Preview: Southampton vs Newcastle United

Two dull weeks of uninspiring International football later, and Southampton are finally back in action.

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Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have had a far from inspiring start to the season, with their only wins of the campaign coming against a ten man West Ham side and Crystal Palace. We’ve choked at the opportunity to punish both Swansea City and Watford at home, so now it’s time to make ammends, as we welcome Newcastle United to St Mary’s tomorrow.

But rather than simply digging out stats and sharing my view on the Magpies, I decided to speak to Adam Keiller – a Newcastle fan and freelance sport journalist – to find out more.

How would you summarise your season so far?

So far I’d say we’re slightly exceeding expectations. Considering we made no marquee signings in the summer, the team is ignoring the pundits predictions of us to struggle. We’re playing for each other, the boss and picking up points where we should be. A draw against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool isn’t half bad either.

Just how adored is Rafa Benetiz?

Benitez is hugely adored up North. He’s brought stability to the team and hope to the fans. He’s leading the club in the right direction and for the first time in a long while, the fans are optimistic about the future thanks to him.

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

There’s three or four players I could name here, but it has to be Jamaal Lascelles for me. He is a born leader and recently his performance in games usually dictates the result. If he has a good game we are hard to beat, but when he has a poor performance we tend to struggle. We just hope he can stay fit throughout the season and seeing he has recently signed a new six-year-deal, it’s clear he wants to lead Newcastle to success in the near future.

What would make for a successful season?

Finishing anywhere above 15th would make the fans happy. However, a top half finish would be a huge achievement for us and if we play positively throughout the season, It’s certainly a possibility. Also I think the fans (myself included) would love to see a good domestic cup run. With the big PL teams having their attention elsewhere, I feel we should take the FA cup seriously this season, playing a strong squad every round. A day out at Wembley would be bliss for the Toon army.

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

In recent years we would crumble defensively after conceding, which usually lead to us letting in four or five. But now we have a defensive minded manager in Benitez, we seem to stay composed and well drilled. However, I would like to see a new left back at the club. We currently have a centre back playing there in Chancel Mbemba. He’s been putting in a shift but in terms of other options, I’m not confident in the replacements we have.

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

I’m gonna say Mikel Merino. He is a creative player who can find his way out of a sticky situation. He seems like a good laugh too.

Which Southampton player would you take to join the Magpies?

The way the Saints are playing at the moment I wouldn’t take many, but I’d certainly fancy Virgil Van Dijk at Newcastle. A centre back partnership between him and Lascelles would be very hard to beat. Even the top PL strikers would have a difficult 90 minutes against them.

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

We have struggled at St. Mary’s in recent years but seeing as Southampton cannot seem to score at home and after a positive result for us against Liverpool, I’m gonna go for a 0-2 win for the Toon.

Theo Walcott: a return to the South coast?

According to the latest reports from The Express, Southampton are willing to spend up to £15M to form a reunion with Theo Walcott this January.

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The article states that Arsenal are looking to reshape their squad over the next two transfer windows, and as a result, Walcott will be free to search for a new club.

But is this just a typical transfer rumour created by putting two and two together? Or could this deal be exactly what Southampton need at this moment in time?

As I stated (screamed) on numerous occasions prior to the 2017/18 season kicking off, Southampton desperately needed a quick goalscoring winger. The failure to replace Sadio Mane’s output from the season before was criminal – not only were the fans starved of entertaining football, but it could also be argued that Claude Puel lost his job as a result of the transfer too.

In the form of Theo Walcott however, numerous boxes that have been left unticked since Mane’s departure, could potentially be crossed through.

Regardless of all the stick that Walcott’s had thrown his way over the past two seasons, he continues to ask questions of the defence with his blistering pace, and he still has an eye for goal – two things our side have so sorely missed in recent times.

Even last season when many were writing him off, the 28-year-old managed to record 10 Premier League goals and find the back of the net four times in the Champions League. And a year prior to this whilst battling injury, he maintained an impressive strike rate whenever an opportunity was handed his way; scoring seven goals in just 18 Premier League and Champions League starts.

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Whilst that may not be good enough for some at a club of Arsenal’s stature, numbers like these would have been a very welcome addition to Southampton’s squad last season. Especially when you consider that we finished our League campaign with Nathan Redmond as top goalscorer (7).

A player that’s shown his value in the Champions League would no doubt be a valuable asset in our hunt for Europa League football.

However, there are of course some potential negatives to this deal, or at least some points to consider.

Whilst this signing would follow Southampton’s recent trend of signing out of favour players from “big clubs”, Walcott would surely hold very little sell-on value.

Going off the assumption that he signs a four year deal and decides to see three of those years out, we’d be flogging him on at the age of 31 years old; it’s safe to say that financial profit wouldn’t be the reason for chasing Walcott’s signature.

On top of this, Walcott’s overall game has often been criticised at Arsenal due to his over-reliance on his pace in the final third. He plays a very simple and often repetitive game of looking to get in behind, lacking the versatility to ask the defence different types of questions.

Despite this, there’s a saying that goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and I can’t help but feel this is applicable to Walcott’s style of play. The same attacking approach that Walcott frustratingly applies at Arsenal, could be the same approach that Southampton so desperately need in their frontline.

The bottom line however is that Southampton Football Club need goals, and at this moment in time I’m not convinced we’re in the position to roll the dice with another “could be” or “potentially” type signing.

We need someone that’s willing to charge at defences, get in behind, and above all else, take the chances that fall their way. With that considered, the acquisition of Walcott would be a welcome addition to the squad, and in terms of proven quality, would be as safe as we can possibly secure.

The latest twist in the Van Dijk tale

Just three days after making his much publicised return to the Southampton starting line-up, Virgil Van Dijk has once again managed to get his name plastered over all the largest news outlets.

The International break can be a painful and frustrating time as a football fan; not only because we’re often starved of entertainment, but also because of the endless stream of transfer focused news and gossip, that emanates from the various international camps.

Players back in their home country and away from their club’s press officer are often free to essentially speak with whoever they (or their agent) want, about whatever they (of their agent) want.

When asked about his future on the South Coast, Van Dijk responded “Halfway through the season, maybe we can see what’s possible” before going on to claim that he has “no regrets” about asking to leave the Saints.

In isolation, the quotes really aren’t that bad, and similar quotes have been made by plenty of players before whilst on International duty. However, add a little context and it’s understandable why these quotes have left so many Southampton fans angry with the Dutchman.

First and foremost, he’s continued to show almost no regard for our club. This behaviour is remarkably insensitive and some would say immature – almost playground like – as he comments on an issue that should now be put to bed or at least filed away, and untouched until further action can actually be taken.

Secondly, after wearing our colours for a mere 90 minutes in a single fixture, Virgil has entertained questions regarding his future. I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping he’d focus primarily on helping us to put points on the board and keep clean sheets, before starting to vocalise dreaming about Champions League nights?

Let’s not forget that last weekend he got the nod over both Wesley Hoedt and Jack Stephens too, who had done nothing wrong to lose their place in the starting line-up.

We know that you want to leave Virgil. You’ve made it quite clear, and any possible suitors most certainly know that too, but at the moment (whilst employed by SFC) it would serve your cause better to use action on the pitch instead of words off of it.

So with that considered, what would have been wrong with simply deflecting the question?

Or even giving a generic “All I’m focused on is Southampton” PR answer?

I for one hate those dull as dishwater comments, but they are commonplace for a reason, and I can’t help but feel this situation is a prime example.

You want to leave? That’s fine. But at the very least respect the club that you signed a six year contract with, and show at least a drop of respect for the fans who backed you throughout your return from injury.

Luciano Vietto remains a target for Southampton this January

With little evidence suggesting that Southampton’s goalscoring woes will soon come to an end, reports of interest in Atletico Madrid’s, Luciano Vietto, have once again resurfaced.

According to numerous sources, Atletico Madrid are ready to cash in on Vietto this January, after his two-year spell with the club has failed to take either party forward.

The 23-year-old striker was considered to be a high priority transfer for Southampton last summer, but due to a situation outside of the club’s control, any hope of a potential move was soon ruled out.

The issue at hand was the complicated matter of resolving Diego Costa’s future, who had been banished from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea plans, and went AWOL to force a reunion with Diego Simeone.

When Southampton made their push for the Argentinian forward, it was late on in the window and a resolution to Costa’s situation seemed far from over – forcing Simeone to take no risks in waving goodbye to Vietto.

Since the window closed however, a deal has been struck between the two European giants, and Costa will now make his return to La Liga when the transfer window re-opens (January).

This is music to the ears of Les Reed and Mauricio Pellegrino, as the arrival of Costa will consequently make room for the departure of Vietto, who has since become surplus to requirements.

As for the qualities of the player himself, he seems to fit the Southampton transfer blueprint down to a T; he’s got time on his side, boasts serious technical ability, and is being poached from a European powerhouse (a common theme amongst recent Saints transfers).

During Vietto’s time in La Liga, he’s shown that he works best when playing just off another forward, using his close control, passing ability and illusive movement to ask questions of the oppositions defence.

In theory, I could imagine him deployed just behind Manolo Gabbiadini, being used to help battle the isolation our Italian forward is currently facing.

But whilst this looks like a tempting transfer and one that we would chase, I’m not sure if it’s exactly what we need. Whilst Vietto showed fine promise during his days at Villarreal, he’s since recorded just seven goals in his last 40 appearances for Atletico and Sevilla.

My only worry is that Southampton boast too many “maybe’s” and “what if’s” in their frontline at the minute, and they simply need a proven goalscorer – something Vietto can’t promise to be.

Preview: Stoke City vs Southampton

After a convincing victory over Roy Hodgson’s Palace, and an encouraging performance against Manchester United, it appears that we’re starting to see the foundations of Mauricio Pellegrino’s work. 

But whilst we know what we can come to expect from Southampton this weekend, just how much do we know about our upcoming opponents?

To find out more, I spoke to Stoke City’s very own club journalist, Jon Sidaway.

How would you summarise Stoke City’s season so far?

We’ve had a tough start, but we have picked up a satisfying four points from games against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea at the bet365 Stadium prior to tomorrow’s match as well as drawing at West Brom – who have become somewhat of a bogey team in recent seasons. We played ok on the opening day against Everton and were unfortunate to lose in my opinion, while our other defeat at Newcastle was a little disappointing. That said, I think a lot of people are happy with our return of five points from six games, particularly against quality and stubborn opposition who we failed to take many points off last season. Performances have genuinely been ok, although I feel we haven’t truly threatened or punished teams enough in the final third despite seeing much of the ball in most games. We’re a side that is perhaps still gelling after several summer signings, so I’ve no doubt that things will click and come to fruition when the season starts to pick up pace. Overall, I would say we have had a promising start whilst seeing some encouraging signs.

Who has been the brightest light from last summer’s transfer business?

We signed some top players in the summer including the experience of Darren Fletcher who has made a massive difference, while Maxim Choupo-Moting arrived as an unknown quantity on a free transfer but has impressed in the games he’s played. For me though, Kurt Zouma has been the brightest signing for us and it’s a massive shame we only have him on a season-long loan from Chelsea. His physical presence is outstanding and he has a surprising amount of pace for a big guy! He has certainly helped strengthen things at the back and he has quickly become a favourite amongst players, staff and supporters alike. He’s a bright young player who you just know will go on to have an impact at a bigger club. His reading of the game is very good, he’s not scared to put a foot in and he excels in confidence on the ball when looking to play out from the back.

Who do you think could be your star man this season?

It’s a big season for Xherdan Shaqiri, both on an individual and Club level. He will obviously want to have a good campaign and be in the best form possible heading into next summer’s World Cup while he has had to become the main marquee man for us following the departure of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham. That’s nothing new for him though because he’s the face of Swiss football and played for Bayern Munich and Inter Milan who are elite clubs, so he will thrive under that added bit of pressure like all top-class players do. He arrived back from pre-season in good shape and has certainly looked up for it ever since. The main objective for ‘Shaq’ is to stay fit and get a run of games under his belt because that was a burden for him last season and when he’s out of the team you really do miss his presence. If he can do that, then he will thrive and be our biggest threat in attacking areas. If you could pick any Southampton player to join The Potters, who would it be? Southampton

If you could pick any Southampton player to join The Potters, who would it be?

Southampton are notorious for having top quality players, as well as nurturing youngsters from their academy into the first team, so it’s quite difficult to choose just one player. I look at players like Virgil Van Dijk who is strong and composed alongside James Ward-Prowse who really is an exciting talent. Then there’s Shane Long, who I really rate, he’s a workhorse and is constantly looking to chase down defenders and cause a problem. If I were to assess our current situation, then I would have to choose someone like Ryan Bertrand. We’re crying out for an experienced wing-back, we currently have Mame Diouf playing that role who – to his credit – has performed admirably, but that’s not his natural position. Bertrand has pace and strength alongside vital top-flight and international experience. He’s exciting and is at the prime of his career and although I would class him as a fullback – with how popular the 3-5-2 wing-back formation is lately – he has all the attributes to be a success in that role.

What would make for a successful season?

The manager’s aim is to always better the previous season’s finish, so ending the 2016/17 campaign in 13th was a disappointment, especially after three successive 9th place finishes in the Premier League. The primary aim is to better that this season and cement ourselves in the top 10 at the very least. We’re ambitious and we want to do as well as possible, so if we can pick up positive results and remain consistent then there is no reason why we can’t push for 6th place and potentially bring European football back to the Potteries. To do that, we need to top our recent positive results against Arsenal and Manchester United by taking as many points off the likes of Southampton and other clubs who share the same ambition. There’s no reason why we can’t because, on our day, we can really punish teams. The biggest blow is that we’re out of the Carabao Cup, a competition we wanted to do well in. It’s been a long time since this football club won a major trophy so hopefully we can get the luck of the draw and perform well when we kick-off in the FA Cup in January.

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

We have a quality dressing room and there are some good characters, but most importantly they’re all very good people. But if I were to choose just one it would have to be Crouchy! He’s a great guy to be around and has a very witty, yet chilled personality. He has time for everyone and I can’t imagine there are many people out there who dislike him. Plus, on a desert island, he would come in handy if ever there was a coconut too high on the tree!

And finally, what is your prediction for this Saturday?

As I said, it’s important we follow up our results against Arsenal and Manchester United by recording a positive scoreline in these types of games. It will certainly be a tricky contest and I think it will be a very close encounter. Either side has the potential to nick it, so it’s pivotal we look to control the game from the word go, especially at home. When the crowd are behind us, there’s no sound like it and you can see it really spurs the team on. I also think after the last week, we will be eager to get back on track so I’m going to go for a hard fought 2-1 Stoke City win.

Fight and a physical presence has returned to Southampton’s spine

Whilst goalscoring woes have been the go-to talking point surrounding Southampton Football Club in recent weeks, it appears that many are failing to see the remarkable work being completed down the other end of the pitch.

I’m of course talking about the addition of Mario Lemina, and Wesley Hoedt.

Last season Claude Puel was forced into fielding a makeshift defensive midfielder alongside Oriol Romeu, whilst having to fight the fires of Virgil Van Dijk’s injury and Jose Fonte’s mid-season departure.

And whilst individuals such as Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens were consequently able to develop themselves as top flight defenders, we were undeniably prone to conceding sloppy goals, crumbling late on, and being bullied in the air.

With thanks to Mauricio Pellegrino, the boards investment and the infamous black box, however, Southampton have once again been able to forge a strong, physical and dependable defensive spine – a common feature of the most successful Southampton sides in recent Premier League seasons.  

Each of those sides were composed of two defensive midfielders that can impose themselves on the opposition off the ball, whilst still holding the technical ability to cooly maintain possession and effectively break from back to front. Similarly the centre-backs must have an aerial presence and be able to work the opposition’s midfield out of shape, whilst also having the eye to execute an inch perfect diagonal ball (see Toby Alderweireld, Virgil Van Dijk, and now Hoedt).

With the signings of Lemina and Hoedt, Southampton have the potential to replicate that same spine.

Lemina has so far proven himself to be the athletic box to box that everyone was hoping for, and a whole lot more. He’s intelligent in possession, boasts quick feet, a fantastic defensive work rate, and upper body strength that’s incomparable to others his size. Over the past 12 months, Southampton have been rightfully criticized for lackluster play in their midfield, with players all too often turning toward the safe option. Lemina, however, is quite the opposite, with his style largely revolving around bringing a high intensity to the game both on and off the ball.

It seems that Romeu has finally found himself a midfielder partner that he can rely on week in, week out…

Then we come to Wesley Hoedt, who’s added the muscle and aerial presence that our backline severely lacked during Van Dijk’s absence. Yoshida and Stephens improved ten fold last season in terms of their defensive awareness and distribution of the ball, but despite this, they still held the tendency to miss out on those all-important aerial duels – an issue that no longer exists with Hoedt leading our backline.

At this moment in time, Southampton not only boast a supreme amount of quality both in front and at the heart of the defence, but also an abundance of options.

You have, Mario Lemina – the heartbeat of our midfield. Oriol Romeu – the anchor. Wesley Hoedt – the man mountain. Virgil Van Dijk – the complete defender. Maya Yoshida – the ideal backup. And even Jack Stephens – the clubs work in progress.

Here we have the personnel to effectively play numerous formations, apply great competition on fellow team-mates, and even approach fixtures in a number of different manners.

Southampton most certainly failed in their hunt for goals in the previous summer transfer window, but credit must be given for their seemingly impeccable defensive recruitment. If we’re going to continue struggling to score goals, we should at least be aiming to make the opposition do the same…

Preview: Manchester United vs Southampton

Last weekend’s showing against Crystal Palace was the perfect response to our gutless defeat against Watford the previous week; the entire team showed a  fantastic understanding of their role in the side, whilst Mario Lemina dropped a midfield masterclass like few others we’ve seen in red and white colours.

But whilst that was a promising showing for what the remainder of the season could yet hold for the Saints, tomorrow will be a task like none other they’ve faced under Pellegrino. So, to get the inside track on what to expect from Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, I spoke to Utd Report and Jack West from Man United Panel.

What have you made of United’s season so far? 

UTDreport: What can I say? Our goalscoring has been phenomenal in comparison to previous seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. We’ve been solid in pretty much all areas of the pitch. It’s still early doors but things are looking good.

West: We are a Saturday night setback in Stoke away from the perfect start. Our ability to take the lead, absorb pressure, grind the game for 70 minutes and let loose on opposition defences has just been impeccable. Our squad depth has hit excellent heights and substitutions are a huge reason for our success in the early stages of this campaign. The likes of Martial, Lingard, Fellaini all offer diversity and it becomes difficult for teams to work us out as a unit. We’ve finally managed to shake off the post Fergie tagline of “Predictable United” (so far) … it finally feels good to be a Manchester United fan again.

United appear to have reached a new level of performance this year; what do you put that down to?

UTDreport: Nemanja Matić, mainly. He’s doing all the dirty work that Paul Pogba had to do last season, meaning our no.6 can now push forward and chip into the final 3rd of the pitch. Also, we’ve been a lot quicker on the counter-attack and that’s very much down to Romelu Lukaku. He holds the ball up so well – gives and goes – and he’s off. We have so much pace on the counter.

West: I would say keeping a group of players together is always key as it allows the squad to get to know one another’s key assets, strengths/weaknesses etc but this also applies to a manager and what he does in his second season. Jose Mourinho worked with the resources he had last season and bought a fair amount of success, to which he then recruits his own talent in the following seasons to come, especially the spine of our squad. We all know that Jose is one of the best when it comes to emulating a solid core for any side, and that firmly applies to what he’s done with United this season. The average height of our spine is now 6”2, and that means we can bully sides again with power and pace.

How did you rate your clubs dealings in the summer transfer window?

UTDreport: Lukaku was possibly the best replacement we could have bought for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. We lacked clinical finishing last season and Lukaku has made us forget about all that. Matić has filled a huge gap in our midfield and he has such a massive presence. The idea that teams have to try and get through him before even testing our defence gives us peace of mind. Victor Lindelof has had a shaky start to life at Manchester United but it’s never an easy task transferring from the Portuguese League to the Premier League – he’ll come good.

West: A solid 8.5/10. Needed recruitment that scatters a dash of World Class around the United dressing room once again, creating near on perfect squad depth. However, I believe there was room for improvement as I feel that amongst all the hype of the high profile Lukaku, Matic, Zlatan and Lindelof signings, we should have been hunting for another full back – in particular on the left hand side. I say this on the condition that Luke Shaw doesn’t return to form and make the LB spot his again – if that were to happen then I have no concerns at all.

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

UTDreport: Paul Pogba. It’s a real shame he’s picked up an injury but last time it happened, he came back even stronger. The guy is absolutely mesmerising and i’ve never been so confident of a player becoming elite.

West: The stats will tell you that Romelu Lukaku will be our key man this year, which I have no doubt in my mind that may be true, however in my eyes its Nemanja Matic. He is the key to everything at Manchester United with his ability to sit and assert control of a midfield on his own. He can start attacks and break them down when opposition charge at us. It’s simply joyful to watch, but I feel a lot of his hard-work goes un-noticed, simply because he isn’t scoring or assisting every week. He’s also the reason that the likes of Fellaini and Pogba care coming alive this season, as he frees space up for them and allows them to break forward to join the attack.

What would make for a successful season?

UTDreport: Obviously us United fans are fully expecting to challenge for the Premier League. We’ve got what it takes to win it but we just have to hope the likes of Manchester City carry on their trend of conceding goals due to their somewhat dodgy defence.

West: I think a successful season would be perhaps a Quarter Final or above finish in the UCL, a top 2/3 league finish and a domestic Cup Final.

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

UTDreport: It’s got to be Virgil van Dijk. I gave him some stick in his first season at Southampton as all I could remember was Anthony Martial skinning him at St Mary’s. He’s now established himself as one of the best in the league and I am very thankful he’s still at Southampton and not one of Liverpool or Chelsea.

West: If fit and his head’s in it, then of course Virgil Van Dijk. One of a handful of defender’s in this league with the ability to back pocket the likes of Lukaku and shut them out for 90 minutes. If he starts tomorrow and he plays the way we know he can, then it could cause us problem’s going forward. Another mention goes to Mario Lemina who was phenomenal last week against Palace, and could be the catalyst for a Saints shock?

You’re stuck on an island and the only possible company you can have is from a United player; who’s it going to be?

UTDreport: Juan Mata. Our Spanish wizard possesses a lot of wisdom so hopefully he’d keep the two of us alive!

West: I may have to keep it simple here and opt for Paul Pogba to accompany me on the island. His “class clown” persona on and off the field means that there would never be a dull moment but here’s to also hoping that his footballing ability compliments his performance in life or death situations in the sense that the man can do a little bit of everything. More of the same please, Paul.

The United squad decide to host a Royal Rumble; who will be the last two standing? And who wins?

UTDreport: It would be between Lukaku and Ibrahimovic. I don’t think any explanation is needed, and I also wouldn’t like to call a winner!

West: No debate here. Matic and Bailly the last two standing, the winner is simply too tough to call. 3rd place would go to Victor Lindelof.

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

UTDreport: It’ll be a difficult game for us as always in Southampton but I think we might just knick a win. 2-1 to United.

West: I think with Southampton’s lack of goals in recent times and United’s reborn knack of pulling teams apart late on, I think it could be comfortable, but ultimately anything can happen on the day. 0-2 United.

Shane Long ready to “kick on” under Pellegrino

After a dire and gutless 2-0 home defeat against Marco Silva’s Watford, Mauricio Pellegrino knew that his side needed change. The return of Mario Lemina in the midfield was desperately needed (whilst inevitable), but it was the curveball decision to start Shane Long which helped Southampton to find joy in attack.

The Irishman failed to score on his return to the starting XI, but his fine back-to-basics performance will have no doubt impressed Pellegrino.

Southampton have lacked a presence up top in recent weeks, with Italian International Manolo Gabbiadini continually being starved of service. Long’s re-introduction to the side however added a new found urgency to the frontline, with each loose ball and centre half being chased and hurried at every available opportunity.

Long’s goalscoring and technical ability is certainly there to be questioned, but it’s undeniable that he’s proven himself to be a nuisance up against any type of centre-back.

It seems that even Long himself is aware of the his own strengths and weaknesses.

“What he (Pellegrino) wanted from the striker was to test in behind by stretching their defence. It creates holes in the pockets for Redderz, Davo and Dusan to get on the ball and I think I am the man for that job,” Long said, speaking on the 1-0 win over Palace.

“But if it’s going to be a deep lying defence and he wants someone to come to the ball he wants different options. It depends on who we’re playing against and as I said I thought I played well today and everyone seemed happy with how I did”

Regardless of whether you’re a 6ft 5 unit at the heart of a Tony Pulis defence, or a ball player in the Barcelona back-line, there’s not a single defender that enjoys being pressed and forced back to their goal.

But with hot competition on his back, Long knows that this form has to follow through into next week…

Speaking to the Daily Echo, Long stated “It’s been frustrating. The gaffer’s got a few options up front with me, Gabbi and Charlie.

“He likes to play one striker so someone will be frustrated, but I’ve just kept my head down, trained hard, and tried to prove my point. I’m just waiting for my chance to come.

“[Against Palace] I feel like I played well but I didn’t get that goal, so the next game I’ll try and put that right and kick on.

“For me it’s all about game time. Goals come with game time. I remember my Reading days even I think I scored one in 13 but finished with 25 goals by the end of the season,” he said.

“Hopefully [Pellegrino] will be happy with me today and I can now get a run of two, three, four games in the team and the goals will come.

“I feel like I’m playing well and the chances will come. I’ve been scoring in training, I’ve been flying on the pitch. It’s just a matter of time.”

Preview: Crystal Palace vs Southampton

After a 2-0 home defeat to the Hornet’s last weekend, Mauricio Pellegrino and his squad will be looking to bounce back tomorrow as they prepare to face Crystal Palace. But whilst Palace are sitting rock bottom, having failed to score in a single fixture this season, they have a new boss who will be aiming to give them the morale boost they so desperately need. 

So to gain a better understanding of our upcoming opponents, we decided to speak to The Eagles Beak – an independent fan site that provides opinions on all things Crystal Palace.

TEB: Well, there’s only one place to start really; how was life under Frank De Boer?

Life under FdB wasn’t great. The appointment was always a bold but exciting one but the Premier League is unforgiving and has no mercy for anyone. He has learnt the hard way by trying to get a new ethos and formation implemented across the club needs time and the players to be able to play it. Perhaps he was foolish to think all players are capable and perhaps the club were foolish giving him the opportunity in the first place. Regardless, it was an experiment that has proved not worth taking. We wish FdB all the best for the future though of course.

TEB: What have you made of the Hodgson appointment?

Hodgson will see us okay I think. More of the type of manager we have employed in recent years and one that like Big Sam has a point to prove after being in charge of England. West Brom and Fulham fans talk highly of him and they are similar clubs to Palace so hopefully it will work out for us. He is from Croydon after all and it all began for him at Palace.

TEB: How did you rate your clubs dealings in the summer transfer window?

Not hugely busy but the additions on loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah could both prove to be very valuable indeed. Amazed neither are considered first team players at their respective parent clubs in truth. The signing of Mamadou Sakho was the one all the fans wanted and thankfully that came through in the end. Still short in a few areas though particularly up front with Christian Benteke our only fit striker.

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

I said it in the summer and will say it again now, Wilfried Zaha. The fact that we have missed him hugely since he was injured on opening day just supports that fact.

TEB: What would make for a successful season?

A successful season now would most definitely be staying up after the awful start we have had. We really are playing catch up but it is achievable with this bunch of players.

TEB: Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you, and who would you take to join the Eagles?

Not sure what kind of form he is in at the moment but I would have to say Nathan Redmond. I know Palace were interested in him when he was at Birmingham and he is still a player I’d like to see at the club. Quick talented winger with an eye for goal and one that should be watched carefully on Saturday.

TEB: You’re stuck on an island and the only company you can have is from a Palace player; who’s it going to be?

Great question! If you mean a current player I would have to say Mamadou Sakho. He comes across a cool fun kind of guy.

TEB: Which Palace player would you least want to get in a scrap with?

Damien Delaney or Mamadou Sakho

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

It’s all set up to be a draw, so I will go for 1-1

Variety is the spice of life – looking at the past as a blueprint for the future

A new season, a new manager, and a new beginning; but to the frustration of every Southampton fan, our shortcomings in the final third are still there for all to see.

After a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Marco Silva’s Watford, Southampton have now mustered up just three goals in their last last nine fixtures at St Mary’s – two of which came from the spot.

This would lead anyone to believe this is the same frontline that saw Claude Puel sacked for uninspiring football at the end of last season, and well, that’s because it is. To my disbelief, the Southampton board failed to recruit a single attacking player this summer, allowing us to march on into the new season in desperate need of reinforcements.  

In recent weeks this has left Southampton fans reminiscing about former squads (specifically Ronald Koeman’s), thinking back to days when our frontline could pose a threat against any Premier League outfit.

Now I’m not going to sit here and act as if everything about that team and frontline was all rosey, because it most certainly wasn’t. They had their troubles, boasted the tendency to underperform, and on occasions, played some awfully turgid and direct football.

But regardless of how that team was playing, you always had a feeling that they could turn it around, or at the very least, continue knocking on the oppositions door. Something that our current squad is guilty of failing to do over the past 12 months…

But what was it about that Koeman side that managed to produce so many miraculous comebacks and upsets? And why is our current squad so short of inspiration to do the same?

In my eyes, the answer lies with the departures of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle. And more specifically, our failure to replace the two outstanding qualities that this duo brought to the table.  

Every team will have their off days; those predictable and infuriating games when the countless hours of work put in on the training ground, fails to transpire onto the field. The manager know’s how he wants his side to break the opposition down, but it just won’t click.

It’s in these moments that you need a versatile squad that are capable of adapting, and turning to a plan B – even if that means going back to the absolute basics.

In the form of Pelle, Southampton had a strong centre forward that could act as the spearhead of their attack. When our neat and intricate build up play was proving unsuccessful, the defence and midfield used Pelle as an easy outlet for taking the pressure off the side.

With a quick sharp pass into Pelle’s feet, Southampton suddenly had the ball around the opposition’s backline in a matter of seconds. This gives you an opening to get in behind the defence, having bypassed the crowded midfield, and here’s when Mane comes into the picture.

The Senegalese international offered a spark in our frontline unlike any other player in our current squad; blistering pace and the bravery to get beyond and directly attack the opposition’s defence.

This outstanding quality of Mane’s gave Southampton the flexibility to sit deep and look to break, knowing full well that Mane would be capable of either carrying the ball the length of the field, or providing an option for Pelle in the final third.

We currently have a number of players who are capable of beating their man, but not without slowing down the attack and allowing the oppositions defence to regroup; Mane’s ability to attack the defence with such urgency and directness was outstanding, as he seemingly picked up pace with each stride he made towards goal.

Some may point to Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond as being his replacement, but in my eyes, both are completely different players. Boufal is a more creative and technical focused player who doesn’t find his edge through speed, whilst Redmond is quick over short distances and sharp in tight areas – not a direct and powerful runner.

Different styles of players with different qualities help to ask different questions of the oppositions defence; this leads me to believe that the loss of Pelle’s brute strength and Mane’s blistering pace, has left Southampton asking too many of the same questions.

When you look at the attacking options available to Ronald Koeman, and then take a look at our current squad, it’s really no surprise to me that we’ve struggled so much in front of goal.

We don’t have the pace to counter, and we don’t have that physicality to play a direct and rough style. We have a number of extremely technical and aesthetically pleasing players, who generally flourish in a high-intensity possession based system.

The issue here however is that when that possession based football isn’t quite clicking (as we’ve seen on countless occasions over the past 12 months) we’re left looking embarrassingly one dimensional in attack – continually challenging the opposition defence in the same manner, but suddenly expecting a different result.

In reality, the only type of goals that our squad are typically capable of producing, is a fine piece of passing play that’s finished inside the box. But just how many of those are we actually creating and converting? And given that so many PL sides play two DM’s and sit deep against us, it’s certainly plausible to suggest that our approach to games needs adjusting.

Quite simply, Southampton need another method to break teams down and deal that killer blow. And be that through the transfer market (as I claimed so often this summer) or through the coaching of Mauricio Pellegrino, we need to find it fast.