18 9 / 2013

Artur Boruc is currently Saints’ number one & has been for a little under a year. Were it up to me though, Paulo Gazzaniga would be the man between the sticks- & here’s why.

Let me start by saying that I don’t have a particularly high opinion of any of Southampton’s current crop of goalkeepers. All have flaws, but only one has upside- if you’ll pardon the Americanism. Boruc’s kicking is atrocious, error-prone & his shot-stopping is certainly below par for the Premier League. Kelvin Davis’ kicking is also poor & his shot-stopping ability is very suspect, having been cheaply beaten at the near post on several occasions since our return to the top flight. Gazzaniga meanwhile has shown himself to be error-prone & suspect when it comes to dealing with crosses.

The Argentinian, however has major upside. He’s young- at twenty-one over a decade younger than Boruc & Davis- so is a long-term option. His kicking is excellent & he’s also quick off his line; two attributes whose importance is often underestimated in the modern game & are particularly important given how Mauricio Pochettino’s side play. Keeping possession of the ball is essential, both to enable patient build-up play & to minimise the amount of energy-sapping, high-tempo pressing the players have to do when without it. Gazzaniga’s speed off his line also helps the pressing game, as it allows Saints to play a higher line of defence; something Spurs have been able to do with Hugo Lloris in goal. This should compress the area in which the opposition can play in, making Saints’ intense pressing more effective.

Contrary to what some will have you believe, Boruc isn’t that great. Many sweep his deficiencies under the carpet because they’ve warmed to Boruc’s character, loving how he glorifies hooliganism & is, apparently. a “LAD”. That bears a striking resemblance to those calling for Billy Sharp.

For me, the bottom line is this; none of our goalkeepers are that great so we may as well go for the one who could become great, while also offering key attributes the others don’t. If Gazzaniga is given regular football & the confidence of knowing he’s the man, he”l improve. There may be a difficult teething period, but he’ll be stronger for it in the long run.  I don’t think Boruc is any better than Gazzaniga, so I don’t think he should be playing instead of him.

02 9 / 2013

With the transfer window now closed, we know that the above will be Southampton’s final twenty-five man squad; even though it only contains twenty-three players. I for one am happy enough with that; we’ve added quality to an already talented bunch. A lack of width & pace upfront is my only minor concern.

31 8 / 2013

Dean Hammond left Southampton on Friday, joining Leicester for an undisclosed fee. Whilst he hasn’t had adoring fans with a romanticised agenda calling for his inclusion in Saints’ latest line-ups, unlike a certain Billy Sharp, he departs having made a far greater impact in Saints’ rise to the Premier League, & is a far greater legend.

Hammond was a key cog in the Southampton machine for three seasons, ever since his 2009 arrival from Colchester. His commanding presence in midfield, both with the ball & without it, gave the likes of Rickie Lambert & Papa Waigo N’Daiye the ideal platform from which to dispatch chance after chance & also shielded an ready solid defence. Morgan Schneiderlin & Jack Cork were both partners with whom Hammond developed a good relationship, as both were willing to sit in front of the defence, allowing him to venture forward as your archetypal box-to-box midfielder. Both would go on to develop into top quality players & ultimately make Hammond surplus to requirements, but he took in it his stride, accepting his time was up, & hasn’t wallowed in self-pity at not getting his chance in the top flight. Hammond is, without doubt, a consummate professional, & swearing on live television is the one of few blots in his proverbial copybook. Blots I’m more than willing to forgive.

Saints won the JPT on his watch, with Hammond- as on-field captain- lifting the trophy with club captain Kelvin Davis, & gained back-to-back promotions. Hammond was crucial in all of this success & I have no doubt that he’ll prove a shrewd acquisition for the Foxes.

20 8 / 2013

To use the worn-out cliché, Mauricio Pochettino has a problem, but a good problem to have, following the arrival of Daniel Osvaldo from AS Roma. The Argentina-born Italy striker, who was the third-highest scorer in Serie A last season, adds to Saints’ plethora of attacking talent & makes Pochettino’s team selections that little bit harder.  There are multiple ways Pochettino may try to accommodate him, but first here’s the lowdown on Osvaldo from European football expert Joseph Sexton, who watched him extensively at Espanyol where he played under Pochettino.

"Saints have brought in a talented footballer at reasonable price. He’s quick, athletic & strong in the air, so is physically suited to the Premier League. His movement is very good, & while he’s best suited to playing as the main striker, he is versatile. He links the play well, can come deep or go wide when required & is capable with his back to goal. He’s not too dissimilar to Gonzalo Higuaín in that sense."

"It was under Pochettino’s guidance at Espanyol that Osvaldo first began to bloom into a real talent, consistently performing at a high level. As he mentioned on Monday, the faith shown in by Pochettino was crucial in helping him grow as a player, but equally, he comes with something of a reputation as a bad boy. He was banned for one match by Roma & fined €55K, the biggest possible fine under Italian rules, after an altercation with teammate Erik Lamela in the dressing room. He was also seen driving around Rome in a Mini adorned with the blue of Napoli- Roma’s bitter rivals- & a picture of Diego Maradona, who is a hated figure among fans of other Italian sides."

"However this works out, it certainly won’t be dull. With his attributes there’s every chance he could become the fans’ favourite he was at Espanyol, rather than enduring the troubled association he had with Roma’s notoriously volatile supporters." 

The main issue now facing Pochettino is how to shoehorn Rickie Lambert & Osvaldo into the same team. Dropping Lambert would be a dangerous move that would certainly upset fans, & coupled with Pochettino’s glowing praise for the striker after his exploits for England this seems unlikely. Given that Lambert scored fifteen goals last term whilst also creating the third-most chances from open play in the league, his importance in how Saint play shouldn’t be underestimated. At least in Osvaldo Saints now have someone far more capable of filling his boots, should he be out for any length of time.

Pochettino seems to like playing a 4-2-3-1, & it’s possible that he could accommodate both Osvaldo & Lambert into this formation. Lambert regularly drops deep as it is & has an under-appreciated range of passing, so could potentially play behind Osvaldo. However, this ‘number ten’ role is the one that best suits Gastón Ramírez, so if Lambert were to line up here then the Uruguayan would either be pushed out of position or out of the line-up as a whole. Adam Lallana & James Ward-Prowse have also shown that they are capable of delivering as a playmaker, so using Lambert in this role would perhaps seem like a waste of resources.

As eluded to by Joseph above, Osvaldo does possess the skill set necessary to play in a wider role & often found himself in this position for Roma last season, with Francesco Totti still ruling the roost there & playing down the middle. Attacking full-backs Luke Shaw & Nathaniel Clyne tend to provide most of the width for Southampton, so the ‘wide men’ in the 4-2-3-1 tend to actually spend most of their time cutting in from the flanks & making their way towards the penalty area. This should give Osvaldo plenty of opportunities to get into goalscoring positions, while also maintaining at least some width up the pitch. Osvaldo would probably play on the right, but as with playing Lambert in behind Osvaldo though, there are other players more suited to this role- most notably Lallana.

Of course, the simple solution is to play with two upfront. This way both Osvaldo & Lambert would be in their best position, & as both are technically gifted players they should link well together. Pochettino could possibly play Lallana & Ramírez behind them as inverted wingers, or one of them in behind & three central midfielders behind him. I’d quite like to see the latter with Ramírez operating just ahead of Morgan Schneiderlin, Jack Cork & Victor Wanyama, but can see how this could lead to a lack of width & our attacking players being crowded out. The combative midfielder trio would be one of the strongest in the league though & stop the opposition finding their rhythm, whilst Ramírez should bring the flair, skill & vision necessary to unlock a crowded defence.

Osvaldo is a player Pochettino knows well, & who has flourished under him before. Whilst there is of course a risk involved, given his track record for trouble, I trust Pochettino’s judgement & would be surprised if Osvaldo causes too much disruption at St. Mary’s. He’s clearly a complex character, but hopefully the South Coast’s tranquility, & relative lack of nightlife, should help him stay out of trouble.

Pochettino’s previous experience with Osvaldo also means he knows him well as a player, & so clearly has a plan for where he’s going to play him. Where exactly that is remains to be seen, & is likely to change with the opposition, but Osvaldo is certainly an exciting addition who adds real quality to a Southampton squad that’s already the best of I’ve seen in lifetime.

06 8 / 2013

When Southampton released Frazer Richardson & Danny Butterfield, they were left with only one senior right-back at the club; Nathaniel Clyne. Clyne was outstanding last season, but as with any player he’s not immune to injuries or suspensions, so having at least one good back-up is essential. In Calum Chambers, Mauricio Pochettino believes he’s found one.

There’s no doubting that Chambers is a talented footballer, & anyone who has seen him playing for Saints’ youth teams will know that he’s technically very good. However, whether or not he’s good enough for the Premier League is harder to tell. He’s done alright in pre-season so far, showing both defensively ability & a willingness to get forward, but his positioning has been a bit suspect- not helped in the Celta Vigo game by those in front of him losing possession cheaply. Some positioning issues are hardly surprising though, given that last season was his first full campaign at full-back.

It’s also worth remembering that Maya Yoshida & Jack Cork both played at right-back last season when Clyne was out, & could do again this campaign. Whilst neither looked overly confident there- especially when it came to going forward & offering an overlap- both were solid enough defensively. Pochettino could yet decide that he’d rather have an experienced head at the back, rather than the untested Chambers.

Chambers has got a lot of talent & potential, & those in power at St. Mary’s clearly believe in him, having just given him a four-deal. Fans must reel in their expectations though, & not assume that Chambers will adapt as quickly & emphatically as Luke Shaw.