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Why this player is an unsung hero in Saints’ recent run of form

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Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea marked Southampton’s first defeat in seven games. A key component of that impressive run of form has been the defensive solidity with Southampton conceding for the first time in seven matches when Cesc Fabregas’ cross eluded everybody and found its way into the back of the net. To not concede in six games is something special considering the amount of chances that get created in the Premier League and the competitive nature of it.

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Despite not keeping a seventh consecutive clean sheet, Saints still broke a record in the game against last season’s champions. When the clock hit the 34th minute, Fraser Forster beat Paul Jones’ top flight record for the longest time without conceding a goal for Southampton of 666 minutes. And the former Celtic ‘keeper has played a crucial part of Saints’ recent run of form and deserves heaps of credit. To return to top flight action after almost 10 months out injured and keep six consecutive clean sheets immediately and break Saints’ longest time without conceding record is remarkable. The 27-year-old’s presence has a calming influence on the defence. In some of the games he hasn’t had a thing to do, apart from the odd simple save, but the presence of the 6’ 7’’ Geordie fills Southampton’s back line with confidence knowing that if they are beaten, they have one of the best ‘keepers in the country behind them.

But there’s one man who has had as much of an impact as Forster has in this recent run of form. He deserves as much credit as Forster for his remarkable return and as much credit as Ronald Koeman for changing the tactics and formation. And that man is Ryan Bertrand.

When Saints were in a so called “meltdown” a year and a half ago and there was a mass exodus of first team players, it was the signing of Ryan Bertrand that reassured captain Jose Fonte that they were going to have a strong season and that the club still had ambition.

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Bertrand has spent much of his time on the south coast as a full back that likes to bomb up the pitch and contribute as much to the attacking efforts as he does the defensive efforts. It was his defensive capabilities and his offensive threat that put him into last season PFA Team of the Year. He was the perfect replacement for Luke Shaw and his lack of playing time at Stamford Bridge made him arrive at St. Mary’s with a hunger for game time and a desire to showcase his talents.

His form for Southampton has earned him a return to the England setup and is one of a handful of left backs that is giving Roy Hodgson a headache ahead of the Euros. But it could be Bertrand’s versatility that puts him ahead of some of the others that are vying to be on the plane to France this summer.

After a poor run of form over November, December and January, Koeman looked to changing Southampton’s shape in the hope of changing their fortunes around. The Dutchman switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2 setup with Bertrand operating as the left sided centre back and the Chelsea academy product has excelled in that position.

With Koeman keen to stick to Saints’ possession based philosophies, Bertrand’s flexibility has been the key to the new formation functioning successfully. With Bertrand on the left hand side of the back three, he is able to start offensive moves confidently and, along with his fellow centre backs, he is comfortable on the ball to play out from the back. The security of having an extra man at the back has allowed the centre backs to venture forward a bit more freely, enabling them to create and join attacks. That was showcased at the weekend with Virgil Van Dijk posing a threat against Chelsea.

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One of the criticisms amongst some Saints fans this season has been the lack of academy talent getting first team game time but Bertrand’s inclusion as a centre back has allowed Matt Targett to get a run in the first team. Targett operates as a wing back in the new setup and has shown his best form for the club since being moved into the more offensive role. The security of having the pace and tactical awareness of Bertrand behind him means that he can advance freely knowing that the Champions League winner has the space behind covered.

There are a lot of components to Southampton’s recent run of form to consider; Fraser Forster’s return, Ronald Koeman’s tactical expertise, Shane Long’s tireless performances, Jordy Clasie’s outstanding shifts in midfield. But for me, the one that makes all of it tick is Ryan Bertrand. He’s the one that has meant that the change in formation is possible and works.

It’s strange to think that he is a Champions League winner and he’s playing for Southampton. It’d be interesting to see how good Bertrand would’ve been if he wasn’t starved of opportunities at Chelsea but that seems to be the trend when you’re a product of the Chelsea academy machine. But selfishly, I’m glad he was starved of opportunities because it’s brought him to my club and boy, what a difference he’s made.

Featured image: all rights reserved by Mike Beales.

Dan is a Journalism student at UWE and is an aspiring football journalist. His first ever football match was Southampton's 3-2 win over Leeds in 2003 and he has been a Saints fan ever since.

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
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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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English Premier League

Southampton could be left looking foolish as Matt Targett pushes for promotion

The England under-21 international is hoping to win promotion with Fulham.

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Fulham are firmly in the fight for promotion to the Premier League. The Cottagers are chasing Cardiff City in the hunt for the automatic places and will have a shot at the play-offs if they do not make it into the top two. Fulham’s brilliant form has been largely down to the arrival of a loan signing from the Premier League. Despite Newcastle United’s own struggles, Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent to Craven Cottage to try and find some form. The Serbian has done just that, scoring goals for fun in West London. But the impact of another loanee cannot be understated.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Matt Targett arrived from Southampton at the end of January and has gone on to become an integral member of the Fulham first-team. Targett has played 15 times since his move to the club, even finding the back of the net once.

The Saints man has been solid defensively and a threat going forward for Slavisa Jokanovic’s men.

For Southampton, loaning him out could prove to make them look foolish. Whilst Fulham are pushing for promotion, Southampton are desperately scrapping against relegation from the Premier League.

Whilst Ryan Bertrand may be the out-and-out first choice at left-back Mark Hughes’ recent switch to a back three could certainly have seen Targett playing a role in the matchday squad at St Mary’s once again.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

But above anything else, it will be the principle of the matter.

Mauricio Pellegrino was not a fan of Targett and therefore sent him on his way, but he should still be around the club and making an impact in the fight for survival. The fact Southampton, who are currently five points adrift of safety, could get relegated whilst a player they loaned out wins promotion is just bad PR – pure and simple.

It will certainly be interesting to see just where Targett ends up next season, and which division he will be playing in.

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Everton

Would Tottenham or Everton be the best move for Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand?

The 28-year-old has been linked with a move away from the south coast this summer.

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After being told by Southampton bosses that the club could not afford to lose both him and Virgil Van Dijk in the same season, this summer may finally see Ryan Bertrand depart Saint Mary’s.

The Sun report that Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle are among the clubs interested in a £25 million bid this summer, following on from Manchester City‘s attempts to lure him north last summer.

The 28-year-old has again shown himself to be a reliable Premier League defender this season but faces a tough choice on where to go next with a departure looking likely as the Saints struggle at the wrong end of the table.

With Tottenham and Everton leading the way, it may not be a simple choice for the versatile defender.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

A move to Spurs would provide the ex-Chelsea man with a return to the Champions League, a competition he won whilst with the Blues, but would also face more of a challenge to walk straight into the first team.

Ben Davies has been performing well at left-back, with Danny Rose also still at the club despite injury problems, and so he may be forced into a less comfortable role on the left of a back three, a position which Jan Vertonghen has made his own.

At Goodison Park, Bertrand can see his role as a leader in the team right from day one. With Leighton Baines not getting any younger, the club is clearly on the look-out for a replacement and he could be that man.

The doubt over a move to the Toffees would be regarding the instability at the club. Sam Allardyce’s future is anything but certain and Bertrand’s loyalty to his previous two clubs may mean he seeks a long-term project and avoid adding to the list of expensive failures that Everton racked up last summer.

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