play isn’t exactly his forte, but regardless of this, he still acted as a focal point for Pellegrino’s side. He was someone that the squad were able to turn to at any stage in the game to work around, and was guaranteed to put his body on the line if a chance came his way. I think Pellegrino’s seen shades of this in Carrillo.

The Argentinian boss clearly liked the options that Austin – our most dangerous forward this season – provided for the team, and as a result, he’s selected a forward of a similar profile and style to be the man that steers us clear of safety.

Every part of me wants Gabbiadini to once again start firing on all cylinders – any sane Southampton fan would no doubt want the same – but ultimately, this is about our future as a Premier League club. This is about survival, and in my mind, that translates to giving the manager at this moment in time the best tools possible for the job. If Pellegrino perceives that to be playing Carrillo over our mismanaged gem from Italy, then so be it.

Transfer updates: Guido Carrillo, Quincy Promes and Matt Targett

24 days of countless rumours and club-fed stories have passed, but now it finally seems that Southampton have made some serious developments in the January transfer window.

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Southampton agree £19.2M fee with Monaco for Guido Carrillo

According to Sky Sports and The Telegraph, Monaco and Southampton have agreed a fee of £19.2M for Guido Carrillo.

Personal terms are still needing to be finalised with the Argentinian forward, but Southampton remain confident that they’re capable of completing the deal

Les Reed and co initially hoped to agree a fee of £15M for the services of the center forward, but after seeing their first bid rejected last week felt that they needed to act swiftly in the final week of the transfer window.

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The Southampton target may have only found the back of the net on four occasions this season, but despite this he still ranks as one of Ligue 1’s most deadly forwards. Not only do 31% of his shots find the back of the net, but since the start of the 2016/17 season, only Cavani, Lacazette and Neymar have recorded a better minutes per goal return than Carrillo in Ligue 1 (91.11).

The 26-year-old is considered to be a powerful centre-forward who excels statistically in aerial duels and flicks-ons, suggesting that Southampton are on the hunt for a focal point in their frontline – something that’s been missing with Manolo Gabbiadini and Shane Long under  Mauricio Pellegrino.

While his quality is general play remains to be seen, we know that at the very least Carrillo has some outstanding attributes in the air, and in all honesty, that’s a quality we’ve sorely missed since Pelle’s departure.

Southampton remain interested in £30M Quincy Promes

The Guardian and The Telegraph have also reported that Southampton have a keen interest in Spartak Moscow winger Quincy Promes.

The 26-year-old is reportedly valued at £30M, which will require Southampton to smash their current transfer record – a record that will have been broken once already this window if the Carrillo deals goes through.

This rumour is without a doubt our most thrilling of the January window so far, but with such a high asking price it’s no wonder why. A transfer of this magnitude will no doubt swallow the majority of the Virgil Van Dijk money.

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So is he worth it?

It’s safe to say that in recent years Promes has consistently produced in the final third, registering 13, 18, 12 and 15 goals in each of his last four seasons. Totalling 53 goals in 101 for Spartak.

From the outside looking in he appears to be perfect for Southampton’s current shortcomings; he’d act as our second biggest goal threat, add some much-needed pace close to the forward and add a direct style of play to our frontline.

The Dutch Internationals quality is undeniable. The real question is whether Southampton are willing to meet Spartak’s valuation of the winger.

Fulham secure Southampton’s Matt Targett on loan

Matt Targett has joined Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham on loan for the remainder of the season, in desperate hunt of first-team opportunities.

The 22-year-old has been handed just two appearances so far this season, and these arrived at a time when Ryan Bertrand was sidelined through injury.

The Southampton academy graduate has showcased his talent on numerous occasions in the first team, but understandably, opportunities have been hard to come by when challenging a player of Bertrand’s consistency.

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Targett’s shown over the years that he can tackle intelligently, defend well in corners and deliver a delightful cross in behind the defence, but question marks remain over his ability to beat his man and his defending in open one v one situations.

While at Fulham, however, Targett will be working under a progressive coach in Jokanovic, who will no doubt inspire confidence and allow him to flourish offensively.

With hope, Targett will now be playing in an incredibly attacking side and take the place of teenage sensation Ryan Sessegnon at left-back, who will now be given a more advanced role on the left of their midfield.