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Saints just can’t get enough with return of Jay Rodriguez



When Jay Rodriguez scored the second of his two goals against Newcastle United back on March 29th 2014, he was in red-hot form, having scored five goals in the past four matches.

A beautiful through ball by Gaston Ramirez put Rodriguez through, and his powerful finish past the hapless Rob Elliot yielded his 17th goal of the season, and was the last of a prolific run: he was showing just why the-then 24-year-old was looking set to be named in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad for England.

And then it was gone.

An awkward landing during the Saints’ next fixture away at Manchester City saw Rodriguez, born just thirty miles north of the Etihad stadium in nearby Burnley, had cruelly ruined his World Cup dream; he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament.

The hard work started not long after, and all the while Rodriguez was in the treatment room the very environment around him would change beyond all recognition.

The Staplewood training ground he saw as his work office was given a £40m upgrade so the environment had changed quite literally, but the manager who had turned him into a goal machine, Mauricio Pochettino, was gone that summer. His backroom staff of Jesus Perez, Miguel D’Agostino and Toni Jimenez followed him to Tottenham.

The two teammates he had linked up so well on the pitch with, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana, had not only left him behind to go to the World Cup but had both completed moves to Liverpool to a combined sum of £29m. Three more in Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Artur Boruc would go too.

But whilst the club had employed Dutch legend Ronald Koeman to replace Pochettino (Graziano Pellè and Dusan Tadic for Lambert and Lallana), somehow kept hold of Morgan Schneiderlin and finished an unlikely seventh after being tipped for relegation, Rodriguez was still injured.

After rather ambitiously given a return date of December 13th, ironically against his hometown club Burnley where he started his career, it would be April 29th 2015 before he returned to full training. He had missed the entire 2014/15 season.

Southampton desperately needed him last season at times, too. When Pellè had a 15 game goal drought after scoring six in his first eight, looking increasingly weary as he ploughed on through the barren winter, Koeman would have loved to have given the Italian a rest and led Rodriguez lead the line. It was a fine four-point difference between Saints in seventh and Tottenham in fifth.

But the club stuck by him. Whilst his name was still being touted as a target for Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham (Pochettino remains a fan), his four year contract was coming to its final year and Southampton were looking likely to lose a striker touted for a £20m fee the year previous for nothing the next summer.

But Rodriguez is looking to repay Saints’ faith in him, signing a four-year extension in May to end the transfer speculation. In his first game since Manchester City, Southampton’s first match of preseason against RB Leipzig yielded two goals.

And whilst it would be naïve to assume just off the back of that 45 minutes that Rodriguez is back to the level he was at in the first half of 2014, especially as his game relies heavily on his rapier-like speed, he will effectively be like a new signing for Koeman and Saints.

Added to a front line of Pellè and Tadic; not to mention Sadio Mané, Shane Long and literal new signing Juanmi, Koeman has a front line full of options for his Southampton side, very handy as the Saints will look to navigate their first European campaign since 2003.

Whilst Southampton have lost Nathaniel Clyne to Liverpool for £12.5m, and Schneiderlin is expected to go to Manchester United for £27m too, it is a big season for Rodriguez to return. His sole England cap came against Chile in November 2013, and if he can match the kind of return that Theo Walcott made after a similar injury, adding to that cap would mean a successful return.

As Koeman looks forward to his second season at St Mary’s after a positive first year at Southampton, the Dutchman will be hoping the notoriously difficult follow up will be rather more Oasis’ “What’s the Story” than The Stone Roses’ “The Second Offering”.

With Rodriguez returning, a big fan of The Smiths, Koeman will be very confident of building on the foundations of the year before, with the striker hoping to relight a fire that burned bright in 2013/14. He will be hoping it will be a light that never goes out like it did that fateful day at the Etihad.

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English Premier League

‘Dutch Xavi’ Jordy Clasie has failed at Southampton



When Southampton completed the signing of Jordy Clasie in 2015 it was seen as a coup from the South-Coast side. Ronald Koeman had snapped him up from previous club Feyenoord in a deal reported by the BBC to be in the region of £8 million.

The Dutchman had been touted with a move to England for some time previously. Back in 2013 the Netherlands international, who had been dubbed the ‘Dutch Xavi’ was being linked with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – as reported by talkSPORT.

during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and France at Amsterdam Arena on March 25, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Clasie himself spoke of opportunities to join Fiorentina, AS Roma or Porto, in conversation with Sport Magazine. He rejected those deals, with the move to Southampton the most appealing to his ambition.

So big things were expected of him at Southampton.

Yet, Clasie never truly lived up to the billing. After a so-so first season under former Feyenoord boss Koeman’s influence Clasie was soon out of favour under new manager Claude Puel. Clasie was also hardly doing anything on the pitch to suggest he was deserving of more first-team opportunities.

So in the summer, he was loaned out to Belgian side Club Brugge. In January he made it clear he did not want to return to Southampton, referring to his spell at the club as ‘horrible’ – as reported by the Sun.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – APRIL 16: Kevin Mirallas of Everton is closed down by Jordy Clasie of Southampton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Southampton at Goodison Park on April 16, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Clasie’s time in Belgium has been up-and-down. He has only recently cemented himself as a first-team regular after a knee injury stunted his early days with the Belgian league leaders. So far, Clasie has managed just eight league starts.

Southampton remain Clasie’s parent club. Now he is finally starting to show what he can do at Club Brugge there may be a school of thought that the Dutchman deserves another chance at Southampton next season.

The likelihood however is that Clasie’s time at Southampton is over. Once tipped as the next big Dutch star, the Saints owned player will need to make the right career choice this summer if he is to resurrect his promising career.

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English Premier League

Southampton 0-2 Liverpool: Deadly Mohamed Salah in-form once again

Jake Jackman




Liverpool consolidated their position in the top six with a comfortable win against Southampton. They were quick to take the lead through Roberto Firmino and that was followed up before half-time with another goal from Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian now has 22 Premier League goals for the season as he continues to prove that he is one of the leading players in the division. Although the home side didn’t look like a team in the relegation zone, their lack of quality in the final third was a concern. Here are three talking points from St Mary’s Stadium:

Liverpool’s attack is not missing Philippe Coutinho

It was a huge blow to lose Philippe Coutinho during the January transfer window, but the side have continued to impress and it looks like he wasn’t as important as many first thought. Since the sale of the Brazilian, the Reds have scored two or more goals in all but one of seven matches that they have played. Against Southampton, they were at their free-flowing best and it was two of their front three that shone.

Salah was regarded as a good signing when he joined from Roma, but his achievements will have surprised even his biggest advocates. The Egyptian forward is one of the favourites to win the Golden Boot come the end of the season. He currently trails Harry Kane by one goal. Considering that he isn’t a natural striker, his form in front of goal is massively impressive.

Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino continues to perform to a high standard. The 26-year-old has contributed 12 goals and six assists. That is a great return for the Brazilian.

Mauricio Pellegrino is under pressure

Southampton have been one of the best teams outside of the top six during recent seasons. During the last campaign, they finished in 8th position and reached the League Cup final. Despite those achievements, Claude Puel was given the sack due to his style of play. It was seen as dull in the stands, but their decline this season has shown that decision to be a mistake. On Sunday, they slipped back into the relegation zone and they are in huge danger of being relegated.

There is only one point that separates them from 17th, but it is a big mental barrier to be in the bottom three, as it leaves the team with no margin for error. A lot of the teams in the bottom half have changed their manager this season. There is no sign that Southampton are close to pulling the trigger, but it is an option that remains open to them if they want to try and give the club a boost in the relegation fight.

The Saints have a good run of fixtures to come in Burnley, Stoke City, Newcastle United and Swansea City. These matches will shape their season and Pellegrino hasn’t shown enough to suggest he can deliver the results required. If they struggle in the first couple, a change of manager is inevitable.

Virgil van Dijk was excellent on his return to St Mary’s

The Dutch international was always likely to be the focus of attention during the match, as he left Southampton to join Liverpool in January. His actions during the summer did little to warm him to the Saints’ supporters and they let their feelings known on Sunday. Van Dijk was roundly booed every time he touched the ball.

It is a huge test of a player to rise above the atmosphere, but Van Dijk did superbly and delivered an assured performance. He was one of the best performers on the South Coast and played a key part in the visitors keeping a clean sheet.

His aerial presence is known and it was evident on Sunday as he won five aerial duels. Defensively, he rarely put a foot wrong, as he completed four ball recoveries and made seven clearances. Van Dijk showed himself to be a leader as he regularly shouted instructions and made sure that the side remained organised. Liverpool lacked that at the beginning of the season and they look a lot more solid as a result.

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English Premier League

Will the signing of Virgil van Dijk make Liverpool title contenders?

Jake Jackman



Van Dijk

Liverpool have finally completed the long-awaited signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for a world record fee. They have agreed to pay £75 million for the Dutchman, which makes him the most expensive defender in the history of football. The last few months have seen the Reds’ defensive woes get worse and they are now willing to pay an extra £15 million to secure the services of their primary centre-back target. Saints deserve credit for holding strong and denying a sale in the summer, as they have made more money as a result. They have agreed to a sale at this early stage in order to give Mauricio Pellegrino the time to spend the money.

For Jurgen Klopp, it was imperative that they improved their defence in the January window. They already have one of the best attacks in Europe, but they can’t be relied on to keep goals out at the other end. Poor collapses against Sevilla and Arsenal have shown their limitations as a team. Van Dijk is unlikely to be the sole solution, but he will come in and improve the defence. His arrival could lead to the rest of the back-line upping their own game. If it does, the Reds could be a force to be reckoned with during the second half of the season.

Despite their failure to land Van Dijk in the summer, Liverpool didn’t drop their interest and that shows huge faith in the defender. He is clearly the player that Klopp wants in his defence and the 26-year-old’s own commitment to the move means there will be a great deal of trust on both sides. This turbulent saga could prove to be a good thing for the club in the long-term as both parties will be desperate for it to be a success. It would have been easier for the Reds to move on to other targets after escaping punishment for alleged tapping-up, but they didn’t and they have now been rewarded for their persistence.

Since the initial rumours surfaced, it became evident that Van Dijk wanted to move to Liverpool over other interested clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea. A lot of pundits have suggested that the defender is too good for the Reds, but he has been wooed by Jurgen Klopp and his comments after the transfer were announced reflect that. BBC Sport report the following quotes from the defender:

“Delighted and honoured to have agreed to become a Liverpool FC player. Today is a proud day for me and my family as I join one of the biggest clubs in world football.

“I can’t wait to pull on the famous red shirt for the first time in front of the Kop and will give everything I have to try and help this great club achieve something special in the years to come.

They may not be winning major honours at the time of writing, but Liverpool remain one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Van Dijk’s comments underline how attractive they are to potential targets and they are now beginning to build a team capable of living up to their standing. In the current game, the media and supporters alike can be obsessed with instant success. Pep Guardiola was criticised a lot during his first season, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and there are signs of development at Anfield.

At the age of 26, Van Dijk is approaching the peak years of his career and he has decided to join Liverpool. That is a huge backing of support for what Klopp is building at the club. They play attractive football and they are close to becoming a force once again. Van Dijk believes in the project and he is the perfect centre-half for the style of play that the Reds’ manager has implemented. He is excellent on the ball and excellent at launching attacks from deep. The Dutchman can be a playmaker from the heart of the defence and that will allow the team to play higher up the pitch.

A weakness for Liverpool this season has been their inability to deal with quick counter-attacks and set pieces. There have been too many occasions where Dejan Lovren has been left in a one-on-one situation and he isn’t good enough to come out on top. Van Dijk is a huge upgrade in this regard, as he is an intelligent reader of the game and is a physical beast. He is quick across the ground and capable of anticipating what the forward is going to do ahead of time, as shown by this season’s average of 2.61 interceptions per ninety minutes.

There are few better players in the air that Van Dijk. The 26-year-old has won an impressive 73.75% of his aerial duels this season. Liverpool have been regularly criticised for their lack of organisation and quality at defending set-pieces. The aerial presence of their new centre-back will go a long way in remedying that.

The signing of Virgil van Dijk alone will not solve the defensive woes of Liverpool. He is an excellent defender and he will improve the starting eleven hugely, but Klopp can’t see this as a sole solution. A new goalkeeper will need to be next on his transfer list as it has become clear that Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius are not good enough to start for a team with title ambitions.

The rest of defence has further problems, but there is potential and the addition of Van Dijk may accelerate their development. Joel Matip deserves the rest of the season alongside the Dutchman to see if he has the quality required. He has shown encouraging signs, but there have been problems. That said, he has played with players that aren’t good enough to start for Liverpool and that may have caused his struggles. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Andrew Robertson will all benefit from the leadership of the Dutch international.

Van Dijk will be a great addition to the Liverpool starting eleven and it is commendable that the club have got a deal done quickly, but they need more additions in January to be considered a contender for major honours.

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