Saints Season Summary – A Tale of Two Halves
While we’re not ones to boast here at The Tab, we are particularly proud of our local football team. So, after last season’s heroic promotion to the greatest league in the world, […]
While we’re not ones to boast here at The Tab, we are particularly proud of our local football team. So, after last season’s heroic promotion to the greatest league in the world, we asked our beloved ex-sports editor and Saints nut Peter Shaw, for a run-down of Southampton FC’s first year back in the top flight.
This season has been a mixed bag for Saints fans – a diabolical start to the season, with 4 points from 10 games, left Southampton staring into the abyss. Then, just as it looked like Nigel Adkins had steadied the ship and was starting to pick up points (only 2 losses in his final 12 PL games), he was brutally sacked by Nicola Cortese, being instantly replaced by non-anglophone Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino.
Despite a change in playing style to a more aggressive pressing game, with a quicker tempo and faster counter attacking, resulting in notable wins against Manchester City and Liverpool. The impression of a much improved team however, has been questioned by losses against QPR, Newcastle and West Brom. Overall, Pochettino’s average of 1.19 points per game compares favourably to Adkins’ 1 point, but the most promising change for Saints fans was the improvement of the defence and chance creation, even though this did not convert into results. If Cortese can bring in a top class centre-half and forward, the top 8 is not beyond the realms of possibility for next season.
Gaston Ramirez, brought in for a club record fee of £12m having beaten off interest from Liverpool and Tottenham, was inconsistent yet showed signs of his potential – for a young man in a foreign country adapting to a new style of play the signs are all positive; now he has settled in, next season should be a better showcase of his talents. Nathaniel Clyne has proved to be a superb signing, combining powerful attacking play with improving defensive work over the season – a place in the England squad cannot be too many good performances away. Jay Rodriguez has had good runs of form and is still young, but will need to improve his consistency if he is to pay back the £7m he cost from Burnley. He has been played both on the wing and upfront, and it will be interesting to see if a top class forward will be brought in this summer or whether he will be entrusted with increased responsibility up front as Rickie Lambert, top English scorer this year in the league, gets older and less mobile.
However, along with the good signings there have certainly been flops. Emmanuel Mayuka, signed for £3.5m, played 169 minutes of football all season, scoring 0 goals. Norwegian centre half Vegard Forren also signed for £4m in January, but to date has not made a single appearance.
Overall, Saints have a fantastic young spine of players to build from, and with a few additions can seriously start to trouble for regular top half finishes, and perhaps even european football. Luke Shaw, who made his league debut in November and went on to make 22 league starts is a fantastic rampaging full back whom many have compared to Gareth Bale (without the dead ball skills), and has been constantly linked with £15m moves to any of the top 4 (take your pick!). However, with Cortese hoping that half the team in the future will be made up of academy graduates, it would take a much higher bid to even tempt him into selling – bear in mind Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was sold for £15m when he had only played a single season in League 1!
Morgan Scheiderlin has been arguably the top midfielder in the league this season, making the most interceptions (139), the most tackles (4.1 per game) and chipping in with 5 goals and a not too shabby pass completions ratio of 83% – at only 23, he is another player that the Saints will hope to keep hold of if they are to challenge strongly next season. Morgan has been at the Saints since he was 18, suffering relegation to League 1 followed by back-to-back promotions, and certainly has a close bond to the club – fans will hope that this will keep him out the clutches of the likes of Inter Milan, Arsenal and Liverpool amongst others who have been linked.
Awful performances in the League Cup and FA Cup resulted in early exits, and this will be an area both the fans and management alike will be looking to improve on next season.
It certainly does feel like the end of an era at St Mary’s though, with many of the players who helped the rise to the PL now being surplus to requirements, and unlikely to feature again. However, with Cortese prepared to splash the cash, it is an exciting time for Saints fans!
Saints 2012/13 ratings:
Cortese: 8/10 – Unpopular decision sacking Adkins has looked to be the right one, but better people skills certainly would not go amiss!
Adkins: 6/10 – Having had an awful start to the season he looked to be pulling the team around, being sacked when in 15th place, but leaves with the best wishes of Saints fans for all the fantastic memories.
Pochettino: 7/10 – Notable performances against the top teams show promise, and if a Plan B can be formulated to play against teams who play defensively and hit on the counter then consistency will be easier to achieve.
Davis: 4/10 – The PL looks to be a step above him, but as a fantastic influence in the dressing room and the longest serving player at Saints he is a great reserve keeper to have.
Gazzaniga: 4/10 – Thrown in the deep end earlier in the season and his mistakes cost points, but he has shown potential and good reflexes to give hope that with more game time the 21 year old can be a future No.1.
Boruc: 8/10 – Despite not being a regular until November the “Holy Goalie” has made the gloves his own, and after a couple of dodgy performances has shown the sort of form which saw him shortlisted for the FIFPro World XI Player Awards in 2008.
Clyne: 8/10 – Excelling attacking play and improving defensive work has ensured that the 22 year old is a player Saints will be desperate to keep hold of.
Shaw: 7.5/10 – The next talent off the academy line, Shaw could take the future left back England mantle from Ashley Cole, but in the short term he must be careful to not play too many games to avoid burnout.
Fonte: 6/10 – A mixed season, Fonte looked nervous in early games before becoming more of the reassuring presence which has made him a favourite among Saints fans.
Hooiveld: 4/10 – A series of high profile mistakes and own goals has meant that centre-half is a priority area to be strengthened; despite this, he has performed well against some of the more direct PL teams.
Yoshida: 7/10 – A good debut season, having shown good anticipation, bravery and general all round play. Yoshida is the most likely defender to stay if there are replacements ready to be signed.
Fox: 3/10 – Diabolical displays lead to the blooding of 17 year old Luke Shaw, and Fox has hardly played since – lacking the mobility or vision for the PL, Fox can still deliver a wicked ball from set plays.
Lallana: 5/10 – A promising season start with an early call up to the England squad petered out to disappointment in the end with injury and seemingly nerves resulting in Lallana not playing to his best.
Davis: 6/10 – A solid pro, Davis has done his job of retaining possession well without pulling up trees – despite looking more solid with him in the team, creativity also suffers.
Ramirez: 6/10 – A few games of real class have been countered by poor displays with Ramirez struggling to do the basics – hopefully a full preseason and being more comfortable in his surroundings will improve his consistency.
Puncheon: 7/10 – A good return from Puncheon following last season’s bickering, he will hope to have shown enough to have encouraged Pochettino to stick with him for next season.
Guly: 5/10 – Fewer games, no goals and getting older, this season could be the last for Guilherme Do Prado – nevertheless he always puts in a good shift, and looks solid when called upon.
Cork: 8/10 – Southampton’s form increases significantly following Cork’s return from injury, and it is no surprise – his ball winning and retention is a vital cog in the Saints machine.
Schneiderlin: 9/10 – One of the best in the league at what he does, Saints player of the season has been the truly outstanding performer in a successful first season back in the Premier League, and will hope to build on this further in the coming year – hopefully at St Mary’s.
Ward-Prowse: 6/10 – Scholar of the year, James Ward-Prowse is another youngster with outstanding potential, and he will hope to be involved even more next year.
Lambert: 8/10 – with 15 league goals, Lambert took his goal total at St Mary’s to 103 goals in 196 games. An excellent player on his day, with superb vision and technique, it remains to be seen whether Pochettino will deem him mobile enough to play in his favoured high tempo system or will look to replace him.
Rodriguez: 6/10 – Shown signs of potential, with his direct running and pace resulting in a couple of superb solo goals – however, he will need to increase his powderpuff shooting to become a top player.
Sports Editor’s Comment: This was a promising first season back in the top division for the Saints, complimented by the development of another group of very promising young players. I can’t see them suffering second season syndrome with the players they have and, with a few choice additions, they should be threatening to break into the top half of the table by May of next year. Player of the season as far as I am concerned is Schneiderlin, his consistency, tackling, work-rate and eye for a pass have made him into one of the best central midfielders in the league and Southampton would do well to hold onto him. They desperately need a centre back and another winger or striker wouldn’t go amiss either, while Pochettino has some tough decisions to make regarding getting rid of the very players that brought them back into the Premier League.