Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Premier League Match 5 - Crystal Palace 0 Southampton 1

Mauricio Helps an Old Man to His Seat

After the dismally shit performance against Watford, we travel to Selhurst Park to play a Crystal Palace side who have made it being dismally shit the norm over the past year or so. Fat Sam masterminded their survival last year and then fucked off in the summer for slightly strange reasons to be replaced by Frank de Boer who was given the task to change the way that Palace play which is basically always been long ball and chucking in loads of crosses from the wings.  De Boer introduced a more possession based game which lasted for four games and four defeats and no goals and he was then sacked.  Rumour has it that he told various players and the chairman that they basically weren't fucking good enough to play in a team that wanted to keep possession of the football and the writing was on the wall from that moment on. So, chairman Steve Parish who had appointed de Boer and given him his instructions, decided to appoint Croydon boy and pensioner Roy Hodgson - last seen masterminding a truly pathetic 2-1 defeat for England against Iceland in Euro 2016.

For all the talk of Hodgson having a decent managerial record, let’s not get away from the fact that he was fucking useless as an England manager taking four years to not build a discernible pattern of play, getting knocked out of the 2014 World Cup after two matches and being equally fucking abysmal at Euro 2016. To cap it all, he was fired and then sat in the in the press conference after the tournament saying I don't know why I'm here. He looked and sounded like a resident in a rest home who was sitting in a puddle of his own piss.  There were 7 million reasons (per year) why the hell did he should've been there to explain himself. Anyway, off he went into the sunset and I assumed that no football club would ever be stupid enough to give him another job. Granted his record and club football is not too bad with medium-size clubs but at 70 years old, has he really still got it?  If you could ask that question of Roy Hodgson, you could also ask it of John Motson who has mercifully decided to retire from commentating on football matches. This is at least 10 years too late but at least he has taken the decision and fair play to him.

I've always thought that Palace had a slightly strange squad in that they appear to have players who commanded either a huge transfer fee or would be on huge wages like Benteke and Cabaye and they offset those with players who quite frankly, would not get in any other Premier League team like Jeffrey Schlupp, Jason Puncheon and ex-Skate Joel Ward.

As for us, this week saw the return of the Virgil van Dijk to Saints colours as he played for the under 23’s is against Aston Villa, where he was crap, partially at fault for at least three of the goals that went past Alex McCarthy in our 4-0 defeat. Still, he played 90 minutes and all the indications are that he would be involved in some way at Palace this weekend.

We of course had massive issues with the front half of our team last week against Watford so it would be interesting to see what Pellegrino did this week.  In my opinion, even if not in anyone else's, there was a huge question mark over Jack Stephens as well. In the event, the back end of the team looked very strong with Yoshida preferred to Stephens and Lemina coming back into the midfield. The front for saw Davis preferred to JWP and Tadic instead of Boufal.  I have been calling for the inclusion of Shane Long but assumed it would be in one of the wide positions but he took Gabbiadini’s place upfront.

One of the rules I hate most in football is the one that allows you to loan players to/from clubs in the same division.  With the money available to clubs these days there is absolutely no reason why this should be allowed but it is and Palace have two – Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea and Fosu-Mensah from Manchester United.

There’s the reassuring presence of Roy Hodgson on the touchline as the game starts.  Reassuring for us that is.  Palace have the first attack with the Chelsea player chucking in a cross that Townsend can’t control.  Palace haven’t scored all season and we only have one from open play so no one’s expecting a goal fest so what happens on 6 minutes is a major surprise.  Davis drives forward from midfield and slides in Tadic on the right, he takes on Schlupp on the outside and fires it across first time with his right foot, Hennessey pushes it out and there’s Davo to pass it into the corner of the net, past the ex-Skate who is on the line but going to wrong way.  Get in.

Hang on – we look superb in midfield and in defence.  Lemina is playing like a machine and the back four are well drilled.  Yoshida is competing well with Benteke and Hoedt is spraying the ball about.  This looks great.  It gives us the platform to build and following another Davo break, Tadic picks out Long with a superb cross and he tries to lob a header over Hennessey but gets it wrong and hits the crowd via the corner of his head.

This is Saints though and we can fuck up any situation and after Hoedt wins a challenge in defence, Redmond falls on his arse and Townsend plays in Chelsea and his cross is met by Benteke five yards out but he’s scooped it a bit and Fraser is there to block.  Good save big orange man.

As the half goes on, Lemina is the king in midfield, winning the ball back and driving forward.  The usually decent Cabaye and McArthur are nowhere for Palace.  Their only threat is Made in Chelsea and he combines with Benteke and drills a good low shot just wide from the edge of the box and then produces another decent driving run which ends with a shot which is well blocked by Bertrand.  For all our domination in midfield we are not creating much with a Redmond scuffer which goes wide being as close as we get.  The half ends with Townsend latching on to a Benteke flick and lashing it wide of the near post with his favoured left foot.  He’s crap really isn’t he?

With Saints having emphatically won the midfield battle in the first half, England’s finest changes the Palace shape and decides that it may be better if there’s a player somewhere near Benteke and pushes the Chelsea player forward.  To be fair it works and Saints looks a bit panicky.  Romeu gives the ball away on the edge of our box and Chelsea runs at the left side of our defence and his low cross evades everyone.  Palace recycle it and Schlupp bends in a great cross from the left and Punch meets it about 5 yards out but Fraser has made himself into a huge orange starfish and blocks superbly.  If de Gea or Courtois makes that save then Sky are creaming off about it for years.

Palace’s frustration is beginning to boil over and they start kicking anything that moves.  Saints break up the right and Punch decides to just charge into Tadic with an NFL style block.  He then moans about the yellow card he gets.  Ward is up next with a bit of control that he obviously learned in Portsmouth and he rugby tackles Redmond.  McArthur takes time out from being schooled by Lemina and dives is to two ridiculous challenges in quick succession, seeing yellow for the second when they were both worthy.

It’s about 75 minutes before we make our first sub with Redmond being replaced by JWP.  It’s not been a great day for Nathan so it’s a solid looking substitution.  Roy then makes the managerial decision that has the most benefit to Saints that he could by removing the Chelsea player who has been their best player by a mile.  To be fair, he has been suffering with ‘qwamp’.  I feel that this game is comfortable for us now and then Yoshida smacks a clearance into Lemina which luckily bounces straight to Fraser.  Mario can even snuff our danger when the ball is smashed at him from 5 yards when his back is turned.

With 6 minutes left of the 90 came the moment that the media will be talking about over and above everything when Virgil made the appearance in a Saints shirt that he was never going to make.  On he comes for Tadic and takes his place in between Yoshida and Hoedt which is a sign of things to come for me.  It looks a tactically sound move as Palace are launching everything up to Benteke now.  I’m happy with this because Benteke clearly doesn’t give a shit.  Seriously, I’d take him off and try and play some football.

There are no more alarms as we get to 90.  Whilst the clock is ticking down and you have a 1-0 lead, it’s always nice to be camped up the other end of the pitch and we eventually work it across to Cedric who cuts in from the right and hits a shot at Hennessey which is well blocked.  With just seconds remaining on the clock, Palace attempt to break and the game ends in the same style as it’s had for the past 90 minutes with Lemina hunting down the ball and taking it off a Palace player like he was taking back his own personal property.  That’s my ball, this is my field, these are my rules, now fuck off.  Game over and Roy looks like he needs a blanket and warm milk back in the rest home.

In the end it was a win that showed exactly what we are about. We are resilient defensively and with the two beasts in midfield we should be able to dominate quite a few games. We still haven't got it going quite upfront because if we did have, this game would've been dead and buried at half time whilst we were dominating it. In the end it took two really good saves from Fraser to ensure that we won it. If Palace had got anything out of the game it would've been a fucking travesty but it’s an odd game in that if you just watch the highlights and incidents near the goal, it looks like we’ve survived a battering. Having sacked a manager who actually dared to play some football, they've gone back to a manager who instantly just reverted to smashing it long to Benteke who didn't have any players around him whatsoever, especially in the first half. In the second half, Made in Chelsea got close to him and causes a few problems but then he came off and Roy brought on a defensive midfielder. This pushed Cabaye further forward but to no effect.

Saints dealt with the one Palace tactic, the long ball up to Benteke, by Yoshida getting as close as he could to Benteke and not letting him bring the ball down and when he flicked it on either the full backs or the seriously impressive Wesley Hoedt tidied everything up. The area we completely dominated was in midfield where Lemina was absolutely immense. Romeu did his usual thing and that enabled Steve Davis to roam around, read the game and get the team moving. One thing I will say is that Palace were dirty bastards and fully deserved the five bookings that they got. Some really cynical horrible play combined with moaning about it to the referee afterwards. I know Jason Punch was the captain but he acted like a whiny little bitch right the way through the game.

Shane Long did what Shane Long does and hassled and harried and was a complete pain in the arse for the defenders and you have to say that team selection totally worked. Dusan Tadic had a decent first half before fading horribly on the second but Redmond was poor. He did have a couple of half breaks and efforts on goal but more often than not he was falling on his arse and just giving the ball away. Maybe bring Gabbiadini in to play on the left and make him and Shane Long interchangeable?

We have to talk about Virgil I guess. He came on for the last 10 minutes for the inevitable aerial bombardment and whilst I have no doubt his presence did help matters, his timing was way out getting our jumped for virtually every ball. It'll come I guess.  Even though he didn’t win much, his presence enabled us to have more players to sweep up the flick ons and he did look interested.

So, a great result for Pellegrino in terms of the fact that he obviously thought about what went wrong the previous week and changed it and today was much better. Mind you, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put Mario Lemina in the team. He was absolutely fucking outstanding today and it was the easiest decision for the man of the match that there can ever have been. The useless wanker that is Philip Neville was saying on Match of the Day that some of the big clubs will already be looking at Lemina. It's so predictable that it's fucking hilarious. You have to laugh or else you get angry about it.  To give today a bit of context, which Phil Neville is obviously totally incapable of doing, it is the first game that Mario has played 90 minutes for us and we are playing against a team who are bottom of the league having lost all five games. Hey, I think Mario was absolutely brilliant today but it is only one game. Let's see how he gets on against a good side, like the Manchester United side that we play next week.

It was a good day for Mauricio - the charge upfront with Shane work very well as did the central defensive partnership. We just have to work out how to play home games now. It was great for Steven Davis to actually get a shot on target but the best bit of today for me was the two saves by Fraser. The Twitter army who have been slagging him off for quite a long time at every opportunity, were conspicuously absent straight after the game.  They’d still prefer us to pick McCarthy, who let in 4 for the under 23s in midweek and is never fit for longer than 10 minutes.  They also wanted to pick Mouez Hassen last year who no one had ever seen play.

Straight after the game, due to it being an early kick-off, we had shot right at the table to fifth-place which is rather cool. I was looking around at Ronald Koeman and Everton but they were fucking nowhere. I looked for Juergen Klopp and Liverpool and they were below us as well. It looked different at 5pm and we had dropped to 9th but for now, happy days.

Next up, as mentioned, it's Manchester United at home and the moaning fuck that is Jose Mourinho. Bring it on. Someone's got to hand them their first defeat of the season so why not us.  I see us playing 3-5-2 with Virgil coming into the side in place of either Redmond or Tadic.

You Want This Ball?  Come and Take It.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Premier League Match 4 - Southampton 0 Watford 2

And You Can Stick Your Clappers Up Your Fucking Arse and all.

After the International break disrupted any early-season momentum that we might have had, we are back at St Mary's today for the visit of Watford. People have been commenting, although not always positively, about the fact that Saints have changed in that we are not selling all our best players this summer. Watford appear to have made a bit of a change as well in that they haven't thrown out absolutely everybody and replaced them like they have done in previous seasons.  Sure, the manager has gone with the very boring manager being replaced by a new, more dynamic one. Sounds Familiar. Marco Silva is the man who somewhat surprisingly took the Watford job and so far, they have the same record as ourselves with one win and two draws. Their are one win was away at Bournemouth and it was quite amusing because it shot down the notion that Bournemouth were going to somehow be much better this year having spent a relative fortune.  Watford’s opening day draw against Liverpool just highlighted that Liverpool need a centre back (ha ha ha) and a home draw against Brighton highlighted that Brighton have no strikers and that sometimes, a three-game ban is not enough for a red card tackle. Britos should have ended up in fucking prison for that tackle in the Brighton game which was and assault which is probably not allowed in the UFC. Watford have of course signed a few with Nathanial Chalobah looking like a decent buy from Chelsea. I really would've quite liked him at St Mary's but instead of him, we've got Mario Lemina. Talking of whom...

Our new boy scored a fantastic goal for Gabon against the Ivory Coast in the World Cup qualifier, picking up the ball on the left, going forward with purpose and then smashing a screamer over the top of the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net from about 35 yards. That was the undoubted highlight of our players involvement in international week but Steve Davis and Northern Ireland had two more wins to all backed guarantee play-off spot and Ryan Bertrand played both games for England and scored his first international goal in the process when England put four past Malta. England were typically laboured but two wins out of two got the job done and we will almost certainly be in Russia for another tournament of disappointment in the summer. Bertrand himself, in the context of the England displays, had two pretty good matches and now, the media are beginning to talk of him in terms of being England's first choice left back.  Once Danny Rose has recovered from injury for five minutes, all the media will remember that he plays for Spurs and he’ll be their first choice again but the truly discerning know who the better man out of two very good left backs is.

Post transfer window and right on cue, Virgill van Dijk returned to training. The club didn't over play it with just a couple of photographs but they couldn't resist putting a video of him smacking a shot into the top corner and a shooting drill. Despite a plethora of experts and people like Paul Merson predicting that he wouldn't play until January, it seems that the reintegration has started well. Philip Coutinho, who was predicted to settle back into life at Liverpool straight away has so far shown no inclination to do so. The back injury that he had miraculously cleared up in time for him to play two games for Brazil and after that, according to Klopp, he was not okay to play for Liverpool this weekend, which on the face of it, is a pretty big two fingered at salute to Liverpool.

The other story of transfer window fallout was of great amusement to me personally with the director of Sporting Lisbon christening Gold and Sullivan at West Ham, The Dildo Brothers after they failed to sign William Carvalho from Sporting. I have of course been calling them that for years, since 2011 in fact.  I have of course taken it much much further with the suggestion that they strapped to free dildo to the underside of every seat in the Ann Summers Taxpayer stadium (better than a fucking plastic clapper anyway) and of course that they somehow incorporate a massive dildo into the structure to personalise the stadium when they took over the lease. One of the funny things about writing a blog for years is that all your opinions when you have been completely and utterly wrong are there in black and white but also it's amusing when moments like this happen, when you can look back and say that you actually said it first. I always wondered what being ITK felt like. Ha ha. Anyway, a director of Sporting Lisbon of course has more clout than I do and I have not made any money from copyright and I have not been sent any presents from the Gold and Sullivan range of products, which I am quite pleased about.

Back to today and it’s a question of perception in that a win will mean 8 points out of 12 which from those for fixtures will be pretty good. A defeat and 5 out of 12 will not seem quite so decent.  On the way to the game we’re heading over the Itchen Bridge in the sunshine and notice the bastard great black cloud over the ground and within a couple of minutes we are running for shelter under the trees or under a burger van canopy as it’s pissing down.  Awesome.  In the ground and there are loads of those fucking plastic clappers everywhere.  This is bad news but especially when you sit in the Family Stand and you’re never too far from a small child who thinks these are the best thing ever.  Everywhere you looked there was an adult with a pained expression on their face.

The team news is interesting… Hoedt for Yoshida and JWP for Lemina.  I assume that these are down to distances travelled on international duty for the two left out.  Also in the side is Boufal instead of Tadic.  Now Tadic deserved to be left out but Boufal in no way deserved to be selected but he really has to be given an opportunity sometime.  OK… on paper it doesn’t look too bad but as we kicked off it appeared that JWP was playing at 10 with Boufal on the wing and Davo was next to Romeu.  Straight away there looked to be a mismatch in midfield as Chalobah and Doucoure were all over us.

Boufal makes a decent start with a lovely touch and burst past the right back but his pull back is easily cleared.  After that brief excitement up the Watford end the game settles down and they’re all over us physically, closing us down and stopping us getting anywhere near their end of the pitch.  To be fair, they’re not doing much either up our end with Hoedt and Stephens comfortably dealing with Gray up front and Cedric and Bertrand dealing with Richarlison and Carillo respectively.  Cleverley is as shit as he always was when he was a regular in the England side because he was a Manchester United substitute.

So, Watford win a throw and Holebas hurls it in as we knew he was going to do.  Stephens, for reasons only known to him, doesn’t head it or kick it away but rather knees it out to the edge of the box and Doucoure wins a challenge because he wanted it more and the ball sits up nicely for him to smash low through a crowd and into the far corner of the net.  Good strike but shit defending and you can’t say Watford didn’t deserve it.

Far from provoking a response from us, there’s nothing.  Stephens gets bullied by Gray and the ball drops for Richarlison who smashes it just wide.  The rest of the half is just painful shit.  We do fuck all except get dominated all over the place.  We’re so far away from their goal and we lose it before we get anywhere due to their organisation and willingness to close down.  Quite simply, they’re better than us with Chalobah in particular just running the show.  Half time – fucking dreadful shower of shit.  Wankers.  Embarrassing wankers.  Has Gabbi touched the ball?  Probably not because he’s relying on JWP to give it to him.  You may as well put Fraser at 10 instead of JWP as he won’t do any fucking worse or be less suitable for the position.  I of course feel sorry for Gabbi but also for Redmond and Boufal who only ever get the ball on the half way line because our midfield two are getting fucked over without a fight.  Let’s see what we do to change it – the only positive is that it’s only 1-0.

Oh that’ll make a huge fucking difference – Tadic on for JWP.  How fucking tired is Lemina?  If he can’t play 45 minutes then what’s the point of him even being on the bench.  What’s gonna change with Davo and Romeu up against those two?  Away we go and guess what, we’re still getting fucked and they’re going in dry.  Watford are almost playing Olé football as they work it around and Chalobah bring a save out of Fraser.

Fuck me we’ve won a corner.  Tadic has actually made things a bit better and he puts Bertrand away who wins the said corner.  Watford are a team of massive fuckers and from corners they put five monsters in the vicinity of the near post and we obviously see it as a challenge to put the ball in the middle of them, which we manage.  Our height is Hoedt and we put our corners nowhere near him.  When Watford win a corner, which they do when Bertrand takes a shit touch and gives one away, there is carnage which we just about get away with in amongst falling bodies and appeals for handball.

Boufal links up with Redmond who makes a decent run and Sofiane smashes an effort miles over the bar but at least it’s a shot. Redmond puts an effort into the side netting following a corner and Watford have to change two defenders as Kaboul and the right back are both injured.  Surely the two subs will disrupt things and we can take advantage… not a bit of it.

A ball into our box and Stephens heads it straight up in the air in shit fashion.  Hoedt gets to it but because of Stephens’ fuck up he has to put all the power on it and can’t clear it too far and one of the Watford subs Janmaat, picks it up and with no pressing from any fucker, he can pick his spot and put it in the far corner as Fraser does the impression of a falling tree.  Two fucking nil.

Long is on for Gabbiadini and then Austin is on for Boufal and we appear to have gone for a 4-4-2 With Tadic and Redmond wide and Long and Austin up front.  Aside from a couple of runs from Long where no fucker gets up with him, nothing changes much.  Austin runs around as usual and bumps into defenders in that clumsy-arsed way of his.  On 93 minutes a ball breaks out to Romeu and he tees up Cedric who shoots from 35 yards and Gomes pulls out a one-for-the-cameras save.  It is however a shot on target and anyone who was still arsed enough to still be in the ground celebrates like we’ve scored.  It’s funny and fucking sad as well.

The last twenty minutes has been played at training ground pace.  No rush from Watford as they’re winning and no feeling that we were ever going to get back into it.  Waste of fucking time football again.  Remind me… did Claude leave?  Absolute bollocks performance.  Sort it out Mauricio for fucks sake.  Are we a pressing team or are we a play on the break team.  No, we’re neither.  We’re a tippy tappy slow paced sideways and backwards pile of shit.  We also have shit footballers, especially in the final third.  I was angry at half time, resigned in the 2nd half and now angry again.

Well where do we start with that absolute pile of wank?  Let's praise the opposition. I thought Watford were superb, prepared to do all the hard yards and all the ugly stuff and take their chances when they presented themselves. They dealt with every situation that presented itself during the game with commitment and energy and teamwork. They lost two of the four defenders in the same minute and dealt with it with the absolute minimum of fuss because all the players knew what they had to do and were prepared to put the hard work in.  They’ve got some very good players with Chalobah, Doucoure and Richarlison particularly impressive.

As for us… fucking hell!

I thought that Cedric tried his best and showed a determination not to be beaten to the ball and he stuck to his task well… and he had a fucking shot on target – that almost qualifies him for legend status on its own. The central defensive pairing were passable but Stephens as usual got bullied a few times and if you’re being critical (and I am), had a hand in both goals with poor clearances.  Hopefully he’ll be dropped next week for Yoshida as he’s really not as good as he’s hyped to be.  Some of Hoedt's distribution was somewhat dodgy but in the main he did ok. The new boy wasn't bad but he wasn't quite as good as I was hoping he was going to be. I was hoping he'd be a real brute and dominate in the air. It is only his first game and he will have to get used to the physicality of the Premier League. 

That’s more or less it for any positives.  Here we go… I don’t blame Fraser for the first goal as it flew through some players but he was like a falling fucking tree for the second one and he saw that all the way, mainly because no fucker closed Janmaat down because no one could be bothered.  Ryan Bertrand looked like he really couldn't give a fuck and didn't want to be out there. He's look like that in a few games this season and it has generally been put down to his natural demeanour. However, I don't remember him looking so miserable and disinterested in his previous years with the club and there has to be a point where your body language does in fact betray what you are really thinking. Maybe a week away with England and talking to players who are on three times as much money as him has taken its toll.

Pellegrino fucked up the midfield it has to be said. I understand that that Lemina has been playing international in Africa this week but a tired player would have better than what we had out there.  Carillo for Watford apparently only got back from South America 24 hours before kick off.  He played so why didn’t our travellers?  Putting Steven Davis in the midfield engine room is a disaster and it always will be especially against physical opponents. I know Pellegrino wasn’t here last year but surely someone could have told him about Davo in the Spurs game last year agsint Wanyama and Dembele.  Davo was not helped by Romeu having quite possibly his poorest game in a Saints shirt and if you want to look at an area of the pitch where the game was won of lost, it was in the area where the excellent Chalobah and Doucoure smashed us to bits. I don't know what Hojbjerg has done but he is clearly well out of favour. He would've been a better option to partner Romeu today.

The front four was the same as usual. Gabbiadini made lots of runs and didn't get the ball, Redmond had the odd moment where he looked lively but Boufal and particularly JWP were fucking hopeless. Again, Pellegrino got it wrong here. Watching JWP trying to play when he was receiving the ball from behind was embarrassingly bad. He had no idea what to do with it and is not quick or skilful enough to operate in the tight areas that a number 10 has to operate in. It would have been better if he played on the right wing with Boufal in the middle and it would've been better if he swapped positions with Davis but even then we still would've got absolutely smashed to bits in midfield.  What bothers me slightly was that it was obvious from about 5 minutes in that the midfield was getting battered so why not drop JWP back in there to make a three.  Because we were being forced back, whenever Boufal or Redmond got the ball they were too deep to do any damage.

When Tadic came on at half-time, it was noticeable that we did improve but to me, that was more an indication of how bad JWP was. In short, we could have put any fucker on in that position and they would've done better. Cringe of the day was when Tadic had an opportunity in their penalty area that fucked it up and decided that the best way to make an excuse for this was to collapse holding his knee when there was absolutely nothing wrong with him.  Absolutely pathetic to be honest.

Shane Long came on and at least offered some urgency and some pace. I'm not his biggest fan but in the context of the team at the moment, he really has to start. Austin eventually coming on was fucking pointless. Charlie looks more and more like a fucking competition winner in a testimonial with every passing game. I think that's all I saw him do was let a ball roll under his foot and accidentally clatter into two Watford players in a ‘drunk weaving through a crowded bar’ kind of way.

I feel that the Claude Puel mindset is still ingrained in the players. They are risk averse and everything that they do. However, you can only go for so long blaming the previous manager. Mauricio Pellegrino has to sort it out and he has to sort it out quickly. That lot out there today didn’t look up for the fight which is never ever acceptable.

So, it is 5 points out of 12, from four fixtures where we should have reasonably expected to get 10 out of 12, is not good enough and sooner or later, the decent sides are going to come around and if we play like that, we are going to get absolutely smashed.  Everyone has to look at themselves. Some players don't appear to be put in the effort in and that is completely unforgivable and some just aren't fucking good enough. A few of the decisions regarding who we loaned out now beginning to seem a bit questionable. Personally, I would rather have kept Sam Gallagher than Charlie Austin for example.  We always seem to leave one issue unaddressed in transfer windows and this time it’s glaringly at the expensive end of the pitch.  When he comes back, maybe stick Virgil up front. We spent most of the transfer window talking about him anyway.

Next week – Palace away.  8 league games between us – they haven’t scored at all and we’ve only scored in one game and only one goal that wasn’t a penalty when the opposition had 11 men.  What are the odds on a 4-4 draw…?

PS – Palace have sacked Frank de Boer and appointed the Senile Old Goat Roy Hodgson. Will it be new manager bounce or will the useless old fucker have no effect.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Premier League Match 3 - Huddersfield 0 Southampton 0

It Must Be The Winner.... No.
Our first away game and a trip to Huddersfield where we haven't been since out League 1 days. Those with short memories will remember nothing much but those with slightly longer memories remember that Huddersfield was the team putting pressure on us at the end of our League 1 promotion campaign, winning something like 10 games in a row and generally not doing what they were supposed to and going away. We failed to catch Brighton but as you know, we eventually got over the line and Huddersfield fucked it up in the Play-offs. Last year they were in the play-offs again and ended up playing the mega-money match to get promoted into the Premier League in which they prevailed against Reading in one of the most tedious matches I've ever sat through and believe me I've sat through a few. They won on penalties and were most peoples tip to get fairly smashed in the Premier League. 
That they haven't so far it's down to the good work of David Wagner, a German coach who has proved to be a breath of fresh air. On the opening day they went to Crystal Palace and stuffed a shambolic looking Palace by 3-0 before nicking a 1-0 result against Newcastle. The manager was saying that we were a step up in class from those teams and will therefore be Huddersfield’s biggest test yet. Let's hope he's right and we can hand them the first defeat and a realisation that the Premier League isn't always that fucking easy.
Of course, we are coming off the back of a diabolical performance in the League Cup. Even three days later it is quite hard to digest just how shit that was. It appears that Mauricio Pellegrino has decided to ignore it and pretend it didn't happen as he's reverted back to exactly the same team that started the West Ham home game. I can't say that I'm not a little disappointed with this and I did groan audibly when I heard that Tadic had yet again managed to convince the manager that he was worthy of a start. Big New Wes made the bench and we persisted with Jack and Maya. During the week came the news that Maya Yoshida had been awarded a three year contract extension. Whilst I still remain to be convinced that I want him as a first choice centre back, the news made me smile as whatever your opinion of him as a footballer, it cannot be denied that he is a really decent bloke and it just would not ever behave in the way a certain shithouse centre back at our club has behaved.
To the game and Huddersfield have the better start, playing at 100mph.  We created the first chance however as the home right back is miles out of position and Davis puts Redmond through on the left.  He takes a superb touch inside and cuts in towards goal and with the whole goal to aim at, passes it wide of the far post.  As the ball hits the advertising board, you just know that we aren’t going to get many better chances than that.
Huddersfield are a physically imposing side and the game plan is to put crosses into the box as soon as possible.  They have the tactically impressive idea of having a left footer on the left and and right footer on the right and this enables early curling crosses away from the keeper.  This might catch on.  Van la Parra puts a great ball in from the left and Mounié is met with a superb block by Maya.  We don’t really clear it and in comes the same ball again from the left and this time it’s Fraser who is down at the feet of Mounié and this time we do clear it properly.
We’re our own worst enemy when we win a corner through decent play between Redmond and Davis and then Berty’s corner is caught by the keeper, one long throw and we’re in the shit again with Huddersfield building on the right and van la Parra gets a shot in which is blocked by Davo who has made it back 80 yards in no time.
The rest of the half is all Huddersfield as we struggle to get a foothold and at times, struggle to clear the ball.  Mounié scuffs wide when well placed and Fraser has to make a decent low save from perennial ‘not as good as he thinks he is’ Tom Ince who has latched onto a long ball over the top which Maya has missed and Jack hasn’t covered for.  If Fraser looked good there, he looked bad a minute later when he made a complete mess of another one of those curled crosses from the left and gets lucky as Kachunga’s (sp.) shot hits him on the ground and goes wide.
The second half starts with a bit more intent from Saints with Lemina suddenly making runs ahead of the ball.  This gives Romeu an extra option to pass the ball to and the new boy lays off his pass to Gabbiadini who gets a shot on target but comfortable for the keeper.  We should try this ‘making forward runs’ thing more often.  Gabbi would slap me for saying that as all he does is make runs without anyone giving him the ball usually.
There’s not a lot going on in the second half to be honest.  We are struggling to get anything going up front so the subs that eventually come are all at the top end.  Lemina has put in another promising display but he’s first off for JWP which means Davo dropping deeper.  To the disappointment of many, Gabbiadini is next off for Long and to the disappointment of no-one, Tadic is off for McQueen which leaves both Boufal and Austin sat on the bench.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not his biggest fan but Austin is more likely to get a goal than those who have come on and Boufal is probably more likely to create one.
Anyway, Huddersfield have blown themselves out and there are still 15 minutes to go.  An Ince shot that deflects straight to Fraser is the best they’ve got as we take over.  The first bit of excitement is Long putting JWP in on goal on the right.  He cuts past the last defender and just falls over.  A half arsed appeal for a penalty but no referee in the world is going to give that.
Long is again the architect as he gets away on the right and intelligently gets his head up and picks out Redmond on the edge of the box.  He goes for placement rather than power and places it perfectly straight at the keeper.  All those shooting drills from the training ground that we see every week and we still hit the keeper.  The intent is there from us now with Yoshida breaking from defence and the ball gets worked to McQueen, a first time cross (left footer on the left) and our favourite Japanese man throws himself at it but the flag is already up against McQueen.  Again though, it showed that when the shackles are off a bit and you commit bodies forward, things can happen.
Shane Long has been superb since he came on and in the last minute he pulls out a superb cross (right footer on the right) and it’s right on the incoming Bertrand’s head.  He has a choice to either put his forehead through it or place it past the keeper and he goes for the latter and gets it past the keeper but there’s not enough on it to beat the defender on the line.  Fuck.
Another bloody 0-0 and another missed opportunity.  5 points out of 9 isn’t bad but it should have been 9.  Huddersfield blew themselves out after 70 minutes and 20 minutes should have been long enough to find a goal but no.  I can’t help but feel that with a bit more conviction and belief in the opening 70 minutes we could have won that game.  Missing sitters like the one Redmond missed in the first half doesn’t help either.
The positives today were Fraser Forster looking decent and confident and also Mario Lemina showing signs of growing into the Premier League.  I liked when he was prepared to break ahead of the ball and look for it further up rather than just sit in front of the centre backs.  He’s only going to get better.
One of the main problems with Saints is the three players behind the striker.  In my opinion, Gabbiadini is a superb stiriker and with the right supply, he’d be scoring 20 a season.  However, he’s neither getting the ball often enough, nor getting enough support from players.  Of the three behind who started today, Redmond looks dangerous in patches but his finishing and final ball is often all over the place. Davis links well with the defensive midfielders but provides very little in terms of supply for the striker and also, can’t shoot for shit.  Tadic is just dreadful at the moment, providing the odd glimpse of his undoubted talent in an area of the pitch where it doesn’t matter and then disappearing for 30, 40, 50 minutes.  He’s turning in Fabrice Fernandes where you sometimes think that his only function is to slow everything down.
Today, I wondered what the hell the manager was doing when we ended up with Redmond, Shane Long, JWP and Sam McQueen as the front four.  On the other hand, at least he was trying something and not just sleepwalking through to the end of the game and it has to be said that whether this was down to Huddersfield being tired or not, we were better in the last 15 minutes.  To me – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – Shane Long seemed to make the biggest difference, picking up the ball in wide areas and stretching the defence.  He also got over some really decent crosses which should have led to a winning goal from Bertrand.  There simply has to be better options than Tadic and I’d say that Shane deserves a start on the right in the next game with Redmond on the left  - at least that gives us pace on both sides and the ability to turn the opponents around.  Other options could of course include Boufal, JWP or even someone out of the Under 23’s like Tyreke Johnson.  Tadic needs to be dropped to see if it kicks him up the arse – is it a coincidence that Fraser has just had his best match for a while having been dropped from the England squad?
As we enter the last week of the transfer window, I feel that we have to either replace Mané or replace Pellé.  Either sign a pacy creative player or sign a target man centre forward.  Doing nothing and doing neither will achieve nothing and the Board will be expecting Pellegrino to make a silk purse out of sows ear regarding our forward options.  Hopefully, with all the attention being focussed on whether or not a certain shithouse will leave, we can sneak one in under the radar….
Transfer Deadline Day…
So Thursday is here and the transfer window has closed and guess what, Virgil van Dijk is still a Saints player as the club received precisely zero bids from anybody.  Liverpool had exhausted their supply of ex-players of any consequence and were even calling up their complete nobodies to say their bit like David Thompson who I vaguely remember playing about 10 games in the 90s.  Now it’s over we can all say ‘fuck off Liverpool’. 
To recap and summarise, they illegally met the player, promised him the world to get him interested, agreed personal terms which promised him the world, released this to the media because they wanted to show off, had to apologise and then left the player to it and never made a single bid.  All that happened was that ex-Liverpool players in the media and the ‘Big Club’ media in general kept the story in the news when there was in fact, no story.  We’d said he wasn’t for sale and that was that.  Basically, Liverpool have treated Virgil like shit and I’m sure that once the dust settles and he gets his head round it all, he’ll realise this and he won’t be signing for them any time soon. 
Someone was a bit Premature
So, if indeed it was the case that Liverpool’s interested ended with their grovelling apology, why is Virgil not back playing yet?  Either Liverpool were still in his ear giving him the pillow talk or he decided that it was ok for him to sit it out until now.  Both are probably true.  Hopefully, when we say in January that he’s not for sale, the media might believe it.  Then again, I might manage to pull Miss World or Donald Trump might stop being an arsehole.  There’s a chance, albeit too small to even register on the most sophisticated of machinery. 
The key moving forward will probably be the promise that Virgil can leave this time next year.  A good season for us and a decent World Cup for Holland (if they qualify) and with the transfer market being as it is now, we’ll be selling a player with 4 years left on his contract for about £100 million.  To give this season the best chance of being decent, the fans need to support the players that we have – all of them – even the one’s who’ve acted like twats.  Giving grief to a player in a red and white shirt on a match day is never going to be productive – ever.
Now, get your head right son and get out on the pitch in a Saints shirt.
Disappointingly, we didn’t get any attackers in so Mauricio is left with trying to get goals out of what we’ve got.  I’m hoping that the potentially much stronger Dutch centre back combo will enable us to play more expansively in front of them and this makes something click farther up the field.  We can but hope.  On paper though, a back 4 of Cedric, Bertrand, Virgil and Wesley, screened by Oriol and Mario looks mustard.  It’s the three behind Gabbi who need to step up and if they do we’ll have a good season.
Once again, Fuck off Liverpool #FOL J

Friday, August 25, 2017

EFL Cup 2nd Round - Southampton 0 Wolves 2

We Couldn't Believe It Either 

Wesley Hoedt was announced as a Saints player after the West Ham game.  Al the signs are that this is one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw with him being huge and a great header of the ball.  When talking about the move, Sir Les came out with a classic about him forming a new defence with our other Dutch international, Weapons Grade Shithouse.  Great news, it sounds like we might have a decent central defence against Wolves in the League Cup then?

The League Cup… what memories of last year and our run to the final.  I fully expected to turn up and there not be many there but the crowd was decent for this competition, forcing all four sides of the ground to be open. I do wonder how local people can justify going to Wembley and then not going to the game tonight when it only cost a tenner at most.  Anyway – each to their own.

Wolves have had a decent start n the Championship so this was not going to be easy even if they rested a few players.  Championship sides I think can be forgiven for resting players as the untold millions of the Premier League is always going to be more important.  For 2nd tier Premier League clubs like Saints however, it’s the best opportunity of making it into Europe so why not pick a decent side. 

OK then – the Hoedt and WGS partnership isn’t happening today.  Judging by the 11 names I have in front of me, it looks like Jack Stephens is playing in midfield which would have been good to see, only it’s not true as we line up with 3 at the back with Bednarek being slotted in between Stephens and Yoshida.  The reserve full backs are in with Pied and McQueen.  Romeu and JWP in midfield with Austin, Boufal and Tadic up front.  So – 6 changes and a new formation and only McQueen and Boufal with anything remotely resembling pace.

I use these cup games to sit in different parts of the ground and today I’m in the Itchen stand, right behind the Saints bench.  From the kick off, Pellegrino is up and shouting instructions and showing very obvious annoyance when play is slow or when players are blatantly in the wrong position, usually sitting too deep.

Wolves look well organized and we, quite frankly, look awful.  The midfield is tsrethced all over the place and Pied, in particular is shocking.  He gets skinned about 3 times in 5 minutes and has to be bailed out by either Stephens playing behind him, or by Dicko, the Wolves striker, fucking it up.  On the other wing, McQueen is playing like a proper wing back and getting free up the pitch but his crosses are uniformly straight to a Wolves player, usually Batth who heads everything away.

Up front there is nothing going on.  Austin just ambling about like he can’t go any faster, Tadic slowing everything to funeral pace and Boufal – let’s not even go there.  Anyway, we have 3 centre backs playing and none of them are arsed to pick up the one Wolves striker as a hopeful long ball finds Dicko in all sorts of space but luckily he’s got the first touch and subtlety of Virgil’s agent so it runs through to Fraser.

It takes about 35 minutes for us to do anything when JWP whips in a free kick from 40 yards out and Bednarek gets up first and gets his head to it but Wolves keeper Norris saves well, if a little but over-spectacularly.  We work another chance as Boufal twists and turns before standing up a cross which eventually finds Pied who lashes it wide though again the keeper got a touch.  Boufal and JWP work the corner short and JWP’s blocked shot comes to Tadic, on his good foot about 8 yards out under no challenge and he shits it side footed high and wide.  Utter wank. Half time.

It's been fucking shit so far and we change nothing so the performance doesn’t change. Actually, it does a bit as we’ve got worse and you can tell that Wolves feel that they can actually win this.  Nothing much happens for 20 minutes and then they win a corner.  Over it comes and Batth is standing on the 6 yard line, a standing jump above Stephens and it’s down and in as Fraser and everyone else just watches it.  Fucking shit awful marking and defending.  It actually goes in off of Tadic who registers his first assist in fucking ages, the useless twat.

After the goal we pile on the pressure.  No we don’t – we’re still shit.  Redmond is on for Bednarek but nothing’s happened really.  Wolves look more likely to score than we do. We’ve got Gabbiadini and Long on now for a last desperate throw of the dice but Wolves break and the ball gets fed to Wilson who is through – Fraser gets his angles all wrong and he just rolls it into the net.  Fucking garbage.  The last 8 minutes goes by with just a shit effort from Redmond going wide and that’s it.  Wembley was great – not this year.

That was fucking dreadful and we totally 100% deserved to lose. I have to say that Wolves put in a perfect away performance. They soaked up what we had, which wasn't very much, scored with a set piece, defended it and then scored on the break at the end of the game to kill it off. Perfect from them but absolutely shit from us. 

Pellegrino got this game completely wrong. Any formation that relies on wingbacks, need you to have good wingbacks and whilst McQueen had his moments in the first Half and got some crosses over, Pied was completely and utterly lost from the first minute to the last. I know he's been injured but he was fucking useless. We might have got away with that formation if Cedric and Bertrend were playing but with the reserve fullbacks it was obviously not going to work from about the second minute onwards. Because Pied in particular was always in the wrong place the midfield two of Romeu and JWP had too much to do to cover the ground. JWP had a real chance to step up and show why he should be in the Premier League side and he totally and utterly failed. 

I sat in the Itchin stand tonight, directly behind our bench and it was interesting to see how animated Pellegrino was on the sideline. In the first half in particular he was literally doing a Basil Fawlty and jumping up and down and tearing at his hair at the way Pied in particular was playing. It wasn't just Pied though as he was constantly shouting to the players that their positioning was completely wrong. There were some points where he actually reminded me of myself on the sidelines running my under 13's team, trying desperately hard to bite your lip rather than give someone an almighty bollocking. The moments of complete despair usually came when one of our centre backs failed to get off the ground to win an aerial challenge against a much smaller striker.

Usually we have two centre backs who can't head ball but today we had three. As I've said before, I'm not writing Bednarek off yet but he has massive flaws in his game and he needs to play a full season with the under 23s. When the ball is in the air, he simply does not win it and when it's on the ground he's always on his arse or off-balance. In his defence, he needed to be helped through the game by Stephens and Yoshida but they were dreadful as well. The killer Wolves goal which was the first one totally sums up our centre backs and goalkeeper. We have a 6 foot seven goalkeeper who is nailed to his line so the defenders have to head the ball and they just can't. They are not physical enough and they are not determined enough. The corner landed about 6 yards out, Fraser didn't come and puncher as per usual and Stephens didn't get off the ground leaving Batth to head one of the simplest goals you will ever see. It was absolutely pathetic. 

Elsewhere on the pitch, I was kind of hoping that the likes of Austin and Boufal would put their hands up to be selected on Saturday but both put in performances that would leave them lucky to even make the bench. 

Charlie Austin is not fit. He can only play for about 60 minutes and that's a disgrace bearing in mind he doesn't actually do much running anyway. My analogy of him lurching around like a bloke has just spilled out of the pub at midnight was entirely accurate tonight. I guess all that cheating at monopoly has left him too worn out to run much.  He is not suited to playing as a lone striker so unless we are going to play with two up front then he is really not the answer we are looking for. 

Tonight was also the night when I finally lost it with Dusan Tadic. His attitude was absolutely pathetic in the second half last night. It wasn't going well for him so every time he got the ball, he was just looking to go to ground. There was one tackle in about the 80th minute where the Wolves player won the ball and he just rolled around on the ground like he'd been shot. The linesman was about 6 yards away and the referee was about 10 yards away and neither of them saw a foul. The referee had him completely sussed because he was always looking to hit the deck and therefore was never going to be given the freekick he wanted. Tadic couldn't be arsed to do the hard work and shield the ball use his body strength to hold off the player, it as easier to just abdicate responsibility and collapse.  After his little strop last season when he was deservedly being substituted every game, Tadic has enjoyed an uninterrupted run in the first team which he has exclusively failed to use. He's in a comfort zone now and the only way to get anything out of it of him is to drop him and make him work for it. He was absolutely fucking pathetic today. We need some pace in those wide areas which is why Redmond always plays.

The sad thing is that with a decent performance last night I feel that Boufal could have made a real case to be included ahead of Tadic on Saturday. As it was he was lucky not to be substituted after the first 20 minutes when he was nothing short of pathetic. He showed a few signs of life at the end of the first half but if you think 20 minutes of looking vaguely decent against a championship sides reserves is enough then you've got a serious problem.

Hopefully Pellegrino and Les Reed learned tonight that our squad players are not of the required standard.  Put one or two in our best side and we get away with it but play 5 or 6 of them and we are awful.  They were so lacking in invention and spirit it was painful.  This was as bad as the Augsburg friendly when we last put the reserves out.

And breathe. It was garbage but it has gone. Move on as the proper first team will be in action in Saturday at Huddersfield.