Premier League

Talking Points: Bertrand On Targett For Return?

During yesterday’s press conference it was confirmed that Ryan Bertrand has not yet recovered in time for Saturday’s trip to the Hawthorns.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman then went on to say “I hope that he will start training with the whole group from Monday” You have to understand that he didn’t have a pre season and that’s always difficult for a player”. The England International has been sidelined for just over three months now and with his return on the horizon, can he replicate last seasons success and where does this place Matt Targett?

Confidence is the key factor in the comparison between both players; however, the reasons are quite different. In a Southampton XI with the oh so reliant Bertrand, each player around him is fuelled with confidence in both his ability and movement; defenders, midfielders and attackers alike take great risks in play due to the trust they hold with Bertrand. This confidence allows the left side of the field to play in the instinctive manner that has been drilled into their minds through Koeman. This instinctive and fast paced football is the play that we have grown to love.

Where as 19 year old Matt Targett desperately relies on self confidence – of which he has lacked – and the trust of his team-mates in order to perform well; both of which Bertrand holds in abundance. During Targett’s forced promotion to the starting line up, we have seen two sets of performances. One being a shaky and error prone youngster, the better side being an expressive and positive player that lives up to the Southampton academy reputation. In fixtures such as Norwich (Home) and Vitesse (Away) we have seen the brighter sides to his game, but for now those performances come around all too little.  

So, upon the inevitable occurrence of Bertrand reclaiming his starting spot, what could be next for Targett?

The club could look to give Targett the same chance that Gallagher, Stephen’s and Turnbull are currently experiencing on a loan spell; whilst this may be effective for the growth of Targett as an individual, it would damage the squad depth in turn and therefore force the club to bump into some avoidable transfer expenses. Combine this financial irresponsibility with Southampton’s academy ambitions and this looks like a weak possibility.

Instead, I expect to see Targett reinstalled in his role as backup. During his recent run of Premier League fixtures you could easily argue that as just a raw talent, Targett’s demands have been all too high. At such a young age he has been thrown into the starting line up with the responsibility/expectation that comes with it, all whilst he has no genuine competition. Being just 19 years old, competition is key in the unfortunate event of falling out of depth; this added bonus of quality is a safety net for the morale and health of a youngster, a safety net that Targett has had to deal without.

We have seen flashes and flickers of his talent during Bertrand’s absence and provided he stays within the first team plans, he has much more to learn from a manager who knows it all about defending. As for Bertrand, a player of his quality surrounded by the talents on show at St Mary’s will only continue to star in the red and white stripes. Perhaps Bertrand can mentor Mathew to keep him on Targett?

 

James Ward-Prowse: Is It Time To Kick Off Under Koeman?

Coming off the back of an incredible performance against Norwich City, James Ward-Prowse has been named as the England U21 captain – this reward will see Ward-Prowse take charge on the pitch for the forthcoming Euro qualifier against Norway. Southampton fans would agree that this achievement is a testament to the youngsters recent showings in the red and white stripes. So, is this the moment for Ward-Prowse to truly nail down his starting place?

A mature set of performances, International recognition and a current starting spot in the first team; the 20 year old is certainly doing his career no harm.

Though Victor Wanyama’s tantrum has given a helping hand to Ward-Prowse, it didn’t mean he was guaranteed to fill the boots. Yet here we are, Ronald Koeman shall be dealt a manager’s best nightmare upon the players return from International duty.

In the past two seasons Ward-Prowse has dealt battle with one of the league’s strongest midfield partnerships. Sadly however for the now England U21 captain, it was a partnership that held quality in abundance and rarely fell short of fitness; thus forcing Koeman to predominantly place Ward-Prowse in a less familiar advanced role. Whilst he has undeniably come up with the goods in assists and creativity, his lack of bursting pace, quick feet and poor finishing has left him ineffective when played as an attacking midfielder. His talent is clear to see, but for quite some time now we have been wanting to witness him apply his trade in a more natural position; perhaps a place in the midfield partnership, Ron?

With Morgan Schneiderlin now spending every waking moment studying the almighty Van Gaal “Philosophy” and Wanyama coming out the tail end of a disruptive transfer saga, this really is the moment for the young Portsmouth born boy to earn his spot.

In Southampton’s three nil domination over Norwich City, the La Masia academy star Romeu joined Ward-Prowse in the middle of the park. This partnership seemed to click from the very first whistle as it provided the much needed base to push Southampton onto victory. With both players holding incredible technical ability and an intelligent mind, the two put an end to the hoof ball that Southampton fans have become accustomed to as of late. Instead, fans were treated to the site of a classy Romeu – playing as the anchor from deep – and Ward-Prowse splitting the defence open and co ordinating in perfect harmony. Simply put, it was the perfect midfield balance and if either of the duo were not to start on Southampton’s visit to The Hawthorns, it would be a despicable decision. Fans have labelled the performance as their most attractive in recent games and best of all, it placed a smile back upon the face of Ronald Koeman.

You could easily argue that to see Southampton play in such a positive and attractive fashion is no surprise, given that Ward-Prowse was handed the chance. In previous fixtures we have seen a mistake filled and sluggish paced transition from defence to attack, this has strongly damaged our power at both ends of the field in turn. Most notably, these uninspiring performances have occurred when Wanyama and Steven Davis form a pair; whilst both players hold fantastic attributes in the correct system, they both rely on their physical strengths.

At this point to restore Southampton’s beautiful fluid football they need reassurance and class on the ball. Strangely enough, thats exactly what was shown against Alex Neil’s Norwich last weekend. The young man offers a calming influence on the ball, the ability to switch play over any distance, the intelligence to find space, a positive approach to play and not to mention his beautiful set piece deliveries.

If Ward-Prowse is able to maintain his position in the first team, it would not only be an incredible achievement for him, but also for the fans and the club. It’s a proud moment as a fan to watch over a player and know that he is one of your own, a feeling that as a Southampton fan, will never die.

 

Ronald Koeman: Mess Or Messiah?

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved” – Sun Tzu

I feel like these wise words from Sun Tzu sum up Ronald Koeman’s recent situation perfectly. Everybody can see the tactics that he has deployed in the past few Premier League fixtures, but no one apart from Ronald Koeman himself can fully understand his thoughts. The critics can all criticise (I’m looking at you Trevor Sinclair) but none will know his true intentions. Starting off with what is quite clearly a sore point for Southampton fans, the 0-0 draw away to Watford. Is that the game that could bring us back to basics? The start of the Koeman master-plan?

 

After conceding five goals in the opening two games of the Premier League season, with defending has been incomparable to last season it’s difficult to believe that this is the same side that had one of the best defences in England last season, let alone Europe.

But… upon closer inspection, such poor displays could be understood. Most notably, four of the back five that built the base in Koeman’s army are unavailable through departure and injury. Could the side really expect to kick on in the same manner when fielding an out of depth Matt Targett, a back up in Maya Yoshida and two whole new faces (Marteen Stekelenburg and Cedric Soares). It seems some have forgotten that it will take time to gel and for everything to settle down, the Dutchman has said it himself.

Once the so consistent Ryan Bertrand returns from injury – after the international break – and our mystery big money centre back (Virgil Van Dijk) partners Jose Fonte, our leaky defence can be boarded up once again. But for now, and certainly in the Watford game, Southampton didn’t  have that luxury of added quality.

The 3-5-2 formation that was blasted as ‘naïve’ by the aforementioned Trevor Sinclair added defensive solidity, making Southampton hard to breakdown. For the first time this season, Southampton looked sound and confident that they could keep a side out. Steven Caulker added to this, winning the majority of his aerial duals and bringing confidence to the side; he was fantastic.

Although, in the decision to return solidity at the back, the formation was a sacrifice in attack. This bluntness going forward was certainly not helped with Sadio mane having to go of with slight concussion. Mane is a true game changer and has the ability to produce something special in the dying moments of a game; many would argue he is the only Saints player to hold such traits.

Had Mane stayed on, we could have been discussing the tactical master-class to put Southampton’s first win on the table.

However, because of this unforeseen eventuality, I believe that Koeman wasn’t too far off getting his tactics spot on. The idea was to sit back, hit Watford on the counter and run play through Mane. Southampton could have easily won the game, but that’s football. The game wasn’t about smashing Watford out of the park, the new boys who were apparently there for the taking (which I believe to be quite an offensive stance) are an organised squad that have the ability to cause an upset at the scent of complacency. Despite the outcries of ‘we should be beating them easily’ etc etc, this is a side that drew 2-2 with the same Everton team who beat Southampton 3-0 at St.Mary’s. The game was about getting back to basics and ensuring that Southampton kept a clean sheet.

Moving on from the Watford game, what does Koeman need to do in order to move forward?

The key to success with the current crop of players is to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders. The reason being is that Southampton hold a strong central core which acts as the focus in all stages of play. This strong core is the reason Southampton held such a tight knit defence and penetrative attack last season; the midfield pair act as a second wall in front of the defence whilst also encouraging full back overlaps, plugging the gaps of those who push forward. Not to mention that with a fully fit squad, Southampton will hold variations of the formation for particular games; Jordie Clasie being the option for games in which you expect to dominate in possession and Romeu acting as the destructive midfielder for those hard battling fixtures against the elite.  

The problem in recent games however, is that with the loss of Schneiderlin, Koeman has been playing Steven Davis alongside Wanyama and this has caused chaos in a subtle fashion. Davis is required to carry out roles that simply aren’t a natural part to his game, a square peg in a round hole so to speak. Yet with Romeu – a natural defensive minded midfielder – the balance is restored.

Well… kind of. Its no mystery that Southampton place great importance on the impact of their full backs, but perhaps we didn’t realise quite how important they really are. With Ryan Bertrand injured and Cedric Soares struggling to play back to back games, we’re weakened in quality and the team are less familiar of their surroundings. Not only are our full backs required to keep Skekelenburg’s gloves squeaky clean, they are also a key figure in freeing up space for the forwards and wingers – neither tasks have been carried out in Southampton’s difficult start to the season. Its clear for even the simplest of football fans that Matt Targett, Maya Yoshida, Steven Caulker and Cuco Martina offer half the options that Cedric and Bertrand provide at both ends of the field. Upon return of both full backs starting, I’m certain that Southampton will improve in every department.

For the moment however, Koeman is having to make do and every point gained is a very good one. We cant really tell just how good (or bad) Southampton will be until everyone is back fit and there is the full use of the squad. Only once the option of a fully fit squad arises, can we see our most dangerous front line and strongest defensive showings; then of course everyone will be saying Koeman is The Messiah once again and the best thing since chips and Mayonnaise.
All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. –  remember them when Southampton are flying once more, never question Big Ron , EVER.