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English Premier League

Southampton’s unexpected evolution under Ronald Koeman



Eight months ago, it was inconceivable to many outsiders (myself included) that Southampton would be in a position to challenge, strongly too, for European football this season. Despite falling away slightly in December, their blistering form at the beginning of the season and at the turn of the year has put the Solent-based side in great league position. Saints lost key players last summer, and the very essence of Southampton seemed to be disappearing. The nucleus of the side that rose from the third tier to 8th in the Premier League was taken away. In total seven players were sold and a further six released. The vanguards of the consecutive promotion winning campaigns moved to “bigger” clubs amidst a media fanfare, hardly helped by inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad. This has been well documented, but rather less so has been the personnel tasked with filling these boots.

Changes were not limited to the pitch either. Mauricio Pochettino left to take over at Tottenham and was replaced by Ronald Koeman. Koeman came to Hampshire with a vast array of experience managing in the Netherlands, with Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord. Spells in Western Europe with Benfica and Valencia would have also done his learning no harm. However Koeman remained unproven in the Premier League, and in that respect represented somewhat of a gamble by the Saints board. The man from Zaandam has acquitted himself well in this debut campaign in England’s top flight. His tactical prowess, as shown at Feynoord, has also been brought to life at St. Mary’s. Bar a brief spell playing a 3-5-2 formation in an attempt to shore up the defence, Koeman’s Saints line up in a 4-2-3-1. This balance between a strong core of centre back and central midfielders – Schneiderlein and Wanyama, coupled with the wide players of Elia, Mane and the full backs – is a harmonious one. Koeman’s playing experience for Ajax in the immediate decade after the infamous “total football” era, and playing for Barcelona at the genesis of “tiki taka”, can shine through, at times, when watching Southampton this season. What is also poignant about the Dutchman’s start to life in the Premier League was the instantaneous nature with which he won games, in stark contrast to his fellow countryman and nemesis, Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal clearly required a period of adjustment at Manchester United, whilst Koeman took to Saints like a duck to the water of the river Itchen.

This exodus last summer, whilst very disruptive and no doubt traumatic for Saints fans, did provide a welcome cash in-flow, and supporters are already seeing tangible evidence of this being invested. Multi million pound deals were completed for, amongst others, club top goal scorer Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Fraser Forster this summer, with Eljero Elia and Filip Duricic joining in January (the latter on loan). This spending spree, enabled by the numerous departures, conveys the seismic shift underway at Southampton. The backbone of the side of recent years has been replaced in a new-look Saints outfit. These players may well have quality, but what was nurtured in Southampton for years was lost in one cruel summer’s harvest. Academy graduates Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Calum Chambers epitomised everything Southampton FC stood for. Does this mean Saints have sold their soul? I think not, actually; it’s more a rather sad indictment of modern football. Gone are the days of Matthew Le Tissier, chalking up hundreds of appearances for their local team, and here are the days of journeymen and agents looking for the next signing on fee and wage increase.

If we accept the previous statement, and assume it is here to stay, then Southampton have done some good business. If we compare last year’s old Saints with this year’s new Saints, the new boys are ahead. After 30 games last season, Lallana and co. had 45 points and sat in 9th position. With one less game played, Pelle’s early net finding exploits have earnt Southampton 50 points and 6th position. This season is even better considering how long St. Mary’s was home to a top four side. All this has been achieved without England international Jay Rodriguez, still on the treatment table from his ACL injury sustained in April 2014.

The side Koeman built over a few weeks this pre-season (and is continuing to build) emulates the Southampton of old, as this took years to come to fruition. Solent legend Le Tissier recently claimed Saints would finish above Van Gaal’s United. This is unlikely, but his optimism shows how much Southampton have progressed. Despite the recent dip, Koeman’s men are on course for the best Southampton league finish in a generation.

Manchester United

Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line

The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.

Rob Meech



Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.

Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”

The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.

Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.

From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.

Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.

Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.

This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.

But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.

In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.

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English Premier League

Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week

The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.



Photo: Getty Images

With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.

Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.

In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.

Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.

The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.

Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.

This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.

If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.

Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.

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English Premier League

Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest

The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.



Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.

Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.

Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.

Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.

As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.

The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.

The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.

If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.

However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.

(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.

Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.

The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.

Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.

Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.

The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.

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