Tag Archives: Manchester City

Alex McCarthy: waiting in the wings

Rewind to just under eight weeks ago and Southampton had been mauled by Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs on Boxing Day, with Fraser Forster doing little by the way of prevention. The England International had been in dire form for a number of months at this stage, but with ‘no competition’ waiting in the wings, a number of Southampton fans were hesitant for change. Oh, how wrong they were.

Embed from Getty Images

Since being handed his first genuine opportunity to represent the Saints (which for the record kicked off with a clean-sheet against Manchester United) Alex McCarthy has quite frankly been faultless in goal for Southampton F.C.

Behind any resilient defence is a man between the sticks who the backline can trust, and while our defensive fragilities are still far from being solved, McCarthy’s sheer presence has given us a stronger core defensively.

Earlier in the season we were let down all too often by Fraser Forster, who continually failed to step up when we needed him most. Whenever the pressure began to pile on to the Saints, Forster retreated mentally and appeared to already accept defeat in claiming a cross, rushing off his line or getting down low.

There’s no denying his capabilities, after all, he still holds the record for our longest run without conceding a goal in the top flight – 708 minutes. But he was clearly no longer in that same mental state and we simply couldn’t afford to gamble on his return to form any longer. It’s gutting to see Forster go backwards, but in truth, we haven’t looked back since.

Embed from Getty Images

Perhaps one of the greatest compliments we can pay McCarthy is that at a time when Mauricio Pellegrino’s team-sheets are slandered and questioned on a weekly basis, McCarthy’s name has never once been mentioned.

Fans were initially shocked when he was handed his Premier League debut at Old Trafford, simply because Pellegrino had finally decided to show some courage in a decision, but since then, he’s arguably been the first name on the Argentinian’s team-sheet.

Last weekend’s FA Cup performance against West Bromwich Albion proved exactly why.

The clip shown above perfectly illustrates the impact that McCarthy’s had on our side already. The scoreline at the time of Krychowiak’s deflected effort was 1-0 to the Saints, and just one minute later we went up the other end to double our lead. These are the tight margins that truly count in football, and in all honesty, these are the moments where Forster failed to show his worth this season.

Were yet to gain truly detailed statistics of McCarthy’s impact on Pellegrino’s side, due to the 28-year-old only playing his part in ten fixtures over all competitions, but the early signs are certainly encouraging.

Southampton have recorded two losses and three clean sheets in our ten fixtures with McCarthy, which is in stark contrast to Forster’s final ten games, where he recorded zero clean sheets and faced defeat on six separate occasions.

And with thanks to research provided by Euan Dewar, we’re also able to see that McCarthy’s seriously helped with getting the ball to safety following a save too.

No other team in the Premier League has conceded more goals than Southampton directly following a save from their keeper this season. The point still stands when you extend the scope to ten seconds after the save too. But since McCarthy’s come into the side, we’ve only conceded one goal that meets the criteria, which for the record, was a stunning tipped-save onto the crossbar that was bundled in on the rebound against Watford.

Embed from Getty Images

But sometimes in football, you don’t need stats to prove your point; sometimes the difference is just there for all to see, and that’s certainly been the case with McCarthy. Despite knowing full well that he was considered the second choice keeper at the club, McCarthy snatched the opportunity handed to him with both hands, took his place between the sticks and instantly oozed confidence.

With my hand on my heart, I can honestly say that from his early showings so far, I’m yet to see a single standout weakness to his game. He’s been assertive with every cross that he’s had to claim, been decisive with every shot fired his way, and rushed off his line at every available opportunity. Not to mention that his distributions been more than capable too – a quality that’s long overdue from a Southampton keeper, given that we pride ourselves on playing attractive football in all areas of the field.

At a time when it’s all too easy to hide away and not take responsibility for the position that we find ourselves in, McCarthy’s truly stepped up and decided that enough is enough. Long may it continue.

With judgment day for our top-flight status just around the corner, McCarthy serves as a fine example to our squad of what can happen if you believe in your ability and take your chances.

Manolo Gabbiadini: a victim of Pellegrino’s centre forward demands?

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Southampton must get midfield pairing right against Manchester City

Oriol Romeu has been tenacious all season-long, providing exceptionally timed tackles and interceptions in front of Southampton’s back four. But when we take on Manchester City, Romeu will be serving the second of a two-match ban. Can our midfield contain the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva?

Should Pierre-Emile Højbjerg replace Steven Davis? Højbjerg is certainly a gifted and intelligent footballer, coming to Southampton by way of Bayern Munich. He has an all-around game, and he is capable of making timely interceptions as well as spraying long balls to surging wingers. Højbjerg was superb against West Brom, reaching an 88 percent pass completion, winning two aerial duels and two tackles.

Steven Davis, while not perhaps possessing the technical ability of PEH, may be be able to provide senior leadership and stability in a game against one of the strongest sides in the Premier League. It should also be noted that Davis performed very well in Southampton’s victory against a dangerous Crystal Palace, providing an assist for Nathan Redmond.

Ultimately, Claude Puel may decide to give the nod to Højbjerg in order for him to gain experience in relatively low-stakes contest versus a top-quality side. But if the Dane is to find success on the pitch come Saturday, he will need assistance from Jordy Clasie.

Clasie, like Højbjerg, had an outstanding match against the Baggies, scoring a fantastic goal from outside the box. He managed an 84 percent pass completion and made three tackles. In this particular match, though, Southampton had the majority of possession, taking pressure off of the midfield pair of Clasie and Højbjerg. This will surely not be the case against Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

Expect Guardiola’s men to play with their usual, possession-based style, with David Silva pulling the strings in between the lines. City’s players, especially their attackers, play with fluidity and intricacy. Southampton’s defensive midfielders will need to display a strong sense of positional awareness to contain their movement.

City will almost certainly have their chances against our defence, but their own defence has had issues all season long. There will be opportunities for Southampton to penetrate and create chances on the counter, and if Gabbiadini is to return, his exceptional movement will pose many problems for a young John Stones and returning Vincent Kompany.

If Southampton are to come away from this contest with more than a draw, our midfield pairing must be at their very best. The recent form of Højbjerg and Clasie suggests they should start this Saturday at Saint Mary’s–these lads are more than up for the challenge.