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Southampton FC Half Term Report 2021/22
Tuesday, 4th Jan 2022 09:31

For some Saints supporters this season has been one of struggle, but I disagree, we have had our issues, but overall given the circumstances we have had an average first half and if we improve on that in the 2nd half by just a little we can have a solid season.

This time last year a look back at the first half of the season was done with optimism, after 19 games we sat on 29 points in 8th position only 6 points behind West Ham in 5th and with a game in hand.

This season we are in 14th with 21 points and although that is a disappointment, we are not as far off last season's position as some would think, in simple terms the difference comes down to that four game spell at eh end of October/ start of December where we gifted Norwich a win and gifted goals to both Leicester and Norwich to give them a point in games we really should have won.

OK that is all ifs and buts but it shows how near we are to pushing for a top 10 place, in a best case scenario from those three games with an extra 7 points on board, we would now sit in 9th place and there was no reason why we shouldn't have done that.

Even in a worst case scenario where we should have just held on at home to Brighton we would be only 13th but only 3 points off of Brighton in 9th, it really is that close.

If we make a direct comparison with last season's results and this, taking out the 2 promoted sides we have played and just taking into account the 17 fixtures played so far this term and comparing them with the same game last, we get this result.

Of those 17 games last season we took 9 points from them, this season we have taken 18 points from those same fixtures, last season we took just 9, that is a remarkedly better points return and shows that we are improving.

Likewise the at this stage last season we had won 8 games, drawn 5 and lost 6, in the first half this season we have won just 4, drawn 9 and lost exactly the same amount, just 6.

The difference is how many games this season we have turned potential wins into draws with slack play and on that note we now look at how the areas of the team have performed.

Personally I see most of the issues coming from the lack of a solid goalkeeper for much of the first half of the season, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the start of the season i was very surprised that Alex McCarthy got the nod over Fraser Forster, McCarthy had had a poor second half of last season and was replaced by Forster and his pre season had not been great, in most people's books Forster should have started the season in goal.

The writing was on the wall at Everton, a 1-0 first half lead was lost in the second and the keeper did not distinguish himself, although he had not made glaring errors all three goals looked like he should have done better and that is what makes a solid team having a keeper that makes saves he shouldn't do.

The second game at home to Manchester United left you really thinking that the keeper should have stopped their equaliser, the same thoughts cropped into my head after Newcastle, no real bloopers but the phrase "really should have done better" was there.

He had a few games where he was fairly solid, but the standard started to drop again and the trip to Norwich was disastrous, only three shots all fairly routine to save, but two went in at the near post that should have been stopped, follow that up with a similar goal conceded in a 4-0 defeat at Liverpool and then one thrown in and a positional error against Leicester and the writing was on the wall.

The Brighton game the keeper played better, but if Forster was fit he really would have been dropped you felt and unprofessionalism in not telling the bench he was injured led to panic in the final minutes and another goal conceded that really should not have been,

Cabbalero came in and did ok especially at Palace and then Fraser Forster back in the side has made us look a stronger team, not quite all there, but the confidence coming back.

I don't like such damning verdicts but the truth was there for all to be seen.

The defence saw the arrival of Tino Livramento and that has been a revelation, but it left us wondering what to do with Kyle Walker Peters and left Ralph puzzled for a while.

The centre of defence saw Salisu really start to show why we bought him, but Ralph struggled to decide on who best to partner him, for some reason Bednarek was dropped and in came Jack Stephens, my thoughts on him are well known, great squad player, but if he is the first choice then we really have a problem, Jack can give you a short run of good games, but he doesn't have the consistency over longer periods, a little like Alex McCarthy really.

Jan Bednarek struggled for the first part of the season but has looked better of late and Lyanco has something about him, the truth is we still haven't signed that experienced older pro to hold the back line steady in times we are under the cosh.

Oriol Romeu & James ward Prowse have held the midfield firm and Ibrahimo Diallo is a decent player when called upon. but our issues here have been the wide midfield players, we have a plethora, Nathan Redmond, Theo Walcott, Moi Elyounoussi, Moussa Djenepo, Stuart Armstrong, even Nathan Tella, truth is for a variety of reasons, in this position only Nathan Redmond has taken a game by the scruff of the neck and turned it around as he did at Newcastle United for instance. Mostly the wide men have failed to impress for far too many games.

Up front Che Adams is showing that he can be a striker that can get into double figures and for that matter so is Armando Broja, Adam Armstrong started well at Everton with a goal, but has struggled to score since netting only the winner against Villa since.

But he has not played badly and has done well in most of the games he has played it has only been his goals tally that has let him down, older fans will remember how long it took James Beattie to adjust to the Premier League, younger fans will remember that two years ago Che Adams didn't score his first goal for the club till way after the half way mark.

Shane Long gets plenty of stick, but the difference between this season and last was that at Palace and at home to Spurs we had the likes of Long to bring on up front when we were lacking options, a year ago it was Dan N'lundulu who to be blunt has struggled to get into Shrewsbury's team, starting just 6 League games so far on loan.

The problem this season like last has been players in key positions letting us down.

But overall I think there are plenty of green shoots of recovery to see, the problem last season was not only the lack of quality in key areas, but a lack of depth in the squad, this season we have a lot more depth.

The purse strings are starting to loosen as we lose high earners from the books and this summer will see more high wages off, as I said Shane Long is unappreciated in some areas, but we are now bringing him on when the squad is stretched and not an untried youngster.

We are perhaps a decent goalkeeper, an experienced pro in the centre of defence to mentor our youngsters and a truly effective wide man away from being a decent top 10 chasing side, even with the issues we have we are solid mid table and now just need to repeat the first half of the season in the second to stay well clear of relegation.

The situation with the owner is what it is, it is no use crying over it, he would rather have been able to invest, but due to a World situation beyond his control he can't we have to work with what we have got and be positive moving forward.

The position we are in is far better than many were predicting back in August, we still have the likes of Dynel Simeu & Thierry Small yet to be unleashed and if we think that Tino Livramento is good, both are rated higher.

There is a lot to be positive about in the squad we have, in the main I think many people are, certainly the pessimism on social media doesn't materialise at the games themselves these days, we can either let a situation drag us down or we can accept it for the moment and try and help it achieve the best that it can.

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deanosfc8 added 10:20 - Jan 4
Very good analyse Nick, however a mention to our manager who I personally think we are lucky to have. This man has bought into the club (the Southampton way if you like) had to somehow balance the books while keeping us in this league. Most managers I see as journey managers, they will jump ship at the first sign of a pound note. I dont see this with Ralph, what I saw against Spurs at the end of the game was a manager of our club fist pumping his chest, standing tall and proud of his team, fans to a man on there feet applauding. For some doubters this isn't enough calling for Frank Lampard or Eddie Howe!

Me, I'm a realist and proud to call Ralph our manager of our great club.

In Ralph we Trust....

PaleRider added 10:28 - Jan 4
"The situation with the owner is what it is, it is no use crying over it, he would rather have been able to invest, but due to a World situation beyond his control he can't".

Nick, please stop spinning this - there is no evidence to suggest that Gao invested any money into Saints before the Chines clampdown or that he has ever intended to since the clampdown. Gao has no interest in Saints so why would he invest? As a simple measure of his interest - what is the last Saints game he attended? Why do you keep peddling this falsehood?

andywelsh added 13:02 - Jan 4
In general I agree with what Nick says and I also agree with deanosfc8 that we have much to thank Hassenhuttl for. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but I fail to see how many other managers could have done any better in the circumstances and that is constantly recognised by other managers, whose opinion I value more than any of his armchair critics. As for Gao I would also prefer his laissez faire inertia to a hedge fund or frankly a morally dubious billionaire.
However I think you will find Dan N'Lundulu is loaned at Lincoln not Shrewsbury and although Small is very highly regarded, Simeu was never touted to be better than Livramento.

TeamCortese added 13:16 - Jan 4
Great analysis Nick and happy new year!

Completely agree with the wide men issue. Apart from Moi (and to a lesser degree Redmond), we are not really seeing any end product. As much as I love Djenepo I think it's time for him to move on, unfortunately. He's not getting enough game time and he seems to have lost a lot of confidence since joining us. Hopefully, he has a good Africa Cup of nations and we can recoup a decent resell value. The same goes for Walcott who has quite frankly been shocking.

The goalkeeper situation has been the elephant in the room for quite a while now. Forster is one of our highest earners and needs to be sold along with McCarthy. We also need a natural left-back too as a longer-term replacement for Bertrand. I don't see that with Perraud as he's at best a squad player. KWP has done a great job but should be competing with Tino for right-back or alternatively, Tino should be pushed further up as a right-winger.

Also, think since the departure of Boufal and Steven Davis we're lacking creativity in midfield to unlock defenses. Stuart Armstrong does it to a lesser degree but hasn't been consistent enough. JWP & Romeu are not those sorts of players being naturally more defensive.

Lastly, on the strikers the jury's still for most of them apart from Broja. I'm still not convinced about Che Adams and Adam Armstrong. Armstrong is a hard worker and hopefully will come good next season. Che isn't EPL quality unfortunately.

Broja is without question our most talent striker. I think if the funds are available we should buy him permanently. He's not getting into the Chelsea first team anytime soon and at this stage of his careers needs regular game time. He'll achieve further development with us and we'll benefit from having him becoming a better striker for 2-4 seasons before he moves on.

PS: Dan Nlundulu is at Lincoln City and has made 16 appearances.

WestSussexSaint added 13:25 - Jan 4
In terms of your overall assessment I tend to agree. The squad is stronger and on the whole the results have been reasonable with the few disappointing ones (Wolves, Norwich, Brighton) offset by the unexpected ones (Man City, West Ham, Spurs). The league between 8th and 16th is covered by less than 10 points so yes we could be higher in the table but that doesn’t mean we are a better than the position we are actually in. I think anywhere in that group of positions is a fair reflection on our performance this season and where we are as a club as a whole.

I agree with the view on the goalkeepers. However I expect the choice of McCarthy over Fraser Forster is purely down to FF unwilling to take a new contract and likely a drop on wages which is why he will be gone in the summer at the latest. McCarthy is a decent back up but no more and having Forster between the sticks in the last couple of matches shows the benefit of having a keeper at the level above McCarthy can attain. A new Keeper is a priority and if a deal can be done in January with FF going as part of it then great.

On the striker’s I expect the lack of goals is down to the greater emphasis on defending which would also explain in part the lack of effectiveness of the wide players. If they are being told to be less adventurous then naturally they will get into the dangerous positions less often creating less chances for themselves and the strikers. Adam Armstrong strikes me as a player who needs others to create openings and if they are at a premium then his return is lower as a result. I think we all want to see a free flowing attacking side but the defence isn’t yet at the level where it doesn’t need the extra protection from the midfield.

I also think Ralph has the squad he wants and he has shown greater tactical nous this season which has led to some positive results.

So overall I think we have seen performances that reflect the players we have right now and our league position is in that “bottom half of top 10/top half of bottom 10” group which is about right.

The most significant way to change this for the better relies of the club sale being completed to an owner prepared to invest and compete in line with the likes of Leicester and West Ham.

Block8 added 19:17 - Jan 5
A couple of answers for you Nick, obviously only my opinion.
Salisu is a natural left footed CB which will improve whoever plays alongside, purely by being natural on his left, which is why both Stephens and Bednarek have felt more comfortable there.
We tend to play our wide men as false number tens to allow the full backs to attack so they tend not to play as wide players in the real term. The wide players pushing inside and adding to our attack puts pressure on our CB's when it breaks down pulling them apart (to cover the width) and leaving space through the middle. Which might explain why we our so much poorer in the second half when our two workhorses JWP & Romeu tire. The real promise has been shown in recent weeks when we look to be trying to adapt new tactics and playing styles, more suited to who we are playing against, so hopefully we can move on and continue the improvement!

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