Manolo Gabbiadini’s start to life on the South Coast couldn’t have gone any better when he cemented his place as a fan favourite at Wembley on just his third appearance for the club. But these past few months have been quite the turn of fate for the Italian.
Despite maintaining a professional attitude throughout, training hard and gracefully accepting his place on the bench, Mauricio Pellegrino’s continued to starve the forward of first-team opportunities, initially in favour of the in-form Charlie Austin, and since then, Shane (three lungs) Long.
The reasons behind this decision have been quite the topic of discussion amongst the Southampton fan-base, but with the clubs acquisition of Guido Carrillo, a 6ft 2 Argentinian centre forward, we’ve been offered our best explanation yet…
Since taking over as Saints manager, It’s safe to say that Pellegrino’s failed at forming an effective and coherent front-line, often turning to rotation in the hope that one of these days, something will just click into place. But one player that appeared unfazed throughout all of this apparent unrest is Charlie Austin, who simply went about business as usual under the Argentinian.
The Englishman’s recorded an xG of 5.53 in just 587 minutes – the highest of any Southampton player this season. Meanwhile, Manolo Gabbiadini’s xG stands at 1.76 in 921 minutes of game-time. That’s over three times more than the Italian in almost half the amount of minutes.
Just a matter of hours before Carrillo’s arrival had been officially announced, Pellegrino claimed that Carrillo has the qualities to replace the profile of Austin, and that the front-man “Has a big body, can hold the ball and is good in the air.”
Through looking at these comments and statistics, it’s clear as day for anyone to see that Austin’s fine form encouraged Pellegrino to chase Carrillo – a player who clearly boasts similar qualities to the former QPR man.
And this is where we find our possible explanation for Gabbiadini’s lack of game-time…
The Italian’s at his best operating between the lines, making smart illusive movements or spinning off the shoulder of his man. He typically aims to lose his marker in the box rather than physically challenge them, and consequently this means that his teammates must constantly be aware of his movement – something we’ve failed to do consistently since his remarkable start in red and white. He’s not fast, nor particularly strong, but he gains his edge over his opponent through his intelligent movement.
Pellegrino, however, clearly has very different demands of how he wants his forward to play. As mentioned in his presser on the morning that Carrillo signed, the Argentinian wants his front-man to boast a big frame, be capable of playing with his back to goal and physically challenge defenders in the box.
These qualities aren’t in Gabbiadini’s natural skill set, and perhaps this goes some way to explaining how Long has so often been given the nod over him. Despite having a disastrous goal scoring record over the past 12 months, it seems that Pellegrino believes Long meets more of his physical demands of a centre forward, and even if you don’t agree with him (which for the record, I don’t) it’s worth trying to understand his logic at the very least.
Austin’s never been the most technical player and playing his part in build up play isn’t exactly his forte, but regardless of this, he still acted as a focal point for Pellegrino’s side. He was someone that the squad were able to turn to at any stage in the game to work around, and was guaranteed to put his body on the line if a chance came his way. I think Pellegrino’s seen shades of this in Carrillo.
The Argentinian boss clearly liked the options that Austin – our most dangerous forward this season – provided for the team, and as a result, he’s selected a forward of a similar profile and style to be the man that steers us clear of safety.
Every part of me wants Gabbiadini to once again start firing on all cylinders – any sane Southampton fan would no doubt want the same – but ultimately, this is about our future as a Premier League club. This is about survival, and in my mind, that translates to giving the manager at this moment in time the best tools possible for the job. If Pellegrino perceives that to be playing Carrillo over our mismanaged gem from Italy, then so be it.