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Why keeping Schneiderlin has been crucial to Southampton’s top four challenge

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On July 29th 2014, Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin publicly posted a tweet, which read “6 years of an amazing journey #saintsfc DESTROYED in 1 hour !!”. This almost forgotten outburst was in response to Southampton denying Schneiderlin the chance to follow former manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham Hotspur after their mass summer exodus. Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren had all left for Liverpool, and two of their brightest prospects, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers, had also left the club for hefty fees.

There was clearly a rebuilding project to be undertaken by new manager Ronald Koeman, and Schneiderlin staying at the club was seen as integral to the regeneration of the team. He was persuaded to stay and play for the Saints for the 2014-15 season, and it has proved to be their most vital piece of the business they conducted all summer.

Southampton started the season as many people’s relegation candidates. This was always unlikely, despite the loss of players, but their clever signings and intelligent appointment of Ronald Koeman as manager never really made this a creditable claim. However, with Schneiderlin in the team, they are challenging for Europe, flying high in third place in the Premier League rather than sitting in mid-table.

Schneiderlin’s influence over the Southampton midfield is clear to see when observing their performances this season. When attacking, Schneiderlin finds pockets of space, keeping the ball moving from a slightly deeper position, drawing defenders out, and allowing more space for the creative players ahead of him such as Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane. When Southampton defend, Schneiderlin is excellent in cutting out opposition attacks at an early stage, with an exceptional tackling ability and a crucial ability to read the game that allows the French midfielder to intercept passes and regain the ball for his team.

These abilities that Schneiderlin possesses, which are complemented by an almost perfect central midfield partner in Victor Wanyama, make Southampton look a much better and more balanced team. In the FA Cup fourth round defeat to Crystal Palace, where both players were missing, Southampton were destroyed by Palace’s fast counter attacking, which could have been prevented had the French midfielder been on the pitch to cut them out at an early stage.

This effect on the team is heavily reflected in their results throughout the season. Southampton’s dip in form in early December followed the injury he picked up in the first half against Manchester City, leading to a four game losing run. This is no coincidence, without the protection given by Schneiderlin, Southampton were more open at the back, as well as being less able to score, as this table below shows:

Southampton’s league form with Schneiderlin

15  10  3  L 2   29 8  Pts 33

Southampton’s league from without Schneiderlin

3  0  4  8  8  Pts 9

The table clearly shows that Southampton lose more, and win less, when Schneiderlin is missing. Taking the home defeat as a game missed due to his early removal, Southampton have lost four times without Schneiderlin, whereas they have lost just twice with him on the pitch, in over double the amount of matches. This is as a result of the protection that the defence lose from Schneiderlin’s absence.

Southampton gain 2.2 points per game when Schneiderlin on the pitch, which is form that would allow a title challenge, and certain qualification for the Champions League. Without him, however, that figure drops to just 1.29 points per game, not relegation form, but that would leave Southampton languishing in mid-table. Having Schneiderlin in the team allows Southampton to push on from an average side to one that could potentially compete in the Champions League.

The evidence of Schneiderlin’s importance is supported further by comparing the amount Southampton both score and concede from when he is playing and when he is absent. In the 15 full games Schneiderlin has competed in, the Saints have conceded just 8 goals, at a rate of 0.53 per game. The next best in the league is Chelsea, who have conceded 0.86 goals per game. Without Schneiderlin, Southampton have conceded 1.14 goals per game. This shows that the protection offered by Schneiderlin turns Southampton into not only a better defensive team, but by far the best in the league.

Schneiderlin’s presence also makes a marked difference in Southampton’s strike rate. They have scored 1.93 goals per game with him, up from a meagre 1.14 without their star midfielder. This supports the idea that by sitting deeper and drawing opposition midfielders out, he creates more space for creative players such as Dusan Tadic to exploit, contributing to Southampton’s impressive goal tally. Other players who can fill in Schneiderlin’s position such as Jack Cork and Steven Davis just don’t have the positional awareness or passing accuracy to have this effect on opponents.

In conclusion, Schneiderlin is the player that makes Southampton tick. He may not be the flashiest, or the one that gets the most credit, but his intelligent reading of the game and impressive tackling abilities markedly shore up Southampton’s defence, whilst his ability to pick up pockets of space in deeper positions allow more space for Southampton’s attacking players. His football brain contributes to all aspects of Southampton’s team, and is the driving force behind their battle for European places. Whether he remains at Southampton after the end of the season is another matter, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool all rumoured to be sniffing around. For now, though, he is playing for Southampton and quietly pushing them towards the Champions League, and should they make it, he might just stick around for a few years.

John is a history graduate from the University of Southampton, and will soon be completing a Master's degree in Journalism at Cardiff University

Celtic

Celtic playmaker Tom Rogic could be a star at Southampton

The 25-year-old is out of contract at Celtic next summer.

The Boot Room

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Photo: Getty Images

Celtic playmaker Tom Rogic is attracting clubs from all over the world but Premier League side Southampton are reportedly the latest team to be interested in throwing their hat in the mix for the Australian international.

According to reports from BBC Sport, Mark Hughes is very impressed with Brendan Rodgers’ 25-year-old star, who has played a vital role in Celtic’s treble-chasing side this season.

Rogic has a respectable eight goals and eight assists, despite being injured for a large chunk of the season, and could represent an impressive signing for Hughes and his Saints side, who last night looked to have ensured their Premier League survival after beating relegation rivals Swansea 1-0.

The Australian born midfielder may be interested in returning to England after progressing through the ranks at the Nike Academy in St George’s Park before making it professionally in his home country.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Southampton are, arguably, England’s best at spotting young talent and, at only 25, the midfielder definitely has his best days ahead of him. Hughes should ensure those are seen in the Premier League rather than the SPL.

Rogic’s technical ability and range of passing are up there with the best in the league and Celtic’s number 18 has scored some crucial goals this season.

He displayed his importance to Rodgers side and showed his goalscoring threat when he netted Celtic’s fourth in a 5-0 win over Old Firm rivals Rangers last Sunday, in which the Hoops clinched their seventh consecutive Scottish league title.

It not only displayed his goalscoring prowess but also how he has been a thorn in the side for the Gers. This was his fourth goal in four games against their Old Firm rivals.

However, despite Rogic hunting down yet another treble with Celtic, the midfielder only has one-year left on his contract and this may tempt Rodgers to cash in on the midfielder rather than wait and risk losing him on a free transfer.

This would spur the perfect opportunity for the Saints to bid for the midfielder and take an outstanding technically gifted player who would certainly thrive in the Premier League.

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Southampton

Dusan Tadic is key man behind Southampton’s survival bid

The Serbian midfielder will be key for the Saints throughout the campaign run-in.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Nobody expected Southampton to struggle to the extent that they have this season.

The Saints’ recruitment policy was always likely to cause a poor season at some point, but the talent that they have in their squad led many to believe that they were too good for a relegation battle.

Unfortunately, the club’s quality hasn’t been enough to keep them out of the bottom three and they currently sit in the relegation zone with three matches left to play.

Victory over Bournemouth at the weekend has given them hope and they now go into their away match against Swansea City knowing that three points would see them climb out of the bottom three.

Dusan Tadic was the hero as he produced the two goals required to see off the Cherries in a South Coast derby.

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The Serbian international has blown hot and cold since arriving in the Premier League, but he has the star quality to fire Southampton to safety.

The Saints are in the position they are in for many reasons, but one of their main downfalls has been their attack.

They haven’t scored enough goals and had failed to score in five of their last eight matches in all competitions prior to Saturday.

It was obvious they needed one of their attackers to step up and be more clinical in the final third.

Although Tadic is known for his creativity, he can offer a direct goal threat and he did that against Bournemouth.

He had two chances and took both in a show of clinical finishing that had eluded Southampton during recent weeks.

The first was a smart finish after a quick counter-attack from the home side, while the second was a great strike that required precision and guile.

Southampton didn’t have it all their own way and Bournemouth caused them problems, but the performance from Tadic in the final third provided the cutting edge required to secure a crucial win.

There are some players that struggle to play in a team battling relegation and shy away as the pressure increases.

Some may have thought the Serbian would fit into that category, but he proved his worth to the team and there will now be a number of supporters hoping that he can finish the season strongly.

Aside from his two goals, Tadic had an impact in both halves of the pitch and was clearly the best player on the park.

He completed three dribbles and ended the match with a pass success rate of 89%, which is very impressive considering he had the ball in advanced areas.

The 29-year-old looked after possession well and made five key passes to influence the match.

It may be a cliché, but every player in a team battling relegation-threatened team needs to show fight and desire first and foremost.

That may be the minimum requirement, but it is a requirement nonetheless and Tadic gave his all for the team. He covered a lot of ground and made two tackles to lead the defensive effort from the front.

Tadic has had better seasons in England and he, alongside the rest of the squad, will feel that he could have contributed more over the course of the season.

However, those thoughts need to go to the back of the head and the focus needs to be on the task at hand.

It won’t be easy for Southampton to survive in the division, but if they are to be successful, their 29-year-old creative midfielder will need to deliver more performances like the one against Bournemouth.

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English Premier League

Tottenham should target Mario Lemina as long-term Mousa Dembele replacement

The Lilywhites should begin planning for life after the Belgian international.

Jake Jackman

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Mario Lemina
Photo: Getty Images

The upcoming summer is going to be important for every top-six team for different reasons and they will all be looking to compete for the title.

Tottenham have been on the brink of achieving something special under Mauricio Pochettino. They have established themselves as a regular Champions League team and have played some excellent football, but they have yet to deliver a title challenge from post to post and that is their next challenge.

Throughout his time in North London, Pochettino has been reluctant to spend big money on a ready-made world-class player. The Argentine prefers to sign potential and mould a player in his own image. This summer, he will need to strengthen his squad once again as he lacks depth in a couple of positions.

One area of the pitch that he will look to add reinforcements is central midfield. Mousa Dembele has been the star in that position, but he is now 30 and he can’t be expected to play every match across all competitions.

Meanwhile, Victor Wanyama has only played 14 times in the Premier League and seems out of favour with Pochettino. Eric Dier and Harry Winks are both good options, but neither have pushed on in the way that Tottenham would have hoped.

There is a lot of quality in the middle of the park at Tottenham, but there haven’t been two players to make the positions their own. The answer to their midfield problems could come from an unlikely place.

Southampton have been a good stepping stone club since their return to the Premier League and, despite their impending relegation, they could have one more jewel worth pursuing.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Mario Lemina has had a mixed first season in England, but there is no doubting his quality in midfield areas. The Gabon international arrived from Juventus and it was considered a coup at the time. He may not have thrived in the manner many expected, but it has been tough to shine in a team battling relegation.

He is a similar midfielder to Dembele in many aspects. Lemina is very effective at winning possession and he is comfortable with the ball at his feet. The 24-year-old averages 2.3 dribbles per game, which is only fractionally lower than the 2.5 managed by the Tottenham midfielder.

Considering Lemina is playing his first season in a new country, this is an encouraging stat and suggests he can become the powerful ball-carrier that Dembele has been in recent seasons. In terms of regaining possession, the Southampton man averages 2.1 tackles won and 1.48 interceptions per ninety minutes.

This is superior to Dembele, who averages 1.14 tackles won and 1.48 interceptions per ninety minutes. There are times when players are stained by a relegation, but the stats underline the impact that Lemina has had on games since arriving in England and in a better team, he could be a revelation.

Southampton are not going to be in a strong negotiating position if they are relegated, as expected. Despite their struggles this season, they have a lot of quality in their squad and there won’t be a shortage of takers for a lot of their players.

Lemina is the standout in their squad and his experience with Juventus means that he has the mentality to step up to one of the top six clubs. He looks a perfect fit for Tottenham and would be a great long-term replacement for Dembele.

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