Premier League

Southampton 0-2 Chelsea: where did it all go wrong?

Defeat is always painful. Sometimes in football there are games when you can watch your side dominate in the most beautiful fashion, only for them to throw it all away in the 90th minute.  Then there are moments when you stand in the stadium and question how such a gutless performance can be considered acceptable, but as a fan of a side that hadn’t lost at home since last February, this is something that I’ve been fortunate to avoid. But as the final whistle blew in Southampton’s 2-0 defeat to Chelsea yesterday, I found myself placing the defeat entirely down to an Antonio Conte masterclass.

On the face of things, this game dropped right into the hands of both sides; Southampton favour a possession-based style of football under Claude Puel, whilst Conte’s Chelsea prefer to sit deep and remain compact. Unsurprisingly, both sides carried out these aspects of their games without a worry, but it was Southampton’s inability to cut open the Blue’s defence and Chelsea’s ruthless finishing in front of goal that made the difference. But how exactly did Southampton allow that to happen?

To anyone who has watched Southampton under the microscope this season, they will recognise just how important the fullbacks are in Claude Puel’s system. They are a driving force in build up play, the first outlet when switching the ball and are required to overlap in the final third.

They are there to constantly provide options to anyone on the ball and to place doubt into the mind of the opposition fullbacks. However, due to Puel’s decision not to start wingers and Conte’s incredibly well drilled 3421 formation, Southampton struggled to find joy in these wide areas.

The reason being is that when Southampton picked up the ball in these wide areas, Chelsea would double or sometimes even triple up on Southampton’s only out and out wide player – the fullback.

Conte would simply instruct either one of Victor Moses or Marcos Alonso to man mark the fullback, whilst the left or right-sided centre-back will look to spread wider and provide cover behind.

From here, Southampton have two choices. The first is that they can play the ball inside due to a lack of attacking options, but this will force them into the direction of midfield duo Nemanja Matic and Ngolo Kante – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that out of all the ways to breach the Chelsea defence, this isn’t the way to go. Pace, strength, energy and technique, this partnership has it all.  

The second option is for Southampton to lump the ball into a box that contains Thibaut Courtois, David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta. Once again, given the size, experience and sheer numbers in the box at this moment, this option should also be avoided. Without more than one natural wide player available at all times, Southampton only offer themselves these two ineffective options. 

Whilst this only explains how Southampton failed to score, it also helps to explain how Chelsea managed to grab both of their goals.

As Southampton no longer start wingers, the fullbacks have to take up very offensive starting positions. This is something that Conte wanted his side to encourage from Ryan Bertrand and Cuco Martina, with the idea that when his side recover the ball, they will instantly look to attack the open channels.

Given the quality of Hazard, Moses and Pedro in wide counter attacking situations, this proved to be a devastatingly effective game plan. So much so that even when Bertrand or Martina were able to drop back into their defensive positions in time, the entirety of the Southampton midfield wouldn’t be back in their defensive shape yet, giving Chelsea some inviting areas of space to drive into.

Coming into this game Conte looked at how his side could create the most dangerous attacks, not the most, and he executed it with absolute perfection. Seven shots on target from 13 attempts is an indication as to just how dangerous those attacks were.

Bertrand and Martina’s usual role in the Southampton side has huge physical demands, and this is something that Conte looked to take advantage of. With his counter-attacking focus to the game, Conte forced the Southampton fullbacks to make numerous 60+ yard sprints back to their box, giving Chelsea’s wide men the advantage of running at some lazy-legged defenders in the later stages of the game. Perhaps that explains Martina’s comical attempt of blocking Diego Costa’s fine curling strike?

In recent weeks Southampton have played with such remarkable understanding in their system, and in truth, plenty of that understanding was still on show yesterday. The only difference however is that Chelsea Football Club, one of the League’s strongest outfits, has Antonio Conte at the helm – a man who is currently squeezing every last drop of talent out of all the players at his disposal.

Fancy Southampton to get back to winning ways this Sunday against Hull City? Then check out  Tips Daddy for the best advice on value bets.

A fans view: Koeman to Everton

Just as we thought this summer would be ‘different’, Southampton’s beloved Ronald Koeman is on the verge of reportedly joining Everton Football Club. As you read this, the clubs are currently in discussion as they look to agree a compensation fee for the transfer of the Dutchman.

I don’t know about you Saints fans, but what’s hit me the most about this latest Southampton saga, is the fact it’s all come out of nowhere. Just last week, It looked set in stone that Koeman would stay on the south coast. Only a couple of months ago, Koeman was asked at the Solent Fans’ forum what it would take for him to stay at Southampton beyond his current deal (2017), to, which he replied: ‘Be happy as I am now’. A lot of people were under the impression that our manager would return from his recent family holiday in St Bart’s, and then proceed to put pen to paper on an extension at St Mary’s. And why wouldn’t he? He’s guided the club to their highest ever Premier League finish, secured European football and even played a part in Van Dijk, Forster and Ward-Prowse committing their long-term futures! If that’s not an attractive club to manage, then I don’t know what is.

So what changed? If we rewind a couple of weeks, Ronald gave an interview to Adam Blackmore about the Ambition of Southampton Football Club. “It’s one thing speaking about ambition and the second is to show it,” Koeman told BBC Radio Solent. In fact, throughout the course of the season, Koeman indirectly passed comments about the club’s ambition and warned the board of the dangers associated with selling your best players.

With this in mind, the time scale of the turnaround between Koeman returning from holiday, being offered a contract and rumours emerging of him talking with Everton, would indicate to me that Southampton have failed to showcase enough ambition to persuade Ronald to stay.

It is my understanding that a formal offer was made to Wasserman (Koeman’s agent) from Saints on Friday afternoon. That means it had only been three days before Dutch reporter Tim De Wit reported that Everton had made an approach to Koeman’s representatives. If you break that down, that’s an incredibly quick turnaround for Koeman and his representatives to look at the contract, disagree with it, and turn to Everton. There must have been a drastic split of opinion on the club’s vision, philosophies or finance to even start the ball rolling on the Everton job. A slight disagreement would have most likely seen a counter offer by Koeman’s agent to Saints. However, this complete U-turn towards a Merseyside move would suggest there has been a major disagreement between Koeman and the board.

However, does this rebuff of a new contract and move away from Southampton all boil down to ambition? I don’t think so. Considering Koeman has been involved in several meetings at board level throughout the latter part of the season about club’s future and 5-year plan, it would indicate that this scenario isn’t entirely about ambition. If there were such a contrast in opinions between Ronald and the board about levels of ambition, Reed wouldn’t have sanctioned an interview to the club’s internal media stating that lawyers and agents were now involved in negotiations as talks were being finalised.
If the latest reports are accurate that Everton’s new owner Farhad Moshir is set to offer Koeman a lucrative £6m contract as well as a £100m+ transfer kitty, it would seem the issue lies with finance. While as a Saints fan, you would hope that Koeman would see out his contract and be a man of his word, you can understand how his head may have been turned by that sensational sum of money. How many of you would turn down a potential employer prepared to triple your wages for you to do the same job? Not many of you!

As a Saints fan, we all like to point the finger and voice our opinions on whose fault this is. Do we feel disappointed in Koeman who has arguably snubbed Saints for a club struggling with the demands of Premier League football? Or do we feel anger towards the board that for the third season in a row, we have yet again lost players and coaching staff to league rivals? In my opinion, I feel a bit of both. But before we take a look at the board, let’s put this ‘bigger club argument’ to bed. Historically, Everton is a bigger club than us. However, we are a better club than them. Last season’s campaign and league table shows just that.

With this in mind, you have to take a long hard look at the board. How can the club propose a five-year plan, when we can’t keep hold of our managers or best players? I have no doubt that we support an incredible club who boasts an outstanding youth set up, scouting network and innovative forward way of thinking. However, as a club trying to break the ‘glass ceiling’ on the top four, there’s no way we can grow with this continual upheaval year after year on and off the field. There is only so many times that you can lose your best players and managers before it catches up with you.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If talks between Southampton and Everton advance and the club agree for Koeman to terminate his contract, there will be a whole host of managers wanting to take charge at the club. With European football sealed, many talented first team players and state of the art facilities, there is no questioning whether we have the ability to attract a manager of top pedigree to the South Coast. With that, you can consider the fact that Southampton Football Club is in a handsome financial state and our billionaire owner has a proven record of supporting previous managers with funds – Southampton sure is an attractive proposition to any manager seeking European Football and the chance to upset the Premier League’s apple cart.

Having seen the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin (just to name a few) leave the club in the last few years, you would think it would make all of this easier? Well, you would be wrong. It’s still incredibly hard to watch our budding team with so much potential be ripped apart each and every summer. And If Koeman is to depart, I suggest you strap yourself in and prepare for yet another summer of papers and online sources saying ‘mass exodus’ and ‘meltdown’ in the same breath as our club. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be a normal summer as a Southampton fan if it was quiet, would it?

Preview: We talk Southampton vs Newcastle with NUFC360

Coming into this weekend’s clash, Southampton have won five of their last seven Premier League home games and they will be facing a Newcastle side, that have lost their last eight away games in the Premier League. With Southampton in eighth place and Newcastle now seven points adrift of safety, all statistics point in the direction of a routine home win. However, this is the Premier League and no game is a given.

We spoke with NUFC360 to find out more about our opposition, the perception of Southampton and Georginio Wijnaldum – a favourite of Ronald Koeman.

In three words, how would you describe your season so far?

No lessons learnt

Who is your player of the year?

It’s a toss-up between Rob Elliot & Chancel Mbemba, but I think Elliot just about edges it. He hadn’t covered himself in glory prior to Tim Krul’s season ending injury & plenty of fans had reservations about his capabilities, but he’s been absolutely superb. At times, he has single handedly won us games & stopped the opposition from hitting double figures. Without him, I fear we’d be in a similar position to Villa.

Despite results going against you, has Rafa Benitez added a new look to Newcastle?

The side certainly looks more organised, but the players at his disposal just aren’t good enough. We look more of a threat in the final third & in the last two games, we’ve finally started providing Mitrovic with the service he’s needed all season. He’s capable of changing a game with substitutions too, something our previous managers have struggled with. I do fear it’s too little too late, though, he should have been brought in after the 5-1 defeat at Chelsea.

If you could change one thing about your club, what would it be?

One thing!? Now that’s a tough one. There’s too much wrong with Newcastle at the moment & the club is rotten from the top to the bottom. Rafa’s arrival & the head coach model being scrapped was a real positive for fans, but if/when we go down & he leaves, it’s going to be one step forward and five steps back. Lee Charnley, the man responsible for appointing John Carver & Steve McClaren, really needs to go. He’s completely out of his depth & his ineptitude looks like it’s going to cost us our Premier League status.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman is an admirer of Georginio Wijnaldum, if the unthinkable happened and Newcastle were to be relegated, do you think he would suit Southampton and could it happen?

Wijnaldum is a good footballer, there’s no doubt about that, & I think in a good football playing side like Southampton, he could be a hit. Unfortunately however, his form has nose-dived dramatically over the second half of the season & he goes missing away from home. He will certainly leave if we’re relegated, he’s far too good for the Championship. Spurs are rumoured to be monitoring his situation so Koeman might have to move quickly in the summer.

What is your perception of Southampton Football Club?

I like Southampton. They’re a good club, with good fans, who play good football. A proper club. I think Koeman’s done a stellar job again this season & I’m a big fan of the way he gives young players a chance. I think he’s amongst the best managers in the league.

Who from this Southampton side scares you most?

I’d probably say, Pelle, as he seems to reek havoc every time we play Southampton. He’s commanding in the air & we don’t seem capable of dealing with that. Charlie Austin, a player we courted for a long time, worries me too. It seems destined that he will put a nail in our coffin on Saturday to rub salt into the wounds.

If you were reporting back to Ronald Koeman on how to beat Newcastle, what would you say?

Target our full backs. Daryl Janmaat has been pitiful defensively this season & any one of Steven Taylor or Fabricio Coloccini, will struggle to deal with pace or a physical presence. We’ve conceded 58 goals this season, only four less than Villa, which is a pretty shocking statistic.

What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?

2-0 Southampton. We’ve been thrashed on our last few trips to St. Marys and I can see a repeat on Saturday. There’s been a lot of talk about the side tightening up & winning ugly in the week, so we may look to stay compact & organised as we did against Leicester, but ultimately I think your firepower will overwhelm our frail defence.

And finally, the harsh reality of Premier League survival. Will you? won’t you? And why?

We’re six points behind Norwich now & with seven games remaining, that’s a huge gap to breach. I fear the worst & have for a long time. We just aren’t good enough at either end of the pitch & with only 6 wins all season I can’t see how we’re going to turn it round now.

 

Premier League Podcast Preview Show: Southampton vs Liverpool

I was fortunate enough to join Hari Sethi and John Ritchie on the AnfieldIndex Podcast show to preview this weekend’s fixture against Liverpool. We look ahead to Southampton’s upcoming game and discuss everything you could possibly want from a preview show – including an opening question at Arry’s new role at Derby County.

Follow the link here to give it a listen

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We discuss…

Who would ‘Arry Redknapp scout for Derby County?

What can we expect from this weekend’s game?

Can Liverpool record four League wins on the bounce?

Who have been Southampton’s standout players this season?

How have Southampton managed to recover so well following a tough season with injuries?

We also round up the show with our predictions for this weekend – we hope you enjoy the show.

Be sure to let us know what you think over at FreshSaints and AnfieldIndex

 

Match Preview: Six clean sheets in a row?

Southampton have taken 13 points from their last five fixtures. During that time, they have kept five clean sheets in a row; totalling 509 minutes since a red and white shirt had to pick the ball out the back of the net. Better yet, Southampton face a goal-shy Swansea side this Saturday that will be fearful of the challenge that Manchester United and Arsenal failed to overcome. Could yet another clean sheet and three points be on the cards?

All was going so swimmingly for Swansea. After Francesco Guidolin took hold of the club alongside Alan Curtis, the impact was instant. Swansea recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this Premier League season and fans were confident in avoiding the drop. Since then, Swansea have been held to draws by a blunt Crystal Palace side in free fall and a West Bromwich Albion team that is tearing at the seams. Both the Eagles and the Baggies came into the game with poor form, making it plausible to suggest that Swansea have just thrown away their relegation-get-out card.

Worst of all, they are set face a ruthless, clinical and robust Southampton side that are in their best form of the season so far.

Who have Southampton got to watch out for?

Gylfi Sigurdsson –  The Icelandic international has been in fantastic goal scoring form as of late, with five goals in his last six appearances. Having scored in each of Guidolin’s first three games in charge, the Italian said “I think Gylfi could score 15 goals in a season because he has quality and he has intelligence.”

It’s clear to see that Sigurdsson is Swansea’s most potent attacking outlet.

Over recent weeks, Southampton’s defence has been tight, organised and compact, with little room for the opposition to force an opening. As a result of this game plan, teams have been forced into crossing and striking from distance. However, with the common known knowledge of Sigurdsson’s ability to strike a ball from distance, Koeman will have a tough call to make.

Alberto Paloschi – The 26 year old Italian is somewhat unknown to the common football fan, but his lively style of play has been clear to see so far. Paloschi stands at just five-foot-nine-inches, flourishes with the ball at his feet and will look to be a handfull by finding space in the channels between both centre backs. Southampton have been used to dominating at the back through aerial duels, but this battle will take place on the ground. After all, it’s Swansea City.

Who can shine for the Saints?

Oriol Romeu – Romeu has put in a succession of impressive performances this season, yet he just can’t nail down that first team spot. With Victor Wanyama now suspended for five games after receiving his third red card of the season, there is a gap to fill. A gap that the Spaniard will want to make his. Romeu will not only see this as his time to push Southampton into Europe, but also his time to show Koeman why he needs to be the main man next season. Go get em Rom.

Charlie Austin – Since joining in January, Austin has so far been available for selection in only two games – starting from the bench on both occasions. Having brushed off his injury that left him out of the side at the Emirates and now being more aware of his role in the team, Austin will be raring to go. Even more so when Swansea’s defending still leaves much to be desired. If Austin starts, then you can bank on a ball falling handsomely in the box for him.

Swansea City Form – 2-4 loss vs Sunderland (A) 1-0 win vs Watford (H) 1-2 win vs Everton (A) 1-1 vs WBA (A) 1-1 vs Palace (H)

  • Seven goals scored over these five games
  • Seven goals conceded over these five games
  • In Swansea’s last fixture they drew against the worst form team in the League – Crystal Palace
  • Swansea lost and conceded four to 19th place Sunderland
  • Sigurdsson (5), Ayew (2) and Williams were the scorers over these five games

Southampton Form – 2-0 win vs Watford (H) 3-0 win vs WBA (H) 0-1 win vs Manchester Utd (A) 0-0 vs Arsenal (A) 1-0 win vs West Ham (H)

  • Seven goals scored over these five games
  • Five clean sheets in five games
  • Southampton beat fifth place Manchester United and beat sixth place West Ham
  • Southampton drew against third place Arsenal
  • Tadic (2), Ward-Prowse (2), Long, Austin and Yoshida were the scorers over these five games

Prediction: Austin and Van Dijk to gift Southampton a 2-0 away win

Who do you think will leave the Liberty Stadium with all three points? Perhaps a share of the spoils?

Let us know on twitter @freshsaints

 

Fraser Forster: Facts, stats and stopping attacks

It’s been widely documented how Fraser Forster’s return of form has been the true beginning of Southampton’s season. Having struggled to combine their usual fluent attacking play with strong defensive performances over the first 20 fixtures, Forster came back into the side with the Saints sitting in 13th place. Fast forward five games and Southampton are now in contention for European Football, scoring freely and have leapfrogged Liverpool for 7th place.

But, just how good has he been?

“He’s so quiet but he gives a lot of confidence to defenders. It’s not a coincidence that when he comes back we start keeping clean sheets.” said Ronald Koeman on the goalkeeper that he calls “Magic”. Koeman is right, and the statistics are there to prove just that.

Since Forster put the gloves back on, he’s seen the opposition line up 62 shots. That includes 15 placed on target, which reflects Forster’s shot stopping ability. Whilst also including 47 shots off target, which tells us the low probability shots that the defence is forcing the opposition to make.

Forster has placed confidence in the defence, which allows the back line to hold a strong, yet high-risk position on the field. By Forster allowing the defence to play further up the pitch, thus pushing the opposition deep into their own half, it’s not just the defence that has reaped the benefits of Forster’s presence.

In turn, he can also authorise the defence to drop deep and carry out a “backs against the wall” performance with confidence and desire, rather than fear. As shown in the closing stages against Arsenal (A) and most recently, against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham (H).

To take risks, you need to be confident. To win, you need to take risks. And judging by Southampton’s poor early season form, It seems fair to suggest that Marteen Stekelenburg places lower levels of confidence in the defence than Forster.

It’s been 479 minutes of Premier League football since the six-foot-seven-inch monster returned and not once has he had to pick the ball out from the back of the net.

Not to mention that after Southampton’s 1-0 home win over West Ham, Fraser Forster’s clean sheet percentage is the best of any goalkeeper with 30 or more Premier League appearances. That’s 18 clean sheets from his 35 games (51.4%).

Forster has been the catalyst to Southampton’s incredible form and such feats can never be a coincidence in a League as competitive as the Premier League. Watch out Joe Hart, the Euros are coming and Forster certainly wants a taste of the action.

 

Why I worry for Koeman

Southampton come into this important week under heavy pressure, having only once come away with three points in their last 11 games. However, no one is feeling that pressure quite as much as Southampton boss, Ronald Koeman. With such a poor run of form, the two upcoming home fixtures versus Watford and West Brom are made all the more important – especially when the South Coast club are just seven points away from the drop. Results are needed quickly and if we are unable to come up with the goods, I worry for Koeman.

Here’s why…

Two years ago, Southampton were hailed by the media and all football fans as THE model club. They gained Premier League safety, played attractive football and most importantly, built an English core – something that has become a rarity in the modern game.  Since Koeman took over, Ryan Bertrand and Fraser Forster have been the only English additions. With Koeman already ruling out the possibility of signing Charlie Austin, you have to wonder when and who the next English addition may be.

Not only has English talent decreased in signings, but English academy progression has fallen too. The promotion of talent from the academy to the first team is an achievement that the club has worn proudly on its sleeve; sadly, that has vanished since Koeman joined. Minus his recent attendance at Staplewood to watch Forster play, Koeman has stopped visiting the U21’s fixtures. The notable omissions from first team chances are fan favourite Harrison Reed and Ryan Seager, who still maintains his goal-a-game strike rate at U21 level.

Finally, this is a Ronald Koeman team. The club has invested just over one hundred million since Mauricio Pochettino left, with Koeman having the choice on who to bring in. These personally selected players have been performing well below their expected levels; signings such as Juanmi, Martina, Caulker and Stekelenburg have been disastrous in actual fact. Even Virgil Van Dijk who started the season so positively has allowed errors and poor decision making to creep into his game. No excuses here.

Despite these troubles that Koeman has faced, the fans have been and still believe that the Dutchman is the right man for the job. As fans of a club that has so often been shown a lack of loyalty by players, we must continue to show our loyalty toward a manager who has gifted us many special moments.

We’re behind you, Ronald.

 

Talking Point: The Recent Reluctance On Academy Promotion

Ronald Koeman recently spoke out about his role as Southampton boss, stating that he sees himself as a day-to-day manager, rather than looking at his job as a three year project. Having dealt with two gruelling transfer window’s that saw key players depart for big money moves, such a viewpoint is understandable; as a matter of fact, it’s been the perfect take on a challenge that many managers wouldn’t be fit to face. However, this outlook from Koeman could also explain his reluctance to promote youth into the first team.

Since his arrival in 2014, Ronald Koeman has seen Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Calum Chambers, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and even loanee Toby Alderweireld leave the club. Losing five first team players in the first season, followed by three star players in Koeman’s second summer was always going to result in a call for experience. Once a club has been shaken as much as Southampton have been, dependable players with a strong mentality are the first to be called upon –  fragmenting academy players in turn.

Southampton needed to find their feet and steady the ship at the start of both seasons; calling upon young players at that time would have been a classic case of trying to run before you can walk.

When aiming to integrate academy players into the first team, you need a strong spine and experienced players alongside. The academy players need to be familiar with their surroundings and how those around them play, in order to impress when given their chance. That integration proves rather difficult once your experienced players have been poached by other teams.  Throwing a young inexperienced player in a side that is still under great development can be damaging on results and the youngsters mentality.

Simply take a look at how Premier League sides fair in the League Cup when they throw a collection of academy players, first team stars and second string choices together. The combination ultimately results in a not so unpredictable cup upset.

The best time to integrate young players is once you have a settled squad, but how frequently throughout his reign has the Dutchman held a settled squad? This period of fire fighting and balancing the team has taken up a vast amount of Koeman’s time on the South coast. Not mentioning our push for European football; which the Dutchman succeeded in achieving. Koeman has been thrown countless challenges and with each problem, he has come out on top.

The real catalyst behind our recent lack of academy progression is with the senior management and powers that be. Whilst they continue to provide spectacular facilities and develop one of the best academies in Europe, they also shoot themselves in the foot with the sale of our stars. This decision has blocked the pathway for academy players into the first team. However, preventing this is far easier said than done.

Koeman is so focused on having to rebuild the squad and get points on the board, that he is simply unable to place faith into academy players. You need a balance of experience, stability, quality and youth to bring long term success to a football club. Koeman has been limited on all four at the start of both seasons.

I’m certain that with a promise from the executives that we stand strong in the market, Koeman will provide a stream of home produced youngsters into the first team.