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Targett flourishing at Fulham under Jokanovic

Since making his debut for Southampton’s first-team back in August 2014, Matt Targett has wormed his way into the starting line-up on a number of occasions through injuries, rotation and systematic changes. But ultimately, he’s failed to ever truly cement his place in the starting XI, and is it any wonder with England International Ryan Bertrand as competition? 

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So with Targett being 22-years-old, and Southampton desperately struggling for form, the club came to the conclusion that a loan spell elsewhere would be best for his development.

Such a decision would only prove valuable, however, if Targett’s receiving regular game-time and playing an attractive brand of football, that fits in with Southampton’s ethos (even if our first-team are currently failing to do the latter).

His destination? Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham, and since joining on the 22nd of January 2018, It’s fair to say that this deal has worked out perfectly for all parties involved.

So join us as we speak with Fulham fan and sports journalist, Rhys Daly, to find out how Targett’s settling into life in London.

What were yours and the Fulham fan bases initial thoughts when Matt Targett joined?

All the fans were delighted when he signed. From the start of the window it was clear we only needed a left-back and a centre-forward, something the board listened to and achieved.

At the start of the season we signed Rafa Soares on loan from Porto and I had high expectations of him. To my disappointment, Soares failed to achieve match fitness and force himself into the side, which left Ryan Sessegnon as our only player comfortable playing in that position.

How have Fulham fans taken to Targett so far?

Despite only making five starts, Fulham fans love him. His role gives Sessegnon freedom to play on the wing with security behind him. Having said that, Targett has been far more than just a shield; he likes to get forward and deliver crosses and even got on the scoresheet away to Bolton.

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What have been his greatest strengths?

I’ve been particularly impressed with his 1v1 defending. Even though he is only 22, you can see he has experience at a higher level each time he plays.

Has he shown any areas of weakness so far?

The only weakness I’ve seen came against Bristol City last Wednesday. He wasn’t directly at fault but their goal but it did come down the left side. He limped off injured but the club are yet to announce the severity of it so I expect it’s just an impact problem.

What type of role and responsibilities has Slavisa Jokanovic handed Targett?

The combination of having a more balanced defence all while giving Sessegnon more freedom is already crucial to our chances of promotion. Jokanovic will have certainly told Targett how important he is and he will probably be thriving off being a key cog in the machine.

Given that he’s made over 20 Premier League appearances for Southampton since 2014, have you been able to tell that he’s plied his trade in England’s top division?  

His Premier League experience has given him so much confidence, I would say he isn’t far from being a regular in the top division and slightly unlucky to have not played more there already.

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And finally, from what you’ve seen so far, would you be interested in retaining Targett’s services? And if so, do you think it’s possible?

Fans would be ecstatic if we could sign Targett permanently. If we don’t go up and Southampton stay in the Premier League I would be very surprised if a deal would be reached. In the few appearances that he’s made for us he’s been in the WhoScored Team of the Week twice and the EFL Team of the Week over three successive weeks. As well as many other clubs, Southampton will be aware of just how well he is performing.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

West Bromwich Albion vs Southampton F.C. – An FA Cup preview

Just under two weeks ago, these same two sides met at The Hawthornes in a relegation six pointer, which arguably served up one of the games of 2018 so far. Southampton came out on top in a 3-2 win over WBA, and in doing so, clawed back some pride and managed to put themselves in a much better position in the fight for survival.

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So let’s fast forward two weeks; Southampton are back in the relegation zone after a dire display against Liverpool, and West Brom have all but given up in their fight for survival, should their fans on twitter be believed. So what’s in store for the FA Cup 5th round tie?

In an ideal world Southampton would play some young guns and those that have not featured as much, and in turn rest some of our more important players. However, that is unlikely to happen. Due to Pellegrino’s tactical incompetence, we’ve offered few curve balls via team selection and formation this season, meaning Southampton will most likely line-up in a deep 4-2-3-1 formation, looking to absorb pressure and win the game 1-0. Our next Premier League fixture takes place exactly a week on from this FA Cup clash, so I naturally expect few changes to be made against the Baggies.

Pellegrino’s team will most likely lineup as follows:

McCarthy, Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, Romeu, Lemina, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg, Tadic, Carrillo.

Pellegrino will most likely continue with the same back four that has leaked goals all season and in recent weeks has seemed fatigued, despite our crunch fixtures in the fight for premier league survival

Hojbjerg, for some reason unbeknownst to me will likely act as the furthest forward of the three central midfielders, as Pellegrino likes to play him as support behind Carrillo – again something that seems at best illogical.

Tadic and Ward-Prowse will look to provide the width, despite both players being more-suited to central roles, and look to cross the ball into our target man, Carrillo.

Boufal may well find his way into the starting XI, however, after being dropped against Liverpool last weekend. If I had my way though, he’d be saved for our trip to Turf Moor. Burnley are a team that have mastered the deep block and that’s something that Boufal specialises in breaking down. 

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My starting XI would look something like this, in a Koeman-esque 4-3-3:

Forster, Pied, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Davis, Redmond, Sims, Gabbiadini.

In defence, I think Forster needs another run out, and the cup is the perfect opportunity, alongside Yoshida and Pied, who need to replace Cedric and Hoedt after the pair’s poor run of form, as both also seem to be fatigued.

In this formation we allow Romeu to sit and hold so he can regain his confidence after what’s quite frankly been a poor season by his standards. Davis and Hojbjerg will then act as two box-to-box midfielders, with one sitting deeper as one pushes forward (and vice-versa). Davis needs some game-time, and whilst Lemina has been in better form than most, he needs to be saved for our crunch Premier League fixtures, especially after our knock in confidence against Liverpool.

Finally, our frontline definitely needs a mixup, I think that Redmond, Sims and Gabbiadini would provide a breath of fresh air, in a dreary and lacklustre strike force. I would hope that we’d play some flowing football, start to hit low-crosses for Gabbiadini’s front-post runs, with Redmond and Sims swapping wings in order to confuse defenders.

In spite of the fact that West Brom are in troubles of their own, and that Saints beat them just two weeks ago, I fully expect a 1-1 draw and a replay. Neither team will want to be overzealous in their attempts to win the game, given their dire straits in the Premier League, so will likely rest players and look to keep it tight and win by a slim margin, but I can see both teams cancelling each other out. Predicted goal scorers: Jay Rodriguez (WBA) and Tadic (Saints).

Jay Rodriguez and Southampton: The end of the road

After five years wearing red and white, it’s now been confirmed that Jay Rodriguez will be making the switch to West Bromwich Albion, in a deal worth £12M.

The transfer itself comes as a surprise to very few Southampton fans, who over the past 24 months have watched Rodriguez fight to rediscover his 2013-14 season form.

But despite failing to do so, this is a departure that’s been been left on wonderful terms, with each and every Southampton fan wishing nothing but the best for Jay, and rightly so too…

Rodriguez signed for the Saints in the summer of 2012 for a fee of £7M, as Nigel Adkins’ Southampton prepared for their return to the top flight.

With the pressure of fighting for survival, Rodriguez managed to show glimpses of his physical edge and positive movement, only for his unrefined technique and nerves in front of goal to let him down. The talent was there for all to see, but this diamond desperately needed polishing, having recorded just six League goals from 35 appearances.

But with the departure of Adkins – the man who placed his faith in Jay – there came the arrival of a certain Mauricio Pochettino, and this was the moment that we began to see the very best of Jay Rodriguez.

With a full pre-season under the Argentinian, Rodriguez had been endlessly drilled, physically pushed and given a vital responsibility in the way that Pochettino wanted his side to play.

The skinny forward that only 12 months ago would be bullied to the ground in aerial duels, was now leaping high-above 6ft 4in centre-halves as he sinks the ball into the back of the net. And that same player who would once crumble as he bares down on goal with just the keeper to beat, was now cooly slotting the ball home without a moment’s hesitation.

Operating as an inside forward from the left, Rodriguez was wreaking havoc upon the Premier League’s strongest defences, linking up effortlessly with Rickie Lambert through the middle, and showing the intelligence to stretch defences in wide areas.

With 15 League goals in just 33 appearances, Rodriguez was showing no sign of slowing down as the end of the season edged nearer. Having already made his England debut in mid November of that season, there was huge talk of Rodriguez being the wildcard selection in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

He was in the finest form of his career so far, but then it all came crashing down…

On the 5th of April 2014 against Manchester City, Rodriguez leapt to control a high ball in the air, only to writhe in pain as his feet touched back down on the ground.

The Etihad filled with a painful silence, as the Southampton players rushed to surround Rodriguez in shock of what they had just witnessed. They knew it was bad news from the moment he touched the ground, and the stretcher on the field just moments later only confirmed that.

News broke instantly amongst us Southampton fans, who were feeling every bit of Rodriguez’s pain. Our club had only been back in the top flight for a single season, and here we had a player who was helping to put us back on the football map, all whilst dreaming of representing his country on the biggest stage that football can offer.

I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t emotional watching his childhood dream be crushed before our very eyes.

Rodriguez had suffered a rupture to his anterior cruciate ligament, and was told that he would face the next 11 months on the sidelines. His World Cup dreams were well and truly over.

Rodriguez was about to endure the biggest challenge of his career to date, both physically and mentally. He would go on to face setback after setback, scare after scare, and even for a short time, have doubts over whether he would ever play the game again.

But after sixteen brutal, agonising months, having missed the entirety of the 2014/15 campaign, Rodriguez was once again ready to step back out onto St Mary’s.

It was chilling to watch him re-enter the field as a Saint, knowing full well just how deep and cruelly his strength had been tested over the last 16 months.

And whilst over the past two years Rodriguez has been a shadow of his 2013/14 self, it’s made me realise that there is far more to football than just results and goals. For all the players that come and go from St Mary’s, here we have a player who was giving his all just to one day wear those red and white stripes again.

Even after all that time on the sidelines waiting, Rodriguez still maintained a focused and determined attitude when both Ronald Koeman and Claude Puel starved him of game time; no running to the press, no moaning and certainly no drama. Jay’s only focus was getting back out onto that pitch, to repay the Southampton fans for their endless support through his recovery.

Over the past 24 months, Rodriguez has tried time and time again to once again make an attacking role his own, but sadly, his efforts came to no avail. Without the physicality to play as a lone number nine, the pace to play as a winger, or the technical ability to play just off the forward, Rodriguez has often been consigned to the bench.

But by no means am I suggesting that he’s no longer capable of being an effective Premier League footballer. For a while now, he’s been missing a number of vital components that help to aid development; a manager that trusts him, a single role in the side and a consistent run of games. At West Bromwich Albion it appears that Tony Pulis has promised him exactly that.

For the wonderful memories, professionalism throughout, and his pride in being a Saint, I would love nothing more than to see Rodriguez back amongst the goals; just not against us, alright Jay?

Player profile: Jan Bednarek

It’s now been confirmed that Southampton Football Club have made their first acquisition of the summer, with the purchase of Lech Poznan’s Jan Bednarek. 

The 21-year-old joins the club on a five-year-deal, for a fee that’s believed to be in the region of €6m, rising to €8M. But rather than sitting here and rambling away as if I know about our latest signing, I spoke to a man who does; Christopher Lash.

First and foremost, what can we look forward to in Bednarek? 

Well, he’s probably the best young defender in his position in Poland.  He’s relatively quick, decent on the ball, pretty good in the air, quite strong, and in general a pretty aware central defender. He only really broke through into the Lech first team this season, and he became a key defensive player as the club rose up the league after a poor start.

Are there any defenders that you would compare him to? 

He’s better on the ball than your average central defender, so in that respects you could compare him more to the John Stones/Rio Ferdinand model. But he’s also good in the air and strong, so he has the kind of capabilities required for more typical central defensive work as well.

What weaknesses has he shown? 

Lots, unfortunately. He’s been a key defender in the Polish league for Lech this season, making a lot of pundits’ team of the year and it’s clear that he has a lot of potential, but there are a lot of areas in which he needs to improve. His anticipation can go missing at key times in games and his positional play is a bit haphazard.  For a big guy, he can sometimes be bullied off the ball by opposing strikers. All of this can be coached out of him and he’s only 21, so Southampton are buying mostly based on what he could turn into, rather than what he is now. But don’t be surprised to see him make quite a large number of mistakes if he’s thrown into the deep end.

How has Bednarek performed at International level? 

He’s not made his debut for the full international side yet, although there have been strong rumours that he will make the Poland squad in the autumn as the Polish team moves inexorably towards the World Cup Finals in Russia.  He has played a lot at youth levels though and was a key member of the u-21 side in the recent European championships hosted in Poland.  He didn’t have a particularly good tournament (but then neither did the rest of Poland’s squad), getting sent off in one match and making a number of mistakes that led to goals (the non-squeamish can look up his mistake which led to Slovakia’s winning goal in Poland’s opening match).  The most important thing is Poland’s NT coach Adam Nawałka firmly has his eye on him and he should have a fine international career.

Has he had to face any challenges or great pressure in his short career so far?

Well I’d say he’s done very well to win a starting place in Lech’s first team after not being considered a key player even last summer, so that’s definitely a challenge he’s overcome.  The recent u-21 championships were a big challenge for him, but one that he didn’t really pass with flying colours. All good experience though.

What do you make of the reported €6M fee rising to €8M?

It’s a massive fee to be honest and will break the transfer record for a player transferred out of the Polish league.  In that respect there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him, especially from the Polish media who will be checking on his progress pretty intensely.  I’d say in some ways the media hype of the move from the Polish side might be just as difficult as the jump in class that he’s going to experience in the English league.  I suppose we’ll see if he has a mature head on his shoulders because he’s going to need to be level-headed to succeed with all the pressure he will be under.

Finally, what do you think of Southampton as a destination for Bednarek’s development?

Hopefully it will be a perfect match.  As you know Southampton are renowned for being a club that brings through young talent and so, in that respect, Bednarek couldn’t be headed to a better club.  The big worry in Poland is that Bednarek will go the way of Kapustka who couldn’t break through whatsoever at Leicester and looked a shadow of his former self at the U-21 championships recently. I wouldn’t expect Bednarek break through straightaway but hopefully Southampton will be able to provide him with the know-how and coaching to advance the level of his play appropriately.

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.

Analysis: James Ward-Prowse’s latest role under Claude Puel

An England call up, a goal at the weekend, and arguably in the finest form of his Southampton career so far – like so many other academy graduates before him, James Ward-Prowse is truly starting to turn potential into performance.

Following a 3-1 defeat to West Ham on the 4th of February, Claude Puel opted for a 4231 system ahead of his side’s visit to the Stadium of Light – a decision that would see Southampton play with organisation, bravery, and attacking flair, in a promising 4-0 win away from home. It was clear for all to see that Southampton now had a platform to build upon with this change in system, and consequently, this formation carried over into the League Cup final against Manchester United.

Southampton ensured to play their own style for large quantities of the game, having the confidence to effectively dominate possession and counter against a robust Jose Mourinho set up. Southampton had proven that they weren’t phased by the occasion, and left each and every fan proud at the final whistle, despite going on to lose 3-2. Just six days later however, a spirited Southampton side once again returned against Watford, removing any doubt of cup final heartbreak with a 4-3 victory.

As for last weekend, Southampton tasted defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, but not for the want of trying. Puel’s side put in a stellar second half performance and asked all kinds of questions from a team that hasn’t lost at home since May 2016; any guesses for who that defeat came against?

But whilst Manolo Gabbiadini’s goals have obviously taken the headlines, the balance and creativity that Ward-Prowse currently offers has been vital to this season changing form.

Quite simply, Claude Puel has identified Ward-Prowse’s greatest strengths on the field, and is aiming to utilise them as much as physically possible.

Operating as the right-sided midfielder in a 4231 system (right), Puel is able to make the most of Ward-Prowse’s greatest skill sets; his wide passing range, his crossing ability, and his reading of the game.

When playing as a central midfielder in the Premier League, Ward-Prowse would often lack the physicality and intensity required to string together a number of consistently strong performances. But in this particular role as a right midfielder, Ward-Prowse’s need for physicality and a high intensity is greatly reduced, allowing him to play in a system that is better suited to his natural strengths.

Within the frontline, each player has their own tailor-made responsibilities. Gabbiadini’s role is to find space in the box, Tadic is the sides main creative outlet, Redmond is there to ask questions of the defence with his pace, whilst Ward-Prowse is there to distribute and create effectively.

Puel doesn’t want Ward-Prowse to try any fancy tricks, or even aim to beat his man. Instead, he wants Ward-Prowse to receive the ball in high and wide areas that are ideal for his immense deliveries. Simply take a look at the image below from Southampton’s Cup Final clash against Manchester United – Ward-Prowse hunted for space in a wide area and is now setting himself up to play a first time cross into the feet of Gabbiadini.

This is a series of play that I expect to become a regular feature in Puel’s Southampton side, especially with Gabbiadini’s illusive movement.

Using pass maps from the excellent 11tegen11, we are able to see Ward-Prowse’s average position on the ball, number of touches in comparison to teammates, and the number of passes to fellow teammates.

As shown on the right, Ward-Prowse’s average position on the ball in the game against Sunderland is extremely advanced. In fact, he is level with our centre forward, Gabbiadini. This reinforces my assumption of Puel’s demands from Ward-Prowse, as clearly he is being instructed to initially receive the ball in dangerous advanced areas.

If we once again look to the pass map, we can also see that Ward-prowse and Cedric Soares are exchanging passes and connecting on a regular basis (as illustrated by the larger arrows between one another). Given that the full backs are a vital attacking component in Puel’s system, this is extremely encouraging.

Cedric has received plenty of praise in recent weeks, and perhaps Ward-Prowse’s availability off the ball has helped him to attack so effectively. Ward-prowse has the option to either send Cedric down the line to deliver a cross, or to whip the ball in himself from a Cedric cut back – both of which have proven to be consistently threatening in recent fixtures.

This pass map isn’t an anomaly either, as my analysis also fits into the narrative of the Tottenham Hotspur and Watford pass maps too.

When needed, the 22-year-old is even able to slot into the midfield with Oriol Romeu and Steven Davis, for those particularly tough periods in a game when midfield dominance is key.

And of course, with Ward-Prowse now starting most games, there is also the added benefit of being able to utilise his sensational set-piece deliveries. Within the Premier League, only Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Eriksen spring to mind as being superior in that department.

For the first time in his Southampton career, it appears that Ward-Prowse is having the system altered to his game, rather than altering his game to the system. It’s a promising change that with continual support and guidance from Claude Puel, can hopefully take one of England’s brightest young talents to the next level.