It ought to have been a straightforward expectation for Southampton to beat the relegation favourites, Aston Villa. Their alarmingly low points tally should have flagged them up as a team to retain a clean sheet against. However, Saints did not manage this.
Southampton’s 4-2 triumph against Villa might not have been as clinical as Ronald Koeman had hoped, but it certainly did pinpoint who the strongest players were within the team on the field. Based on this particular fixture, as well as their form of especially recent times, I’ve compiled a short list of vital team members that should be retained during this summer’s transfer window.
In 25 Premier League matches played this season, the Irishman has claimed nine goals and four assists. Although his name doesn’t flash in lights quite as often as bigwig Saints stars, Graziano Pellè and Sadio Mané, he has been at the fore in the past few games. During Southampton’s schooling of Newcastle United back on 9th April, he netted a cracking goal, and he hurled in a sensational shot in the 15th-minute against Aston Villa this weekend (more statistics can be read here: http://www.soccerbase.com/players/player.sd?player_id=41355). Unfortunately, the woodwork denied him within a mere two minutes; this would have been a phenomenal goal and an even faster lead for Koeman’s chaps.
Although Long isn’t the most consistent pair of feet within the Saints squad, he’s often a sharp, alert asset within a starting eleven. He is quick to spot space, and prepares himself to be open to assist a teammate or even just fire one in himself. This sort of forethought is what makes him high on the list of player retention, in my view.
The Serbian midfielder has been a massively insightful player since donning a Saints shirt. He was personally scouted by Ronald Koeman, and has absolutely been worth his salt. Whether it’s a textbook assist or a cheeky goal, Tadić is an instrumental chess piece, and the club would do well to keep him.
Selling Tadić would, at the very least, be detrimental to the link-ups between himself and Italian striker, Pellè. Most notably during last season, the pair were quite the unstoppable force, and really were ones to mark religiously. They have always gelled well, but Tadić has also been great at adapting to other players upfront with the ball, including Mané and Long.
He is very much a man in the right place at exactly the right time. His first goal on the 39th minute against Villa was evidence of such, but he grabbed another later in the match, seizing two of Southampton’s four goals overall for his statistics sheet. Given his position on the field, this is impressive and entirely worth preserving.
There should always be room for grit and determination within a team. Southampton’s torch in this department is, by and large, Mané. Indeed, his finishing has been slightly skewed during this campaign, and he certainly could have bagged more goals, but he is undoubtedly a pivotal player.
His tenacity often affords him a sneaky spot on the field and chance at goal, and his nice netting against Villa stole Saints their fourth of the fixture. Although he might not be the Jamie Vardy or Harry Kane type just yet, give him more time and further nurturing in the south coast, and Southampton could have a fully polished diamond come 2016/17.
Last week, I waxed lyrical about how Maarten Stekelenburg was a poor replacement goalkeeper. I still stand by this, even though Fraser Forster let in two goals against Aston Villa. Ashley Westwood’s sudden, surprising and unlikely prowess aside, Forster made plenty of saves during the game, despite these two lapses of judgement.
No matter how many sly balls have slid past Forster and into Southampton’s own net, I still consider him the most ruthless and incredible ‘keeper the team have had for a long while. His risk assessment is typically thorough –even though Saints don’t win every game – and his height helps, too.
Virgil van Dijk
Although he was flustered and didn’t pull off a goal, van Dijk’s shot against Villa was really something. It had plenty of power, but just did not make the netting. The strike was fierce, but the bunching of the plethora of shirts in the box caused time pressure and panic, which consequentially led to van Dijk’s fumbling.
Despite this, he was voted for by fans as the Saints Player of the Month in March. His finishing touches in other games against Sunderland and Stoke City, for instance, meant that he was more than eligible for the accolade. Southampton must keep hold of a player with this kind of inter-position ability; it’s just so necessary.