Southampton recorded their second home victory of the season with an encouraging performance against West Brom. After a run of disappointing results, this was viewed as a must-win fixture for the Saints and they managed to get the job done. Although it wasn’t as convincing as they would have liked, the home side offered a bigger threat in the final third than they have during recent matches. As usual, the Baggies came to defend and offered little imagination in attack. They had two or three chances, but they can have no complaints with the result. Here are three talking points from the match at St Mary’s Stadium:
Sofiane Boufal deserves to start
The home supporters will have been excited by the match-winning substitute appearance from Sofiant Boufal. The club’s record signing has had a difficult first 12 months at the club, but there have been signs during recent matches that he is starting to find his feet on the South Coast. During his ten-minute spell on the pitch, he scored the winner after a superb solo run that started in Southampton’s half. He took it past several West Brom defenders before finishing smartly past Ben Foster.
The 24-year-old completed four dribbles during his short time on the pitch, which underlines the mercurial talent that he possesses. He can provide match-winning moments and if a role is found for him, it will be exciting to see whether he can produce this level of performance on a weekly basis. Southampton have been poor in the final third and lacking ideas at time. Boufal may be frustrating at times, but he isn’t short of ideas and he deserves a run in the first-team after his contribution on Saturday.
Tony Pulis is losing his magic touch
The problem that Tony Pulis has in management is supporters have no patience with him once results turn. He chooses to play a boring style of football that is difficult to get behind if wins aren’t being picked up regularly. West Brom haven’t won since August in any competition, while they have kept only one clean sheet during their last eight matches. That isn’t good enough and the pressure is starting to build.
Pulis is lucky that there are other managers taking the headlines for underperformance, but the poor results haven’t gone unnoticed by the Baggies’ supporters. They will be the first to attest to the side’s underperformance and there is a growing section of the fan-base that wants to see a managerial change at the club. He will be given more time by the board, but he needs to start to pick up results. A look at the fixtures suggests it will get worse before it gets better.
Virgil van Dijk is slowly getting back to his best
After an unsettling summer filled with transfer speculation, Virgil van Dijk is back in the Southampton team and he is beginning to get back to his best at the heart of their defence. He played a key role in them earning a clean sheet on Saturday and looked impressive whenever he was tested. The Dutchman won four aerial duels and made six clearances to help his team deny West Brom.
However, it was his contributions in possession that impressed most. The 26-year-old was comfortable with the ball at his feet, completing 82% of his passes. This included two key passes, which is very impressive for a defender. Van Dijk showed his ability to bring the ball out of defence to launch attacks on several occasions. He isn’t afraid to take responsibility and try to make something happen, as he showed in the first-half when he strode forward with confidence before unleashing a powerful effort that went just over. If he continues to improve, Southampton will benefit from it.
Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.