Same old Saints … How do they do it ?

As a man born and raised in Portsmouth and current season ticket holder, this could be the hardest article I have ever had to write . However, you have to sometimes hold your hands up in football and just applaud what you are seeing. That is the case when it comes to Southampton. As a club, what they continue to do, year and year out is nothing short of outstanding and it’s time I put my pride to one side and acknowledge that fact.

Year after year, Southampton enter the new season as many experts pick to be one of the teams to lose their Premier League status. They frequently lose their top players and sometimes fail to keep hold of their manager as well ; this was the case with Koeman over the summer. However, despite all the uncertainty, each year they seem to go from strength to strength. Take this year for example. They lost their manager and key players in Mané, Wanyama and Pellè for hefty fee’s they could simply not ignore. Yet here we are 9 games into the new Premier League campaign and the Saints sit 8th in the league, only a point behind United in 7th.

So how do they do it ? Well the answer is simple, recruitment. The Saints are arguably the best team in the country when it comes to bringing in players who they know can do a job in their team. A key example is the summer signing of Nathan Redmond. Brought in to replace Sadio Mané, who left for Liverpool for £34 million over the summer, seemed like a huge task for a player still finding his way in the game. Yet after only 9 games he looks like being one of the league’s stand out players. Already half way to matching his goal tally for Norwich last season, it’s clear that Redmond is maturing game by game and has been helped significantly by the faith that the new manager has vested in him. You know when a player is playing well when there is an end product to their game and there certainly is with this lad at the moment. Yes against City he was gifted the ball by the cumbersome Stones but he showed great composure to round Bravo and slot it into the empty net. Of course I’m sure the worry already among Saint’s fans is how long they can keep hold of him but at the ripe old age of 22, they need not worry just yet.

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Redmond (right) celebrates putting his team ahead at the Etihad

Whilst Redmond’s performances have been the a bonus for the Saints this year, it’s the goals scored by their number 10 which have been welcomed with open arms. After only 1 goal  under Koeman following his move from QPR last January, there were growing concerns that he might not produce the goals expected of him. Thankfully, he seems to now be back to his clinical best. With 7 goals in 9 games already it promises to be a highly productive campaign for the striker and he and his team are reeking the awards.

Huge credit must also go to the manager. Some would say he has just carried on from Koeman left off but if you look closely you will see he has done much more than that. He has given players renewed confidence who sometimes struggled under Koeman and has also give them the freedom to express themselves. Players like Tadic have stepped it up a gear and Romeu has been a revelation in midfield this season putting in consistent performances week in week out. No one really knew Puel before he arrived on the South-Coast but if his team continue in the way they are, they soon will.

Though it pains me to admit it, there is no way that the Saints will be in any trouble at all this season. There are far worse teams than them in this league and ones with far less confidence as well. It is astonishing what they manage to achieve each year and they deserve enormous amounts of credit, they really do. I actually mean that, believe me

The Greatest Love Affair in Football

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Sunday will be a memorable day for all those. It marks the return of Jose Mourinho to the club where he won 3 Premier League titles, 3 League Cup’s and one FA Cup over 5 full seasons with the club. Credited as being the man who took Chelsea to the next level back in 2004, there will always be a special place for him in the hearts of all those associated with the club. However, he returns Sunday in the opposing dugout for the first time in his career and there is little doubt he will stop at nothing to come away with three points.

When you look back on Mourinho’s career, most will look at his success with the blues. He has enjoyed success as-well of course with the likes of Madrid and Inter but his love affair with Chelsea is one that stretches back over 10 years . When he parted company with them the first time in 2007, many felt he still had unfinished business with the club. This proved the case when the prodigal son returned in 2013 to pick up from where he left off. It took time, just like in 2004, to mould his team  in his image but after only one season, they were once again a formidable outfit under the Special One. Winning the league and cup double proved a cake-walk for Mourinho once again proving that he was one of the best in the business.

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Mourinho was appointed Chelsea manager for the second time in 2013

However, like every great love story, there is usually a bitter ending. The 2015/16 season was arguably the worst ever since Roman Abramovich took over at the club with Chelsea barely attempting to hold onto their Premier League crown. Losses against Palace, City and Everton in their opening 5 games meant they were already well off the pace and their title defence was in tatters. It didn’t get any better from there either. Knocked out early on in the League Cup by Stoke and struggling for form in the Champions League meant that the pressure was well and truly on Jose to get the Blues back on track. Sadly, one thing you rarely get at Chelsea is time. On 17th December 2015, after losing 9 of 16 league games, Mourinho left the club by ‘mutual consent’ . His love story with Chelsea came to an abrupt end  and his legacy, now haunted by those few small months at the start of the season.

Now he returns to the Bridge an enemy. Manager of one of their arch rivals in United and it promises to be an intriguing game. It will of course be dominated by the return of the Special One to his beloved Chelsea but I’m sure that every Chelsea fan knows, Mourinho will be in no mood to show mercy to his former employers and will stop at nothing to come away with all 3 points.

One thing is certain, Sunday will be an emotional day. I’m confident that he will get the reception he truly deserves because, whatever happened last year, he is still a Chelsea legend and huge part of their recent success. Will he ever return for a third time ? I highly doubt it but Jose’s love affair with Chelsea is one that will live long in the memory.

 

What’s happened to Leicester ?

It’s been a mixed start to the season for the Champions. A fine start to life in Europe has been overshadowed by inconsistent form domestically. Already having lost 3 games this season in the league, the amount for the whole of last season, it’ safe to say it’s been a slow start from the foxes who were so fast out the blocks this time last year.

So what’s the issue ? Well many would probably point to the absence of N’Golo Kanté. Swapping the Midlands for London over the summer, the French international jumped at the chance to work with Antonio Conte at Chelsea. Arguably the signing of the season, Kanté was one of the key men in Leicester’s title-winning team of last year. Making 175 tackles (31 more than anyone else) and 156 interceptions (13 more than anyone else) in the 2015/2016 premier league season, everyone could see how important he was to the Foxes. Now he’s gone and you can clearly see the void left in front of the defence. Conceding 11 goals already this season, including 4 at Old Trafford and 5 at Anfield, the defence doesn’t look as water tight as it did and a lot of that is to do with the lack of protection in front, the role Kanté performed with such ease.

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Kanté joined Chelsea for £32 million last July

On the other hand, despite the loss of Kanté, Ranieri managed to retain the services of all the other members of the title-winning squad. Leicester repelled Arsenal in their pursuit of both Mahrez and Vardy over the summer and the two both ended up signing new contracts. However, for whatever reason, it’s not happening for the big names this time around. Vardy and Mahrez were the league’s most feared pairing last season scoring goals for fun between them. This season their luck seems to have changed. Vardy has only managed 2 league goals this season whilst his counterpart Mahrez isn’t having the influence of last year with arguably his best performances coming in Europe. Ranieri has tried to take the burden off them with new signings but other than £25 million man Islam Slimani, the rest have failed to really make much of an impact.

I think everyone expected Leicester not to hit the heights of last season without any disrespect, but I think maybe they expected to still see the energy Leicester showed. At times they look flat and devoid of confidence which is a strange thing to say considering they are the English Champions. They aren’t the only team to enter a lull following the premier league title, why only last season Chelsea made a dismal attempt at retaining their title undergoing their worst season in recent times. Leicester’s fall from grace isn’t as severe as Chelsea’s, not even close especially as many predicted they might not do as well this time around. Even though I’m sure Ranieri will be disappointed with the start they have made. There is no way Leicester are in with a relegation shout, there are far worse teams than them, but I’m sure they expect more from themselves. It is after all only 7 games in they have plenty of time to rectify it and I’m fairly confident they will. Who knows, they might even end the season with the European crown … now that would be special.

 

Deeney and Austin … The Premier League’s most feared strikers

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If there are two strikers who have had to work to get into their current position, then it’s Troy Deeney and Charlie Austin. The two have paid their dues in the lower divisions of English football at clubs such as Walsall and Swindon respectively and have rightly earned their chance to strut it amongst the big boys. However, despite not the most glamorous of footballing backgrounds between them, the two are currently the most feared strikers in the Premier League.

The question has always been with some strikers, can they cut it in the Premier League ? Many in the past have struggled to replicate the form they showed in the Championship resulting in some experiencing a massive fall from grace. These lads are the exception; scoring goals has proved easy for them. Not only that, but they might just be the most important players to their respective teams. Take Deeney at Watford. He has played 220 competitive games for the Hornets scoring 99 goals in a 6 year period for the club and is considered by many a true legend. He gives his all every week and is capable of moments of magic like his finish during Watford’s 4-2 win at West Ham. There was talk of him leaving Watford over the summer with Leicester interested and you can see why. A classic number 9 with a fine touch and brilliant finish to match and for Watford’s sake, you hope he stays fit this season because he will play a big part in any success they have.

Whilst Austin may lack the physical presence Deeney has and the status at the club, as he only has 14 senior appearances to his name, when it comes to scoring goals, there a few better than the former QPR man. Many forget that before his move to the South Coast, he had experienced a season in the Premier League before. It was with QPR only 2 seasons ago and whilst his team were relegated, Austin did everything in his power to stop that exact outcome. Managing 18 league goals in the 2014/15 season, and in a team as average as that QPR one, Austin received praise from many for his ability to score goals with relatively poor support from those around him. After their relegation, it was a shock no one made a move sooner but eventually he got his return to the top-flight and after a slow start, he finally looks like the striker so many teams have come to fear.

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Austin managed 18 league goals for QPR during the 2014/15 season

These two are goal-scorers there is no denying it. Sadly their talents continue to be over-looked. Gareth Southgate’s squad was fairly similar to that picked by Big Sam only a month earlier and that is perhaps the problem. The strikers picked were Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy. Bar Rashford, who rightly deserves  a place in the squad, the other three are struggling for form. With only 2 league goals between them this season, you wonder what made Southgate believe they deserved a spot. This particularly applies to Rooney and Sturridge who can’t even get in their respective teams. I find it strange that two in-form English strikers playing week and week out can’t book a place in the squad. Surely if Deeney and Austin continue to net so freely like they are, it is only a matter of time before they get that call.

Reality check for Pep

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After remaining unbeaten under new manager Pep Guardiola and being the early season pace setters, there was talk that Pep could stroll to a first league title in his first season. However, after being abused at times during their loss to Spurs yesterday afternoon, Pep clearly still has work to do if he wants to win it all.

Despite their emphatic start to the season, City had only kept one clean sheet in the league going into their encounter with Spurs on Sunday, their 4-0 whitewash of Bournemouth at home, and even though they spent £50 million on John Stones, it’s clear there are still frailties at the back. The warning signs were there during their 3-3 draw with Celtic in the week and if not for good attacking play, the outcome would have been a City defeat. They didn’t have such luck against Spurs yesterday as they fell to their first defeat in the Guardiola era. They weren’t outplayed by Spurs as they themselves had their fair share of chances, but at times they couldn’t cope with the high press. Forced into mistakes on plenty of occasions, the City defence was tested to the full and they just couldn’t cope. The most high-profile of those mistakes was of course the Kolarov own goal. Praised this season for his ability to bring the ball out from the back, Kolarov’s at times average defending has gone under the radar. Well it certainly came to the surface against Spurs. At fault on more occasions than I can count and frankly scoring an embarrassing own goal, the Serbian international had a nightmare at the back. He may well offer something in the attacking sense,but when it comes to doing the job he is there to do, defend, he simply isn’t good enough.

One player City were truly missing is of course Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has been one of the stand out performers in the league this season and you could see from the off that he was missed. His energy and quality in the final third was what City needed at times to gain a foot-hold in the game and perhaps get on the scorsheet. Whilst Silva is a phenomenal player, he lacks the pace and ability to drive with the ball that De Bruyne has and Fernandinho, Silva’s partner for the day, may have the energy, but he certainly isn’t the architect like De Bruyne. It is only one game and City have countless players who can fill in, but if they are to keep up their good start then they need him to be fit and firing sooner rather than later.

City aren’t the first and will unlikely be the last team to lose to Spurs this season, but after such a good start Pep surely will be disappointed. It’s far from a crisis, not even close. Still sitting at the top of the league and with the international break comes a time to regroup. However, the defeat does give Pep some food for thought. It has shown him that this league isn’t as easy as perhaps he might have thought. It’s not like Spain or Germany, you can’t roll teams over every week. It is the most competitive in the world and Guardiola must grasp that, or Spurs wont’ t be the last defeat he suffers this season.

Ginger Mourinho at it Again

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When Burnley arrived back in the Premier League only a season after being relegated, many believed that they would once again be making a quick return back to the Championship. But after picking up a respectable 7 points from their opening 6 games, looking particularly impressive during their win over Watford on Monday, there is speculation that perhaps Dyche and his team could pull off the impossible. One thing is for sure, whatever the fate of Burnley this season, we will be seeing plenty more of their current manager in the premier league for years to come.

The job that Sean Dyche has done at Burnley at times has gone under the radar. He led them to the premier league back in 2014 but perhaps even more impressively lead them back only a year later following relegation with relatively the same squad. People talk about the ability of managers such as David Moyes and Tony Pulis when it comes to getting the best out of what you have, I think Dyche might just beat them all. The entire Burnley first team, bar recent signing Steven Defour, are all British and nearly all of them have been part of the side since Sean Dyche took over. You look at the side that went down at the end of the 2014/15 season and if you compare it to the one that beat Watford on Monday, you will see not a lot has changed. That is mainly due to limited funding but it also highlights Dyche’s ability to galvanise his players and get them going again even after the low of getting relegated after only one season back in the premier league.

You also have to praise Dyche’s recruitment at the club. Andre Gray up front has arguably done a brilliant job in filling the void left by star man Danny Ings and despite his troubled past, looks like he could score the goals needed in the premier league. The acquisitions of Jeff Hendrick and Steven Defour in midfield have added that creativity to the midfield that was truly missing the last time they were in the top flight and both have already hit the ground running at their new club.

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Jeff Hendrick (right) celebrates his first goal for Burnley against Watford on Monday night

With so many managers under pressure in the league at the moment such as Hughes and Moyes, it’s safe to say Dyche does not have that problem. He is adored by everyone associated with the club and if anything they should be the ones fearing his departure from the club. Dyche has the potential to be a great manager, if you think he isn’t one already, and he is surely going to go on and do big things in the game. What has surprised me is that no one has linked him with the vacancy at England. I would have no objections against the FA appointing him. Perhaps his CV doesn’t look as appealing but he has one thing that many other managers don’t, the backing of the dressing room.

Son coming good … At last

During his first season for Tottenham, South Korean international Son Heung-min merely showed glimpses of his quality. Struggling to cement a position in the team being reduced to mainly substitute appearances, its safe to say that his debut season could have gone better. Furthermore with the acquisitions of Georges-Kévin N’Koudou and Moussa Sissoko, who occupy similar positions to Son, there was talk that he could be on his way out of North-London. However, based on recent performances, he could be a frequent fixture in the Spurs first team.

After already equalling his tally of 4 league goals from last season in 25 fewer games, its clear that Son has stepped it up this season. His performance against Sunderland was particularly impressive two weeks ago. Without doubt the best player on the pitch, the South Korean ran the Sunderland back line ragged for the full 90 minutes. Direct in his play with a fine shoot on him, Son has the attributes of a fine winger. Of course all that was missing from his performance was a goal which he truly deserved. On this occasion he didn’t manage it but he certainly rectified this the following week up at Middlesbrough. It was the complete performance taking both his goals with ease,the second especially which was a fine curling effort. Getting his second brace of the season and picking up the man of the match award once again, Son continued his fine form.

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Son celebrating his second brace in 3 weeks over Middlesbrough on Saturday

So why has it taken so long for us to see the best of Son Heung-min ? The likely answer is that he needed time to adapt. Moving from German football where he has spent the entirety of his career to England isn’t easy and he isn’t the first player who has needed time to adjust to his new environment. Pochettino himself said he believes Son is ‘ more mature’  and ‘ he knows the league’ better. This certainly seems the case judging by his fine start to the season.

Son is now one of many Spurs midfielders who are finding their feet at the club. Lamela has started to show us his true potential over the last year or so after a slow start and Eriksen is now consistently putting in decent performances each week. The most impressive for Pochettino perhaps is that his array of attacking midfielders certainly chip in when it comes to scoring goals and with Kane’s injury, it is imperative they continue to do that.

The future certainly looks bright for Spurs under Pochettino, despite the loss of Kane for a while, and Son is surely going to be part of that future. If he and those around him continue to perform consistently then Spurs will be right up there this season.