Posts Tagged ‘Southampton’

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This has been very much a fascinating season in the Premier League, with goals aplenty being fired in to raise the excitement levels at both the top and bottom of the table.

There may be no surprise package like Leicester City this season, but the gap separating the top six sides in the division stands at just ten points at the time of writing, with each one having enjoyed spells of playing fine football and scoring freely.

Goals are a major part of football of course. Without goals, teams don’t win games and therefore don’t win titles. And yet there seems to be an even bigger affinity towards goals and goalscorers than ever, with the currency of definitive strikes earning players more plaudits than they necessarily deserve.

 

Defenders for instance appear to gain far more credence for their contributions at the other end of the pitch, than for doing their job in preventing the goals going in at the other end of the pitch.

For instance, Nathan Ake was tipped to become a roaring success when he returns to Chelsea next season, touted for a first-team berth after scoring twice in three games. These goals came in Bournemouth’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Liverpool and their defeat to Southampton, and marks an impressive achievement for a defender to score in such regular fashion.

The point however is that Bournemouth conceded three times in both of those matches. Despite Ake giving some extra impetus to the attacking ranks going forward, he was also part of a defence that shipped six goals in 180 minutes. Yet Ake was being talked about as potentially forcing his way into a Chelsea defence that was already into their extraordinary run of victories, with an incredibly lean defensive record at the heart of that.

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Nathan Ake to walk into this current Chelsea team? Please…

Virgil van Dijk is another who has benefitted from an impressive record in front of goal, which his prowess earning him links to the majority of the top clubs in England, should he look to leave Southampton.

While he has always proved competent at the back as well, it was not until he started scoring goals as well that those rumours arose. An article written after The Saints’ recent 4-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur claimed van Dijk’s stock had risen after scoring the opener, absolving from any blame for the following capitulation against a side who had a less than stellar record away from home this season.

It was not until he had managed the ultimate disgrace by being sent off late on in the next home defeat to West Brom that he was finally called out on a poor run of form, with Charlie Nicholas freed of the shackles of praise to criticise his recent performances. His display against Spurs saw him easily beaten to the ball by Dele Alli for Spurs’ equaliser, before a dreadful waft of a leg during Victor Wanyama’s surge into the box saw fellow centre-back Jose Fonte forced into a last-ditch block.

Defenders who rarely score seem to receive less praise than those more successful at the other end of the pitch, with the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Jan Vertonghen and even Ragnar Klavan overlooked for their performances this campaign.

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Would Van Dijk be as highly rated without the regular goals?

It’s not just defenders who are able to paper over cracks with goals however. The aforementioned Alli has perhaps avoided censure for some of his displays this season due to his ability to pop up with a goal every now and then. He has perhaps not been as creative as some of his fellow attacking midfielders however, with even Harry Kane creating more chances this season.

Paul Pogba likewise was receiving heavy criticism until he started finding the back of the net, with only goals deemed worthy of ‘paying back the transfer fee’. It feels ridiculous that no successful passes, tackles or simple positional awareness is worthy of being considered fiscally appropriate, despite those all being important parts of midfielder’s job.

Then you come to the propensity of pundits and co-commentators to simply pick goalscorers as their winners of the Man of the Match award, frequently referring them to having ‘turned the game’ with their goal, essentially picking a moment of the match, as opposed to somebody who has enjoyed 90 minutes of all-round play.

One instance that sticks in the memory (sorry Saints fans, I don’t mean to pick on you) was Southampton’s 3-0 victory over West Ham this season, in which the co-commentator gave the award to Charlie Austin, despite claiming he barely touched the ball in the opening 40 minutes before his opener. Despite players like Oriol Romeu, Ryan Bertrand and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg distinctly enjoying superior games, it was the one stick out moment for that particular pundit (name escapes me) and the opening scorer was given the award.

 

As stated, goals are important to win football matches and I would never knock any player for scoring goals and aiding their team’s efforts to win a game.

However there are many different facets to winning a game of football and goals are just one part of it. Too much attention is solely paid to that part of things, allowing many players to paper over the cracks in their game by merely contributing to that final 5% of the match.

 

Share the same views? Or vary from that passionately? Feel free to add your comments below!

John Carver

No more John Carver, nut Newcastle continue to draw focus

The football season is back! Rejoice! The tedium that is the close season and the rubbish that fills our newspapers and websites desperate to fill column inches is finally at an end, and we can focus on the football itself. Well, nearly. I’m looking at you Daily Mail.

The Premier League has opted to kick-off at the same time as the other divisions in England this season due to a major tournament appearing next summer and it looks set to be potentially the most interesting season in a while, with a number of teams well equipped to mount a title challenge and nobody looking quite weak enough to be dead certs for the drop. 

Thus I have compiled a quick preview of every side in the division, rated and/or slated their summer transfer activity and attempted the fools’ game of predicting where they will end up. Enjoy and feel free to add your own comments at the bottom! 

Here is part three, taking us from Newcastle to Sunderland:

Steve McClaren

Can Steve McClaren restore pride to the Toon Army?

Newcastle United

Last Season: 15th

Transfers In: Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV), Aleksander Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba (Anderlecht), Ivan Tonev (Northampton)

Transfers Out: Jonas Gutierrez (Realeased), Ryan Taylor (Hull), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff, Loan), Adam Armstrong (Coventry, Loan)

It was an important summer for Newcastle this year, as they desperately required to repair the ill-feeling that has surrounded the club of late and saw them go from comfortable mid-table to requiring a last day victory to assure their top flight status.

Caretaker manager John Carver has thankfully been axed from the club after a string of ridiculous comments made the club look even more daft in the eyes of the neutral, and they have entrusted Steve McClaren as the man to lead them onwards and upwards, despite botching Derby’s promotion hopes to see a talented squad miss out on the play-offs.

A loosening of the purse strings may help ease tensions between board and fans as well, with large sums of money paid out to bring in Wijnaldum and Mitrovic after a few years of frugal business at St James’ Park. Their signings do come with decent reputations, but one always feels like holding judgement on any players from the Benelux leagues, as they so often prove very hit and miss.

These are clear attempts to address the weakness in parts of the squad, and look through it now suggests Newcastle shouldn’t really be in too much trouble in theory. But theory only goes so far. They won’t challenge the top half too much, but they have enough to steady the ship. That really should be the aim for this season.

Prediction: 11th

Alex Neil

Despite promotion via the play-offs, Norwich look like the strongest of the new additions

Norwich City

Last Season: Championship Play-Off Winners

Transfers In: Graham Dorrans, Youssef Mulumbu (West Brom), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool, Loan), Robbie Brady (Hull), Jake Kean (Blackburn)

Transfers Out: Luciano Becchio, Javier Garrido, Carlos Cuellar (Released), Mark Bunn (Aston Villa)

It seems odd to say, but the side that required the play-offs to win promotion to the Premier League actually looks the best equipped to stay up. Norwich only spent one year in the Championship before bouncing back at the first time of asking, while Bournemouth are complete novices and Watford have endured a lot of upheaval over the summer months.

Since taking over at Carrow Road, Alex Neil has done a phenomenal job of uniting the players and forging a real battling team spirit that helped them climb the table and it is exactly that which could just about keep them afloat.

The majority of their players have had a taste of top flight experience before, and the addition of a few other well experienced men will aid them no end in their battle for survival. I just can’t see Norwich going down.

Prediction: 16th

Ronald Koeman

Koeman delat with key losses last season. Can he do it again?

Southampton

Last Season: 7th

Transfers In: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Juanmi (Malaga), Cedric Soares (Sporting Lisbon), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, Loan), Steven Caulker (QPR, Loan), Cuco Martina (Twente)

Transfers Out: Morgan Schneiderlin (Man Utd), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Jos Hooiveld (Released), Sam Gallagher (MK Dons, Loan)

Another season spent exceeding expectations, another summer spent watching the bigger fish in the division pick off some of their better players. It must be a tiring scenario for Southampton fans by now, but those appear to be the breaks if you dare challenge the established order in the Premier League.

Southampton defied the naysayers after seeing their squad picked apart last year to have another tremendous season, but have now seen key players like Schneiderlin and Clyne snatched away from them. Yet Ronald Koeman has shown remarkable ability to replace his star men adequately before, and the signing of Jordy Clasie will be a fine addition to the squad to replace Schneiderlin.

The return of Jay Rodriguez to fitness will aid their attacking options and take the burden off Graziano Pelle and Shane Long, and while their defence has taken a bit of a hit, the presence of Jose Fonte will keep things relatively tight at the back. Nobody is predicting them for a relegation battle this time round, that’s for sure.

Prediction: 8th

Ibrahim Afellay

The Barcelona connection continues apace with the signing of Afellay

Stoke City

Last Season: 9th

Transfers In: Joselu (Hannover), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen), Jacob Haugaard (Midtjylland), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea, Loan), Shay Given (Aston Villa), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Moha El Ouriachi (Barcelona, Loan)

Transfers Out: Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla), Robert Huth (Leicester), Asmir Begovic (Chelsea), Wilson Palacios, Thomas Sorensen, Andy Wilkinson (Released)

Gone are the days of the cold, wet Tuesday nights at dirty old, long-ball kicking, set-piece utilising Stoke City. Mark Hughes promised to tidy up their image and he has done a terrific job, with the Potters playing some lovely football, twice outplaying my beloved Spurs and thrashing Liverpool on the final day of the season.

The revolution shows no sign of stopping and Hughes has been rewarded with an improved budget to continue bringing some impressive players to the club. The partnership with Barcelona has continued after resurrecting the career of Bojan last season, and one can only hope the same can be done for the phenomenal talent that is Ibrahim Afellay, with the Dutchman representing a fantastic catch should they be able to keep him fit.

With the talent Stoke currently have in their squad, they have the chance to break the glass ceiling they find themselves up against. There is no reason why they should be targeting the likes of Southampton and perhaps even a Spurs side that currently looks set to rely heavily on youngsters.

Prediction: 7th

Dick Advocaat

Surely Dick Advocaat represents a more stable manager for Sunderland?

Sunderland

Last Season: 16th

Transfers In: Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham), Yann M’Vila (Rubin Kazan, Loan)

Transfers Out: El Hadji Ba (Charlton), Santiago Vergini (Getafe, Loan), Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace), Wes Brown, Anthony Reveillere (Released)

Every summer I look at the business done by Sunderland and feel impressed, believing they have made the right moves to avoid being sucked into another relegation battle. And yet every season, they implode and find themselves right in the thick of it again.

However, these have all come under managers of a very unpredictable nature, and Dick Advocaat is no Paulo Di Canio. Or Gus Poyet. Or Roy Keane. Honestly Sunderland? Whoever has been in charge of appointing managers needs a long, hard look at themselves.

But I digress. Under a more steady and experienced hand, Sunderland have made enough good business to strengthen a squad that should not have been in as much trouble as they were last season. There’s enough talent there to achieve a comfortable mid-table place in truth, but it simply all depends on whether they gel together as a unit.

Chances are, it won’t be easy, but Sunderland will stay comfortably afloat by the end of proceedings.

Prediction: 13th

Mourinho

With just the FA Cup Final to come, the football season is almost behind us following an exhilarating Premier League campaign that saw Chelsea emerge triumphant, Manchester United return to the Champions League and Hull City, Burnley and QPR all sink back into the Championship.

In truth the season proved something of an anti-climax in the end as the majority of issues were solved before the final day, but it was still a campaign that provided plenty of talking points.

I have plumped weighed up the nine month tournament and compiled a list of winners and losers for the 2014/15 season: And we start with the niceties, seeing who has impressed and/or exceeded expectations throughout and enjoyable campaign.

Costa & Fabregas

Costa & Fabregas have been key to Chelsea’s success

Chelsea’s Transfer Committee

Last season we saw a Chelsea side that were still very close to winning the title despite some glaring inefficiencies, but having had a year to evaluate his squad, Jose Mourinho and his scouting network had identified everything they needed to fix over the summer and made their moves in emphatic fashion.

The forward line had proven the biggest problem of all over the previous campaign, so out went all three men, with Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba all shipped out of the country.

In their stead came the returning Didier Drogba to provide some feel-good nostalgia after the defection of Frank Lampard to Manchester City (via New York), Loic Remy to provide ample back-up after impressive spells with QPR and Newcastle and of course Diego Costa.

Costa hit the ground running in his first season in England following his move from Atletico Madrid, netting 20 Premier League goals and solving that little problem to give Chelsea the firepower necessary to secure the title.

He was adeptly helped out by Cesc Fabregas in the midfield, recruited to provide some creativity in the midfield to really release the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar into more offensive roles, with the Spaniard recording 18 league assists since ending his association with Barcelona for a second time.

Kurt Zouma was technically signed last January from St Etienne, but he has given Chelsea further alternatives at the back, a useful commodity given John Terry’s ageing legs and Gary Cahill’s loss of form in the middle of the season.

With Thibaut Courtois brought into the squad following successful loan spells in Spain, we have even been able to overlook Filipe Luis’ minimal usage, given Mourinho’s satisfaction with Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back and the Brazilian’s supposed homesickness, and even the strange signing of Juan Cuadrado at big expense, merely to receive two minute cameos.

Any expenditure has been off-set by the sales of Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurrle back to Germany for exorbitant fees, so it’s a good job all round at Stamford Bridge as the title returned to West London.

John Terry

Terry has rolled back the years at Chelsea this season

John Terry

After that remark as to Terry’s age, I would be remiss in not praising him for his performances in a season that has now said goodbye to two of it’s long-term stalwarts in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

With Lampard playing a bit-part role at Manchester City and Gerrard seeing his importance to Liverpool dwindle, 34-year-old Terry has played every single minute of the league season for the champions and re-established himself as a key member of the side.

Jose Mourinho admitted he thought he was seeing the end of Terry’s Chelsea career upon returning to the club in 2013, but with some senior sportswriters even suggesting Terry was unlucky to miss out on a Player of the Year nomination, it just goes to show there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

He may not be the most popular man in the country, but one can hardly deny how impressive he has been in an already impressive side, while his peers have dropped out of the spotlight.

Kane v Arsenal

Kane has been the success story in the Premier League

Harry Kane

Eden Hazard may have gotten the individual award (and rightly so), but we already knew how good he was. The individual success story has to be Harry Kane, having finished the season with 21 Premier League goals, despite not starting a game until November for Tottenham Hotspur.

Being a Spurs fan, I can testify that there were not many in the crowd that thought he could make that final step up, with many wondering if he was good enough to be third in the pecking order for that central striking berth, let alone lead the line on a regular basis.

But after snatching up every single opportunity he received in the Europa League and League Cup, coupled with the inadequacies of Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, Kane was given his chance and has never looked back, with doubles against London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal highlights in already brightly-lit campaign.

Being the first Spurs player to break the 30-goal barrier since Gary Lineker was another added touch, while he made his senior England debut as well and scored within the first 90 seconds. It’s just fairytale stuff, and one can only hope it doesn’t prove as brief as one, with Kane still needing to prove it wasn’t a fluke come next season.

Jonas Gutierrez

Who didn’t enjoy Gutierrez being the saviour for Newcastle?

Jonas Gutierrez

Speaking of fairytale stuff, was there anymore of a perfect man than Gutierrez to be the man to secure Newcastle’s place in the Premier League.

With the Magpies’ potentially facing the drop, pending a victory for Hull against Manchester United (which never happened), Gutierrez played a major part in ensuring that even such an eventuality would be irrelevant be sealing victory over West Ham.

Gutierrez has spent much of the past two years battling with testicular cancer and only returned to first team duties in March, with Newcastle having threatened to release him during that time period.

But having secured his own survival, he helped do the same for the club, moving quickly to dedicate it to the long-suffering fans of St James’ Park. A real cult hero and it would take a far more cynical man than me to not be extremely chuffed for one of the more likeable members of that squad.

Ronald Koeman

Koeman has steadied a Southampton side that many feared for at the start of the season

Southampton

There were a lot of doomsday mongerers around last summer as the Saints were gutted after a successful season, with manager Mauricio Pochettino leaving for Spurs and several key players exiting the club for ‘bigger clubs’.

Some were even suggesting relegation for Southampton, and while I was not one of those, I was hardly expecting them to be pushing for European qualification, let alone a prolonged involvement in the race for a Champions League spot.

Incoming manager Ronald Koeman has done a wonderful job of steadying the ship, with new signings such as Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Toby Alderweireld easily outshining the departed at St Mary’s, while Jose Fonte has proven to have been the bedrock of last season, with Dejan Lovren having struggled without him following his move to Merseyside.

With three of last season’s star ending up at Liverpool, Southampton finished just two points behind Brendan Rodgers’ side, further emphasising how impressive this campaign has been.

Garry Monk

Monk has impressed in his first full season as a manager

Garry Monk

A spot of humble pie for myself here, as seeing Swansea appoint Monk on a full-time basis after an indifferent caretaker spell last season saw me book the Swans in for a relegation battle.

How wrong I was, as the rookie manager steered Swansea to a record points total in the top flight and an eighth-placed finish, despite losing top-scorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in January.

With Monk high on the list when talking the ‘Manager of the Year’ award, one can only doff his cap to a job extremely well done. Cap, doffed.

Mark Hughes

Hughes has done a terrific job since succeeding Pulis

Mark Hughes/Stoke

Alas, this was not the first time I made this mistake, as I had done the same with Stoke City upon appointing Mark Hughes as manager, fearing their Premier League bubble would burst in their attempts to implement style over substance after the Tony Pulis years.

It’s now back-to-back ninth placed finishes for the Potters, despite spending far less than any other of his Premier League rivals over that two-year period and that transition to playing attractive football looks near to being fully complete.

Only Bojan was recruited for any fee last summer – a success until his season-ending injury – and the Potters have continued to go from strength to strength, with even Steven N’Zonzi starting to look like a really good player.

Big victories over Champions League hopefuls in Spurs and Liverpool – in which they completely outplayed both sides – further display how far they have developed under Hughes and one can only wonder that given a little extra investment, could he lead them into a challenge for European football soon enough?

Either way, following that disastrous spell at QPR where everybody seems to fail, Hughes’ reputation as a manager is fully restored and there may be plenty of bigger clubs looking at him as a potential replacement, should managers higher up the food chain be given the elbow.

Alan Pardew

Pardew’s stock as a manager has risen this season

Alan Pardew

Finishing off manager appraisal, and one has the dirty job of lavishing praise on Alan Pardew. The man comes across as incredibly sleazy, but you can’t deny that he has had a fine season in charge of two different clubs and could actually claim to have kept both in the Premier League.

Newcastle would not be a top flight side without his run of six consecutive victories throughout November given their end of season form, with Pardew having relented to fan unrest to take on a much cosier job at his old club, Crystal Palace.

Palace had made a daft decision in appointing Neil Warnock as manager following the surprise resignation of Tony Pulis, but having righted that wrong, brought in Pardew and the rest is history.

Pardew took a side seemingly destined for relegation and ended the season as a top half side, making the likes of Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie look players of real quality following an indifferent first half of the campaign, while re-introducing Glenn Murray into the fold to great effect.

You don’t have to like him, but you do have to respect the job Pardew has done with both of the sides he has managed this season.

Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez has enjoyed a fantastic debut season with Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez

While Chelsea’s pairing of Costa and Fabregas might quibble with such an accolade, it would be hard to look past Alexis Sanchez as the big-money signing of the season, having arrived at Arsenal from Barcelona and taken to the Premier League like a duck to water.

16 goals in his debut campaign despite largely playing a supporting role to Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck is an impressive feat and one expects him to be even better next season, having had a year to bed in.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to spending big money on overseas players, Arsenal don’t really get it wrong anymore. Since Andriy Arshavin, the Gunners have spent big money on plenty of players from abroad (La Liga in particular), but have not seen as many flops as the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool or even Spurs, with Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and even Giroud all deemed successes by this writer.

If they could replicate this with a couple of competent defensive players, Arsenal would be a serious threat, but until that happens, they will forever be an attractive attacking side that will wonder what could have been.

Esteban Cambiasso

Cambiasso has been superb for Leicester

Esteban Cambiasso

I’ve opted to differentiate between big-money and bargain signings of the season due to the amount of pressure placed on a player with a heavy price-tag around his neck, but if you were to combine the two, it would still be hard to look past Cambiasso as a contender.

After years upon years of being tipped for a move to England, he finally made the jump aged 33 and has been a highly integral member of a Leicester side that defied the odds to stay up.

It takes a special type of player to adapt to the Premier League so quickly and one wondered whether he had the legs now to make in England, but he has been absolutely fantastic and fully deserved the Foxes’ player of the year award.

With Spurs having at one point been linked with a move for the Argentine international, they may regret not taking the punt on Cambiasso to really anchor their midfield now.

Ashley Young Marouane Fellaini

Both Young & Fellaini have come in from the cold for United

Ashley Young/Marouane Fellaini

Everybody loves a story of the outcast that forces themself back into the side to earn the plaudits once more and few saw  Young and Fellaini as players that would be part of Louis van Gaal’s plans at Manchester United this season.

David de Gea has stolen the show at Old Trafford this season, but with these two seeming destined for the exit door last summer, it has shown great character on the part of both to force themselves not just back into the squad altogether, but as regular first team members of a side that has returned to Champions League football after a years sabbatical.

Fellaini has benefitted from simply being played in his correct position, while Young has been a complete turnaround, providing more assists this season than in the last two combined.

With further recruits expected at United this summer, one still fears for the future of Young at Old Trafford, but this season’s performance will at least ensure he has a multitude of top half sides to choose from should he be ousted, instead of joining the masses of ex-United players at Sunderland.

Danny Ings Charlie Austin

Both Ings & Austin will be back in the Premier League next season

Danny Ings/Charlie Austin

Two sides just plainly not good enough for the Premier League, but both Burnley and QPR can at least say they have provided the top flight with two impressive English strikers.

Despite the limited nature of their squads, both Austin and Ings have thrived in their first season of Premier League football and will have no problems in making a return this summer, with a whole host of interest in the pair.

Austin has himself earned a call-up to the England squad for the summer matches, while Ings would himself have been in with a shout were he not set for Under-21 tournament football. It will be interesting to see how they fare once they move to bigger ponds.