As if firing blank for the fifth home game this season couldn’t possibly be frustrating enough, Southampton put the cherry on the cake last weekend by allowing Sam Vokes, a self-confessed Southampton fan, to snatch a late winner. The past week has been a tough one for Mauricio Pellegrino.
But whilst these results will certainly be worrying the Argentine boss, his greatest worry should be losing the faith of the fans. Something that (if it hasn’t happened already) appears to be waiting around the corner of our next poor result.
To neutral fans such a suggestion may be seen as premature or indicative of the modern game, and I can certainly understand that. But that’s a view from the outside looking in, and having watched Southampton week in, week out this season, there’s a number of issues that simply have to be addressed for the future of our club.
Just two seasons ago St Mary’s used to be a place of inspiration, where Southampton promised to give just about every and any challenger a true test. We weren’t a free-scoring phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination, but we had our own style and weren’t afraid to impose that on any opponent that made the trip down South.
As we know all too well, however, this is no longer the case. That identity has vanished, and ever since Southampton have been left in what feels like a transitional period.
Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem; except I’m not quite convinced we know what we’re transitioning into.
Despite having over four months to install his own beliefs and ideologies into our players, I’m still none the wiser as to what Pellegrino is striving for.
Pellegrino arrived at the club claiming “with the quality we have we can play exciting, attacking football, taking the game to our opponents by playing a high-intensity game.”
But as time passes, this statement is growing increasingly untrue.
I know that managers need time to implement their own ideas and systems, and therefore I understand that the results won’t come instantly. Reforming the identity and style of a squad certainly isn’t an overnight job.
However, It’s clear as daylight to see that the attacking intent Pellegrino promised just simply isn’t drilled inside our players. Once brave in the final third and willing to take risks, our frontline now fears the sight of goal, growing more and more paranoid as they cautiously enter the box.
On the odd chance that our players do take up a promising position in and around the area, it’s so often wasted as they seemingly begin to fret about their defensive duties and team shape. And whilst this may be the way Pellegrino liked to operate at Alaves or any of his former clubs, it isn’t what he was employed to do, and it certainly isn’t what he promised the fans.
But what is it that’s caused us Southampton fans to lose faith so quickly in Pellegrino, especially compared to Claude Puel?
Whilst the Frenchman’s time on the South Coast didn’t prove to be successful, there was a clearly identifiable plan in place. There was a vision and at the very least we could see what Puel was striving for. We understood that his system would take time, and we bought into the potential of that.
But no identity, no entertainment, and no results? How can we as fans be expected to invest into that?
An effective method of judging a manager’s work is to identify players that have flourished or surpassed expectations under his management, and sadly, this is yet another worrying sign from Pellegrino.
Under Puel, there were a number of players that truly came into their own; Maya Yoshida and Oriol Romeu had their best seasons in a red and white shirt, Cedric Soares finally cemented his place in the starting XI, Nathan Redmond had his greatest goalscoring season to date, and Jack Stephens covered superbly for the injured Virgil Van Dijk.
As for Pellegrino, the only player that I’ve seen perform at a consistently high level this season is Mario Lemina. And even then, I’d say much of that has been down to individual quality and flair, rather than work on the training ground.
The bottom line, however, is that Southampton and Mauricio Pellegrino need to act fact; not only for the safety of the Argentine’s job, but also for the future of our club.
A future that at this moment in time, is failing to shine bright like seasons gone by.