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Manolo Gabbiadini looking to be the next breakout star at Southampton

Jake Jackman

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Gabbiadini

Southampton have regularly developed players and made them stars. Their academy is revelled, but they are also very good at improving those signed from abroad. Since their return to the Premier League, they have seen a number of good players leave the club with nine moving to top-six clubs. They don’t market themselves as a stepping stone club, but they are certainly a club that ambitious players will want to join as there is a route to the top.

Manolo Gabbiadini arrived at the beginning of the year for a fee of £14 million from Napoli. It was considered a step down at the time, but the striker saw an opportunity to gain more playing time and increase his reputation across Europe. Although he was well-respected in his homeland, he wasn’t getting as many opportunities as he would have liked for Maurizio Sarri’s side.

Before moving to Southampton, the striker contributed eight goals and three assists for Napoli during his final 18 months with the club. He had a goal involvement every 96.1 minutes, but he had only started in 11 matches during that period. The majority of his appearances came from the bench. As a squad player, Gabbiadini was doing well, but he had ambitions to be a regular starter and the Premier League side were prepared to offer that.

The decision to leave Napoli was based on playing time and suitability to the system being played by Sarri. In January, the Mail reported the following quotes from president Aurelio De Laurentiis who admitted that Gabbiadini wasn’t the best fit for the club anymore, which is why they were open to selling him to the Premier League.

“It’s not that he wasn’t able to express himself, but rather different things are asked of him and they are not in his wheelhouse. Gabbiadini scored many goals at Sampdoria and also here under Rafa Benitez, so with a system other than the one Sarri uses he should have a better chance of being decisive. I thought that his performance in the first season was due to physical issues, but that wasn’t the case. He is simply not suited to Sarri’s football.

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It was an exciting signing for Southampton, as they were bringing in an Italian international with a lot of potential. His goal-scoring record in Italy was patchy, but he was often on the move and wasn’t allowed to develop at a single club. During his time in Serie A, he scored a goal every 209.9 minutes. Taking all things into consideration, this is an impressive record, but the South Coast club would have hoped that he could push on and be a one in two striker for them.

Gabbiadini had a superb start to life in Southampton, as he scored six goals in his first four matches for the club. This included a brace in the EFL Cup final against Manchester United, a match that featured a wrongly disallowed goal from the Italian. He could have had a hat-trick and it can be argued that Saints were the better team on the day.

The future looked bright for the 25-year-old and there were some already talking about a move to a bigger club, but he then suffered a groin injury and that halted his progression. He missed the next three league matches and failed to score again for the rest of the campaign. The style of play under Claude Puel wasn’t great and the side failed to score in six of their last eight matches.

His start was quickly forgotten about and Gabbiadini lost all the momentum. It is impossible to state where he would be if he didn’t suffer the injury, but he was full of confidence and looked like scoring every time he stepped onto the pitch.

How has he started this season?

Although Southampton have a new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino, the side is still struggling in front of goal. They have failed to score in four of their first eight league matches, but they have found the net three times in their last two fixtures. There are signs of encouragement and the return to form of Gabbiadini is central to that.

Southampton have scored seven times in the league and their Italian striker has got three of those. The first of which came against West Ham United in August, but it was his brace during this past weekend that served as a real indication he was on the way back. Newcastle United were well organised and Gabbiadini had only two chances, both of which he took.

The first was a great piece of individual work, as he collected the ball deep into the box and had to work hard to find space for the shot. It was a tame effort, but aimed into the bottom corner and crept past Rob Elliot. The goalkeeper may have been able to do better, but it was just the luck that Gabbiadini needed. He was then given the chance to equalise from the spot and he did so with an emphatic finish. Pellegrino talked up the importance of his striker and hoped this would be the confidence boost that he needed:

“Manolo is an important player for us. It’s positive for his confidence but the most important thing is he was working really hard, not just for himself but for the team.”

The penalty suggested that his confidence was returning as it was a powerful finish that gave no chance to the goalkeeper. The main problem for Gabbiadini has been a lack of chances, due to the creative issues that Southampton have. He is averaging 2.34 shots per game and his accuracy currently stands at 40%. An increase in both will be needed if he is to score double figures this season.

This past weekend was a positive first step back to the player that was witnessed during the first few weeks of his Southampton career. Gabbiadini took both chances that came his way and showed a clinical edge that has been lacking since his groin injury. The next few weeks see him come up against West Brom, Brighton and Burnley. There is an opportunity for him to add to his tally and push on to become the star of this team.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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