With Southampton heading into their first major cup final since 2003, Claude Puel will be trying to revive the spirit of 1976 and their last major trophy, when they beat Manchester United 1-0. Now facing the Red Devils once more, they will need some divine inspiration to repeat the feat.
Enter, Manolo Gabbiadini. Three goals in two games in red and white have helped them stay away from drifting into relegation trouble and given the team a well needed boost before a date with Wembley. The £14 million signing from Napoli has hit the ground running and fans have renewed hope of upsetting the odds in the EFL Cup yet again.
His stunning finish on debut against West Ham was the 400th netted by an Italian in the Premier League. There may only be a handful of successful Azzuri talents in England’s top tier; Paulo Di Canio, Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo and to some extent Carlo Cudicini, but if his start is anything to go by, his flair and skill will take him far.
He became a bench player in Naples, only scoring three in his 13 appearances this campaign in Serie A. In a league where there’s more space, more defences capable of exposing and at a team where he will be a focal point, Saints fans will hope for more of the same quality shown in his recent displays.
They don’t play again until a trip up the M3 to Wembley Stadium. All their focus will be on this one-off tie, where as seen before, a shock is possible. Birmingham toppled Arsenal when unfancied back in 2011, as did Wigan when faced with Manchester City in the FA Cup in 2013. Both went on to be relegated, but that shouldn’t scare Southampton
Saints have a break to prepare for the final and no immediate worries of relegation. They’ve taken down Arsenal and Liverpool in this competition and they deserve their place at Wembley. Gabbiadini has experience in elite European competition, so won’t be daunted by the hallowed turf of the ‘Home of Football’.
Record signing Sofiane Boufal hasn’t found the consistency to prove his record fee yet and captain Virgil Van Dijk is injured for the game, meaning they must look elsewhere for heroes. Shane Long, Nathan Redmond and Jordy Clasie have stepped up during their run, Gabbiadini’s stage awaits for him to follow.
A silky touch, diverse finisher and intelligent runner, his best may be to come further down the line at St Mary’s, but supporters will hope their Italian Stallion can roll back the years of Bobby Stokes and beat Manchester United for a cup as they did in 1976.
‘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.
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.
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.
Southampton 0-2 Liverpool: Deadly Mohamed Salah in-form once again
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.
Will the signing of Virgil van Dijk make Liverpool title contenders?
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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