Friday, January 20, 2017

Sinking Saints

Right now this post was meant to go out a day earlier but I’ve managed to contract some sort of hybrid of malaria, gonorrhea and man flu so I’ve not been at my best of late. A club who’ve also not been at their best is Southampton (nice segway that wasn’t it?) and today I’m gonna be looking into what’s gone wrong for the Saints this season.
The Saints have got a cracking side haven't they?
Now the St Mary’s side have been one of the consistent improvers since coming back into the Premier League in 2012. In their first season they finished a respectable 14th with Nigel Adkins/Mauricio Pochettino at the helm of the club. Then when Pochettino had a full season in charge the Saints finished in 8th place, I can still remember that lethal attacking trio of Lallana, Lambert and Rodriguez from this season.

The Argentine then moved to Tottenham leaving behind some big shoes for Ronald Koeman to fill. The Dutchman stepped up to the task, getting Southampton to 7th and then 6th in his two years with the club, both years managing to get The Saints Europa League football.

But this season under Claude Puel, the south coast side currently find themselves 13th in the league, gaining 12 points from their last 10 games. Possible reasons for this drop could be Southampton’s transfer dealings, their new manager or even the damage that the Europa League sometimes does to teams.
The new boss, the big cheese, el numero uno, Mr Big, The Godfather,
The Bourne Identity, Edward Scissorhands...where am I going with this?
I’ll start by looking into how they’ve gone on in the transfer market. In the Summer, Southampton let go of Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle. Admittedly losing players of this calibre would have some effect on your side I personally don’t think this is the sole reason for their decline.

Southampton in recent history have had great success in selling players for huge fees and replacing them with players of similar quality for a fraction of the price. In the 15/16 season they sold Schneiderlin for (allegedly) £24 million and Clyne for £12.5 million. These were replaced with Romeu and Clasie, 2 very underrated central midfielders and Cedric Soares, another player who is shockingly underrated.

Similarly in the 14/15 season they let the likes of Lambert (£4 million), Lallana (£25 million) and Luke Shaw (£30 million) go, only to replace them with the likes of Dusan Tadic (£10.9 mil), Graziano Pelle (£8 mil), Sadio Mane (£11.8 mil) and Ryan Bertrand (£10 mil). Some absolute bargains there if ever I’ve seen them! Whoever is in charge of Southampton’s transfers deserves a medal

Now some people may say that their luck has run out but for me they’ve made intelligent signings this season in Redmond and Hojbjerg. I’ve liked Redmond ever since I saw him play for Birmingham in the Europa League a couple of years ago, in my opinion he’s as good as Mane but won’t get perceived as that as he’s English. Hojbjerg on the other hand is unknown to me, looks good from what I’ve seen and could potentially be world class.
~ Sofiane Boufal was another signing but I’ve not seen enough of him to make a decision. I’m sure he’ll be class though ~

The Europa League is the next thing I want to look at. Now I’m one of the people that believe that the Europa League can completely destroy some teams seasons. It happened with Everton last season, Newcastle a couple of years back and it only seems to happen when teams don’t have enough depth in their squad to handle with the added fixtures.

As for Southampton though I don’t think this is the case. With one of the best youth systems in the country and their constant “lack of fear” to use young players in the senior set up, I think The Saints are strong enough to deal with the added pressure of the Europa League.

The last thing I want to review is the manager. Claude Puel came from Ligue 1 after an impressive season last year with OGC Nice, bringing with him a different style of play than Southampton are used to.

I always remember The Saints playing high pressure football, looking to win the ball back as quickly as possible and start another attack. It was a style that was embedded right down to their youth level which again shows why their youth academy has produced so many good players over the years.
~ Side note: it baffles me that clubs have their youth academy play a different style of football to the senior squad. When clubs do this though it shows no clear plan for the future…~

Puel has come in now and has began playing with a much deeper line, inviting pressure only to hit teams on the break. When you use this tactic against the rock and roll football of Liverpool it works...when you use this tactic against the high pressure football that Everton have adopted under’ll get smashed.

For me the difference in tactics from Koeman and Pochettino to Claude Puel is the main factor in Southampton’s drop this season. It’s not that he’s a bad manager, it’s just that he isn’t the right fit for Southampton at this point in time.

So what can the St Mary’s side do to turn their luck around? Well for me they need a new holding midfielder player. I’m guessing most Southampton fans would be happy with who they currently have but last season they were making a lot more interceptions in the middle of the park.
Who would the SOTON fans prefer in their midfield?
Jordy Clasie was making an impressive 2.5 interceptions per game while Victor Wanyama was making an equally impressive 2.3 interceptions per game. This season though Romeu is leading the way in midfield (2.2 per game) whereas the likes of Hojbjerg (1.1) and Clasie (0.9) aren’t quite making the same impact as the holding midfielders last season. This could be down to the new tactic of soaking up pressure.

I also think this may relieve some of the pressure that's on the strikers at the moment. Winning the ball back in midfield and then starting an attack quickly will create more chances for the strikers to work with. And it’s not as Southampton have dreadful strikers.

Shane Long is currently going through a poor spell in front of goal and Jay Rodriguez is looking good but still not the natural goalscorer that The Saints are looking for. For me Charlie Austin is the answer just as long as they can keep him fit. If they were going to sign a striker though, I would suggest Andre Gray from Burnley. Fast, powerful striker who looks lethal given the chances.

Last player they’ll need is a centre back to replace their current captain Jose Fonte. This guy for me is a Southampton legend. He’s a class centre half. To have gone from playing League 1 football to winning the Euro’s with you country in just 7 years is incredible. Even though he’s pissed off a lot of fans trying to force this move I do hope he’s given a big send off.
Love him or hate him he's been class through and through.

But anyways enough about the bad points let's have a look at the good points for Southampton this season! They’re through to the fourth round of the FA Cup facing up against Arsenal, They’re 1-0 up on aggregate against Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final, their youth academy is still firing out wonderkids like McQueen and Sims, they could potentially go ninth in the league if they beat Leicester on Sunday and finally their only 3 points worse off than they were last season…

...Hang on, 3 points worse off? At this time last season they were 12th in the league and still managed to finish 6th? So there might not even be a problem at Southampton? Then why the fuck have I just spent all this time writing this post? God sake…

~ Anyone who enjoyed this please follow me on Twitter @ThePenaltyKing1 or like me on Facebook at ~

Cheers for reading.

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