Shambolic Southampton hurtling towards relegation

Leave a comment

For so long they’ve been the poster boys of how to run a Premier League club.

An academy envied around the globe. A sell high, buy low player recruitment policy which has worked superbly. Overachieving season after season. Plucking managerial gems from overseas to work wonders. Europa League campaigns. Cup runs. Everything they’ve done has gone smoothly with four-straight top eight finishes in the PL table.

Until now. With just one win in their last 18 Premier League games, Southampton are staring relegation in the face in one of the biggest surprises of the current Premier League campaign.

But when you look at Southampton right now, should we be this surprised?

The South Coast club are hurtling towards relegation as their increasingly shambolic season hit a new low on Saturday in the 3-0 defeat at West Ham with players not only looking out of their depth but also showing a distinct lack of desire in a pivotal moment.

With seven games to go Saints occupy the final relegation place and despite everything they’re just two points from safety. They may still get out of this but it will likely be down to the poor form of Crystal Palace, Huddersfield and Swansea rather than their own good form in the final months of the season as they face five of the current top nine in their remaining games.

In his first Premier League game in charge of Southampton, Mark Hughes saw his team roll over early on and lose 3-0. It was the second game in a row Southampton had lost 3-0 to direct relegation rivals and they are running out of chances to save themselves from being relegated from the Premier League for just the second time in club history.

On the face of it, their squad has the talent to easily be sitting in midtable but with 13 draws (the most in the PL this season) they’ve often seemed scared to be positive and take the game to their opponents. On paper they should be battling Leicester, Everton and Watford to finish in seventh or eighth place. But something isn’t right. They are a nice team to watch, at times, with plenty of possession and sideways passes but there is not cutting edge, no drive and no real purpose to their play.

Too often it appears that their players are drifting, going through the motions and living off the success of the past few seasons when everyone exclaimed: “What a wonderful season from Southampton. How do they carry on doing this?”

This squad, which has been so hungry for success over the past six years since Saints were promoted back to the Premier League, seem to have suddenly lost their appetite. With long-term contracts dished out to Fraser Forster, Jack Stephens, Ryan Bertrand, Cedric Soares, Oriol Romeu and others, it appears this Saints team are in cruise control as huge deals were handed out mostly as a reward for performances in the past few seasons. The players must take most of the blame.

But the fans and board also have to take their share of their blame. Claude Puel was fired last season amid plenty of fan unrest for finishing in eighth place and reaching a cup final because his team were “too boring” to watch. How costly could that unrest prove?

Nothing changed under Puel’s replacement, Mauricio Pellegrino, who was fired at the start of this month after just five wins in 30 PL games. And nothing appears to be changing quickly under Hughes. You can question the desire of this group, but maybe they aren’t as good as we think. The sacking of two managers on the spin by the board in the expectation that some kind of miracle turnaround will occur must also be questioned.

Quite simply the culture of endlessly selling on their best players for huge profits, then replacing them with young, hungry players from elsewhere in Europe, has come back to bite them. Hard.

Nathan Redmond was supposed to be the direct replacement for Sadio Mane. He hasn’t been anywhere near Mane’s level. Wesley Hoedt came in as Virgil Van Dijk‘s replacement and has since lost his place in the Dutch squad for his shaky displays. Charlie Austin replaced Graziano Pelle but has been injured most of his time at Saints. Victor Wanyama was replaced by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Mario Lemina who were both at fault for the first two goals at West Ham.

When you start to add all of that up, it starts to make sense why Southampton are in the position they’re in. They no longer have a clear playing identity. Their recruitment team have stopped unearthing gems for relative peanuts. Their academy has stopped churning out ready-made internationals a la Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana.

Austin, Saints’ top scorer this season with six goals, returned from a three-month injury layoff on Saturday and looked stunned when speaking to the media after the defeat at West Ham.

“It just wasn’t good enough and we got what we deserved,” Austin said. “Seven games left, we’ve got to get out of this hole. We’ve given ourselves a massive mountain to climb now. We’ve got the players to do it but off that performance, we need to improve fast. We need to win and we need to win fast. That is it.”

Austin sounded hollow when he said he believed in this current set of players and the new management team to turn this around.

Saints have Arsenal away, Chelsea at home and Leicester away in their next three Premier League games, with the distraction of an FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Wembley on Apr. 22 also looming.

They simply have to cause upsets, just like they used to in the past at their tight, atmospheric home at the Dell. During the 1990s they pulled off great escape after great escape as one of the smallest clubs in the Premier League. Their current manager Hughes was part of some of those Saints teams and he needs to instill some kind of spirit, some kind of togetherness in a squad of international caliber players who seem to think they are too good to be playing in a team battling against relegation.

For Hughes, his first 45 minutes in charge of Saints in the Premier League was a horror show as he admitted the performance “surprised him greatly” given what he had seen in training since he took over.

“It maybe emphasized some of the problems the team has had of late in this season. We’re going to have to turn it around very quickly,” Hughes said. “We are running out of games. There has to be an understanding that we are in trouble here and we need to turn it around quickly.”

Among the players there doesn’t seem to be an understanding, or a realization, of the deep trouble they are in. Only games against Bournemouth and Swansea in their final seven outings represent realistic chances to gain points to save themselves.

The last time Southampton were relegated from the Premier League, in 2005, they spiraled into financial meltdown and almost went bust as they ended up at the bottom of the third tier on -10 points and were saved by a Swiss billionaire at the last moment. Their fall won’t be as dramatic this time around but these players don’t seem to have grasped the severity of the situation they’re in.

Under Chinese ownership since the start of this season, the Gao Family will not have expected to have bought 80 percent of Southampton for $294 million and see them struggling in the relegation zone.

Nobody did. And especially not the players. Not even now.

That is the biggest problem of them all and one that you can’t see Saints solving in the next seven games.

Southampton’s shambolic season has reached the pivotal juncture. It is now sink or swim time.

Right now you’d bet your mortgage on Saints sinking like a stone towards the second tier.

China’s Dalian Yifang sign two Atletico Madrid stars

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atletico Madrid have announced that Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan have both been sold to Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants respect ]

The La Liga giants released a statement on their website saying that both Belgian international Carrasco and Argentine international winger Gaitan had both made the move to China on a permanent basis.

Atletico’s ownership has consisted of a 17 percent stake from Chinese businessman Wang Jianlin, who runs the company Wanda, since 2015 but he sold that stake earlier this month.

Jianlin is from the Chinese city of Dalian and Wanda are now involved in Yifang, where Carrasco and Gaitan are heading.

“Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan will join Dalian Yifang on a permanent deal. Best of luck in China!” Atletico said via their social media accounts.

Atletico are currently second in the La Liga standings, seven points behind leaders Barcelona, and are in the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League. With Diego Costa, Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres in attack, Diego Simeone has plenty of attacking option to choose from but Carrasco has been an integral part of his squad over the past few years compared to Gaitan.

Carrasco, 24, has played 124 times for Atletico, as he joined from Monaco in 2015 and went on to score 17 times in 81 La Liga appearances for Simeone’s side.

Gaitan, 30, played 49 times for Atletico after arriving from Benfica in 2016 with the Argentine attacker linked with a move to the Premier League in January but nothing came to fruition.

Earlier this week Portuguese international center back Jose Fonte left West Ham for Dalian Yifang.

The club were promoted to the Chinese Super League for the 2018 season as Champions of the second tier, and they will now have some serious help in making waves in China’s top-flight where stars such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Axel Witsel, Ramires, Oscar, Graziano Pelle, Javier Mascherano and Hulk play.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sturridge in demand; Pelle to West Ham

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Daniel Sturridge looks set to join a Premier League club on loan between now and the transfer window closing on Wednesday.

Sturridge, 28, is out of form and favor at Liverpool and clubs such as Sevilla and Inter Milan were said to be interested in signing the England international on loan.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]  

However, Newcastle United were thought to be the favorites on Monday, but West Bromwich Albion have now become the clear front-runners to sign Sturridge with Alan Pardew offering him the chance to be their main striker for the rest of the season.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Jurgen Klopp had his say on Sturridge’s future.

“In the next three days a lot will probably happen but nothing to say about that. If there was something it wouldn’t help us, Daniel or the other club to talk about it,” Klopp said.

Are West Brom the best fit for Sturridge? He needs game time if he’s going to have any chance of getting in the England squad for the 2018 World Cup this summer and although Jay Rodriguez scored twice against Liverpool in West Brom’s shock FA Cup win at Anfield at the weekend, his talents are better used out wide. West Brom certainly create better chances for their forwards than Newcastle and you can argue that the Baggies have more momentum than the struggling Magpies at a crucial part of the season.

Pardew’s other attacking options at West Brom are far from prolific with Salomon Rondon and Hal Robson-Kanu mustering just five PL goals between them this season despite their hard-working displays. Sturridge would add an extra cutting edge to the Baggies attack and if he stays fit he will give them a massive boost in their battle against relegation from the Premier League.

Newcastle and Rafael Benitez must be kicking themselves as another potentially massive deal looks to have fallen at the final hurdle.


West Ham United are expected to be busy in the final days of the window with David Moyes reportedly chasing a new striker and central midfielder.

The Hammers have been linked with moves for Morgan Schneiderlin from Everton and Graziano Pelle from Shandong Lenung.

Schneiderlin, 28, has fallen out of favor at Goodison Park since Sam Allardyce‘s arrival and the French international midfielder has seen his bright start to life at Everton fade badly since Ronald Koeman was sacked at the start of this season.

West Ham have been linked with many holding midfielders in previous windows, including Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho, Anderlcht’s Leander Dendoncker and Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, and Schneiderlin’s ability to break the ball up and start attacks would certainly fit the bill. Schneiderlin will reportedly cost $28 million.

His former Southampton teammate Pelle, who has been at Chinese Super League side Shandong Lenung for the past 18 months, earns over $1.2 million per month in China but West Ham are said to want the 31-year-old to return to the Premier League. Italian international Pelle scored 30 goals in two seasons at Southampton from 2014-2016 but has scored just 12 goals in China so far.

With Andy Carroll out injured long-term, plus the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini struggling with smaller injuries and Diafra Sakho sold to Rennes on Monday, Moyes only has Javier Hernandez and Andre Ayew to rely on right now.

Pelle’s arrival as a target man may place question marks around Carroll’s future at the London Stadium, especially given Chelsea’s reported interest, but the 32-year-old Italian will want to be compensated handsomely if he is to leave his deal in China 12 months before its expiration.

Southampton agree $27 million fee for Monaco’s Carrillo

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Southampton are spending that Virgil Van Dijk cash.

Pro Soccer Talk understands that talks have been ongoing for days between Monaco and Saints, and Southampton have now agreed a club-record $27 million fee with Monaco for Argentine striker Guido Carrillo.

Per a source with information on the situation, Southampton hope to have the signing of Carrillo completed by the time they play Watford in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday at St Mary’s.

The striker previously played for current Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino at Argentine side Estudiantes and moved to Monaco in 2015. He is renowned for his strong aerial ability and he seems to be in the same mold as Graziano Pelle, who Saints have never quite replaced since he left in the summer of 2016.

However, Carrillo, 26, has found minutes hard to come by this season with 22 appearances in all competitions but just two starts in Ligue 1.

Saints have been searching for a new goalscorer for most of the past 12 months after Manolo Gabbiadini‘s lethal initial form dried up following his arrival from Napoli last January. Carrillo’s goalscoring record is far from clinical but he has had limited opportunities for the reigning French champions and he’s a player Pellegrino knows well.

With top goalscorer Charlie Austin battling with injuries for the past two seasons, Saints have the less than prolific Shane Long as their only other forward option with 17-year-old Michael Obafemi coming off the bench late on against Tottenham last weekend in their 1-1 draw to showcase their lack of forward options.

Pellegrino’s side are currently on the longest winless run in the Premier League (11 games) and are in the relegation zone, but are just four points off 10th place in the incredibly tight battle against the drop.

With a $42 million deal for Spartak Moscow winger Quincy Promes also said to be in the works, it appears Saints are gambling on Carrillo and Promes to save their PL status in the final months of the season.

Dusan Tadic: From Serbia to Southampton, this is my story

Getty Images
Leave a comment

(Dusan Tadic talking to Joe Prince-Wright)

When I was growing up as a kid in Serbia, I had always dreamed of this moment. Last week we did it. We qualified for the World Cup. When you play for your country, everyone remembers you if you play in a World Cup. It is that simple.

I remember the 1998 World Cup when we were Yugoslavia, I had the sticker albums of all the players and I still remember that squad and who was playing.

[ LIVE: Watch Saints v West Brom, Saturday ]

It is very nice to be there, at the World Cup, and we need to try and go step by step and see how far we can get. A lot of people are saying we can provide some surprises and not much is expected of us, but we don’t see it like that.

With Serbia, there will always be pressure.

We are the kind of players and people who do not know how to live without pressure. Even if we play against Brazil or some of the other bigger countries, we think we are better than them. That is the way we are. People expect us to beat the big teams and we have plenty of pressure from within.

It has always been that way, lots of pressure, but at the start it was all much simpler…


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

There were a lot of kids, everywhere, and we were always playing outside in the streets.

I think this is the best way to learn football, to play with your friends, street football, looking back, those are wonderful memories and I look back on that time in my life fondly.

My hometown, Backa Topola, was in the north of the country near the Hungarian border. It is a nice part of Serbia and I am very happy I grew up there.

Growing up, one of my best memories is getting my first pair of boots. There were Adidas and one of my fathers friends gave them to me. They were a special present and I wore them all the time. When it came to my first shirt, well, this was a little interesting. My father likes Partizan Belgrade and my uncle, well, he likes Red Star Belgrade. They are huge rivals and they would always get me a shirt from each club. Ah man, that was rough.

The shirt I held closest to my heart is one I had when I was 13. It was the shirt from the 1998 World Cup that Yugoslavia wore and had Predrag Mijatovic’s name on the back. You remember that shirt, the one with the big collar?  We did really well in that tournament and I wore that shirt everywhere. I still have it somewhere at home.

Our country has gone through a lot of tough times, especially when I was growing up, but I think playing football gave myself and other kids at the time an escape from everything else that was going on. Those were tough times.

When it is like this, it is important that kids play football or another sport because you are in nicer situations and have positive vibes around you. Because if you don’t play sport at times like that, I don’t know what you would do.

I am very happy I grew up in Serbia. You can have tough times, good times, but you learn a lot. I am incredibly proud of where I am from.

My father, that’s where my love for the game comes from. He watched every single game I played in growing up. He still does now. All of my family and friends, they would come to watch me and their support was incredible.

Every coach I’ve had, even if something was wrong, you still learn something from every single one of them. I am very lucky to have had so many good coaches over the years who I tried to learn from.

My idol growing up was Zinedine Zidane. I tried to learn from him. He did everything to perfection. Everything was easy for him. I loved watching him. He was a genius.

Not just the way he played but I also like his personality, the calmness he has off the pitch and the way he carries himself. After I watched him on TV I would go straight out into the street in Serbia to try and play like him.

I was lucky that I moved to a team like Vojvodina at the age of 14. They are known to have the best academy in Serbia, so there are many similarities to how things are here at Southampton with an emphasis on bringing through young talent.

Vojvodina always gave young players a chance and by the time I was 16 I was in the first team and then we went to the Europa League and it was a great time for me with wonderful coaches who pushed me to my maximum. I’m pleased that the pressure was so high when I started off there. That made me into the player I am today and helped me want to succeed and get better.

When I then moved to Holland, at the beginning I was looking around like “why is everyone so relaxed?” I was confused. After you lost a game, everyone was laughing and everything. If you did that in Serbia, that would be a big problem.

It took me time to adapt to the less intense atmosphere in Holland but I played with, and against, some great players who ended up with me here at Southampton. Graziano Pelle and Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord and then a young Virgil Van Dijk was just coming into the first team in my second year at Groningen.

When I played in the Netherlands, the league was very strong but a lot of players have left the Eredivisie and they are struggling a little with a lot of young players coming through.

But when I look back at my time in Holland with Groningen and FC Twente, this was the most important period of my life. I was at that stage when I had to grow as a player and a person. I am happy I was there. Holland has a philosophy of football which links up with how I like to play.

I learned a lot and it prepared me well for the challenge at Southampton.


SETTING RECORDS IN SUNNY SOUTHAMPTON

It wasn’t always my aim to come to England but everyone thinks about the Premier League because it is one of the strongest leagues in the world.

You want to show yourself in the strongest league and this was the right moment.

I knew back in 2014 that Ronald Koeman really wanted me. Southampton are a nice club with great supporters and I came here with a lot of new players in that summer of 2014 and some people expected a lot from me, but that didn’t bother me because as a player you have to trust in your qualities and show yourself and help your club.

After 2014 we had the two most successful years in Southampton’s history. Everyone was proud of that and I was pleased to be a part of it.

I have so many great memories here at Southampton. I’m in my fourth season and I have a strong connection with the fans who sing my song and support me no matter what.

From the first moment they accepted me very well. I try my best to entertain and make them happy and to give them joy. A lot of people come to watch and support you as a player so you need to try to give them enjoyment. Ii try to entertain.

I live in a marina called Ocean Village in Southampton and it doesn’t feel like you’re in England. When you say to people “oh, I live in England” everyone is like “it is rainy and cold there, why are you doing that?”

But Southampton is not like that. It is not like the rest of England. Here the weather is very good (at least compared to the rest of England!) and every day I am happy for that. Trust me.

So far we’ve had a lot of success but when I sit back and think about all of the good times we’ve had since I arrived, my winning goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United back in 2015 is the best.

We hadn’t beaten United away from home for 28 years and it was my first time playing at Old Trafford. I will never forget that moment. Ever.

Our aim here at Southampton, and my aim, is to get us back to Europe.

It is very important for us. Just as important is another good run in the cup, just like when we went to Wembley last season and lost to Manchester United. I don’t have any regrets about the League Cup final. None of us do. We did our best and I think we should have beat Manchester United. Anybody watching would have said that. We were unlucky. Sometimes, that’s football.

Someone told me earlier that a year ago today we were getting ready to play against Inter Milan in the Europa League at the San Siro. Wow. Time flies. We have to get back to playing in big games like that.

It will be hard to keep improving every year because there are so many quality teams in the Premier League but that is my main focus.

Well, that and my two kids. People say it a lot, but being a father has changed me as a person and I live a different kind of life. I am very happy with my life and my two children. I enjoy every moment with them.

I know on the pitch I can seem a little on edge. I’m a fierce competitor. Off the pitch I am easy going and I relax more. A lot more. Honest.

On the pitch I’m sharp and I show my emotions a lot more. I’ve always been like that, wearing my heart on my sleeve. On the pitch I want to win. We all do. We give everything for our team. We are all winners and we want to win every single game.

Every training session. Every game. Even when I play cards… I have to win. It is interesting that only this makes me happy. If you want to learn one thing about me from reading this, it is that I do not like to lose. Nobody likes to lose, but especially me. It is difficult to accept.

When some of the players play table tennis or basketball, I have to be the best. I can’t stand losing. I’ll throw things and get upset because I just want to win. It’s simple.

My teammates know that and some of the players I’m closest with, like Cedric Soares, will tell you that.

Sometimes Cedric and I go up to London on our days off and hang out and have dinner but with two young kids, I spend a lot of time with my family. I’m just looking forward to meeting Cedric in the World Cup if Serbia play Portugal. We owe him one. Portugal beat us in the qualifying for the European Championships. I want revenge and on the pitch I’d be in his ear all of the time. I wouldn’t stop.

I’d enjoy that…


WORLD CUP DREAM COMES TRUE

After reaching the World Cup last week, our first time as a nation since 2010, Serbia is fresh in my mind.

Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of in my career is to be the reigning player of the year in Serbia.

When I look at some of the past winners, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Dejan Stankovic and guys like Mijatovic, it makes me very happy to be in that kind of company. It proved to me how much respect people in Serbia had for me after goals and assists for the national team and also what I’ve achieved here at Southampton.

This award motivates me to get better and better.

And the fact that I will hopefully be heading to the 2018 World Cup with Serbia, the first major tournament of my career, it is an incredible feeling. Even now when I look back at photos from the night we sealed qualification in Belgrade against Georgia, it makes me emotional.

When I look at the photo below, I get emotional. I was just so happy. Even though I’m crying.

Going into that final game of qualifying, as a team we were under the biggest amount of pressure I’ve ever felt with the national team.

If we didn’t win that game against Georgia and qualify for the World Cup, I think they would have taken our passports away and told us we could not come back any more! It was like that. Seriously.

Those games like that, where it is so incredibly important, we are not a country that goes to every tournament, so it was a huge success for all of us.

I’m already 28, so for my national team career this is massive because playing at a World Cup is something everyone remembers. To seal the qualification in Belgrade, in front of our own fans, it is something I will always remember. The celebrations that night were quite special…

It is something I will never forget but hopefully there are many memorable moments to come both with Serbia and Southampton.