Saints At Manchester City The Preview
Friday, 1st Nov 2019 09:47
A feeling of deja vu as I write a Manchester City preview for the second time this week, can Saints pull off a shock result.
The feeling amongst Saints supporters going into this game is that it is one we need to get out of the way so we can get stuck into the rest of the season, with this one out of the way we have a run of games we can actually win and pull ourselves clear of the bottom three.
Some will sneer at this theory but this is not happy clapping or pessimism it is the state of the Premier League these days and beating Manchester City at the Etihad in the Premier League is as rare as rocking horse droppings.
For each of the last 3 seasons they have lost only a single league game at home each season and after Wolves win recently, they will want to make sure that they keep that record up.
Even with that blip against Wolves in their other 4 games they have scored 17 and conceded only 2, that is the task that faces Saints.
The team they put out will be far different to Saints, Tuesday's City team was far from their first choice, but the reality is that in itself it would be strong enough to challenge for a top six spot and maybe higher and that is the way the Premier League is going these days.
So as we enter the 2020's the rich have got exceedingly richer and the poor if not exactly poorer they are poorer by comparison.
So these days the likes of City as shown rarely slip up against a lower half club at home, indeed we have gained only a solitary point in our last 8 visits and you can round the number of defeats up to 9 if you add Tuesday night and our FA Cup defeat in 2007.
Heavy defeats are not unknown, some Saints fans hark back at the good old days of 5-6 years ago, but even back then it was not easy, Mauricio Pochettino in his only visit as Saints boss saw his side beaten 4-1 and manage only a single shot on target.
Ronald Koeman did not fare much better, on the final day of the season in 2015 we were beaten 2-0 and the following year 4-2.
Claude Puel got our only point since 2004 in October 2016 when Nathan Redmond gave us a first half lead before Kelechi Iheanacho equalised in the 55th minute.
It was not an easy point, the home side had 65% possession and we had only 4 shots on target.
A look at the team showed that Puel's back four was Fonte and Van Dijk in the centre and Cuco Martina at left back and Sam McQueen at left back, indeed the shocking fact is that of the starting XI 3 years ago only Oriol Romeu and Nathan Redmond are likely to start today.
In many respects Puel's side was weaker than Ralph Hasenhuttl's at the moment, the big difference is in that centre of defence, both Fonte and Van Dijk were at the top of their game and could hold a team together, our central defenders could not hold water in a plastic bucket.
So Saturday is a tough task and the manager has to approach it as he did on Tuesday with a realistic approach and with his team focused on what they are looking to achieve out of this game, the likelihood is that like most sides we will leave with a defeat, so we have to look at damage limitation and avoiding another embarrassing rout.
But that will not be easy as both Brighton and Watford found out.
So I expect a similar line up to Tuesday night but with subtle changes.
In goal I would be surprised if Alex McCarthy doesn't start, Gunn has not been as bad as some would have you believe, but he is a young keeper still learning his trade, he needs to be out of the firing line for this one and Alex McCarthy deserves his chance after a good performance on Tuesday.
In defence I would have a central trio of Bednarek, Danso & Stephens, Danso brought some pace and strength into the side on Tuesday and Stephens although letting his man go on several occasions can at least control the ball and keep it simple, but we still have that achilles heal, make no mistake if we had had Fonte & Van Dijk on Tuesday we would have won the game.
As wing backs I would have Valery and I would also throw Jake Vokins in, if only because we have no one else, playing a central defender or a central midfielder for that matter at wing back is dangerous because City run you ragged, you need fast players to counter them.
In midfield I would go solid Hojbjerg & Romeu in the centre with Armstrong & Redmond on the flanks, although I do expect Ralph to employ JWP instead of Armstrong.
Up front it is going to be a lone striker, Shane Long could be employed again as he is able to hold it up and there is a case to let him run himself into the ground and then look to inject pace after the break, Danny Ings could be used as he is a clever player, but again I would save him.
A surprise choice could be Che Adams, he is young fit and fast and he needs a game where the pressure is not on him, he can just go out there and harass their back four to try and stop them building from the back, you never know he might get a goal and then that could restore his confidence again.
So can we stop the City hordes, the answer is yes we can but we will need to be focused, alert and very lucky, City do not shoot on sight, they take three touches when one is enough, they pass and pass and pass, they only shoot either when they have put themselves into a good position and likely to score, or things are desperate, which isn't very often.
That was the case on Tuesday night, they ran us ragged but rarely got a shot in 77% possession but only 9 shots on target, mostly from close range or at least in the box and only 5 off target, that is not a great total for that amount of domination.
So we have to be prepared to dig in and concentrate, the downside of Tuesday is that all three of their goals saw the City scorer left unmarked or unchallenged, if we can cut this out we have a chance.
So lets do things in small things as we did on Tuesday, be patient and build , then we can concentrate on the Everton game.
Photo: Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
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