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      OPPOSITION VIEW - SOUTHAMPTON Q&A


Ahead of Saturday's game at The Hawthorns, we caught up with Southampton fan Jack. He gives us his views on the Saints' excellent season so far, Shane Long, Ronald Koeman, and more. You can follow Jack on twitter
@_JackL_

It's been a fantastic season so far for the Saints and it's certainly come as a surprise to most neutrals, especially given the loss of a number of vital players last summer. Just how good has it been and did Southampton supporters genuinely expect such a good season?

Never in a million years did we expect to where we are but, as you say, it's been fantastic. We were in chaos before Koeman arrived with no direction or assurances from the board and it looked increasingly likely we'd be fighting for our lives this season with whatever squad was remaining. When Ronald Koeman arrived however, he brought calm to the situation and managed to do what the board couldn't - persuade key figures such as Morgan Schneiderlin to stay. He then replaced all those that left for half the price and we've never looked back!

Despite the excellent first half of the season, the club's form and results have dipped recently. Any particular reason behind it and is it being viewed as just a 'blip' or are there concerns the downturn could continue long-term?

It seems to have coincided with our second injury spell of the season. Important players such as Schneiderlin and Alderweireld picked up knocks and the team lost it's rhythm. Sadio Mane leaving for the Africa Cup of Nations, just when we were started to look a goal threat again also didn't help. Shane Long, who's often come off the bench and given us a different outlet going forward, punctured his lung and broke a couple of ribs at the same time (ouch!) which left us with only one fit striker. I'd say this was probably Koeman's only error since arriving - the inability not to bring in another striker in the January window. Graziano Pelle has looked tired and devoid of confidence (2 goals in 18 games) and the ball simply won't go in for us at the moment. Hopefully, with the injured players coming back, we can kick on again. 

The big question... Can you secure a top four finish?

I have my doubts, especially as our home form has been so poor recently. We haven't been playing well for a while now. In fact, I'd say our last decent performance was probably back on New Year's Day against Arsenal which isn't a sign of a side that's capable of finishing in the top four. Manchester United, despite playing poorly, have been getting results, as have Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool so if I had to call it now, I'd say we're more than likely going to finish below at least two of those. 

Fans must be delighted with what Ronald Koeman has done so far at the club, any fears he will be tempted away as Mauricio Pochettino was?

Pochettino never seemed that attached to us. He never once committed to the club during press conferences when asked about his future and to be fair, Tottenham have finally got it right in appointing him. Koeman has been superb though. He's used the Dutch market so well to bring in some really decent players and stabilised us when we seemed to be faltering so dramatically in the summer. He seems to have more of a plan B compared to Pochettino, too. That'll be needed in the coming weeks with our current tactics becoming a bit stale and predictable. Will he go? If the Dutch national team comes calling, you could hardly begrudge him the opportunity but I think he's here to stay for a while. What I have learned over the coming years is that, no matter how highly you think of a player, and when you support a team that isn't one of the 'big boys', never become too attached to a player or a manager. They can soon depart just when you look to be moving up to the next level.

How's former Albion striker Shane Long done for you so far?

As mentioned before, he's only just returned from a month or so out but when he's played, I've been impressed. His pace causes teams a lot of problems. His finishing lets him down at times though. If he was a bit more clinical and maybe added five goals or so to his tally every season, he'd be playing for a top team. A great option to have in the squad, of that there is little doubt.

Highlight of the season?

For us to have won at Old Trafford and that not be the highlight of the season speaks volumes about just how well we've done. The 8-0 win against Sunderland has to be the number one moment. As bad as the Black Cats were, we tore them to pieces with some great goals and flowing football. That result really made the league stand up and take notice that we were serious about competing with the best this season. I mean, EIGHT NIL. Wow.

Moment or game you would rather forget?

Sheffield United away in the Capital One Cup was definitely the low point. It's still the only away game I've been to this season, cruelly enough. We bowed out at the Quarter Final stage in miserable fashion, despite playing a strong team. Four thousand of us made the journey on a cold, wet Tuesday night in December and were 'treated' to the worst showing of the season. Out-fought on the night, we resorted to the type of long ball, scrappy football Sheffield United play and deserved to lose. At the time, it was our 5th defeat in a row, too. 

Player of the season?

Jose Fonte has really stepped up to the mark this season after Dejan Lovren's departure but in my opinion, Toby Alderweireld has been superb. Rumour has it that Manchester City want to buy him in the summer, so our chances of getting him permanently are slim unless we secure a top four place. We have the option to buy for a bargain 6.8m which we would undoubtedly like to take up, but it's just whether Toby would like to stay with us or not. His ability on the ball, in the air, and overall reading of the game has been a big reason (when he's fit and playing) why we have such a good defensive record.  In order, I'd say: 1. Alderweireld, 2. Fonte, 3. Ryan Bertrand.

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

None of the new signings have been overly disappointing, but Dusan Tadic has blown hot and cold since his blistering start to the campaign. Fraser Forster has been questionable over some of the goals we have conceded but he's still only 26 and should get better with more game time at this level. 

What tactics and line-up can we expect to see from Southampton on Saturday?

Personally, I'd like to see a change in the formation to a 3-5-2:

Forster; Fonte, Alderweireld (if fit), Yoshida; Clyne and Bertrand as WB's; Schneiderlin, Wanyama; Djuricic/Davis, Pelle, Mane.

Pelle is desperate for support up front and Mane playing off his hold up play worked well before the latter of the two went off the to AFCON. Our bench is looking strong for the first team in a while now, which is a real plus. Expect Long/Tadic/Elia to come on and make an impact.

Thoughts on and prediction for Saturday's game?

Our away form is strong at the moment but, as we're struggling to score and you guys are much better organised under Pulis, I'm not expecting many goals. Optimistic me says 1-0 Saints, but I'll go for 1-1.


 

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