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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.

A statistical analysis of Southampton’s season so far

It’s no secret that Southampton Football Club are in desperate need of a shake-up. Whether it’s with changes to management, a reshuffle amongst the higher forces at the club, or even additions to the first-team squad, something has to change.

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Everyone has their own opinion about where they think things have gone wrong, who’s to blame and how we can move forward, and generally speaking, the majority of Southampton fans are singing from the same hymn sheet.

But one of the greatest worries amongst the fan base is that the board are simply refusing to see the same cracks that we see.

So in desperate hope of perhaps finding some positive signs, or proving that our worries are certainly justified, we decided to crunch the numbers on Southampton’s season so far. Let’s start with the basics.

Since being appointed on the 23rd of June 2017, Pellegrino has taken charge of 25 fixtures, recording just five wins in all competitions. He’s averaged 0.96 points per game and consequently, has a win percentage of just 20% – the worst of any manager in Southampton’s history (20+ games).

Even cult hero Ian Branfoot managed to pick up a win ratio of 28.91%.

On top of this, Southampton have managed to drop 11 points from winning positions, after crumbling against Brighton, Arsenal, Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Watford.

We’ve also managed to beat just one team from the Premier League’s bottom seven, and even then, that lone fixture was won by a moment of sheer genius from Sofiane Boufal. Pellegrino’s management was hardly a factor. Our only wins have come against sides placed 9th, 11th, 12th and 19th – all of which are within eight points of each other.

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So what about the performances themselves?

How effective has Pellegrino’s coaching been in the final third? And how have our defence fared with all the drama surrounding Virgil Van Dijk?

In order to answer that question, we need to look well beyond the surface of just our goals scored and conceded.

Expected goals (xG) is a system that gives a probability that any shot will be scored. It’s able to do this by assigning each attempt at goal a value between 0 and 1, as an indicator of just how strong the chance was. What helps to make this metric so useful, however, is that it’s based on floods of previous data, where the shot was taken from, the proximity of defenders, and the nature of the attack (i.e a direct free-kick or a penalty)

By using xG we’re able to assess a player or team’s finishing more accurately, while also being able to measure whether the team are playing better than results suggest. It’s an effective way of seeing whether a team deserve to be scoring more goals than their record shows, and as a result, whether we should soon expect a possible change of fortunes. The reverse can also be done to measure a teams expected goals against.

As far as statistics go in football, it’s just about the most effective way of determining a teams performance levels at both ends of the field, so let’s see how Pellegrino’s side have fared…

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In open play this season the Saints have recorded an xG of 16.9, having only scored a measly 15 goals. Not only does this suggest that we’re failing to create an abundance of clear-cut chances, but were also failing to convert them at the same time too, falling almost two goals behind our expected total.

As for our xG from set pieces and penalties, we’ve recorded 9.71 despite scoring on just eight occasions. Considering we’re yet to miss a penalty this season, that’s almost two goals lost on set pieces alone.

Last season Claude Puel’s Southampton came under fire for a distinct lack of fluid attacking football, but when you compare their xG at this same stage last season (30.45) to Pellegrino’s (26.61) it’s clear to see that matters have only got worse.

Then we come to our xGA (expected goals against) which totals 23.33 from open play, when in actual fact we’ve conceded 27 – 3.67 more than expected.

From set pieces and penalties our xGA totals 8.37, while the number of goals we’ve conceded stands at seven.

This could be put down to poor slices of luck that should level themselves out over the course of the season, but Southampton fans certainly aren’t alien to the concept that we’ve conceded too many soft goals. More specifically this could be put down to the poor form of Fraser Forster, who boasts one of the Premier League’s lowest save percentages this season. It’s certainly a factor to consider.

To put into perspective just how much our once resilient defensive has collapsed this season, we’ve already conceded more goals under Pellegrino (34) than we did in the entire 14-15 season under Ronald Koeman (33).

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And as for individual performances, there’s certainly cause for concern in attack too.

There’s been wide discussion about Pellegrino’s inability to make a single forward flourish this season, and the numbers certainly back that idea up.

For starters, the heavily rotated Maya Yoshida has recorded a higher XG (1.87) than Nathan Redmond (1.55), Shane Long (1.78) and Sofiane Boufal (1.04) this season.

For comparison sake, Long finished last season with an XG of 5.25, while Redmond finished with 4.82. Considering we’re currently well over halfway through this season, both are on course to fall seriously short of last seasons numbers.

Which after translation, essentially tell us that Pellegrino’s failing miserably at helping our frontline take up dangerous positions.

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The only Southampton players that have managed to consistently find goal-scoring opportunities are Charlie Austin and Dusan Tadic, who have recorded totals of 5.53 and 4.17 respectively. Beyond that, there’s not a single other Southampton forward that’s expected to score two or more goals.

Another topic of discussion has been Pellegrino’s inability to work out his strongest XI. If you’ve already failed to implement an identity within the squad (which he has) the least that you should do is create an identity through consistent team selections.

However, we’ve seen the exact opposite; Pellegrino’s made an average of 2.9 changes per fixture and has fielded an unchanged lineup on just two occasions this season.

The only team to rotate more than Southampton this season are Liverpool, who’ve done so through holding a wealth of options in attack and being unable to find their strongest backline. Southampton’s changes, however, have been simply mindless.

This piece makes for a dark and depressing read; there’s absolutely no disputing that. But I didn’t want this to be the tone – no genuine Southampton fan would.

I would love nothing more than to sing the praises of our manager and for us to suddenly find ourselves in stunning season-changing form, but these facts are just the dark reality of Pellegrino’s short reign so far. And I’m not convinced that we can allow this to be our reality any longer…

Pellegrino v Pochettino

As if things weren’t hard enough already for Southampton, who find themselves without a Premier League win in ten, their upcoming clash is against the same Spurs side that shipped five past them on boxing day less than a month ago. 

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I’m not sure how many more times I’m going to need to say this, but Mauricio Pellegrino’s Southampton simply have to react this weekend. Not just with an encouraging performance or some attractive spells of play, but with three points and three points only. I’m under no illusion that that’s an incredibly tough ask while were in such a devastating rutt, but if we got ourselves into this mess, then we’ve got to take responsibility for our mistakes, step up to the challenge and drag ourselves out.

So to find out more about our upcoming opponents (as if our 5-2 thrashing didn’t teach us enough) we spoke with Nikhil Saglani – an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan and writer.

How would you summarise Tottenham’s season so far? 

A mixed bag, but largely impressive. We emphatically topped the Group of Death in the Champions League, which surprised everyone! But overall our League form has been good too, when you consider that we’ve had to adapt to a new ‘home’ ground for the year. We’ve dropped some silly points at Wembley but it’s mostly been good. Not many people expected us to get top four at Wembley and that’d probably represent a successful league season, if we finish in those spots come May.

For those who are a little unfamiliar with Spurs, what formation and style of play have you adopted this season?

It might be quicker to tell you what we formation we haven’t used! At some point this season we’ve used all of: 3-4-2–1, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1. However, one of the first two are our best formation; nobody seems to know which, though. Whichever one we use means dropping one of our key players, so Pochettino definitely has a headache if everyone is fit.

How have teams got the most joy out of your defence?

Corners. We seem to have conceded from loads of them this season, which is not ideal against teams who sit back and try to use such set-pieces to break you down. Hopefully the imminent return of Toby Alderweireld helps to sure that up, although we did concede from a couple even when he was in the side.

You’re stranded on a desert island and can only be joined by one Spurs player; who’s it going to be?

Harry Kane, of course, because what can’t he do? He’s so good he could probably get us home safely without a problem. He’s a freak.

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Which Southampton player would you take to join Spurs? And which Spurs player do you think would benefit the Saints most?

It’s a tough one as our squad is pretty well balanced but I’d probably say Sofiane Boufal. Heung-min Son is the only winger in our squad so Boufal would add some pace, trickery and width to the side. Many Spurs fans were admirers of him before he joined you.

You seem completely incapable of scoring goals, except the two we gifted you on Boxing Day, so Kane is the obvious answer here. His overall game is world class too, which would obviously help. With so many games to go, he looks on course to break the record for goals in a Premier League season – if he stays free of injury.

A brace on Sunday will be the 99th and 100th Premier League goals of his career, aged 24, so expect him to be fired up.

As seasons go by, Southampton fans have slowly but surely been able to admit their admiration of Mauricio Pochettino; just how special is he? 

As with every manager, he has some flaws that need working but overall, he’s very special. He’s turned Spurs from a club that were there to make up numbers into a club that can challenge the very best, on an almost shoestring budget with the new stadium upcoming. Of course the trophies have not come yet, but it seems a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ when you look at the trajectory of his side. And, arguably more importantly, he’s helped fans fall back in love with a club that many were extremely disenchanted with for years. He’s magic, you know.

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

Sorry Saints fans but we’ve got four players who can score bags full of goals and you just seem to be lacking that cutting edge, are low on confidence and aren’t too assured at the back either. I’m going to say a 3-1 away win, but if I’ve jinxed it then you’re absolutely welcome, I’m happy to leave my PayPal details below!

The same old story

Southampton have once again failed to hold onto a lead under Mauricio Pellegrino, following the most basic of tactical adjustments from the opposition. The Saints have now dropped 11 points from winning positions against Brighton, Arsenal, Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Watford. That’s simply unacceptable from a team who are no doubt top ten quality and finished 6th only two seasons ago.

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So where has this inability to dominate and control come from? In my eyes, you need to look no further than Mauricio Pellegrino’s in-game management. Each and every time the opposition have made clear adjustments in a bid to disrupt the flow of the game, the Argentine has failed to react in just about any way – be that tactically or through substitutions.

From the outside looking in he doesn’t appear to be installing any confidence into our players, and from the evidence presented to us so far, he’s way out of his depth.

The difference between the two managers yesterday was that one utilised the subs and tools around them when the going got tough, while the other simply hoped and clung on. There was no evidence to suggest that he wished to bring the game to Watford again, or that we were going to attempt to grab the game by the scruff of its neck. Instead, we simply panicked at the thought of over-committing while going forward, and opted to sit back and soak for the remainder of the second half.

Marco Silva threw Troy Deeney on and changed his formation to be more rigid and harder to break down, as well as giving him an easier route into Southampton’s box. With a simple long ball into our area, one of their 6ft plus central midfielders or Deeney would win the initial ball (or at least attempt to) and give the Southampton defence something to think about it. But rather than pushing higher to restrict the danger of their long back knock-downs, we continued to retreat until the very end.

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Pellegrino waited until the 92nd minute to make the final two of his three subs, and once again it was too little too late.

On a brighter note, however, the main positive that we can take away from yesterday’s game was the performance of James Ward-Prowse. He seems to be one of few players at the moment that are willing to take responsibility on the ball, and it’s incredibly encouraging to see that he’s finally adding goals to his game – an area that’s been much criticised over the past two seasons.

What makes yesterday’s result all the more frustrating is that Saints’ first-half performance was actually incredibly promising – we were composed on the ball, organised at the back and played some delightful fluid football. But the hard work that went into the first 45 was dismantled by the usual dismal display in the second 45.

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It’s certainly worth noting that Watford’s equaliser was a handball – it should have never counted. But regardless of that fact, I can’t help but feel that this is only a small factor as to why we didn’t come away with three points. If it wasn’t for our shambolic in-game management, we would have never allowed them to receive that opportunity in the first place.

Following yesterdays result, the Saints have now matched their winless run from the 2004/05 season, and we all know how that story ended…

This is simply not good enough, and the most worrying thing is that the patterns in our games keep repeating themselves, with few suggestions of change or improvement. As we slide towards the Championship, the board must act now both in the transfer market and with the manager, in the hope that any star signings aren’t limited by Pellegrino’s tactical incompetence.

We can’t allow the board to gamble our Premier League safety on their pride any longer.

Preview: Watford v Southampton

After going nine fixtures without a win, Southampton’s fortunes finally changed last weekend as they defeated Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham; but their hunt for three points in the Premier League is still very much on. 

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So to find out what kind of challenge can we expect in our upcoming fixture, we spoke with Golden Pages – a fanzine made by Watford fans, for Watford fans.

How would you summarise your season so far?

Hit and miss, to be honest. As always, we started excellently before dropping off a cliff around Christmas. It’s certainly been exciting, though, with plenty of late winners both for and against us.

What formation and style of play has Marco Silva installed?

It’s more open than we have had under Walter Mazzarri or Quique Sanchez Flores, which comes with pros and cons. The wing play through Richarlison and Andre Carrillo is exciting to watch, and we often play the ball around nicely in midfield, but we lack a final ball (or consistent goal scorer!) and our defence still seems suspect.

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What have you made of your Portuguese boss? From the outside looking in it seems like he’s got the aesthetics and frontline nailed, but your defence lacks the experience and bottle required to hold their lead?

Silva has got us playing good football, but you’re correct that he really needs to improve the defending in his team. Being a former right-back you’d think he would prioritise defence, but equally you could blame our mistakes on personnel as much as tactics. It has to be noted that Silva is far from perfect – I think many Watford fans were surprised when Everton pursued him so vigorously earlier this season. The reason we so desperately wanted to keep him was more for stability than his own ability. That said, I do believe he is capable of great things if we strengthen our squad and get rid of some dead wood. He’s still relatively young, after all.

Who’s been your player of the season? And who’s stepped up most?

Abdoulaye Doucoure has been superb all season in midfield, so he gets my vote. But Richarlison is certainly not far behind. The winger is one of the Premier League’s signings of the season at just £11m. If he never played a game again then the points he has already won us would mean he was value for money. Another new signing who has stepped up is Kiko Femenia, the bombarding right-back, and we have missed him recently since he has been sidelined through injury.

How do opposition teams typically find joy against your defence?

Down the wings! Our full-backs are all excellent going forward, but seem to forget their primary job is actually to keep the ball out of our goal. We also implement a zonal marking system, so I imagine you could catch us out from set pieces fairly easily.

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You’re stranded on a desert Island and can only be joined by one Hornets player; who’s it going to be?

Tom Cleverley. He seems like a thoroughly decent bloke. Plus, he’s bloody hard working, meaning we’d have a shack built and food gathered in no time.

Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you?

I know he’s not on top form right now, but I’m always scared when Nathan Redmond lines up against the Hornets. He’s terrorized our defence on more than one occasion in the past, and I wouldn’t like to see that happen again.

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

Both teams are in poor spells of form, so it’s a tough one to call, but I’ll say 1-1. I would certainly take a point.