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.
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…
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.
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.
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.