Podcast: Talking with Anfield Index

Following an International break where England channeled their inner Southampton by failing to score in back-to-back fixtures, the Saints must now prepare for their trip to Anfield, as Mauricio Pellegrino faces one of his biggest tests yet. 

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Despite facing each other in three separate fixtures last season, Jurgen Klopp’s fluent and free-scoring frontline failed to find the back of the net on a single occasion. Meaning the reds have now failed to beat Southampton during their last five meetings.

This season, however, Southampton are under new management, and their new Argentine boss is in desperate need of a spirit-lifting victory. So if you’re already wanting to wet your appetite for the return of Premier League football this weekend, be sure to give our podcast with the guys over at Anfield Index a listen.

Southampton keeping watch on Manchester City’s Bobby Duncan

Southampton are reportedly interested in Manchester City youngster Bobby Duncan, who looks set to leave City in the near future.

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The report from The Times claims that Southampton aren’t alone in their pursuit of the 16-year-old, however, with both Arsenal and Tottenham keeping a close eye on the front-man.

After losing Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund only earlier this summer, Manchester City now risk losing yet another one of their highly rated stars; one can only assume that such decisions are made in the pursuit of first-team opportunities, given the frightening squad depth at City.

Duncan, who is a cousin of Steven Gerrard, showed his talent for England’s U17’s only last week, scoring a late winner to beat Portugal 3-2 after initially going 2-0 down.

Duncan is yet to sign a professional contract, but City hope to pen the youngster down on a new deal before his 17th birthday next summer.

It’s been awhile since Southampton had a young English forward leading their front-line, and with Sam Gallagher’s career stalling at Birmingham, on top of Ryan Seager edging closer to 22-years-old, this signing could prove to be a smart investment for the club.

It must be noted, however, that City will be entitled to receive compensation should Duncan leave.

Mauricio Pellegrino: are we right to be concerned?

As if firing blank for the fifth home game this season couldn’t possibly be frustrating enough, Southampton put the cherry on the cake last weekend by allowing Sam Vokes, a self-confessed Southampton fan, to snatch a late winner. The past week has been a tough one for Mauricio Pellegrino.

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But whilst these results will certainly be worrying the Argentine boss, his greatest worry should be losing the faith of the fans. Something that (if it hasn’t happened already) appears to be waiting around the corner of our next poor result.  

To neutral fans such a suggestion may be seen as premature or indicative of the modern game, and I can certainly understand that. But that’s a view from the outside looking in, and having watched Southampton week in, week out this season, there’s a number of issues that simply have to be addressed for the future of our club.

Just two seasons ago St Mary’s used to be a place of inspiration, where Southampton promised to give just about every and any challenger a true test. We weren’t a free-scoring phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination, but we had our own style and weren’t afraid to impose that on any opponent that made the trip down South.

As we know all too well, however, this is no longer the case. That identity has vanished, and ever since Southampton have been left in what feels like a transitional period.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem; except I’m not quite convinced we know what we’re transitioning into.

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Despite having over four months to install his own beliefs and ideologies into our players, I’m still none the wiser as to what Pellegrino is striving for.

Pellegrino arrived at the club claiming “with the quality we have we can play exciting, attacking football, taking the game to our opponents by playing a high-intensity game.”

But as time passes, this statement is growing increasingly untrue.

I know that managers need time to implement their own ideas and systems, and therefore I understand that the results won’t come instantly. Reforming the identity and style of a squad certainly isn’t an overnight job.  

However, It’s clear as daylight to see that the attacking intent Pellegrino promised just simply isn’t drilled inside our players. Once brave in the final third and willing to take risks, our frontline now fears the sight of goal, growing more and more paranoid as they cautiously enter the box.

On the odd chance that our players do take up a promising position in and around the area, it’s so often wasted as they seemingly begin to fret about their defensive duties and team shape. And whilst this may be the way Pellegrino liked to operate at Alaves or any of his former clubs, it isn’t what he was employed to do, and it certainly isn’t what he promised the fans.

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But what is it that’s caused us Southampton fans to lose faith so quickly in Pellegrino, especially compared to Claude Puel?

Whilst the Frenchman’s time on the South Coast didn’t prove to be successful, there was a clearly identifiable plan in place. There was a vision and at the very least we could see what Puel was striving for. We understood that his system would take time, and we bought into the potential of that.

But no identity, no entertainment, and no results? How can we as fans be expected to invest into that?

An effective method of judging a manager’s work is to identify players that have flourished or surpassed expectations under his management, and sadly, this is yet another worrying sign from Pellegrino.

Under Puel, there were a number of players that truly came into their own; Maya Yoshida and Oriol Romeu had their best seasons in a red and white shirt, Cedric Soares finally cemented his place in the starting XI, Nathan Redmond had his greatest goalscoring season to date, and Jack Stephens covered superbly for the injured Virgil Van Dijk.

As for Pellegrino, the only player that I’ve seen perform at a consistently high level this season is Mario Lemina. And even then, I’d say much of that has been down to individual quality and flair, rather than work on the training ground.

The bottom line, however, is that Southampton and Mauricio Pellegrino need to act fact; not only for the safety of the Argentine’s job, but also for the future of our club.

A future that at this moment in time, is failing to shine bright like seasons gone by.

Preview: Southampton v Burnley

After a stunning Sofiane Boufal solo goal against West Bromwich Albion, Southampton had a fantastic opportunity to build some momentum with a win over Brighton & Hove Albion. But after approaching the game in our usual cautious and defensive manner, Mauricio Pellegrino’s side were predictably held to a draw and failed to entertain the travelling crowd. 

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Over the past 12 months Southampton have shown a clear weakness in being able to break down organised and resilient teams that are willing to sit deep and wait for us to make the mistake. Southampton’s opponents tomorrow are a team that have proven themselves to be a master of such tactics, but to find out more about Sean Dyche’s Burnley, we spoke to Up The Clarets.

How would you summarise your season so far?

It’s certainly been far better than we might have expected or dared hope, particularly away from home. Last season we stayed up because of our fantastic home form and the April win at Crystal Palace was the only time we took three points on the road.

When the fixtures gave us Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City in the first five away games it looked as though we would have to gone one better than last season at home but wins at Chelsea and Everton along with draws at Spurs and Liverpool have been beyond our wildest dreams to be honest.

We are one of the small clubs in the Premier League, so to be seventh after ten games, over a quarter of the season, is way better than we might have even dared hope. It really has been a fantastic start.

What would make for a successful season?

Every time we’ve been in the Premier League our target has been to stay in it. The first twice we failed; last season we succeeded and, to be honest, that has to be the target this season.

In some ways it might be disappointing to finish 17th now after the start we’ve made, but I’m sure most Burnley fans would take being in the Premier League next season and continuing to build the club.

Having said that, it wouldn’t be bad to continue as we are an qualify for Europe for the first time in over 50 years.

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Which player has surprised you most by stepping up this season?

I was concerned when we sold Michael Keane to Everton and didn’t bring in a replacement. It meant we would be kicking off with an inexperienced central defender in James Tarkowski who had only got his first Premier League start in April. But he’s been sensational and has turned in some simply outstanding performances.

Just how much do Clarets fans adore Sean Dyche?

Sean Dyche, five years our manager, the subject of so much speculation regarding his future, but Burnley fans would love him to stay another five years.

We’ve got a manager who told us how things were and what he wanted to do on the day he walked in. It wasn’t all plain sailing, certainly in the first few months, but he’s never wavered from his promises and has taken our football club way beyond where we thought it was capable of going.

Last Monday, on the occasion of his 5th anniversary, he received a wonderful ovation from the Turf Moor crowd before the game and another at the end. I can’t imagine there is a Burnley fan who doesn’t realise just how important he is to us.

How do teams get the most joy out of your defence?

Only one team has got much joy out of us this season and that was Manchester City. Even they struggled, holding just a 1-0 lead from a shocking penalty decision until we’d gone into the last twenty minutes.

Dyche has us well drilled, well organised and we are a very difficult team to break down.

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

This is a difficult one to answer given I don’t know the players other than watching them play football. Maybe Ashley Barnes who I’m told is one of the jokers in the pack or maybe Ben Mee who is a Burnley type player through and through.

What a shame Joey Barton is no long with us though, he’d be brilliant company if I could get him off social media.

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Which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

I don’t have to even think about this one, it’s Charlie Austin because he scores goals. When we signed him from Swindon I wondered if he would be able to score goals at Championship level. By the time he’d gone that question was well and truly answered.

He’s since gone on to score regularly at Premier League level too and I’m sure, given the chance, he’d have been an international goalscorer.

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

One of our goalkeepers I’d imagine given some recent performances I’ve seen from Fraser Forster. I hope he has another difficult day on Saturday.

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

This is the question I don’t particularly like answering. I’m certainly not going to suggest a Southampton win so I’ll go for Burnley to win it 1-0.

Fraser Forster: When do we say enough is enough?

Southampton Football Club boast a defence that’s rife with quality, depth and the versatitlity to operate in a number of tactical systems; in fact, I’d go as for to say that outside the Premier League’s elite top six clubs, you’ll be hard challenged to find a better backline than the side currently at Mauricio Pellegrino’s disposal.

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But as I so painfully had to once again realise last weekend, there’s still one area of our defence that’s failing to match the high standards set by others within our squad.

I’m of course talking about the demise of Fraser Forster…

Now at this point I must reiterate that Forster appears to be a true professional, a fantastic character inside the club, and an all-round good guy judging by comments from his team-mates.

But for as long as we continue to field a goalkeeper that’s slow on his feet and seemingly indecisive with any shot placed on target, Southampton remain helpless and vulnerable to conceding sloppy goals; a feature of Forster’s play that’s become a serious problem over the past 18 months.

This season alone mistakes against Newcastle and Brighton have already cost Southampton a potential four points, whilst his tendency to palm the ball into the oppositions frontman has also punished us twice; Romelu Lukaku and Chicharito being the fortunate goal-scorers.

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Rolling back to Glenn Murray’s equaliser on Sunday, I remember seeing a fair amount of criticism toward Cedric Soares after the fullback was bullied in his tussle for the ball, and I can understand that.

It was embarrassing defending from our backline to leave Brighton’s biggest goal threat with our smallest defender, but that was the only troubling shot Forster faced on target throughout the entire 90 minutes.

With a tight margin of just one goal in the Premier League you need your keeper to step up with efforts like Murray’s, and surprise surprise, Forster failed to do so.  

The best goalkeepers in the Premier League step up for their team when they’re called upon, and to be quite honest with you, I’d be stumped if you asked me just how often Forster has “stepped up” over the past year.

The same keeper that used to clatter players to claim crosses and throw his body on the line for a clean sheet, now appears scared under the spotlight and unaware of his physical strengths.

Given this shaky start to the 2017/18 campaign, It’s also worth noting that Forster had the second lowest save percentage among regular PL goalkeepers last season. Only Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo recorded a lower percentage.

What makes this form so worrying however, is our complete and utter shortage of options in what we can possibly do next. Time and time again Forster has fallen short over the past 18 months and failed to warrant a starting place, yet when the following fixture comes around, he’s instantly placed back between the sticks.

It’s all well and good saying that he deserves to be dropped, but for who? And where do we go from there?

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It seems that neither Pellegrino or Dave Watson trust Alex McCarthy to step up, and as a result, Forster’s place in the lineup has become somewhat untouchable. This is dangerous territory for a goalkeeper, as more often than not, this is when complaceny begins to creep in on a weekly basis.

During a summer transfer window when fans were crying out for a new number one or at the very least some competition, the board instead opted to reward Forster with a new contract.

And whilst at the time that decision could have been seen as an act of faith to motivate Forster, it now feels as if the board have rewarded mediocrity, and consequently sent Forster down a path of complacency.

If this same form was replicated by a Southampton centre-back or central midfielder over a time frame of 18 months, reinforcements would no doubt be shipped in; so why’s Forster exempt from such treatment?

Criticism toward the England International can’t be put down to “poor form” or a “lack of confidence” anymore, as this is no longer a short term problem that simply needs a quick fix.

Persisting with Forster beyond this next transfer window is becoming an increasingly worrying gamble to take, and I’m convinced that if the board opt to do just that, we’ll once again find ourselves discussing his shortcomings this same time next season.

Preview: Brighton vs Southampton

After a sublime Sofiane Boufal solo goal last weekend, Mauricio Pellegrino will be looking to record back-to-back wins for the first time since joining Southampton. 

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But what type of threat do Chris Hughton’s Brighton pose? and what must Southampton do to claim all three points? To get the inside track on our upcoming opponents, we spoke to Scott McCarthy – a Brighton fan and writer for We Are Brighton.

How would you summarise your season so far?

Excellent. Our obvious aim is purely to stay in the division and so far we look on course to do that. We’ve only lost once at home and that was 2-0 to Manchester City which looks like a great result given their recent form. And of course last week we won our first away game, hammering West Ham 3-0. So it’s all pretty rosy at the minute.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

We’ve only got three senior strikers and only Glenn Murray of those has any Premier League experience so scoring goals might be a problem. That means keeping them out is vital and Lewis Dunk at the heart of defence has been superb so far. He can’t be far away from an England call up and he is certainly destined for bigger and better things.

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What would make for a successful season?

Being in the Premier League next season

Which player has surprised you most by truly stepping up this season?

He may be an Albion legend but our captain Bruno looked like he might struggle. He’s 36 years old and coming up against some of the wide players in the Premier League looked like it might be a challenge too far. But no, his legs show no signs of going and he is playing as well as ever.

How do teams get the most joy out of your defence?

Dunk and Shane Duffy would head a brick if it was thrown in the air in front of them and they have blocked virtually everything this season. The only way around them seems to be with tricky, quick players and even then they have to be something special in the mould of Gabriel Jesus, Alexis Sanchez or, er, Jordon Ibe.

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

Casper Ankergen as you know he doesn’t travel anywhere without 20 Marlboro Lights and a supply of coffee.

Which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

We’re short of strikers and Charlie Austin always scores against us, so if we had him at least it would guarantee him not netting for the opposition.

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

Lewis Dunk is easily our best player. You could have him for £40m of the £60m you’ll get for Virgil van Dijk.

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

I never ever predict a Brighton win so there is absolutely no doubt in mind that Southampton will win now I’ve said this, but…. 2-1 to the Albion

Souness reveals the truth about Southampton legend Ali Dia

After worming his way into the Southampton line-up through an alleged ‘George Weah’ recommendation, Ali Dia firmly cemented his name in Southampton history as a true cult hero; but according to Graeme Souness, the facts of the story aren’t quite what they’ve been made out to be…

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(or at least that’s what he says)

Once described by Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier as ‘f****** useless’, It’s safe to say that Dia remains a legend on the south coast for reasons different to that of Matt’s.

Dia’s one and only Premier League appearance for Southampton is one of the most bizarre moments in football history, but despite that, Souness remains adamant that he was never fooled.

‘This is the reality, not the stories you’ve seen,’ Souness told Sky Sports last Thursday. ‘The very first training session, we knew he wasn’t the best and wasn’t going to be any good to us.

‘But we had a lot of players out injured, so we kept him on and let him train with us because our numbers were low and we didn’t have a big squad.’

As the week goes on, others are dropping out,’ he added. ‘Terry Cooper says to me: “You know we are going to have to include that fool for the weekend.” I said: “No we can’t do that”.’

‘We had no strikers, so he’s on the bench for the weekend. (Matt) Le Tissier was off after 15 or 20 minutes. You’re looking down the bench, and we’ve got full backs and centre halves and you’re thinking get him (Dia) on, he can run around and be a nuisance.

‘So we put him on and he couldn’t even be a nuisance, so we took him off again.’

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Harry Redknapp claimed that he was also targeted by the same caller, saying: ‘I keep getting phone calls at the training ground from a guy: “Georgie Weah”.

“Lovely George, you wanna play for West Ham?” He said: “No, I have a player for you.”  I thought: “This is a wind-up”.’

Souness wasn’t the only one to receive a call from this mystical ‘George Weah’, however, he was certainly the only one to bite the bait.

‘The stories out there say we were conned or we were tricked,’ Souness concluded.

‘We weren’t tricked or conned. Within the first five minutes of the first training session we knew he was a dumpling.’

Sure you did Graham, sure you did.

Nathan Redmond pledges to give to charity for every goal or assist

It’s safe to say that Nathan Redmond hasn’t had the brightest start to the 2017/18 season, but after joining a charity scheme named Right To Play, the Southampton winger has the perfect incentive to once again get firing on all cylinders. 

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In recent weeks a number of Premier League footballers have hit the headlines for agreeing to donate 1% of their weekly salary toward charity; but rather than giving a weekly fixed percentage, Redmond has opted to become an ambassador for the Right To Play charity, meaning that for every goal or assist he registers in red and white, he’ll provide access to a years education for up to 33 deprived children.

Every week the lives of over one million children are being transformed through the charity, as they play Right To Play games and learn to bring about positive change. 14,400 specially-trained volunteer Coaches are currently delivering programmes focused on the most critical areas of child development: the quality of their education, their ability to stay healthy and their potential to help build peaceful communities. ​​

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It’s only early days working alongside the charity, but already Redmond’s felt great pride through being in the position to help those less fortunate.

“It’s something I felt was right to do and I was very happy to do” said Redmond.

“With every goal and every assist I make a donation which goes straight to them. One donation will help 33 children so that’s a massive difference from one goal or an assist.

“The more I do on the pitch I know subconsciously it’s helping out the kids. I’ve had two assists this season and no goals yet but I’m sure they’ll be coming. Afterwards when the game’s finished, instantly you think about that. I’ve had two assists this season and that’s over 60 kids helped. I’m delighted with that so far.”

An extra incentive to score for Southampton and you’re giving to charity? Now that’s an idea I can get behind, Nathan.

Preview: Southampton vs West Brom

After Southampton failed to take yet another opportunity to build momentum last weekend, Maurico Pellegrino will be desperate for all three points and an entertaining showing at St Mary’s tomorrow. 

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Alongside Pellegrino in the dugout, however, will be Tony Pulis – a man that gets his kicks through clean sheets and dogged defensive performances both home and away. But to find out more about what we can expect from The Baggies tomorrow, I spoke to Alex Newton – a West Brom fan and columnist for The Daily Mail.

How would you summarise your season so far?

It hasn’t been fantastic. From an outside view, you may look at Albion being mid-table and think they’re having a half decent season. The problem is we’ve already played five of the bottom seven sides in the league and have a tough run of fixtures coming up. We’ve thrown three leads away in the final 20 minutes of games already this season which could have seen us be 4th in the table as it stands.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

Jonny Evans. After all the transfer talk surrounding him, the skipper decided to stay, and he now has to get his head down and focus on his football. Not only is he a brilliant defender he can organise the entire back line. When Evans plays well we usually get a result.

What would make for a successful season?

Realistically we know top half would be an excellent achievement for the club. With us being in the Premier League for nearly a decade we shouldn’t have to worry about the threat of relegation. It would be great to have a decent run in the FA Cup if we find ourselves mid-table in the league come January.

How have the West Brom fans taken to former Saint, Jay Rodriguez?

Jay’s a model professional which will always go down well at The Hawthorns. He hit the ground running early but has found it difficult in the last few weeks. That being said the fans appreciate his effort upfront and you can see he will always try hard for the team.

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How do teams get the most joy out of your defence?

Pace and trickery on the wings always seem to cause us trouble. It’s clear to see that we’re a physical side so the majority of the time we’re good at defending set pieces. If you can stretch our defense out of position with pace, you’ll usually find success.

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

Great question! Despite the language barrier, I’d pick Claudio Yacob. He’s always in the background of player’s photos smiling or causing mischief. I reckon he’d make the time go quickly.

Which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

I’ve always liked Nathan Redmond. He’s quick direct, and I think he’d flourish in a team like West Brom on the opposite wing to Matt Phillips.

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

This is a tricky question as you struggle to score goals like ourselves, but you also let in a fair few easy ones. Nacer Chadli playing in the ten behind your striker(s) could open a lot of opportunities for you I reckon. Failing that I’ve seen a lot of your fans moan about your goalkeeper so maybe Ben Foster too.

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

1-1. Rodriguez and Gabiadini the scorers.

Southampton keeping tabs on Barcelona’s Paco Alcacer

According to the latest reports from The Guardian, Southampton will look to bolster their frontline this January with the services of Paco Alcacer.

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It’s been stated that Alcacer’s dream move to the Camp Nou hasn’t gone to plan, with the 24-year-old growing increasingly frustrated at his lack of game-time.

Southampton aren’t the only club showing an interest in the Spanish International however, with both Celta Viga and Lille keeping a close watch on the forward too.

But whilst being on the books at Barca will most certainly tempt fans (on top of his fine goalscoring record at Valencia) is this the transfer that Southampton need to solve their troubles in front of goal?

To cut a long explanation short, I’m not entirely convinced this is the type of player that we should be hunting for.

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Alcacer’s stats and reputation would suggest that he can add the extra dimension in attack that Southampton so desperately need, but in my view, he would simply be another body in our crowded search for a solution.

Alcacer typically operates best as a lone forward in either one of a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, aiming largely to wreak havoc from inside the box, using his fine movement to unlock the oppositions defence.

To compensate for Alcacer, Gabbiadini would have to drop deeper or wider in the attack, and this is something that he’s openly spoken out against in his past at Napoli.

A two-pronged partnership is also ruled out in my eyes, as both players regularly look to take up the same areas inside the box. The whole objective of playing a partnership is to allow both players to compliment each other’s strengths, but in the case of Gabbiadini and Alcacer, the duo would be all too similar.

The largest issue regarding Southampton’s attack doesn’t lie with the frontman, it lies with those surrounding him. Blistering pace, unpredictability and direct runs at the defence are three qualities our attack has so sorely missed over the past 12 months. Coincidently this is around the same time that Southampton lost Sadio Mane; a player our club have clearly failed to replace since his departure.

With all things considered, I hope for our sake that Alcacer is an option that Southampton choose not to pursue; the Spaniard is a classy player who will prove to be a fantastic asset for the right side, but this is money that needs to be spent on solving the real issue in our frontline.