Matches

Preview: Fulham v Southampton

After throwing away a 1-0 lead to Roy Hodgson’s Palace in the most embarrassing of fashions, Southampton now find themselves without a win in nine fixtures, as they prepare to face Slovisa Jokanovic’s Fulham.

Embed from Getty Images

But while the Saints come into this fixture in poor form, the same can’t be said for the Championship outfit; they kicked off their season in worrying form, but have since found a new lease of life, winning six of their last nine fixtures and scoring 20 along the way.

But given that they are a completely different side to the one that Southampton last faced in the Premier League, we spoke with Aleksander Simon from Cottage Confidential to find out what we can expect in our 3rd round FA Cup clash.

How would you summarise Fulham’s season so far?

Fulham has been the epitome of an up-and-down season. If the season ended now, it would be considered a major disappointment. There were lofty expectations of even being in an automatic promotion position, given how successful Fulham were down the stretch at the end of last season and making it into a playoff position. Some games we will look as if we are already a Premier League team, and others look like we should be in a relegation scrap. Fulham currently sit four points out of a playoff spot, so it truly hasn’t been awful. Overall, it has been a very neutral season with the hopes that things begin flying here the second-half.

Embed from Getty Images

What formation and style of play has Jokanovic implemented?

Jokanovic has been implementing a 4-3-3 with flare up top. Up top, our wingers will have a ton of movement in order to confuse the defensive backline, and they will even switch places a lot. The defensive shape is four across the back, but when Fulham begin to push the ball forward the wing backs will push very high up the field. There will be times when we could have as many as seven attacking players in the oppositions box when we push it forward. The midfield plays a triangular shape typically with McDonald in that defensive role and Johansson and Cairney in more of an attacking role. Overall, you will see a very attack heavy team that will look to keep possession and dominate the game.

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

Easily our set-piece play. I can’t even count the number of times that we have conceded based on set pieces. Whether it be a shot from a free kick, or someone out-muscling us for a header, it will make the fanbase fearful every time there is a free-kick in the defensive third. Another issue is that our two center backs don’t work well off of one-another. You will see a lot of times them being very far apart from one another and teams have the ability to split the ball between them. If there is a player with creative movement up top, it will be a field day for any opposition.

Embed from Getty Images

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

Love this question. It would have to be Tom Cairney. Just seems like a lad that everyone enjoys being around and seems like a really nice guy. Also, he’s creative on the pitch, so he’s got to be creative off of it too and figure out a way to get us out right?

Which Southampton player would you take to join Fulham?

Manolo Gabbiadini. We are desperate for a clinical finisher up top. I believe he has had his issues lately with the club and not getting much playing time, but you cannot deny his skill level. We fail to put away so many opportunities and if we converted even just a few more we would probably already be in a playoff spot. Gabbiadini would be the perfect piece, especially when we have so much attacking play that he could be critical in that.

Embed from Getty Images

The Telegraph recently claimed Southampton were interested in Ryan Sessegnon; just how talented is the boy?

I don’t even know where to begin. This kid is unreal and I hope that he continues with us because I believe he could really lose a lot by going to a “bigger” club. He has played every single minute this season for us. Jokanovic continues to play him as a left fullback, but anyone who watches an ounce of Fulham know that his true position is a left winger. He is pacey, intelligent, and you hold your breath a little bit every single time he touches the ball. He just makes the game look so easy. Not only that, he’s 17-year of age. Rumors are coming out of camp that his twin brother, Steven, is just as good as he is too..

Score prediction what do you think the score will be this Sunday?

This is tough for me because we are in extremely good form at the moment and Southampton are in extremely poor form. However, your lot is the more talented squad even with your woes. The matchup to watch will be over on that left-side of the pitch. It is where all of our dangerous play is going to come from, and we will most likely have Sessegnon and Neeskens Kebano out there, two very fast, technical players. Additionally, you won’t have Cedric or Pied, so that will be tough to defend. I still think you will pull out a 2-1 win, but it could just as easily be the other way around.

Two good, two bad: Southampton v Crystal Palace

Southampton’s season went from a disaster to a full blown crisis following the 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. There are now no significant reasons why Mauricio Pellegrino should keep his job, but following Ralph Kruger’s interview to the local media, the long overdue sack still seems far away.

Embed from Getty Images

The good…

1. Shane Long finally broke his goal drought. As Jeremy Pied slotted the ball into the box, the Irishman struck the ball on the half turn to give Saints the lead. Not only were the fans relieved but so was Long as his tireless work upfront was finally rewarded for the first time since last February.

Embed from Getty Images

2. As Saints were searching for the opening goal, they looked to have some purpose to their play especially through Jeremy Pied down the right hand side. However, Southampton were unable to maintain this standard.

The bad…

1. Pellegrino’s game plan. Once again, the Southampton manager seemed content with holding out for a one nil win. Saints looked good value for their lead at half time but during the second half looked a completely different side. It’s been proven throughout this season that, under Pellegrino’s organisation, Saints can’t hold teams out. So why do we persist in doing so instead of trying to kill off teams?

Embed from Getty Images

2. Unable to adapt to opposition changes. Roy Hodgson clearly knew that his sides first half performance was not a reflection of their point gained against league leaders Manchester City. After making changes both in personnel and in tactics, Palace looked a stronger outfit and Saints couldn’t adapt to these changes. Not only were the gaping spaces within our back line exploited once again, but Pellegrino’s substitutions were baffling. This ultimately cost us the game as we stare relegation in the face.

Southampton are now on their longest winless run in the top-flight since 2005 and we all know the outcome of that season. Everything that’s wrong with the club and the teams performances are being repeated each week with more questions being raised. What exactly is Pellegrino trying to enforce on our players? It’s quite apparent he’s too far out of his depth and at this rate, relegation is inevitable.

A few thoughts on Ralph Krueger’s break from silence

Ralph Krueger has finally broken the silence between the club and the fans, following months without a statement on transfers, the direction of the club or Mauricio Pellegrino’s job security.

Embed from Getty Images

The Canadian promised transparency upon his appointment as Southampton Football Clubs Chairman, but despite this, he’s allowed numerous worries to boil over amongst his fan base.

In an interview with the Daily Echo yesterday morning, Ralph krueger answered a number of fan questions, backing Pellegrino and explaining how difficult the Virgil Van Dijk saga has been for the club and manager.

At this point, however, I must give credit to Adam Blackmore and Adam Leitch, firstly for undoubtedly pressuring the club into doing this interview, and secondly for asking questions that cover the worries of so many Southampton fans.

So, join me as I give my take on Krueger’s latest comments….

Embed from Getty Images

Mauricio Pellegrino’s job security

The way that you view Mauricio Pellegrino, will determine how you view Krueger’s comments about the Argentine…

If you’re of the belief that we shouldn’t become one of those chop and change clubs, then you’ll be happy.

But if you’ve grown sick and tired of Pellegrino – as I imagine just about every fan has – It looks like bad news. Krueger appears to have solid faith in Pellegrino despite a horrific first half of the season, and seems adamant that he’s the main to take us forward.

Mauricio Pellegrino from the get-go has completely embraced the way we operate here” said Krueger.

But I couldn’t be less convinced. When we think of a manager embracing Southampton’s style, expressive attacking play and youth development are right at the top of the list. But under Pellegrino’s management, both have seemingly regressed since Claude Puel’s reign last year. We’re yet to find our strongest XI, have found zero consistency in front of goal and youth players such as Jake Hesketh have been forced to ply their trade with the U23’s.

From the outside looking in, it seems like an empty statement backed up with next to no evidence, other than Krueger’s seemingly blind faith.

Embed from Getty Images

Van Dijk’s departure

Ever since the Van Dijk saga began, I’ve generally agreed with just about every decision regarding the Dutchman’s future. I backed them when they blocked a move in the summer in the hope that he’d get his head down, and I back their decision to sell him this window.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of fans agree there too, so credit must be given where credit is due. It wasn’t easy, and the process certainly wasn’t clean, but it’s over and Krueger has seemingly accepted defeat regarding the negative effects that the saga brought onto the club.

He talked about allowing negativity to creep into the club as a result of their decision, and how nobody is happy with where we currently sit, but it’s our reality.

The most encouraging statement from Krueger read…

“I am ultimately responsible for where we are today. Not any individual. I am ultimately responsible for the culture of the club and the mood of the club.”

Compare that to the weak and empty PR produced comments about Pellegrino, and it’s a case of night and day. This is genuine honesty here, and fans will sooner respect and identify that over mindless misplaced positivity.

However, he then goes on to blame large parts of the season’s failures on the toxic energy produced by Van Dijk’s antics. Which in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but when only earlier in the interview he claimed that blame can’t be pinned on one person in reference to Pellegrino, things get a little confusing.

What about the baffling team selections? Or the fact that were yet to deploy a recognisable style? Are the horrific substitutions Van Dijk’s fault too?

I’ve no doubt that the Van Dijk saga placed a ‘dark cloud’ over the club, as Krueger claimed, but to even suggest for a moment that there’s correlation between Pellegrino’s incompetence as a manager and Van Dijk throwing a strop, is simply ridiculous.

Embed from Getty Images

‘Small club’

On the whole, I get what Krueger is trying to say here. He’s attempting to remind fans that not every year can be record breaking, and not every season will go to plan. Every club in the league harbours these ambitions, and not every club can improve year on year.

Look back at Southampton’s League finishes over the past 20 years and it’s proof that all fans have to ride the highs and lows.

But this feels like a copout. A line that he’s only rolling out now that we’re staring relegation in the face. If we were playing thrilling football and turning teams over as we did under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, I’m certain that the ‘small club’ line wouldn’t be rolled out.

Back then it was labelled ‘The Southampton Way’ – but now that we’re spiralling down the table, were being told on three separate occasions in one answer that were simply a ‘small club’.

Funnily enough, last night’s performance was certainly that of a ‘small club’. After starting the game as much the better side and consequently going 1-0 up, we decided to sit back and rest on our one goal lead, and lo and behold the inevitable happened, as Palace piled on the pressure and snatched all three points. Don’t forget that similar events happened against Huddersfield, Arsenal and Brighton too.

How can we possibly aim to drag ourselves out of this mess unless we tear down that mentality? We have a talented squad, we invest superbly, have state of the art training facilities and we’ve cemented ourselves as a top Premier League side over the past five years.  

This interview was supposed to put the fears of fans to one side; to tell them that the higher forces in the club are seeing the same things that the fans are. But instead I come away from reading this interview with nothing but worries, and feeling even more distant to the board than before.

My biggest fear now is that Krueger will gamble the future of our football club on his inability to swallow his own pride and admit defeat. Southampton Football Club are diving head first into the Championship as we reach the halfway stage of the season, and until managerial changes are made, I’m adamant that our fortunes are unable to change.

Podcast: Talking Virgil Van Dijk with Anfield Index

The saga is over. After months of deliberation, countless meltdowns and the helping hand of a £75M sum, Virgil Van Dijk has finally received his ‘dream move’ to Liverpool Football Club. 

The Dutchman will be registered with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds on the 2nd of January, and at this moment in time holds the title of being the worlds most expensive defender – smashing the previous record held by the £52M Benjamin Mendy.

But is it the right time to lose a player of Van Dijk’s quality? Who will have to step up for the Saints? And what should we do with the £75M?

To hear our views on the above and much more, be sure to give our podcast with Anfield Index a listen here…

Embed from Getty Images

 

There’s no room for boos and abuse at St Mary’s

The first half of the 2017/18 season has been our least inspiring since our return to the Premier League. We’re lacking an identity, failing to entertain and there’s divide between the fans and board regarding Mauricio Pellegrino’s position.

Embed from Getty Images

These views have been widely shared and voiced across social media, with plenty of fans providing reasoned and calculated explanations for their criticism.

But in recent fixtures there’s been a number of instances from a minority of Southampton fans, that I find mindless and counter-productive to the issue that they claim they’re fighting.

After Nathan Redmond played a howler of a pass-back at Wembley last weekend – allowing Spurs to counter and score their fourth goal of the afternoon – a chorus of boos and abuse began to pick up whenever the winger touched the ball.

In my view, no player in the side is immune from criticism. In the same way that you praise a fringe player for stepping up and earning their place in the side, you must also be able to recognise when first team stars aren’t pulling their weight – It’s only fair that there’s a set of rules that works both ways.

But these abusive actions are despicable, and quite frankly It’s something that needs to be targeted, discussed and stomped out as quick as possible.

There are ways of expressing dissatisfaction without throwing fuel onto the fire of the toxic St Mary’s atmosphere, that currently prevails. 

Embed from Getty Images

I can’t believe I’m having to state this, but the bottom line is that Nathan Redmond is a Southampton Football Club player, and since arriving in the summer of 2016, he’s done nothing but embrace our club and its values at all levels.

He’s displayed professionalism throughout and has firmly cemented his place as a popular player in the dressing room – comments from teammates both past and present only further reinforce that.

History has shown that bad eggs get picked out at Staplewood, and not even as much as a whisper has suggested that he falls under that category.

Now at this point I must state that in no way am I defending Redmond’s performances this season. Three assists and zero goals under Mauricio Pellegrino is unacceptable, especially when you realise that he’s meant to be our second biggest goal threat beyond our centre forward.

But do you really think that Redmond wants to be in this situation? Do you think he’s enjoying his half-season goal drought? And relishing the fact that he’s having his worst season of his career to date? Of course not, so in what world would hurling abuse possibly help to change our fortunes.

He’s going to be hating this just as much as you and I – perhaps even more, considering that it’s his career on the line.

Embed from Getty Images

So just think about this…

Had Redmond had fired home 15 goals this season and asked for a transfer, fans would be screaming for him to display some “much-deserved” loyalty.

But when we consider the current situation and Redmond’s poor form, the loyalty that these same fans would have demanded from him, is nowhere to be seen from them.

There’s no denying that Redmond’s performances have been well below par, and I certainly expect improvement. But for as long as Redmond represents our club with honour and the determination to be the best that he can be, not a single word of abuse that’s bellowed his way is justified.

Two good, two bad: Tottenham v Southampton

Toothless and tactically inept would kindly describe Southampton’s performance against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side were completely blown away by Pochettino’s, only further reinforcing worries that the away side aren’t playing for the manager at this moment in time. 

Embed from Getty Images

The good…

1) We scored two goals. Goals from Boufal and Tadic we’re the only positives for the travelling fans.

2) After Spurs scored their fourth, the home side took their foot off the gas which allowed Saints to look slightly better going forward. Yes, I’m actually using that as a positive.

The bad…

1) Basics and organisation. For Harry Kane’s first two goals, he was simply given the freedom and space to tap home and break Alan Shearer’s Premier League record. Romeu’s marking for the first was comical as he appeared not to care about the inevitable outcome. Now, as we know, Romeu wears his heart on his sleeve but hasn’t been the same battling Spaniard in recent weeks.

As previously mentioned this signifies a real worry that he and the players aren’t playing for the manager or for the powers at be. For the fourth Spurs goal, Redmond was in the opposition box and carelessly gifted the ball to Son as he tried to pick out Lemina. The resulting counter-attack saw the ball find its way into Forsters net. This lacklustre concentration and execution throughout the pitch is costing us goals and the lack of desire to track back tells the whole story.

Embed from Getty Images

2) Game-plan. Although the players need to stand up and be counted, the game-plan employed at Wembley was totally incorrect as it played into the hosts’ hands. Trying to play out the back against a high-pressing team set us up to fail. The constant rotation of the team-sheet and trying to place square pegs in round holes only sucks the confidence and belief out of the players.

It’s clear to see that there needs to be a big shake up at the club otherwise we’ll be playing Championship Football in the near future. If the players aren’t playing for the man on the touch-line then a change needs to be made. Not only do we need to see ambition and change on the sideline but from the board. Money needs to be invested in the areas that have been crying out for some time. The argument of “there will be worse teams than us” is almost non-existent as the healthy gap between us and the trapdoor has decreased as the teams below have leapfrogged us. If the club doesn’t wake up, we’ll be sleepwalking back to the dark days that Markus Leibherr and co worked tirelessly to pull us out of.

Mauricio Pellegrino: the final straw

The words have been on my lips for a number of weeks, but out of fear of becoming ‘that club’, I told myself to dig deep for the positives from Mauricio Pellegrino’s short reign so far.

Embed from Getty Images

Our 1-1 draw with Huddersfield was simply unacceptable – Pellegrino himself labelled it a must-win fixture – but today well and truly tipped me over the edge.

I never came into this fixture expecting to snatch all three points. We’re in diabolical form, Spurs have found their flow and of course, Harry Kane was gunning for yet another goalscoring record. It was the manner in which we faced defeat today that leaves me hopeless in Pellegrino’s managerial qualities.

Even prior to kick-off, there was doubt amongst the Southampton fans in the stands.

Shane Long was given the nod over Italy International, Manolo Gabbiadini, despite failing to score a single goal in his last 33 appearances for both club and country.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (a true favourite of mine) was selected to play as a number 10, rather than being deployed at the base of the midfield.

And then we come to Nathan Redmond, who like Long, has also failed to score a single Premier League goal under Mauricio Pellegrino. We’re halfway through the 2017/18 season…

Embed from Getty Images

But this isn’t just a one-off example from this single game-week. This is a recurring issue that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Week in, week out there’s a guarantee that one of the defence, midfield or attack will be mindlessly shuffled. When a player shines, they are often resigned to the bench by the next game week. When our frontline finally starts firing again, you know it won’t be long before they’re handed a complete reshuffle. And as for our defence, I can’t think of three consecutive fixtures where we’ve started the same players.

This constant desire to chop and change has created numerous problems for the Saints, as perfectly illustrated today.

Whilst being hounded and chased by Mauricio Pellegrino’s side, our players showed an embarrassing lack of cohesion and understanding of their teammates. In truth, it was amateurish.

When you play with a partner in any area of the field on a weekly basis, you grow to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and the way that you as a pair play best. Through this time playing with each other, decision making can almost become telepathic; you can instinctively play passes, accurately predict what your partner is going to do, and replicate phases of play that have proven effective in previous fixtures.

In years gone by, an example of this would be Sadio Mane working the channel, the moment that he see’s Graziano Pelle hold the ball up. Or maybe even Virgil Van Dijk sweeping up for Jose Fonte, as soon as the captain stepped forward. These instinctive decisions help to give a team a true identity.

I’d love to be enlightened and told otherwise, but what team in the Premier League has ever enjoyed success through rotation methods similar to Pellegrino’s?

Behind any successful team, there’s a manager that knows his squad inside out, understands their capabilities, and knows what his strongest XI is.

Embed from Getty Images

On any given game week, however, you’ve got to be ready to adjust to your opponent. Teams such as Burnley bring different challenges compared to Swansea, meaning other members of the squad may come into play. This is strategical rotation and as you can see, it’s a million miles away from Pellegrino’s pre-game lottery draw.

He’s also shown a tendency to shoehorn players into positions and alter the system just days in advance of the next fixture.

Steven Davis isn’t a defensive midfielder, Nathan Redmond’s ineffective playing off the forward, and as we found out today, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is no number 10. Southampton are yet to find an identity under Mauricio Pellegrino, but a safe place to start would be playing players in their natural positions – especially with so little preparation in their ‘new role’.

Throughout those changes were also adjusting our approach to the game too; we’ve attempted to play as a counter-attacking side, a possession-based side and even gone route one. One week we’re playing a 343, the next we’re playing a 4231, and soon after it’s a deep 451.

This is what fills me with so little hope regarding life under Pellegrino. We’re halfway through the season and he doesn’t know his strongest XI, his sides best formation and he’s still none the wiser about how he wants his team to play.

Embed from Getty Images

And even if he does have a long-term vision for Southampton Football Club, I can tell you now with great confidence that we’re certainly not striving for it.

We’re stumbling along week-by-week, chopping and changing in the desperate hope that we somehow find our winning formula. But you don’t just stumble upon such a remedy – it can only be created through repeated practice, where you ensure that every last member in your squad is capable of meeting your demands.

The large majority of fans had already resigned to the fact that we’d lose today, but what we didn’t expect was to go down without a fight. Especially with not a game plan in sight against a team of Tottenham’s quality, and no acceptance of blame from Pellegrino.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for Pellegrino to go, but we must remember that the dismissal of your current manager is only as effective as the replacement; Southampton learnt that the hard way in going from Claude Puel to Mauricio Pellegrino.

There’s no excuses – our next appointment needs to be spot on or it may well be our last in the Premier League.

Two good, two bad: Southampton v Huddersfield

Another matchday, another feeling of underwhelming frustration at full-time. Saints failed to score more than one goal once again against Huddersfield and also failed to take three points. Relegation alarm bells are truly ringing as the pressure on Pellegrino is mounting. Things must change drastically within the next few weeks.

Embed from Getty Images

The Good:

1) Much like Jack Stephens a few weeks ago, Matt Targett returned to the starting eleven yesterday and was one of our best performers. Trying to shake Bertrand out the side is never easy so when you get a chance through injury to the England international you must take it. He looked composed on the ball and for the most part looked as though he’d never been out through injury himself.

2) We scored! Charlie Austin’s header, arguably against the run of play, was taken very well and it sparked a good spell for Saints where the Home some had some poise about their play. However, we failed to double our lead, more about that later…

Embed from Getty Images

The bad:

1) Shape. During the second half, it wasn’t clear what formation Pellegrino was employing on his side. There’s becoming a pattern during our games where teams are finding and exploiting vast amounts of space left due to the organisation of the side. Whether it’s the players of managers fault it’s costing us goals most weeks and it played a part in Huddersfield’s equaliser. The space allowed the ball to be whipped in to find an unmarked Depoitre to head home.

Embed from Getty Images

2) Not taking our chances. Yes, Again. Clear chances through both Redmond and Austin had to hit the back of the net to give Saints some breathing space, however, they did not and we paid for it. It’s becoming more and more worrying that when chances fail to go in, the players drop their heads and act like it’ll never will. For me, it’s past a joke now and the coaching staff and board need to take necessary action for us to start killing teams off.

The Saints sit only three points outside the relegation zone and with away fixtures against Tottenham and Manchester United up next, there’s a real possibility we’ll occupy a spot in the trap door going into the new year. We can only hope that it won’t be too late before the higher forces make the changes that are so desperately needed.

Preview: Southampton v Huddersfield

If you’d told me at the start of the season that on our second meeting with Huddersfield Town we’d be labelling it a “Must Win” fixture, I’d have struggled to beleive you – yet here we are. The Saints currently find themselves sitting in 12th place – just three points clear of the drop – in desperate need of changing their fortunes, with those around them showing signs of gradual improvement. 

Embed from Getty Images

So to get the inside track on what we can expect from Huddersfield Town, we spoke with Better Than Klopp to find out what we can expect from our upcoming opponents.

For those who are more unfamiliar with David Wagner’s side, what is your typical style of play? And what’s the sides go-to formation?

Under Wagner town like to keep the ball, press the opposition high when they lose it, and win it back in dangerous areas. When on form, the opposition doesn’t get a second on the ball, and it is extremely difficult to play against. The formation has always been a 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders and a lone frontman who gives the option of going long.

You started brightly in the Premier League but seemingly dropped off; what do you put that slump of form down to?

The ‘slump’ has only been away from home if you see our results. We’ve only lost at home to Man City, Chelsea and Spurs. The problem away from home was a lack of creativity and possibly being too defensive-minded. But Wagner seemed to rectify that in last weeks 4-1 win at Watford.

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

I would say teams that try to play us at our own game have probably got the most joy out of our defence. Press us high and unfortunately we’ve got a mistake or two in us, and we’ve struggled against the real top quality players in the division.

Which player has surprised you most by stepping up? And who’s been your player of the season so far?

Christopher Schindler has stepped up even further than we expected this year. He was a rock at the back in last years promotion season, but he’s shown he’s got another level, and has been outstanding so far. Aaron Mooy has also made vital contributions from midfield.

Embed from Getty Images

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

Easy – Aaron Mooy. He can find his way out of anywhere.

As an outsider looking in, which Huddersfield player would help to improve Pellegrino’s Saints most?

You don’t score too many goals of late, so probably either Depoitre or Mounié. Both have been excellent and are a real handful up top.

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

1-1

Charlie Austin – the simple genius of a traditional number nine

Much to my confusion in the build up to the 2017/18 Premier League season, few fans believed Charlie Austin had a serious future in red and white – let alone that he’d be starting ahead of Manolo Gabbiadini.

Embed from Getty Images

Yet here we are. With 18 games gone in the season so far, we find ourselves in a potential relegation dog fight, in desperate need of rediscovering our identity, confidence and goalscoring ability.

In the form of Charlie Austin, however, there’s at least a glimmer of hope that we’ve re-discovered the latter for the time being.

So why did we have to turn to Austin in the first place? And how has he found form in front of goal so quick, when others were being pardoned for poor service?

The demands of a Premier League forward are going through the roof as each year passes, particularly the further you go up the table. So many top six teams demand their forward to have a sharp turn of pace, the ability to play between the lines, and the technical skill set to be a competent ‘player’ before anything else.

So when Southampton sold their 6ft 4 target man, Graziano Pelle’, in the summer of 2016, I believe that those features were something the club were striving for with the acquisition of Gabbiadini.

That with a player of his style, we could cement our place as the ‘best of the rest’ in the Premier League, knocking of the door of the top six.

As we know all too well though, this hasn’t been the case and much to the frustration of every Southampton fan, there’s no way of knowing exactly why.

Could it be the overly defensive mindset that’s been installed by Mauricio Pellegrino? The boards failure to identify and sign another wide goalscoring threat? Or maybe even complacency within the squad? These are just a number of factors that are often discussed by fans.

The Italian International is a proven goalscorer at just about every club he’s played for, but football is a funny old game, and sometimes someone’s true ability can’t quite be transferred from club to club.

Gabbiani’s talent is there for all to see, but sadly something’s still missing. He’s yet to truly find his place in the frontline this season, failing to build a strong partnership with many of his teammates and often finding himself isolated from play.

But given that the former Napoli talisman is without a doubt our most technical forward, many feared that resigning him to the bench could only harm us.

Embed from Getty Images

But when one door closes, another opens, and with that decision we’ve been able to enjoy Austin’s glorious return to form.

Despite starting just four Premier League fixtures this season (yes, you read that correctly) the Englishman sits at the top of Southampton’s goalscoring leaderboard.

And whilst were on the topic of goalscoring leaderboards, let’s not forget that Austin finished the 2016/17 season as our top goalscorer, despite spending months out with a shoulder injury.

He’s hardly an oil panting on the ball and he certainly isn’t an athlete. Watching the 28-year-old clutch his chest in pain with a stitch the other week was one of my season highlights.

But this is what makes Austin such a remarkable footballer; despite the worries mentioned above and the talk of him being unable to play in multiple systems, he’s got this beast inside of him that comes alive inside the penalty area.

Austin’s one of those players that doesn’t particularly fall under one style of football, but place him in a side that’s enduring a rutt or a dry spell infront of goal, and you can gurantee that he’ll put his body on the line to fashion chances out of nothing.

Embed from Getty Images

I’d go as far to say that he seemingly flourishes when the rest of his team looks down and out. It gives him the opportunity to step up as their knight in shining armour, and my word does he love every last bit of it.

Whereas previously our midfield were hesitant to hit the frontline quickly, hunting for that perfect neat and tidy goal, we’ve seemingly embraced Austin’s more gritty and hard-hitting style. He’s brought us back to basics at a time when we lack an attacking identity.

On top of that, Southampton have now somewhat restored the physical edge that was lost with the departure of Graziano Pelle’ – someone that can take the pressure off the midfield with a simple ball into his feet, chest or head. Admittedly that side of his game is not nearly as effective as our beautiful Graziano’s, but it’s certainly a foundation to build upon.

These actions have helped him to average a goal every 105 minutes in the Premier League this season, with a total of five goals in just four stars.

Gabbiadini’s the more complete and skillful forward out of the two, but when you’re failing to dominate possession effectively throughout large parts of games, just how often can those skills be put into practice? At this moment in time it seems far less in comparison to Austin’s greatest strengths.

But this isn’t about trying to put one striker one-up over the other – far from it.

Our club currently appears to be covered by a blanket of negativity, where, justified or not, holes are being picked in just about every department of the club.

So this is just a gentle reminder that when all things seem doom and gloom, sometimes it’s worth taking a look around and appreciating the positives. 

Southampton haven’t had a better striker than Charlie Austin to ‘fall back on’ since returning to the Premier League.