After a return to winning ways with a 4-1 victory over Everton, Southampton fans (for the first time in what feels like a long time) have a number of positives to take away from their sides performance.
We saw fluid football, ruthless finishing, and one of the rarest sights that football holds; a Steven Davis goal from outside the box.
So going into what will be our toughest test of the season so far against Manchester City, what are the greatest positives we can take away from Sunday’s fine performance?
The return of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
Hojbjerg was the beating heart of our midfield throughout the entire 90 minutes against Everton, despite only making just one appearance prior to this. Not only was it a joy to watch him dictate the direction and tempo of the game, but also to get involved in the defensive side too, pressing relentlessly and flying into 50/50’s too. He recorded some delightful stats, too: 121 touches (!), 91.7% pass completion, four tackles, three interceptions.
The importance of our fullbacks
Few teams in the Premier League have better fullbacks than Southampton Football Club, but sadly, this is something we’ve failed to capitalise on so far this season. Last Sunday, however, it was incredibly refreshing to see us have them back on form again.
If we want to play the exciting, fluid football that so many fans fantasise about, then Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand will need to be right at the heart of it.
They worked the channels endlessly, covered their ground at both ends of the pitch and whipped in some delightful crosses.
Having the option to deliver purposeful cross-field balls was a delightful change to our play, as well as their storming overlapping runs in the final third.
Our players believing in both their own and their teammates ability
All too often in recent weeks our front-line and midfield have been paranoid in the final third, scared to be the player that gets caught out and makes that game-changing mistake.
On Sunday, however, we decided to embrace the opportunities that previously we would have turned our nose up at. We took risks in the final third with drilled passes, flicked passes and trickery, choosing for the first time in a long time to truly express ourselves out on the pitch.
The players not only believed in themselves, but in the ability of their teammates too, trusting them to come through with the goods in those all-important moments.
Boufal cementing his place in the starting XI
It’s safe to say that Sofiane Boufal’s career on the south coast has been a rollercoaster so far; it started with sheer ecstasy, placing fans in disbelief at how we obtained such a talent, before they soon turned on him at the first glance of a drop in form.
He’s been labelled as lazy, a luxury player, and (by some) a flop.
But having now been given over a year to adjust to the demands of the Premier League, Boufal now appears to have cemented his place in the starting XI. He’s more relaxed on the ball, more aware of his positioning in the side, and boasts a far greater understanding of his teammates strengths – his relationship with Ryan Bertrand has the potential to be an extremely dangerous asset.
He’s dropped his desperation to impress the fans, which often led to him over complicating play, and in return, he’s become a far more calculated and intelligent player on the ball.
There’s never been any doubt surrounding his ability, but now he’s been given a consistent string of appearances and trust from the boss, he’s been able to iron out his inconsistencies. Who would have guessed it, eh?
Ward-Prowse fighting for his place in the side
Whilst Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Charlie Austin grabbed the headlines over the weekend, there was another player that’s been starved of opportunities who conducted an incredibly mature performance; James Ward-Prowse.
When you’ve got players with natural flair such as Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal on the field, you often need someone that can bring balance and stability to the midfields shape. Someone that holds their position, recycles play, and is tactically disciplined.
On Sunday James Ward-Prowse showed that he has the potential to be that player. If he can bring the stability that allows our flair players to flourish, then Mauricio Pellegrino will be helpless in looking to Ward-Prowse as a regular first team option.
It’s also worth noting that he’s familiar in this role too, having played it under Claude Puel in the later stages of last season.