Southampton Miss Out On League Cup

Southampton were unable to claim their second major trophy in their history as they fell to a late 3-2 defeat to Manchester United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard put Jose Mourinho’s side two goals up, but a Manolo Gabbiadini brace pulled the Saints level. But it was a late Ibrahimovic header that saw the first silverware of the season head to Manchester.

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Jose Mourinho has now won all four of his League Cup finals (2005, 2007, 2015, and 2017). Image: BBC Sport

It was a frustrating start for Saints, who started the game brightly. Southampton felt aggrieved when Gabbiadini turned in a Cedric Soares cross, only for the goal to be ruled out by the assistant. Replays showed that the Italian was clearly onside, whilst Ryan Bertrand, who was standing yards behind the action, was actually offside.

After that decision it was only a matter of time before United opened the deadlock. It came in the form of an Ibrahimovic free kick. The Swede swept the ball in to the bottom corner from 25 yards to give United an undeserved lead. Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead seven minutes before half time. Marcus Rojo strode forward, receiving the ball from out wide, before squaring the ball to Lingard, who had acres of space to curl the ball in to the far corner.

The game was looking lost for Saints, but there was a glimmer of hope just before half time. James Ward-Prowse whipped a low ball in to the six yard box just before half time, where Gabbiadini lost his man to guide the ball past David De Gea.

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Manolo Gabbiadini has now hit five (should have been SIX!) goals in his three games for Southampton. Image: Metro

And Saints fans only had to wait three minutes after the break for them to draw level. United thought that they had cleared a corner, but Steven Davis headed the ball back in to the box. Gabbiadini held off Chris Smalling as he turned and swept the ball home with his left foot.

A period of sustained Saints pressure followed. De Gea punched away a fierce Redmond volley, and Oriel Romeu hit the post with a header from a corner. In a rare United attack, an Anthony Martial cross found its way to the far post, where Jesse Lingard blazed over the bar despite being under no pressure. Jack Stephens almost gave Saints the lead with five minutes to go, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed clear his goal-bound header.

And it was Ibrahimovic who was the hero for Mourinho’s side, as he found the space between the Saints’ centre backs to nod home from close range to gift United the trophy in the 87th minute.It was a heartbreaking moment for Saints, who dominated large spells of the final and had the majority of the chances.

Despite not lifting the trophy, it was a final to remember for the Southampton fans. It was the first time that Saints had appeared in a major final since their 2003 FA Cup final appearance, and the fans were much more vocal than their Mancunian counterparts. Without the services of talisman Virgil Van Dijk and top goalscorer Charlie Austin, the players put in an incredible shift, but were ultimately punished by the difference in quality that United’s bank balance allows.

Southampton Player Ratings:

Forster – 6: Would maybe be disappointed with the first goal, but stood no chance for the other two.

Cedric – 7: Looked dangerous on the overlap, should have had an assist in the first half.

Stephens – 7: United felt he could have been sent off, but was unlucky to give away a free kick. Showed experience beyond his years.

Yoshida – 7: Really stepped up to fill the gap left by Fonte’s departure and Van Dijk’s injury.

Bertrand – 7: Strong going forward and kept Juan Mata quiet all game.

Romeu – 7: Picked up an early booking but put in a very solid display. Hit the post at 2-2.

Davis – 7: Classic Steven Davis. Covered every blade of grass and provided the second assist for Gabbiadini.

Tadic – 8: Most of Saints’ attacks came through him, unlucky to be taken off so early.

Ward-Prowse – 7: Picked up an assist and was a constant threat from dead ball situations.

Redmond – 7: Looked dangerous going forward, but was ultimately unable to recapture his finishing from the semi-final first leg against Liverpool.

Gabbiadini – 9: Scored twice and had a goal wrongly ruled offside. Should be very disappointed to be subbed off at 2-2.

Subs:

Boufal (Tadic, 77) – 6: Lacking match fitness and it showed.

Long (Gabbiadini, 83): Brought on too late to make an impact.

Rodriguez (Davis, 90): Brought on too late to make an impact, but was good to see him on the pitch at Wembley after his injury problems.

Unused: Hassen, Sims, Caceres, Hojbjerg, McQueen.

Manchester United Player Ratings:

De Gea 8; Valencia 6, Bailly 6, Smalling 5, Rojo 6; Herrera 7, Pogba 6; Lingard 7 (Rashford, 77, 6), Mata 6 (Carrick, 45, 8), Martial 6 (Fellaini, 90); Ibrahimovic 10.

Unused: Romero, Blind, Young, Rooney.

Who Should Be On Puel’s Christmas List?

With the January transfer window approaching, Claude Puel sees his Southampton side sitting in seventh place. The window will be seen as a crucial one by Saints fans, with top scorer Charlie Austin facing several months out with a shoulder injury and the persisting rumours surrounding centre-backs  Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk. If the Saints are serious about securing qualification for European football for a third consecutive season then they may consider signing the following players.

1. Daniel Sturridge – Liverpool (Loan)

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Image: Mirror Football

The Liverpool striker has found himself out of Jurgen Klopp’s plans at Anfield, and the Reds are prepared to let him leave. Sturridge has played just 42 minutes in the last 9 games, and he would certainly see that increase at St Mary’s. The England striker has a knack for finding the back of the net, but injuries have reduced his effectiveness over the past two and a half seasons. A run of first team football could be what he needs to re-establish himself as England’s first choice striker, and possibly impress for a better move in the summer. A concern would be whether Sturridge would fit in to the Southampton system with his selfish style of play, whilst another stumbling block could be Liverpool’s desire to see a permanent deal struck instead of any loan deal.

2. Jermain Defoe – Sunderland (Transfer)

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Image: Daily Mail

Having almost single-handedly kept Sunderland up last season, Jermain Defoe has continued his form in to this year, netting 8 times in the league. But with the club’s current financial situation, the Black Cats may have to cash in on one of their few saleable assets. Defoe is your typical poacher, given a chance in the box and he will likely stick it in the back of the net. Their are two real problems with this transfer, though, the first being his age. At 34, this is not a long term transfer. Defoe would probably cost upwards of £10m, meaning Saints will not get any resale value. More importantly, Defoe spent a year playing for Portsmouth in 2008, so he would have some job winning over the St Mary’s faithful.

3. Alassane Plea – Nice (Transfer)

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Image: le10sport

 

One man that could be on Claude Puel’s radar is Nice striker Alassane Plea, who has netted 10 goals in Ligue 1 so far. The Frenchman can be also deployed behind the striker or on the wing, which would give greater depth all across the front line. Plea made 54 appearances for Nice under Puel, and has one cap at Under 21 level. As well as being a player that Puel will know, he also has the advantage of being in the mould of a Southampton signing. At 23, there is plenty of time for him to develop, giving the club the option of making a profit on him in a few seasons time. Outscoring Mario Balotelli this year means that Plea probably wouldn’t come cheap, and he would need an enticing offer to leave the French league leaders.

4. Michael Keane – Burnley (Transfer)

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Image: ITV

Claude Puel will certainly be looking out for a centre back, with rumours surrounding both of his current first choices. Burnley’s Michael Keane will certainly be a player that Southampton are monitoring. The 23 year old has been a mainstay in Burnley’s defence for the last three seasons, and his performances this season have seen him linked with a host of top clubs. Keane certainly seems a strong option in defence, with a wealth of first team experience, including two seasons in the Premier League. If Southampton were to sign him in January, then he would have the rest of the season to settle in to the team, learning under Van Dijk and Fonte, before stepping up to replace them next time around – much like Charlie Austin did this time last year. Keane is reportedly attracting the attention of much bigger clubs than Southampton, and with Burnley keen to hold on to their star defender, this would not be a cheap deal.

5. Fabian Schar – Hoffenheim (Transfer)

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Image: Daily Star

The Swiss centre back has been linked to both Southampton and West Brom recently after impressing at the Euros in the summer. After an inconsistent first season and a half at Hoffenheim, Schar could be open to a move away. At 25, Schar still hasn’t reached his prime, and can only benefit from half a season to adapt to the English game. His strengths fit with the style of defender that Puel seems to prefer, being very good on the ball whilst also being a physical presence in both areas. Although he was one of Switzerland’s stars from the summer, Schar has yet to impress in a top league, perhaps putting off potential suitors.

A further option available to Claude Puel is to recall young striker Sam Gallagher from his loan spell at Blackburn. Gallagher has nine goals in his 18 starts this year, which is a fantastic return after suffering a serious injury last season. Although might be beneficial in the immediate future to recall Gallagher, Puel will surely favour keeping him out on loan playing regular football, with Olufela Olamola and the returning Ryan Seager offering back up to Saints’ first choice strikers.

Who do you think Saints should target in the January window? Would you welcome a return for Morgan Schneiderlin? Have your say in the comments or let me know on twitter @MoodyMan147.

Premier League 2016/17 Preview – Southampton

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Charlie Austin scored just minutes in to his Southampton debut, but has struggled with injuries since. Image: Saintsfc.co.uk

If it wasn’t for Leicester’s heroics last season, Southampton finishing sixth – just three points from the top four – would have been the story of the season. But as we have come to expect, the top performers from that side have left the club over the summer. Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama have joined Liverpool and Tottenham respectively, whilst Graziano Pelle has moved to Shandong Luneng. Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to replace Mane and Wanyama, whilst Alex McCarthy and Jeremy Pied have come in as squad players. New manager Claude Puel led Nice to fourth in Ligue 1 last season, and will look to play his 4-4-2 diamond system. Replacing the goals of Mane and Pelle will be key for Southampton, and the Saints look light up front. Charlie Austin was signed in January with a view to replace Pelle, and he will hope that having a full pre-season will get him back to full fitness. The same can be said about Jay Rodriguez, who suffered another injury hit season last time out. Nathan Redmond has also been utilised as a striker in pre-season, scoring a couple of goals. Keeping hold of their defensive partnership of Virgil van Dijk and European champion Jose Fonte will be vital if Saints are going to challenge for Europe again. The squad is relatively thin, so coping with the added Europa League games could test Puel’s men. A top half finish, a decent showing in Europe and a run in the FA Cup would be seen as a successful year on the South coast.

Key Man: Charlie Austin. The 27 year old announced himself in style as he scored the winner at Old Trafford on his debut, but struggled with injury in his first six months at the club. Having a full pre-season to regain his fitness and half a season to settle in to the club could see Austin recreate his form for QPR, where he scored 18 goals in his solo Premier League season. Austin has the physicality to play the role of Graziano Pelle, but his finishing is definitely an upgrade on the Italian. Whether or not he fits in to Puel’s system though could be a sticking point for the striker.

One to Watch: Jake Hesketh. After making his debut in December 2014, Hesketh was a victim of Ronald Koeman’s reluctance to play young players. The attacking midfielder was linked to Manchester United in January after his impressive performances for the Under 21s. At 20 years old, Hesketh featured for the first team in pre-season playing in behind the front two, and may find that Claude Puel’s system and preference for developing young players could see him feature in the coming season.

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th  

Premier League Season Review: Part 2

The second part of this season review will focus on the teams that were competing for the Europa League places. Manchester United narrowly missed out on Champions League football, while Southampton and West Ham’s excellent seasons will see them join United in the Europa League. Liverpool managed to play their way out of the Europa League places, finishing 8th.

Manchester United – Final Position: 5th – Prediction: 3rd

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Image: Daily Mail

Manchester United have had a season to forget in the league. The football that they have played has been, at times, abysmal. United only scored one more goal than 17th placed Sunderland, with only Anthony Martial reaching double figures in the league. To make matters worse, United’s big summer signings, Depay, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, all failed to live up to expectations. The only real positives for United fans will be the strength of the young players that stepped in this season, with Rashford, Fosu-Mensah, and Borthwick-Jackson all impressing.

United failed to kick on this season as I had expected, instead dropping out of the Champions League. Wayne Rooney failed to step up as the key goalscorer, partly down to the role that Louis Van Gaal was playing him. Jose Mourinho will have a tough job on his hands next season.

Southampton – Final Position: 6th – Prediction: 7th

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Image: The Guardian

Southampton’s season can be summed up by one word: inconsistent. A dodgy start was followed by a good run, before the Saints fell away around Christmas. But only Leicester picked up more points in 2016 than Ronald Koeman’s side. Their early exit from the Europa League possibly aided their league form, as Saints’ small squad was rarely stretched. The return Fraser Forster was one of the main positives of the season, Whilst comeback wins against Liverpool and Spurs will live long in the fans’ memories. It will be interesting to see whether Saints can replicate this season with a new manager next season, whilst it will remain to be seen whether the Europa League group stages will be enough to keep hold of the likes of Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama.

Southampton surpassed all expectations in recording a club record sixth place. Instead of battling with the other higher mid-table teams, as predicted, a place in the Europa League looked fairly comfortable for the Saints.

West Ham – Final Position: 7th – Prediction: 14th

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Image: Sky Sports

West Ham have had an amazing season this year, only falling out of the race for the Champions League places very late in the season. Dimitri Payet really set the Premier League alight with his remarkable free kicks and 12 assists, whilst Andy Carroll managed 9 goals despite an injury hit season. Draws turned out to be West Ham’s undoing, as they picked up the joint highest amount of draws, 14, in the Premier League.

Slavan Bilic and West Ham were an unknown quantity going in to this season, and they have pleasantly surprised everyone. Following ‘Big Sam’ was always going to be a tough job, but the future is looking bright for the Hammers.

Liverpool – Final Position: 8th – Prediction: 6th

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Image: Sky Sports

It is difficult to judge Liverpool’s season this year, as very early on it became clear that the focus had switched to next year. The appointment of Jurgen Klopp in October showed a real sign of ambition, and it would not be right to judge him until he has brought in his own players and had a full pre-season with the club. Only Roberto Firmino hit double figures this season, and this really demonstrates how poor Liverpool were. A 4-0 derby win over Everton will be a highlight of this season, as well as beating Manchester City 4-1 and 3-0. Eighth place will probably be what Liverpool fans will be most happy with this season, as it means that they will be able to play without any European distractions next season, but they will be disappointed that their ‘Europa League or bust’ strategy was thwarted by Sevilla in the final.

In my pre-season predictions, I highlighted the importance of October on the course of their season, and this proved to be the case. On paper, Eighth will not look good for a side with the expectations of Liverpool, but you can expect them to challenge for the Champions League places next season.

Forster to Challenge Hart for England Spot?

After nine months out of action this summer’s European Championships may have seemed a distant dream for Fraser Forster. However five clean sheets in his first five games back have seen him demonstrate why he was being talked about as a real challenger to Joe Hart.

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Forster’s 10 saves at Arsenal was a personal high in the Premier League. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Southampton hadn’t looked particularly weak defensively so far this season, aside from the early 3-0 defeat to Everton and a hefty 6-1 loss against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, however the return of Forster has seen a more confident back line.

The Englishman had very little to do in his first three games back, but a sensational performance to almost single-handedly hold Arsenal to a goalless draw drew the media spotlight. Forster denied Arsenal time and time again, making ten saves as he kept a fourth clean sheet. His latest performance in the 1-0 against West Ham saw him become the first Southampton goalkeeper in 15 years to keep five consecutive clean sheets.

What makes this record even more remarkable is that Forster has made almost half as many saves (14) in his five games as his stand-in, Maarten Stekelenburg, made in 17 matches (30 saves). Forster’s record of not conceding in five also reflects favourably compared to the Dutchman, who conceded 19 goals in his 17 league games, and managed just once to keep three consecutive clean sheets.

Many have called, myself included, for Jack Butland to be rewarded for his excellent form this season with international recognition, and the addition of Forster to this mix can only be a good thing for the national side. As well as being in a rich vein of form this season, Forster looked an almost certainty to pick up the ‘Golden Glove’ award last season before his injury, accumulating 13 clean sheets. He also has the bonus of having European experience from his time at Celtic, with his performance in the 2-1 win against Barcelona seeing him nicknamed ‘The Great Wall’ in the Spanish media. This could prove vital should Joe Hart suffer an injury or a drop in form, especially if Roy Hodgson is not comfortable throwing in the younger Butland.

Who should be on Koeman’s shopping list?

If Southampton are going to settle for anything other than mediocrity this season, Ronald Koeman must look to strengthen his squad. First priority for the Saints must be keeping hold of stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama, but adding quality in a few positions could give them a chance of qualifying for Europe.

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Top of Koeman’s shopping list would have to be a striker. Southampton have struggled to find the net. Only four sides have had more shots this season than Saints (280), but only three have a lower conversion rate (11.82 shots-per-goal). Graziano Pelle is nursing an injury and is suffering a drop in form, with Shane Long the only back up. Jay Rodriguez can play up front, but he is also out until February, whilst Koeman does not seem to fancy young Ryan Seager, who has been prolific for the Under 21s. Charlie Austin would seem a perfect fit, as he is both clinical and physical. Austin has Premier League experience, however the price tag of £10-15 million may put the Saints off. A different option would be Patrick Bamford, after he cut short his loan spell at Palace. Bamford was prolific at Championship level last season and could be the goalscorer that Southampton need to rise up the table.

Sam Byram

A right back will also be high on Koeman’s priority list. The Dutchman doesn’t seem to fully trust summer signing Cedric defensively, but Cuco Martina, despite his wondergoal against Arsenal, and Maya Yoshida have been unreliable when deputising. Leeds’ Sam Byram would seem a great buy, and with the 22 year old out of contract at the end of the season would be available on the cheap. He has shone both at right back and right midfield for Leeds, and would be available for around £5 million, but this is likely to create a lot of Premier League interest. A loan option for Saints would be academy product Calum Chambers, who has found his chances limited with the form of Arsenal’s back four this season.

The final position that Ronald Koeman could look to strengthen is in attacking midfield. Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane have gone slightly off the boil, and neither Steven Davis and James Ward-Prowse have not been contributing enough going forward. Koeman doesn’t seem to have too much faith in the young summer signing Juanmi and the enigmatic Gaston Ramirez seems to be set to leave the club. Winger Andros Townsend has long been linked with Southampton, but fortunately Koeman seems to not be interested in him. Kevin Mirallas is said to be looking for a move away from Everton in search of first team football. Mirallas would add directness and goals to Saints’ attack, both of which are much needed. Koeman has also been linked with the young Ajax winger Anwar El Ghazi. The Dutchman made his senior début for the national team earlier this season, and has also been linked with Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke.

 

Now or Never for Ramirez

Southampton’s downturn in form leaves Gaston Ramirez the chance to revive his Saints career. The Uruguayan has been a peripheral figure at St Mary’s since his £12 million move to the Premier League, but Southampton’s lack of goals may be his pathway back in to the first team.

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Ramirez’s appearance at MK Dons was his first in a Southampton shirt for 13 months. Image: BBC Sport

Last weekend’s defeat to Spurs meant that Saints have not won a game since the first week of November, a staggering six games. Added to this, they have scored only three goals in these matches. Forward Graziano Pelle has struggled with the limited service, whilst Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane have also struggled to find the net.

Ramirez has been linked with a January move back to Italy, with his agent citing interest from former club Bologna, Lazio and Penarol. However, he has performed well in his limited game time this season. He looked bright in his Saints return in the Capital One Cup, albeit against MK Dons, and he came off the bench to assist Sadio Mane’s late equaliser at Anfield in October.

In the view of the supporters, Ramirez has suffered from never getting a run in the side throughout his St Mary’s career, partially down to injuries, but he does possess the ability to unlock a defence. If given a chance, he will either play well, bringing him back into first team contention; or putting himself in the shop window, or he fails to perform, justifying his exile and the results will not be getting any worse. With the team looking uninspiring going forward at the moment, surely Ronald Koeman has nothing to lose from playing him?