Wednesday, February 22, 2017

EFL Cup Final Preview - Manchester United vs Someone Else

I Think I'm Sitting Roughly Where the 'B' is.

Here we go then.

EFL cup final at Wembley against Manchester United. To my mind, we are serious underdogs in this game and therefore have nothing to lose. Let's go for it.  It's the first leg of a United Treble though so we'd better not spoil it for everyone as that would never do.

After the fixture carnage throughout the season and especially at Christmas, we have been in the strange position of having two weeks off before the final which is a fact not lost on our moaning bastard of an opposing manager, José Mourinho. Over the past few weeks he has taken every opportunity in every interview he has had to point out the fact that we have had two weeks off whilst Manchester United have had three games. Two are against a mid-table French side and one against a team from the bottom of the championship. He made no mention of our three games in five days over Christmas but then you wouldn't really expect him to would you? I feel really sorry for you Jose because you feel the need to get your excuses in early despite the fact that Manchester United have more money than the rest of the clubs on the planet put together. They've actually spent quite a lot of it to this season with the admittedly ludicrously overpriced Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrik Mkhitaryan joining for a combined outlay of about £150 million plus about a million a week in wages. Yet still, the moaning twat can only complain that it's a not a level playing field.

Things are so weighted in our favour that our captain decided to make it more even by flouncing off to another club for more money. That doesn't happen to Manchester United that often does it? Then, our best player gets injured and we have absolutely no choice but to promote someone from the Academy. In the build up to this particular game we are weighing up whether to play the academy lad or to play a newly signed player who hasn't played for over a year.  If United lost one of their first choice centre halves then they could bring in the England International Chris Smalling or a choice of Dutch international Daley Blind or £30 million worth of Eric Bailly. It's really tough being Manchester United and Jose Mourinho.  They also don't have to deal with the continual exodus of players who see the bright lights and follow them transfixed into the promised land.  Only it’s not often the way it turns out.

Two of the players they've taken off of Saints in the last couple of seasons are Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw. Morgan has moved on after being fourth choice defensive midfielder for a season and a half and Luke is currently their fourth choice left back, which Mourinho pointed out in an interview a couple of days ago.  Like I said, it's really tough being Manchester United with all the advantages the other teams of got. Shut up you wanker.

Predictably, it has been quite quiet in the Saints camp apart from us finally completing the signing of Martin Caceres on a free transfer. Personally, if he proves his fitness in training and totally bosses it in an 11 aside friendly then I'd be tempted to start him but only because Maya and Jack have looked dodgy as fuck whenever confronted with a big physical centre forward. I don't give any thought about the notion that Jack Stephens deserves to play because he's played the last few. This is top level sport we are talking about and whilst Stephens played well against bottom of the table Sunderland last week, he was abysmal against Arsenal, dodgy against Llorente and Swansea and he shat his pants every time Andy Carroll came near him against West Ham.   If you want sentimentality to play a part in selection and you want to pick players who have got us here then Gabbiadini doesn’t play and either Shane Long or J-Rod gets the nod and no one in their right mind would do that. Having said all that, it would be a hell of a risk to play Caceres and I can't see Claude taking that risk so I am fully anticipating Maya and Jack to start.

The other unknown is of course what formation we will play. We simply have to play 4-2-3-1 as in the wide open spaces of Wembley, we will get absolutely picked apart if we play any variation of the diamond formation and we will need to be protecting the two centre backs with two midfielders in front of them. Assuming Claude does go with that formation then the rest of the team more or less picks itself. Fraser in goal, Cedric and Ryan Bertrand will be the full backs, Davo and Romeu will be the defensive midfielders. The attacking three in midfield will be Redmond Tadic and JWP with Manolo Gabbiadini up front. 

The bench will contain a goalkeeper, probably Mouez Hassen, Caceres, McQueen, Hojbjerg, Clasie, Boufal, Long, J-Rod. Actually, that's eight and out of these eight, I'd leave Clasie out but maybe Boufal’s injury will mean there’s no decision to make.

United I assume will pick De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Rojo, Bailly, Carrick, Pogba, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimović, Martial. Subs bench including any of Romero Schweinsteiger Smalling, Fellaini, Darmian, Shaw. Young, Rooney, Lingard, Mata, Rashford.  An embarrassment of riches - Still, level playing field and all that.

Having said all this about the level playing field argument and the fact that they are favourites, I still believe we have a real chance on this game and I don't believe they are that good. If we let them play and they play well then they are going to win but like with our two relatively recent wins at Old Trafford, we have to make life uncomfortable for them. Their first obvious weakness is the defence with Blind being slow and Rojo & Bailly being prone to concentration lapses. I see the movement of Gabbiadini being a problem for them and at the pace of Shane Long being a problem for them later in the game. Assuming Carrick plays then we of course need to pressure him the entire time and that will probably be a job for Tadic. Playing on the break is going to give us our best opportunities as none out of Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Martial or Mata if he plays, fancy running towards their own goal too much.  We can do this.

Cup finals have a habit of throwing up on likely heroes so for us I guess that leaves you looking at Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu or JWP. Shane Long has also got to be a good bet for first goalscorer even though he is likely to start on the bench and let's hope the game pans out like Liverpool away in the semi-final.

In terms of us being the underdogs, it's not quite 1976 as we are a much better team today than the Boys of 1976 were in the league at least.  It's not quite 2003 either as we were playing against the Invincibles from Arsenal.  It is however quite similar to our last league cup final in 1979 when we were playing Nottingham Forest who at the time were one of the best teams in the country whilst we were a mid-table side. I remember quite a lot about that game at the old Wembley even though I was only 10 at the time and we had a right go, deservedly been 1-0 up at half time before the roof fell in in the second half and we letting three goals in pretty rapid succession. Our rally at the end and Nick Holmes’ thunderous consolation goal probably made it look a little bit closer than it was.

Also from 1979, I remember the walk up Wembley way towards the twin towers and of the general awesomeness of the old stadium both from the outside and when you got inside. The new ground just doesn't have that feeling as you walk up to it but it is incredibly impressive once you get with in view of the pitch. One thing I recommend from watching England a few times is don't bother to go for a pie or a pint or some fucking Gastro bollocks at half time because by the time you got down there got served and got back you would've missed a good 10 minutes of the second-half. My advice is to just proceed straight to toilet, go for a piss and get back to your seat as soon as possible.

Up until the JPT final in 2009 I had never actually seen Saints win at Wembley. A Charity Shield defeat to Liverpool in 1976, League Cup defeat to Forest in 1979 and during Wembley’s rebuilding we had the 2003 defeat at the Millennium Stadium to Arsenal. I will enjoy the day no matter what happens but I know that I and everyone reading this will enjoy it a fucks sight more if we win. Bring it home lads and let Jose bleat about fixture congestion all the way back to Manchester.  Give us an even playing field - and by that I mean a decent refereeing performance - and we can do this.

To paraphrase an ex-Saint – I would love it if we beat them, love it!

1-0 to Saints, Shane Long 85 Minutes.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Premier League Match 25 - Sunderland 0 Southampton 4

Manolo Sends the Sunderland Defenders Over There for a Hot Dog

A quick glance at our forthcoming fixtures shows away games at Sunderland and Watford and then we start playing the heavy hitters so we really need to get something today, even if it’s only a point.  This game is almost being seen as a home banker as Saints have been pretty woeful of late and Sunderland won 4-0 in a relegation 6 pointer at Palace last week.  Jermain Defoe’s two goals in that game have given us a week of the media cracking one off over him and how he’s going to fire them to safety etc.  I like Defoe – good player who should have played for some better clubs than he has.  Spurs were his main club but I don’t remember him being much of a first team regular and of course he had that spell at the club that could never afford his wages in a million years.  Still, even with that blemish on his record – he’s still a decent player.  David Moyes is the manager there these days and he wears the hangdog expression of a man who’s just stumbled into a party round at Wilfried Zaha’s house.  He’s been predicting a relegation struggle since the opening week of the season and he’s got his wish. 

Since the closing of the transfer window and the balls up that has seen us short at centre back, we have been heavily linked with free agent Martin Caceres who was at Juventus but had an achilles injury and has been without a club for 6 months.  A Uruguayan international with 60 odd caps so he’s got to be decent and he’s been pictured at the Saints training ground in a training kit.  The word is that it’s all done but we’re waiting for the work permit before announcing it.  Now, he hasn’t played in 75% of Uruguay’s recent internationals because it’s hard to do so when you are wearing a surgical boot so he should be here soon.  I’ve only been aware of him as a right back but apparently his preferred position is centre back.  He’s not the tallest at 5 foot 11 but beggars cannot be choosers.  Let’s face it, it’s hardly shopping in the bargain bins if you can pick up a player with 60 caps for a decent country and has Barcelona and Juve on his CV.  If we can get him and keep him fit then there’s your José replacement.  However, on Friday night a story appeared that he’s returned to Uruguay because of a death in the family so it may well be all up in the air again.

To today and we have gone with two changes from the West Ham game with Redmond and Tadic coming in for J-Rod and the injured Boufal.  There has been some talk in the buildup about Ryan Bertrand being centre back but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  As the teams line up, Sunderland have a player who looks like he has a blonde palm tree on his head.  It’s a bit like 90’s whipping boy Jason Lee with his pineapple.  I know not who or what it is but it’s in Sunderland’s midfield.  As befits an ex-United and Everton manager, they have a team of United and Everton has-beens with Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo, John O’Shea, Adnan Januzaj and Steven Pienaar on the bench. Welcome to the Wearside Retirement Home for players who are not as good as they thought they were.  Oh look, there’s Joleon Lescott on the bench and Wabhi Khazri, what a wanker he is.

Hang on, why is JWP so wide and what is Tadic doing there in the middle.  Fucking hell it looks like we’re playing 4-2-3-1.  Halle-fucking-lujah!  The new formations is not an instand fix though as we are resembling a pub team at the start and Sunderland are having the better of it.  A cross comes in from the Sunderland left and Bertrand doesn’t get much distance on the clearing header allowing Januzaj to have a shot which hits Bertrand and goes behind.  The biggest surprise is that the little twat had a shot instead of diving which is always his first option.  Another of my favourite players, rat face little shite Seb Larsson tries to work a short corner and then totally makes a balls of crossing the ball.  It’s a bit worrying that Sunderland are still looking the better side and Januzaj crosses form the left again which causes panic but luckily Defoe seems surprised by a cross actually reaching him and it rather hits him and bounces off for a goal kick.

We get out first chance on about 20 minutes and it’s from a mistake.  Redmond tries to find Bertrand on the left but passes it straight to Billy Jones who knocks it to Gibson who just gives it away allowing Gabbiadini a snap shot which he gets all wrong and well wide.  Looking at the Sunderland defence it’s an accident waiting to happen – Jones, O’Shea… not good.

Sunderland have it in midfield and it’s played to Januzaj who gets completely manshamed by Yoshida and just grizzles on the ground.  Both Saints and the referee ignore the little prick and carry on, Tadic playing Gabbiadini through.  Mannone forces him wide but he gets his head up and pulls it back to Cedric on the edge of the box, a lazy waft of the right boot and well wide and well shit.

Luckily we didn’t have long to wait as Romeu put Bertrand away on the left and he produces a wicked curling cross which flies into the net off Gabbiadini who has got inbetween Kone and O’Shea, despite O’Shea’s efforts to rip his shirt off.  It’s a bit lucky, in fact it looks like it’s flown in off his arm but there’s no way that’s going to get given as handball. Get in and 2 in 2 for the new man.

We’re controlling the game now and going into half time with a 1-0 lead as we build on the right with JWP and Cedric before the ball finds its way to Tadic whoo finds Gabbiadini with his back to goal but a second later he’s facing the right way and Kone and O’Shea have gone for a hot dog and bang, 2-0.  I fucking love this clinical lark.  What a turn, what a goal.  Top man.

Moyes responds at half time by taking off a United has been in O’Shea and sending on an Everton has been in Pienaar.  There’s no change to the pattern of play though and early pressure bring a corner, in it comes from JWP and Gabbiadini half connects with a volley in the box which is straight at Mannone.  JWP is growing into his more attacking role and after a move which started with Stephens expertly binning Defoe, JWP tries a 30 yarder which curls about a foot wide of the post.

It’s all us and we’re peppering the goal with decent efforts with Bertrand and Tadic testing the keeper from the edge of the box and JWP heading Redmond’s excellent cross down and wide when he really should have buried it.  There will be no hat-trick for Manolo and he’s off with Shane Long on and the new man tests Mannone as well with a header from a Cedric cross which the 8-0 keeper tips over.  Hojbjerg is on for Tadic in the last ten minutes and the camera pans to J-Rod chucking his shin pads around in the dug out, obviously narked off at not getting on.

There is only a slight fear that Sunderland will score with an Oviedo cross and a Borini header wide the closest they get.  It’s game over soon afterwards if it wasn’t already as Fraser boots long, Shane holds it up, Redmond sends Bertrand away and another wicked cross towards Shane but Denayer dives in and slams it into his own net.  The notable thing about this goal was that Bertrand got on his bike to receive the pass and Khazri who was marking him just let him go like the useless lazy wanker that he is.

Two minutes later and Sunderland have totally given up, the fans have fucked off and so have most of the players.  Bertrand to Long, first touch to JWP, back to him and a precise side foot finish into the corner.  Who’d be Vito Mannone – four goals conceded and no fault of his – totally down so the useless sacks of shite in front of him.

There’s one more incident of note as Sunderland get a free kick on the right, whip it in and it ends up in the net but have no far – that complete wanker Khazri has punched it into the net.  What a fucking tool.

Now that is more fucking like it.  A comprehensive away win and a handing out of the dicking that the relegation threatened club deserves and boy did Sunderland deserve it. I think they actually thought they could just turn up and win today having won so comfortably at Selhurst Park last week. They were fucking dreadful but more on them later.

We looked like a proper team today, solid at the back, combative in midfield and a threat upfront. The arrival of Gabbiadini has changed everything. Now, we have a focal point, a forward with a great touch on the ball and a player with clever movement and confidence and most importantly, he knows where the fucking goal is.  Early days I know but we seem to have a complete beauty on our hands here. Without him it would've been 0-0 at half time like countless other games that we had this season but he had three chances in the first half and two of them ended up in the net. That's clinical, the exact opposite of what we have been all season and we go in with a 2-0 lead and are able to manage the game in the second half. Tadic in particular had a good game today with Redmond and JWP providing good support and good quality from the wings. Shane Long also look very good when he came on and deserved his goal. It was interesting seeing that J-Rod threw a bit of a paddy on the bench when he wasn't called upon as the last substitute. I understand his frustration as he probably wanted to put a case for being included at Wembley but he can have absolutely no complaints as he was completely shocking against West Ham last week.

This of course was a different formation today as we went back to the Koeman-Pochettino-Adkins 4-2-3-1 and boy does it look better.  We had some proper protection for our suspect centre backs and it made a huge difference and it gave us a player in the No.10 position. Romeu and Davis totally bossed the centre of the park after the first 15 minutes with Cedric and Bertrand especially being a threat going forward. The centre backs coped admirably with the threat of Defoe who was restricted to trying to pick a fight with Jack Stephens and the Sunderland man actually look like he was about to cry at one point.

Yoshida and Stephens manage to be part of the defence are kept clean sheet today, as they were against Liverpool. In both of those matches, the opposition did not have a traditional target man centre forward. In the other two games where we had this defensive pairing, Andy Carroll and Fernando Llorente have caused havoc, so any thoughts along the line of we've cracked it, really need to be put into that context and the fact that in our next game, we are against possibly the best in the business at being at target man in Zlatan Ibrahimović.

So Claude gets another big pat on the back for changing the formation and I really hope that he sticks with it. It gets our attacking midfielders further up the pitch and closer to the striker and also protects the back four better and doesn't leave Romeu having to do it all on his own. Please stick with it...

Now for the jokes - Sunderland were fucking awful. The list of things that would piss me off if I was one of their fans is endless but will start with Didier N’Dong in the centre of midfield. In the 90s, you could get away with it wearing a pair of coloured boots if you were a good player. If you weren't then you just looked like a complete wanker. Now, in 2017, virtually all the players wear coloured boots so the extrovert has to find a new way to stand out. N’Dong does it by having a ridiculous fucking haircut which no one would really give a shit about if he was a world-class or even a good player. Gareth Bale has a stupid monstrosity on his head but no one cares because he is one of the best players in the world. Likewise, Lionel Messi can have a ginger beard and blonde hair and no one cares because he's Lionel Messi. Didier N’Dong has a stupid name, a stupid haircut and in addition to that, he is fucking shit, quite possibly the worst player I've seen this season. Halfway through the second half, he along with the rest of the Sunderland midfield, he just stopped giving a shit, stop running back and that's why we helped ourselves to two more goals in the last few minutes. 

I will also say a special mention for Adnan Januzaj, who once scored a goal for Manchester United, ironically against Sunderland which got him hyped up as the next greatest thing, the next Cristiano Ronaldo, the next George Best, tug-of-war between England and Belgium and some Balkan country for his services at international level. He is a lightweight, cheating diving little cunt and fair play to the referee today. He must've refereed Januzaj before because he was not giving him a single fucking thing even when he was getting absolutely smashed. You reap what you sew you cheating little cunt.  Then we have Wabhi Khazri – an absolute disgrace of a player.  Sunderland are screwed – their players with the right attitude are not good enough (O’Shea, Gibson, Jones, Mannone, Pienaar) and there are loads with the wrong attitude who are absolutely stealing a living (N’Dong, Denayer, Januzaj, Khazri).  No chance.

I briefly mentioned our next game and our date with Zlatan. Our next game is two weeks away and it is the EFL cup final against Manchester United at Wembley. As I write, my tickets haven't arrived yet so I don't think it's truly sunk in that we are off to Wembley. As for our line-up on the big day, I think it will be the line-up that started today. Even if Boufal is fit, he will only be on the bench so I guess that leaves the question of who plays alongside Yoshida at centre back. Jack Stephens must be favourites but it could still be Martin Caceres though with today's news that possibility has receded somewhat. shit, I'm even hoping for a miracle return Virgil van Dijk.

This win today should calm a few nerves that we were going to get dragged into the relegation dogfight and we can now go to Wembley with a bit more confidence both as a team and as fans. 

Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be....

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Premier League Match 24 - Southampton 1 West Ham 3

Jack Stephens Shites His Pants?

This is going to be a bit of a strange one today against West Ham.  We haven’t got any centre backs and West Ham will line up with one who played for us for 7 years.  On such details scripts are written.  West Ham have recovered from their early season problems and isn’t it remarkable that all the complaints about their free ground have gone a bit quiet once they won a couple of games.  However, it was quite amusing to see them getting destroyed by Man City during the week with José having a nightmare on his debut, culminating in him hauling down Raheem Sterling for a penalty.  City of course can destroy anyone but one thing was that apparent was the Hammers lack of pace at the back and the fact that they gave up way before the end.

So, West Ham are slow at the back and Claude decides to leave our two quickest players on the bench, Redmond and Long.  I know Redmond was shite against Swansea but Shane Long is on the only player to have scored for Saints in the last 3 matches.  Fuck off Claude.  What the fuck has J-Rod done to deserve starting.  This decision is offset by the fact that Manolo Gabbiadini and Sofiane Boufal are starting.  We have the car crash of Yoshida and Stephens at centre back, offered up in ritual sacrifice to Andy Carroll.  Claude says that we need to strangle the supply to Carroll which is quite difficult when you consider that it’s impossible to stop the opposition whacking it up in the air.  I would say they chances of us keeping a clean sheet are zero which is the same as the odds of Carroll not scoring.  The West Ham side looks strong on paper – Fonte and Reid at the back, Cresswell, Noble, Carroll and pace and power in Kouyate, Antonio and Obiang. 

We all know where the problem is going to be and it almost happens with West Ham’s first proper attack as Fegouli swings over a cross and Carroll has virtually a free header which he puts over the bar with our central defenders absolutely nowhere.  In an attacking sense, Saints have made their usual bright start with both Gabbiadini and Boufal looking busy.  The third forward, J-Rod has looked a bit lost though he picks up the ball on the helf way line and chips it over the defence and Manolo is onto it.  He goes straight for goal and just as Fonte gets back to put in a challenge he absolutely melts it over Randolph and into the near top corner off the bar.  What a strike that is.  14 minutes and £14 million well spent.

If that was a shock, what happened next wasn’t.  We hardly manage to get a foot on the ball and Obiang pucks it up in midfield and is allowed as much time as he likes to slide a straight ball though our defence.  Carroll has totally and easily lost Stephens and Yoshida doesn’t react quickly enough to intercept and the big man takes a touch and calmly rolls it past Fraser and into the corner.  1-1 and we were ahead for a whole 3 minutes…fuck sake.  Pathetic defending – Iexpected these two to have a tough time in the air but that was shocking and the most predictable goalscorer of the afternoon in all four divisions.

The rest of the half is West Ham possession and us chasing around without getting close enough to do anything.  Cresswell has a decent shot from left back which is drilled straight at Fraser and it looks like we might actually get to half time and regroup but oh no – the fucking bombscare goes off again.  Gabbiadini heads a corner away and it’s out to Obiang who is 35 yards out but no one presses him and he’s allowed to just walk forward five yards and drill it low, through a forest of legs and Fraser no doubt ses it late but he goes down like a falling tree and can only shovel it into the net.  Fucking hell again.

We actually create a decent chance to go in level with JWP getting in a good low diagonal shot, a bit like Obiang’s but unlike our keeper, Randolph gets down to make a very good strong one handed save and keeps it out.  Half time and bollocks.

My usual half time rant to whoever will listen in the family stand concerns making substitutions now and not later.  The main target of my rant is J-Rod and the centre backs and I’d get Redmond and Gardos on now.  I guess 1 out of 2 isn’t bad as J-Rod is off for Redmond as the teams come back out.

We win a free kick at the strat of the second half on the left ahnd edge of the penalty area and JWP hits a great effort to the near post and Randolph once again gets down brilliantly to save.  Redmond is making a difference – though it would have been hard to do less than the man he replaced – and he plays in Bertrand on the left behind Koutaye.  He could shoot but instead pulls it back and Gabbiadini’s effort is blocked.  The ball breaks for the Hammers and away they go up our left with the attack ending with Sondgrarsewillingly hitting the deck under Romeu’s challenge.  It’s from an identical position to JWP’s free kick earlier and Noble hits it – it flies past our clearly inadequate waste of fucking time two man wall and is heading straight at Fraser but Davo waves a leg at it and flicks it it.  For fucks sake times a thousand.

Slaven Bilic is a nice man and clearly feels sorry for us and he takes Carroll off.  If he could send the sub on with new pairs of shorts for Yoshida and Stephens to replace the brown ones they’ve had on then that would be really nice.  It does appear to hand us the initiative a bit and a cross from Cedric is missed by Fonte and it bounces off of Kouyate and Manolo swings his left foot and shins a shot over the bar.  That has to go in but actually I’m optimistic.  Get one and we’ll get two – they are shite at the back.

The rest of the game is Saints creating half chances and West Ham being content to soak it up and trust us to hit everything straight at the keeper.  José must have told them we’d be shite when he moved there.  Cedric put sover a good cross and JWP gets a header on target but it’s tipped over, Davo drills one straight at him, Redmoond again shows that he’s scared shitless of heading the ball as another good Cedric cross passes in front of his face.  There’s a chance when JWP and Yoshida decide not to communicate with eachother and instead of the former having a straight forward chance, we get a Japanese Ninja Scissor Karate kick thing which predictably is over the bar.

Loads of people have left but even as we get to 90 minutes, for some reason I still think we’ve got a chance and then we get a free kick to the right of centre about 25 yards out and everyone goes up to get a close view of JWP firing it over the bar in bollocks fashion.  Maybe not then,

Another home defeat and another very predictable one.  West Ham totally deserved their win for taking their chances and though they didn’t defend brilliantly, we didn’t create enough to get back into the game.  It was odd in that for the last 30 minutes I thought that if we got one back then we’d get two but as usual, we just didn’t do enough.  With the transfer window being such a problem for Saints, it’s interesting to look at how West Ham handled it.  They replaced the injured Ogbonna with José Fonte, an experienced 33 year old defender and the other player they brought in was Snodgrarse who though he’s a bell end, is an established Premier League performer.  I’m not saying that West Ham do everything right because of course they don’t and sometimes they are embarrassing with the way they carry on but in these two cases they’ve looked at short term gain rather than do what we do and buy potential.  There has to be room for both and we’ve gone too far the other way.  You can say we’ve bought an older player in Gabbiadini but he’s still only 25 and is firmly in the ‘potential’ bracket.

When you looked at the West Ham team today, they had leaders all over it – players like Noble, Reid, Carroll and Snodgrarse and Fonte.  It was notable that they were almost refereeing the game, always in the referees ear.  We don’t have that – we’re too nice.  This harks back to the point I made last week about selling our ‘big’ players and replacing them with 21 year olds.  Fonte did ok today in an understated kind of way.  Good luck to him and those that booed him need to have a word with yourselves.

Many will just put this defeat on Claude’s shoulders and he has to take some of the blame.  It has been a fucking strange season so far. As far as Claude is concerned I've lurched from thinking he was quite decent when he got his rotation right, thinking he was a complete arsehole when he failed to get us through the European group, thinking he knew what he was doing again when he started picking a consistent side and we got through to Wembley, thinking he'd lost the dressing room after the Everton away again and now this. Six league defeats out of seven would put absolutely any manager under pressure. I think he could be as little as three games from getting kicked out and one of them is the cup final.

We may not be in a relegation battle just yet but lose another couple of games and we will be right in the shit regardless of the result of the cup final. Right now it's hard to believe that the result of the cup final is even in doubt – I don’t feel that we have a prayer. We've gone in two weeks from having one of the best defence in the league to having one of the worst. You simply cannot have a centre back pairing when neither of them can head the ball clear when challenged and neither is a real leader. It just doesn't work, it never has and it never fucking will – it’s Calum Davenport and Andreas Jakobsson.  The two of them today were absolutely petrified every time Andy Carroll was anywhere near them. They were so petrified that they weren't even heading the ball properly when he wasn't near them. Quite simply, if he continues to pick Yoshida and Stephens then we are going to struggle against any team with a centre forward of any stature. Until Virgil comes back we obviously have very little choice but we have to play Florin Gardos and tell him to absolutely attack anything that is up in the air.

In isolation today's game could probably be written off as one of those games where absolutely nothing goes right for us but we now have six defeats in seven and this is somewhat alarming. The defending on the first goal West Ham scored was absolutely fucking tragic both in terms of pressing the guy with the ball and marking the fucking huge centre forward in the middle of the penalty area. The other two West Ham goals owed a lot to good fortune and that happens sometimes though the lack of pressure on the ball for the second goal was pretty shite as well. We created quite a few chances in the second half so it wasn't our usual go behind and capitulate and not create anything performance, but we never really seem to have the conviction in the final third.

It's only been this season that Maya hasn't been a complete liability when he's played. He should really be our fourth or at best third choice centre back but now we have him as our first choice which tells you everything about why it is simply not going to work. With a dominant centre back pairing you can get away with just having one defensive midfielder but not with these two. It was really noticeable to me that every time West Ham are cleared it long, it was Romeu who was sitting deeper and going up for the header whereas the centre backs were nowhere near it. Virgil would've been attacking and heading every single one of the balls of that Romeu was having to try and get his head on.  We were scared to death of Carroll and we were also scared to death of our own centre back pairing and that unbalanced the whole team and meant we were on the back foot from the start. Is it a coincidence that two goal today were down to not closing down when the midfield dropped deep to help out the calamity at centre back?

We were strange upfront today.  Manolo Gabbiadini had an excellent debut and capped it of course with a really good goal.   His hold up play was good and his enthusiasm and chasing down was excellent.  After ripping Swansea to bits when he came on as a sub, Boufal was dreadful today, a couple of flashes of skill but that was it, usually running down a blind alley before going off injured again no doubt not to be seen for another four or five weeks. He was stuck out on the wing though, seemingly with no freedom to move inside. Even though Boufal was ineffective, he wasn't the worst. J-Rod was a complete and utter fucking waste of time from the first minute until he got substituted at half time.  I know he set up the goal but having witnessed the rest of the half I’m prepared to believe that was an accident. There was absolutely nothing there and he looked like a Sunday morning footballer who had been out on the piss until 3am on Saturday night and picking him ahead of Shane Long, who whilst he hasn't been playing that well has at least scored three goals in the last four games, was retarded.  That one’s on Claude.

Someone has to tell JWP that when the free kick is on the right hand side of the penalty area then don't fucking shoot. It never goes in and it's curling towards the goalkeeper and there is absolutely no margin for error.  So, it invariably just goes over the bar or wide if it doesn't curl enough and is a complete fucking waste of time. From the left hand side, sure, have a shot because they actually look dangerous and are curling away from the keeper but from the right hand side, just cross the fucking ball or let a left footed player have a go. I thought Romeu did his best to try and shore up the horrific central defensive partnership and Davis kept on trying to drive the team forward throughout the game but as usual was let down by his absolutely chronic shooting and his tackling was piss weak today.

I don't usually listen to Claude's interviews on the radio as they are fucking painful and he always says exactly the same thing which is of course nothing. The interviewer was trying to ask him something different today about whether he should change the formation or change the way the Saints are playing and he gave it the usual blurb waffling bollocks which is possibly down to the language barrier but for what ever reason, it does absolutely nothing to convince anyone that he really even understood the question. He must be an absolute nightmare to interview as all you can do is ask the most basic questions to which of course you get the most basic answers. They really should get Eric Black out to translate for him as then we might actually hear some things that are encouraging and get to understand some of the reasoning for some of his decisions.

Next up is Sunderland away and the one after that is the League Cup Final. Sunderland away will be an incredibly difficult fixture because a) we are shit and b) they've just won 4-0 away from home and c) Sunderland know they’re in a relegation fight whereas we don’t appear to just yet.  We need a win and we need a performance. We've fared incredibly badly against the sides fighting relegation this season and it stands to reason that if we keep losing to them then we are going to become one of them pretty soon.

Claude, I know you probably don't understand if it is being said in English but lose the next three games and I reckon that you are going to be under serious pressure.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Premier League Match 23 - Swansea 2 Southampton 1

"I Can Get You In The Cup Final Side if You'll Play at the Back"

Last night of the transfer window and Swansea away – let’s do this.  With both the Claude Puel area of the club and the Les Read section of the club in action, it promised to be an interesting evening. 

The first announcement of the day was that we are playing in our white kit at Wembley which is weird as you like as that kit isn’t on sale.  Apparently the players requested it so we can all wear red and white.  It’s all a bit odd – the cynic in me tells me this is a ploy to sell loads of this seasons home kit before the final but surely the club would sell more of the white one if they produced it.  No one’s going to buy a second home shirt are they and people who don’t usually buy replica shirts would no doubt have bought one for the big day.  It’s a bit strange that for our biggest games of this season, Inter away and the League Cup Final, the shirt the team will be wearing is not available to buy.  Me, I’ll be wearing the sash shirt from a few years back.

Next up was the signing of a goalkeeper on loan for the rest of the season which came hot on the heels of Alex McCarthy being ruled out for the next 2 months.  Mouez Hassen has been brought in from Nice so he of course was Claude’s back up keeper from last season.  The question this raises is – what the fuck is Stuart Taylor there for?  Surely we have other positions that need strengthening more than goalkeeper.

To tonight and Swansea are on their third manager of the season in Paul Clement and last week, managed to win their first game for him by winning at Anfield which was subsequently copied by ourselves and Wolves.  They have been and probably will be near the relegation zone all season so that immediately makes me fear for tonight given our away results at Hull, Palace, Burnley etc.  We do at least have a first choice team out tonight after the FA Cup shambles with Stephens and Yoshida at centre back.  The one surprise is that Clasie is preferred to Hojbjerg which is actually pretty annoying.  J-Rod and JWP are still injured so we have Shane Long leading the line.

Swansea appear to sit back from the start and let us have the ball.  I’d kind of rather that they came on to us as we’re crap when we have to make the play away from home and true to form we pass it around without doing much.  Swansea’s first bout of possession comes on half an hour with Stephens getting bullied by Llorente causing the ball to bobble around on the edge of the area before Leroy Fer hits it and Fraser makes a good save to his right.  It’s a temporary reprieve though as the corner comes in from Sigurdsson and Mawsom gets away from Romeu and gets lucky as his header smashes into Romeu and into the top corner.  Here we fucking go again.

Llorente is proving to be a right handful because neither of our centre halves are comfortable against a big guy who puts himself about.  Llorente is one of those physically imposing players who only has to be breathed on to make him hit the deck.  More poor defending and lack of clear leadership at the back sees another bobbling ball which Sigurdsson picks up, turns past Cedric and lashes one, causing Fraser to make another good save, this time to his left.

The corner comes in and we’re defending like arseholes with airshots and everything and we only get away with it because Llorente is not expecting Davo to play an airshot in front of him so he can’t react when the ball arrives.  Half time and fucking rubbish.  Our front 5 players are Long, Redmond, Tadic, Clasie and Davis and they’ve all done fuck all.  The only way we’re going to get a goal is if Boufal comes on and does something.

The first 15 of the second half sees nothing at all from us with Swansea by far the better side.  When we get it we’re sideways and backwards and stil with no forward runners from midfield.  Boufal is on Tadic on the hour mark and not a moment too soon.  To be fair, he could have taken any of the front 5 off and the effect is almost instantaneous.  We bring it out of defence and Romeu feeds it into Boufal who lays it back to Davis.  A lovely ball inside the full back and Bertrand is away, first time cross, first time sidefoot finish from Shane making a run into the box.  Get in.  Great goal.

Swansea now look what they are, pretty average and we pile forward again with Redmond picking out Boufal on the left.  He’s tries to take on a defender and loses it but as he seems to be able to do, he wins it back again by the goal line and lays it back to Redmond who has a blast from 8 yards and …. It goes for a throw-in.  WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT???  One of the themes of the season there – good approach play, easy chance, wank.

Redmond attempts to make up for it a minute later as a good low ball in from Stephens picks him out and he turns and shoots from 20 yards but Fabianski gets up well to tip it over.  We have forward runners now and are putting them under some serious pressure and they are scared to death of Boufal.  We win a corner and Davis takes it, headed out and away go Swansea with Narsing who has just come on.  We’ve over committed horribly and Narsing gets to 25 yards out, accompanied only by Bertrand and he crosses to Sigurdsson who has made ground well and he volleys it first time, into the ground and spinning past Fraser and into the far corner.  Fucking hell again.  Another theme for the season there – opposition have one shot after a period of Saints dominance, score.

20 minutes left and 2-1 down.  Even Clasie realises that the need is such that he might actually have to contribute at the attacking end of the pitch and he slings in a cross and Shane is accidentally clipped by Naughton and appeals for a penalty are never going to get us anywhere.  Claude rolls the dice and off comes the disappointing Redmond and Clasie to be replaced with Sims and McQueen and a formation change and we go to what we should be playing all along, 4-2-3-1 with McQueen and Sims left and right with Boufal at 10.

Boufal has the ball on a piece of string as he brings it down from the Welsh atmosphere and plays Sims in but his shot is blocked away.  From the resultant throw, Boufal sends one defender for a hot dog before cutting in and seeing his own shot blocked for a corner.  We are so much better than them now it’s untrue but here we are once more, losing.

Saints are just giving it to Boufal whenever we can and he tries to take on the whole Swansea team in the penalty area before flopping to the ground, landing on the ball and somehow not getting booked for either diving or deliberate handball.  Five minutes later and Boufal wins a free kick which is cleared and recycled and Romeu puts in a great cross to the back post and up goes Maya and heads down and across and skidding wide of the far post.  It’s not happening.

The extra four minutes are taken up with Llorente getting blown over by the wind and one nearish thing as Cedric played Sims in on the right but his low cross was swallowed up by Fabianski as Long closed in.  Shit.

Yet another self-inflicted defeat against a poor to average side.  We showed in the last half an hour that we are miles better than them when we play positively and with a sense of purpose.  We played like complete wankers for the first hour though with no intent.  Again you can look at the two midfielders in front of Romeu to see how committed we are to scoring a goal and Davis and Clasie did not get forward at all.  We were just treading water and hoping to score instead of actually making it happen.  This side of things has to be down to the manager.  JWP and Hojbjerg both got forward against Leicester and it made a huge difference but today, nothing of the sort.  Clasie just does not suit the position he’s being asked to play and he has no attacking instinct at all which when added to his inability to last a game physically and his inability to win tackles and be in the right place at the right time, makes him pretty ineffective.  Playing this way just places all the onus with the three forwards and Tadic and Redmond were somewhere between shit and average.

Ironically, the winning goal was caused by us over-committing at a corner which is dangerous when you knock in a shite corner and it gets easily cleared and the opposition breaks on you.  Swansea didn’t have to work hard for their goals with the first one being down to shite marking.  In general play, Yoshida and Stephens are not dominant and we’re going to struggle with those two.  Elsewhere we were a pretty blunt instrument up front which you kind of expect these days.

Boufal was a genius when he came on for the completely hopeless Tadic and he gave them nightmares and was let down by the others.  The key moment of the game was at 1-1 when Boufal won the ball in their penalty area and teed up a chance for Redmond on a plate and he smashed it for a throw-in – a fucking throw-in.  If it goes in the goal like it should have done instead of off for a fucking throw-in, we’re 2-1 up and we win the game.  The other good news is that Shane Long scored again so let’s hope that that run of goals and the upturn in his general play continues.

In the aftermath of the game, the Southampton FC PR machine was in full swing – they obviously had two press releases ready, one saying ‘a great night just gets better with…..’ and the other with ‘a disappointing result but some great news….’.  We of course needed the latter to go with the signing of Manolo Gabbiadini from Napoli.  He’s a winger/striker type who’s fallen out of favour at Napoli and to be honest, I don’t know much about him aside from a decent but not outstanding goal record in Serie A and one goal and six caps for the Azzurri.  Let’s hope he hits the ground running and is more Graziano than Osvaldo.  It has be remembered that Graziano had done nothing in Italian football before he arrived here.

Tick, tock, tick, tock – 11pm.  Nothing.  Not a thing.  No centre back to replace José Fonte, a need made even greater by Virgil’s injury.  Oh dear.  You could quite easily argue that we needed two permanent signings in this position and maybe one on loan depending on Virgil’s injury but we got none.  One can only hope that Virgil’s injury is not too bad and we’re going to see images of him in full training on the website in the next couple of days.  Serdar Tasci didn’t happen because he’s apparently injured and nor did Mamodou Sakho who joined Palace on loan.  My boss at work is an ITK Palace fan and apparently, Sakho wanted to match or better his £105k a week wages and Liverpool wanted a £2m loan fee.  Five months at £105k a week plus £2m is about £4.5 million for a player who isn’t going to be fit.  To be honest I’d be a bit alarmed if we went for that and I’m quite happy that we didn’t.

There is no question that we’ve fucked up here.  We left it to the last minute of the window as usual and guess what usually happens when you have no contingency.  It goes wrong.  Tasci’s injury apparently only came to light yesterday and then in what looks like panic, we apparently tried to loan Amat from Swansea and they said, thanks for the 3 points, now fuck off back down the M4.  Who knows, it does appear though that Les has dropped the ball.

It does make me wonder what we are up to in the whole scheme of things.  We seem to have a lack of senior pros compared to last year.  We’ve lost Pellé, Wanyama, Mané and Fonte which is a lot of experience, not to mention ability and we’ve promoted the Academy boys and signed 21 year olds in the main.  Last year, if Big Vic got suspended, we had Romeu to bring in and if Pellé was injured, we had Austin on the bench.  As it stands right now we have one defensive midfielder in Romeu, one fit senior centre back in Yoshida, one capable right back in Cédric and one suitable goalkeeper in Fraser.  I know you can’t buy a player every time you have an injury but we are at serious ‘bare bones’ at the moment.  If Oriol goes then Harrison Reed comes in, if Yoshida is out then we are down to Stephens, a kid who couldn’t get a game in the Championship 6 months ago and Gardos who has been out for 2 years.  Cedric out would bring in Cuco the Clown and Fraser down would bring in either a French kid in Hassen or Harry Lewis.  It’s fucking scary and none of those options are particularly appealing and it shouldn’t be like that.

Like I said – we have to assume that Virgil is not far away but if we go into the Cup Final and the next month of League games without him then someone has seriously not been doing their job properly as opposed to partially not doing their job properly.  Today, despite us punting millions on a striker, has not been a great day.  A bit odd really but until this all plays out, I can’t help but feel that we’ve taken the gun and shot ourselves in the foot.

Next up is West Ham and Fonte and Andy Carroll.  Personally I’d pick Florin Gardos as he’s tall.  That’s what we appear to be reduced to at the moment.

UPDATE: Virgil is not near a comeback, misses the final and whatever league games are coming in the next two months.  Great.