Tag Archives: Southampton

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the difference a superstar can make

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Zlatan, a god amongst men. Source: CNN

He said it would happen and so it would come to pass. The self-proclaimed God of Manchester can almost sound biblical at times but what really is surprising is that he’s rarely wrong.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic came to win and he has won one big battle already. There were doubters, those that still live in the small-minded English mentality of the classic rainy evening in Stoke analogy but the big Swede has been nothing short of a success yet again in yet another country.

Standing before us is a shining example of what a superstar can make happen. He can change the culture, he can bring that winning attitude and most of all, he can rise to the occasion, which is exactly what happened at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.

There’s no doubt about it, Southampton were the better team in the EFL Cup Final against Manchester United. Their full-backs were excellent, the way they moved up the field with speed and advanced on the wings to put in some terrific crosses had to be admired.

They did a little bit of everything. New signing Manolo Gabbiadini scored three lovely little goals, with one being wrongfully ruled out for an offside that never was and with that strike, the game could have been so different.

The Saints were undoubtedly superb and probably deserved more from the encounter. A credit to Claude Puel, his tactics were spot on and his players did not shirk on an occasion that can be too big for so many others.

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Gabbiadini was superb and could have been the difference on another evening. Source: TalkSport

However, United had a difference maker in their midst. After being significantly outplayed for the first section of the game, it was the Red Devils that struck first thanks to a long-range free-kick from Ibrahimovic, significantly against the run of play.

A bolt from the blue, in all honestly.

Jesse Lingard made it a little more comfortable but Southampton didn’t shrink and instead grew back into the game with two goals either side of half time. It was the South Coast side in the ascendancy, against a team that won the FA Cup in the same stadium just under a year ago.

As Puel’s men tired, it was Jose Mourinho’s talisman that stepped up to the plate. His clearing header from a corner moments earlier led to a counter attack, which slowed but eventually led to a wonderfully powerful header from Ibrahimovic that handed United an unlikely glory.

After the match, he was shattered and defiant. He said he would do it, he put everything on the line and achieved it, something that so many top footballers can fail to do but he has done it time after time after time.

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If not for Mourinho, United would not have been blessed with the gift of Zlatan. Source: newstalk.com

The truly world class players do. In a time of need, they put their team on their back and carry them to victory if needs be which is what can separate a good team from being a great team.

In the NBA, they always talk about getting an All-Star player. Someone who can tip the scales, someone who can improve those around them and a player that could push you further than you thought.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an All-Star player. Even at 35, he plays every single game for a top club that includes Europa League ties and there are no days off, he wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen.

If you want a player to show your kids what it takes, from the attitude to the commitment, show them Zlatan. He can be brash, some find him abrasive but his one-track mind of only winning and his work ethic to make that happen is the prime example of what makes a generation-defining footballer.

And if you’re a big football club, find the next one. They are so rare to find, can be so difficult to make but my word, they are worth their weight in gold.

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The crazy Christmas schedule needs to end

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Southampton have a crazy Christmas schedule that has shown it’s toughness in the last two games. Source: The Mirror

Southampton play Everton today at 3pm.

They lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in the 3pm kick-offs on New Year’s Eve. They played three nights before that in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45pm.

Then the Saints go marching into Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the FA Cup before a midweek League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the 11th. Burnely are then their foes at Turf Moor on the 14th of the first month of 2017.

6 games in seventeen days. A game every 2.8 days. Doesn’t that sound a little absurd to you?

Many will cry out that Christmas football is sacred and cannot be touched. Some will say that English football is a tough man’s game and doesn’t need the siesta seen by those less worthy on the continent.

When you a see a schedule like that for a team, it can’t be excused. In fact, every single team in the Premier League has at least an extra day’s rest than Southampton over the three games this week, a distinct disadvantage both for the now and for the future.

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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore doesn’t care as long as that truck of money doesn’t stop pulling up at his house. Source: chelseafootballnews.com

That goes for any team in the top flight who could have faced this kind of issue. To those that want to win the Premier League to those fighting to stay in it, they want to play at their full potential each game and that simply isn’t possible with so many games over a short period of time.

This also has a detrimental effect to the product you are watching. Is it any wonder that there will be a few lethargic, uninspiring displays and some terrible mental errors that could cost any team valuable points when they simply could have played them further apart?

What is even more absurd is how spread the games are this year through the period. There isn’t one day where every team is playing, all bowing to the whims of the ever-powerful TV deals that force them to move to their will to cater for their viewing public.

Injuries occur more often when playing in such a short space of time, which must put a real panic in teams that are already short-handed. Fatigue could also set in towards March, when regular internationals have been playing week-in, week-out since August or even since the summer for some, which is only amplified for those from South America who have had long flights on top of that.

Then there’s also the blame that this affects English players in major tournaments. With most of the national squad playing in the Premier League, the tiredness and lack of mental strength shown in the summer at least on the surface looks like it could be down to a long, arduous season, especially with most playing for a Tottenham Hotspur side that had to fight tooth and nail until the very end.

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Can a break really help the international side as well? Or is that just more hope than anything? Source: nytimes.com

So, what is the real answer to fixing the clogging of games at this time of year? Lifting the 3pm kick-off ban so that we can have more teams play on one day without a fuss? Or take a few weeks off either after the traditional Boxing Day fixture or after New Year’s Day to refresh the batteries?

I’d actually like for some real hard evidence to be conducted to prove how much it can affect a player and how important a short-term midseason break can be. It’s easy to point at international tournaments and the fact there’s been no English side in the Champions League final for four years, but before then there was at least one representative on eight out of nine occasions.

It’s true that the players and coaches would absolutely welcome a break, which for many on the continent actually means a week off then more preparation for the restart rather than three weeks dossing. It will give them a chance to restart themselves, for coaches to work their ideas into their teams and get ready for the second half of the season.

Whether it will happen any time in the future is the real question. With the TV companies and the Premier League big-wigs probably seeing it as a great opportunity to take advantage of no overseas competition, it would be difficult to see it coming to fruition any time soon.

But seriously, Southampton’s schedule over the next month is a joke. That can and should be changed next year, it’s isn’t fair in the slightest.

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Alan Pardew: A man on the edge

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Pardew’s time is surely running out at Crystal Palace. Source: The Mirror

Some may call him a fraud, some may call him a spinster, others may say genius. Alan Pardew has been a polarising figure throughout his managerial career but he has always come out with his head high and his grin as wide as ever.

However, a bad result at the weekend should rightfully end his current run with Crystal Palace and with it will likely go his last chance both in the Premier League and at taking the national job.

Pardew’s managerial career has ebbed and flowed. It started well at Reading, he got the club promoted out of the then-Division Two before making the playoffs in his first season in England’s second tier.

At West Ham, he struggled initially before getting them into the Premier League on the second time of asking in 2005. A ninth placed finished followed along with an FA Cup final before the club’s worst run of results in 70 years eventually saw him relieved of his duties in December 2006.

Charlton then came calling and after he failed to keep them up despite an up-turn in form, he then failed to get them straight back up again. With the club in the bottom three after another poor start, he was sacked.

He then joined the Southampton revolution, helping them almost get into the playoffs despite a 10-point deduction at the start of the season. He also won the Football League Trophy before succumbing to the axe again after a string of poor results and reported low morale with staff and a poor relationship with the club chairman.

Somehow, some way, he became Newcastle United manager. After a 12th placed finish, a slew of great signings headed by chief scout Graham Carr helped the club get into the European spots and saw Pardew named Premier League Manager of the Year.

He then signed an eight-year contract extention.

After an average 2012-13 season, results dipped dramatically to end the following season. They lost 15 out of their last 21 games and the fans turned on him, despite finishing the season well above the dropzone and leading the time to six wins in a row in all competitions before leaving for Palace.

But this was where the trend continues. After a good start and a splash of cash, Palace have tumbled to the worst points-per-game ratio of any team in the 92 professional football clubs in 2016.

They did make an FA Cup final in that time as well, but it’s not enough to forgive a run of form that would have seen almost any manager in a similar position sacked. His win percentage is not bad at 41.5% but he’s also lost almost 45% of those games in charge.

He isn’t particularly tactically adept, simply working with what he’s given and hoping for the best. Sometimes it’s been with a 4-4-2 at Newcastle, that spiralled out when the two strikers were not of the quality of those previously or when the help diminished, or sometimes it’s a 4-3-3 with two quick wide men yet his defenders have seemingly forgotten how to defend, which is another trend.

Just look at the last five games. They lost all five, scoring six but conceding a whopping 13, including threes against struggling attacking sides like Leicester City and Burnley. They may argue that they were unlucky in a few of them but you can’t be unlucky for almost an entire year.

Add to that the controversies he’s had, including bust-ups with managers and a moment where headbutted an opposition player and you begin to wonder how he’s got work so easily.

Is it his cheesy grin? Is it his slimy, aggressive personality or is it his dad-dancing that puts the cherry on top.

Hopefully, Swansea City can put the final nail in his coffin. A man that is the epitome of “new manager syndrome”, Pardew can only hold on to this charade for a little bit longer.

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Adebayor signing personifies 2016 January window

Adebayor was a symptom of the window, he was simply the easiest person to do business this January.  Source: Sky Sports

Adebayor was a symptom of the window, he was simply the easiest person to do business this January. Source: Sky Sports

Last night, Crystal Palace announced the signing of former Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor until the end of the season. The move raised a few eyebrows, the Togolese international known for his fleeting successes and tendency to peter out, but this deal is the epitome of the winter window this season.

No one wants to play ball.

It’s highlighted by some of the moves this summer, with some only really coming to fruition because they had to. Charlie Austin joined Southampton for £4m because he had just six months to run on his contract QPR, the same reason Leeds United allowed Sam Byram to join West Ham United.

With so much pressure on teams to stay in the division, they are trying their best to find deals but finding anyone domestically has been a real drag.

Austin was a great signing but forced by his contract situation.  Source: The Express

Austin was a great signing but forced by his contract situation. Source: The Express

Players like Loic Remy, desperate to play some first-team football ahead of Euro 2016 has been forced to stay at Chelsea. That may change for him now it looks like Alexandre Pato is joining the club on loan, but that leaves clubs just a few days to fight for his signature.

Clubs like Sunderland and Aston Villa are wandering aimlessly in their search for reinforcements but can’t find what they need. Other teams won’t sell them the quality they need as most still need it themselves, anyone who they can get then either is hesitent about joining a relegation side on a permanent basis or simply not a step-up to what they’ve already got.

Even those surplus to requirements have simply been bumped up in price. Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend have both joined Newcastle United and while they do have quality, they were deemed as not needed by other clubs yet still cost £12m each.

Those astronomical prices and the unwillingness to sell has teams looking abroad, where they can be more likely to allow players to leave. But even then, some drive a hard bargain and the likelyhood that any should meet the expectation to make an immediate impact for those clubs in need is a little farfetched to say the least.

Shelvey was a solid signing, but £12m still seems a lpt.  Source: The Guardian

Shelvey was a solid signing, but £12m still seems a lpt. Source: The Guardian

All that leads to why the Adebayor deal makes sense. He’s a free agent, you don’t need to negotiate with any club and the only thing that stalled a deal was to get Spurs to pay a percentage of what they still owe him to see it through.

Seeing as the Palace strikeforce has scored just once all season, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to be at least a minor success. He’ll be gone at the end of the season, unless he really impresses and brings his wage demands down, and Alan Pardew will look to reinforce with a better option in the much less restrictive summer window.

There have been calls in the past to end this window because of what it can do to smaller clubs. What has been evident this time around is that it’s affected everyone, dominoes have failed to fall and therefore clubs have been stuck in a rut with nowhere to go.

Again, especially in the Premier League, this may change when the new money comes in next year and teams just spend willy-nilly. However, should this happen again next season, it could actually be the beginning of the end for the January winter window.

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When is the perfect time to sack a manager?

Benitez never had his feet under the desk.  Source: Bleacher Report

Benitez never had his feet under the desk. Source: Bleacher Report

With the sacking of Rafa Benitez yesterday, it seems like there is no better time to look at when it is the right time to dismiss a manager of a football club.

For starters, it should be a difficult decision not done on a whim. Several disappointing results can sting but things can change dramatically in two months’ time and snap decisions have more often than not had pretty dire consequences.

At the same time, when problems arise that may not be fixable, you cannot fear pulling the trigger when change is needed. Even if it’s not seen on the outside or there is an opportunity to get someone better, clubs shouldn’t fear in making a short-term negative decision for a long-term gain.

In the case of Benitez at Real Madrid, it seemed like a marriage doomed to fail from the start. Taking over from a hugely popular coach in Carlo Ancelotti and seen as a poor choice by the fans, the former Liverpool boss was always walking on a tightrope from the minute he walked through the door.

He didn’t seem to have full control of the team, his style clashed with the players at his disposal and people called for his head at the first sign of trouble. Now, with no more options available, Zinedine Zidane takes control much sooner than expected and is thrown right into the deep end.

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice.  Source: The Telegraph

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice. Source: The Telegraph

Timing a firing can be so difficult, when the pressure to get results is high but the space to bring in new ideas that can work so limited. Without a break like the rest of Europe, where it seems like a logical time to change things, managers have to simplify things before gradually adding their own spin, which takes too much time.

Take a look at Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho, who had clearly lost the effort of his team and could not find a way to fix things but was then sacked just before the hectic Christmas period. Whether it was right or wrong, Guus Hiddink had little time to fix things and only now does it seem like they are clicking into gear under the Dutchman.

The one to watch will be the rest of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United, when many other managers would have been dismissed immediately after a fourth loss and a dismal display against Norwich City on Boxing Day.

They may have picked up a few points since then and could be back on the up, if he recovers and creates any kind of success this season or even possibly next season, it may show that sticking by someone might be the best option.

Short-sightedness tends to come with those at the bottom, as we have seen with constant Sunderland managers over the past few years but without a plan in place, teams sink. Newcastle almost fell after not having a plan after Alan Pardew and Norwich took too long to swing the axe on Chris Hughton a few years ago, giving the job to a man who brought them down and was sacked six months later.

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan.  Source: The Telegraph

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan. Source: The Telegraph

Another example of that poor forward-thinking was the hiring of Tim Sherwood, an unproven manager that ended up saving Aston Villa on the virtue that other teams were worse. He then had a pretty poor summer, the team was not tactically prepared and now Remi Garde is running around in January to fix all the problems he created.

Some sackings felt needless, such as when Mauricio Pochettino took over at Southampton or when Quique Sanchez Flores became the Watford manager, but both have shown why that decision was made. They both had plans, they have a tactical nous that brings the team an identity they can follow and in the long run, both have worked very well.

In the end, long-term ideals need to take much more of a prominent standpoint over possible short-sighted advantages. Bringing someone in to save the club does not mean that same man can take you forward, therefore the thinking has to be that he can deliver for many years rather than for just this season, as it usually leaves a club in a mess.

There may never be the “right” time to sack a manager. The off-season would be much easier, much like in other sports, but with the risk of relegation or not succeeding so high, owners feel compelled to do something as soon as they spot a problem.

What needs to happen is for them to get it right in the first place, a man who will add structure to the entire organisation and build rather than a fire-fighter because, in the long run, that short-term thinking always lands clubs in trouble.

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A closer look at some Premier League additions

After the Premier League has started purging European countries for their talent, here’s a quick look at a few recent additions and what they are likely to bring.

 

Roberto Firmino

Firmino is an exciting prospect to add to the attacking talent at Liverpool.  Source: express.co.uk

Firmino is an exciting prospect to add to the attacking talent at Liverpool. Source: express.co.uk

The 23-year-old Brazillian has always had talent but in the last two seasons he has really blossomed. Fitting perfectly in Hoffenheim’s gung-ho style, Firmino managed seven goals and 10 assists this past season, following on from his 16 goal/12 assists the year before.

Able to play either out wide, behind the striker or even as a false nine, Firmino has an attack-first mind and consistently looks to run at defenders with the ball. He’s curbed his former selfishness, adding an eye for an assist along with his confidence in front of goal.

He’s really been impressing with the Brazil national team recently but he really shone in his final game for Hoffenheim against Hertha Berlin. A sublime assist to set up Anthony Modeste for the first goal, arrowing it over the defence before showing his poaching ability late on, grabbing the winner after the goalkeeper palmed it out to his feet.

It’s a superb signing for Liverpool, considering his age and his ability, especially when you add that he can cover so many positions in the final third. He’s exactly the kind of player they needed to replace Luis Suarez with last summer and should he repeat his exploits from the Bundesliga, he’ll push the Reds much closer to those Champions League places should he stay fit.

 

Christian Fuchs

Cambiasso proved to be a great addition, Fuchs could be another excellent, experienced head to add to the dressing room.  Source: UEFA.com

Cambiasso proved to be a great addition, Fuchs could be another excellent, experienced head to add to the dressing room. Source: UEFA.com

An Austrian international, 29-year-old Christian Fuchs should finally bring some solid stability to Leicester City’s ever-changing left-back conundrum. Having made almost 100 appearances with Schalke 04, he’ll bring another dose of experience to the Foxes’ squad along with a touch of extra class.

Fuchs is good but not spectacular at getting both forward and back, he has a lovely left-foot that can swing in a cross or even curl in a free-kick. He had another decent season in a poor Schalke side, scoring three goals whilst having five assists and even played a few games on the wing when needed.

He showcased his ability on the big occasions too, scoring a volley and creating another in Schalke’s 4-3 win against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in the Champions League. That kind of experience his difficult for any club to find and they’ll know that in the important matches, Fuchs will certainly turn up.

Richie De Laet never quite impressed enough and Jeffrey Schlupp’s future hopefully lying further forward, Fuchs is a really good addition on a free transfer. He should form a stronger defensive line that’ll help Leicester not need such an amazing escape this upcoming season.

 

Juanmi

Juanmi could be very good but will need time to settle in.  Source: Marca

Juanmi could be very good but will need time to settle in. Source: Marca

Bought for around £5 million by Southampton, Juanmi has had a spectacular rise over the past 12 months. The Malaga starlet scored eight goals in 34 appearances last season, which might sound poultry for a club looking at European football in the Saints, but the 22-year-old has shown on a number of occasions that he’s got ability,

To score at both the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou in one season is some feat and the youngster also received a call-up to the Spanish national team. He’s quick, good with the ball at his feet and is surprisingly good in the air despite his 5″7 frame.

There are plenty of worries, he tends to score goals in gluts and would rather play next to or behind another striker than lead the line. He’s not strong enough to out-muscle defenders but will cause them problems in behind, which means he could be used out wide more often than up top, despite Ronald Koeman’s men needing an out-and-out forward to compete with Graziano Pelle.

He will need a bit of time to adapt, so don’t expect fireworks early on. Juanmi will most likely be used sparingly this season to adapt unless there’s an injury crisis but if you look at Malaga fan’s reaction to the loss, Southampton fans should have a lot to look forward to in the future.

 

Joselu

Joselu is a boom-or-bust pick-up but after Hughes' last two transfers of that nature in Bojan and Diouf, he could be on to a winner.  Source: Bild

Joselu is a boom-or-bust pick-up but after Hughes’ last two transfers of that nature in Bojan and Diouf, he could be on to a winner. Source: Bild

The former Real Madrid man has signed for Stoke City for a deal believed to be around £5.75 million, a number balked at by many. Joselu has had a few solid seasons in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover 96 but he’s never really set the world alight.

The 25-year-old stands at 6″3 and is incredibly strong in the air, an asset that Stoke teams in the past have valued highly. However, he’s also very good with the ball to feet, much like Hughes’ style, and it’s that added quality that’s convinced the Potters to shell out the money.

With 14 goals whilst on loan at Frankfurt in 33 games and 10 in 32 at Hannover last season, he’s shown some quality in front of goal but at times can be wasteful with good opportunities. His three assists is a positive too, especially if Bojan or Diouf is working off him, and he could be a solid addition to the Stoke squad.

In the end, this is a solid signing that really could go either way. Should he show the quality that made Real Madrid sign him in the past, he’ll be a steal but at the same time it’s just as likely that he’ll not quite add the quality they need.

 

Shinji Okazaki

Okazaki could be a real hit and will be desperate to impress as soon as possible.  Source: Bleacher Report

Okazaki could be a real hit and will be desperate to impress as soon as possible. Source: Bleacher Report

Leicester City really struggled for a prolific forward last season and by signing 29-year-old Japanese international Shinji Okazaki, they should call off the search. The former Mainz man is the most prolific active Japanese footballer with 43 goals for his national side but until recently, he’s not been prolific at club level.

Okazaki joined Stuttgart back in 2011 and managed just 10 goals in 63 appearances, of which most came from the bench, but he earned a move to Mainz in 2013 that really revitilised his career. His first season was excellent, 15 goals in 33 Bundesliga games really showed how good he can be on his day.

He didn’t disappoint too much last season, 12 goals in 32 games was a solid return and Okazaki will be a player that Leicester City fans will love. He’s an exceptionally hard worker, always looking to be that poacher in the six yard box and moving constantly, much to the annoyance of defenders.

It’s exactly the kind of player they needed, someone who wouldn’t be static when going forward and someone who can find and exploit space. He’s a consistent 10-15 goals now he’s reached his peak and should he be employed the same way by the Foxes, he’ll be a very welcome addition.

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