In the last ten years Southampton’s youth development set-up has produced talents such as Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nathan Dyer, Kenwyne Jones, James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers. Twenty-five year old Adam Lallana is another prime example of the excellent work being done behind the scenes at St Mary’s. More…
Saturdays Roundup – March 1st, 2014
Fulham 1 – 3 Chelsea
Apparently Mourinho would have had no problem with Fulham beating Chelsea today if it meant that it would help their London neighbours to avoid relegation ….. Yeah okay Jose. Mourinho was again simply trying to deflect attention onto Fulham and away from his squad. Chelsea seem to be kicking into gear just at the right time of the season, as Ferguson’s United did for years. It was Felix Magath’s first home game in charge of Fulham after overseeing the 1-1 draw at West Brom last weekend.
Fulham had the earliest chance in a quiet first half. Sidwell crossed from the left and Clint Dempsey met it with his head but did not get enough on it, glancing it wide of the far post.
Fulham’s biggest issue in the first half was the sun. It played havoc with Stekelenburg in the Fulham goal. There were two occasions when Stekelenburg had not seen the advancing Torres. The first instance led to his clearance being kicked into Torres’ body but the block did not rebound well for Chelsea and Fulham survived. Then, minutes later, Stekelenburg was robbed of the ball in his own box as Torres appeared to sneak in amid the sun’s rays. Again, Torres could not provide the finish for Chelsea.
Fulham tested Cech before half-time with Kasami’s free-kick but it was easy for the Czech.
Torres did have another effort on goal before half-time. Oscar sent in a free-kick to the box. The ball eventually found its way wide to the right and Torres put in a decent shot but Stekelenburg was able to get his hands to it and push it wide.
In the second-half Chelsea took control. The superb Eden Hazard sent a ball down the right where Andre Schurrle advanced from deep. Schurrle headed the ball on in front of him brilliantly, allowing him to continue his run without having to reduce his speed. Schurrle got into the Fulham box and then placed a nice finish below the body of Stekelenburg.
Hazard was involved again moments later. The Belgian broke down the left and sent in a sublime, inverted cross (right foot connecting with the ball, around the back of his left foot). Torres met it at the back post with a header but Kieran Richardson did well to get his body in the way and deflect the effort wide.
Schurrle added made it 2-0 when Hazard played him through from a central position, finding the German who again finished calmly with a side-footed shot into the corner.
At this stage it was all Chelsea with Fulham hardly advancing or threatening at all.
Torres displayed strength in creating Chelsea’s third goal. He held off the attention from the Fulham defence before providing a good pass to put Schurrle clean through. Schurrle lifted his right-footed finish over the dive of Stekelenburg to ensure he would be taking home the match-ball.
Heitinga pulled one back for Fulham after Chelsea failed to clear from a corner. It was Heitinga’s first goal for Fulham.
Demba Ba made a late appearance and forced a save out of Stekelenburg, Ramires blazing the rebound over the bar.
It finished 3-1 to Chelsea and Mourinho’s star man of the season so far, Eden Hazard, continues to impress and drive the Blues towards the Premier League title.
Hull City 1 – 4 Newcastle United
Steve Bruce must be delighted with how his brand-new strike partnership of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic have gelled together in their first month. With their FA Cup run still intact and fresh off the back of a 4-0 away victory to Cardiff City in their last league outing, Hull went into this game as favourites. Newcastle were missing Coloccini who had returned to Argentina due to a family bereavement.
Hull had the earliest chance when Huddlestone’s cross from a deep-left position was met by the boss’s son, Alex Bruce. Krul denied Bruce twice however, first from the header and again when Bruce tried to poke him the rebound. It was a fantastic double-save from Krul and it was on the break from this that Newcastle pounced at the other end.
Great work on the right between Debuchy and Loic Remy ended with a Debuchy pull-back from the by-line. Moussa Sissoko had positioned himself perfectly twelve yards out and his first-time finish was perfect, high into the roof of the net.
Hull responded well, continuing to exert most of the pressure. Jelavic came close with a near-post header, which he should have at least hit the target with.
The Croatian International then hit the top of the crossbar with a deflected free-kick from just outside the box. Shane Long had won this free-kick with some very smart front-man play, enticing the foul.
Tom Huddlestone set Long away on the left with a great pass from his own half. Long twisted and turned on the left before sending in a perfect ball to the far post. Unfortunately the unmarked El Mohamady was not able to supply any kind of decent finish with his header.
Minutes later Figueroa made a calamitous error with a very short backpass, Remy reached it just before the oncoming McGregor. He tapped it around the Hull goalkeeper and went on to roll it into the empty net. Newcastle took that 2-0 lead into the half-time break.
Within two minutes of the restart Hull City were back in it. Huddlestone was the creator with another free-kick swung in from the left. Curtis Davies, up from the back, reached it just before Tim Krul who was caught in no-man’s land, advancing for a cross he did not connect with.
It was Newcastle who then took the game by the scruff of the neck however. Gouffran got a shot away from the edge of the box and McGregor could only play it into Sissoko’s path with his save. Sissoko tapped it home for his second of the day, making it 3-1.
Next it was Remy’s turn to force a save out of McGregor, and what a save. Remy fired in a brilliant left-footed strike and the Hull keeper tipped it over his crossbar at full stretch. From the resulting corner Gouffran managed a shot which was on its way in only for El Mohamady to clear it off the line.
Hull were staring defeat straight in the face now. Meyler chased a loose ball which went out for a throw at the dug-outs. The Irish-man pushed Alan Pardew as he was trying to retrieve the ball. Pardew, true to his character, reacted impulsively, squaring up to Meyler and putting in what I would call a “mini-headbutt” or some mild forehead-friction. There will be enough about this incident in the tabloids so let’s continue with the football.
After Pardew was sent to the stands, Newcastle saw the game out with ease, adding a fourth goal through Vernon Anita. Anita finished from the rebound after McGregor had stopped the initial shot from Dummet.
Stoke City 1 – 0 Arsenal
Arsenal went into this tricky fixture without a victory here in the last three seasons. Wenger must be turning most of his attention back to the Premier League now after the 2-0 home defeat to the reigning champions, Bayern Munich, during the week. Ozil was on the bench for the Gunners.
Stoke started brightly, Arnautovic and Nzonzi working very well together from midfield. Nzonzi and Walters combined down the right before playing Crouch in for a shot at the near post. The former England international snapped at his effort, sending it into the side-netting at the near post.
At the other end Podolski got a shot away from the left but sent it well wide. Arsenal were not creating anything to worry Begovic in the Stoke goal. Stoke’s Glenn Whelan had a shot from outside the box, Szczesny dived to his left and pushed it around the post.
Finally Arsenal tested Begovic with a Cazorla shot but it was straight at the goalkeeper. The first half ended 0-0.
The second half was not much better for the fans. Charlie Adam put in a free-kick from the left. Crouch found himself unmarked just 8 yards out but opted to stretch a leg at it rather than heading it home. He made no real connection and Szczesny gathered it.
Arnautovic was still troubling Arsenal and he played a great ball in from the left to the head of Crouch. The header was saved by Szczesny, conceding a corner in the process. From the corner Arsenal struggled to clear it and some Geoff Cameron blazed a close-range effort wide of the goal from six yards.
Walters then approached the Arsenal box from the right wing. The ball deflected between Walters and Koscielny, bouncing up onto the defenders arm. Stoke were awarded a penalty immediately. It was a very harsh penalty and does not look like there was much that Koscielny could have done to prevent this clearly-accidental handball.
Walters had missed four of his last six penalties. He did not miss this one though, placing it to the keepers left but Szczesny had already committed himself with a dive to his right.
Ozil and youngster Sanogo came on for Arsenal and both had chances to equalise. Ozil worked himself an opening at the edge of the box before shooting just wide of the far post. Sanogo had the best chance when the ball was pulled back to him inside the box. The young striker put his shot well over the bar however and that was the last sniff of goal the Gunners would get.
The result leaves Stoke in twelfth place, six points above the relegation zone and Arsenal are now third, four points off of leaders Chelsea.
Southampton 0 – 3 Liverpool
The Saints are the only team to have beaten Liverpool at Anfield this season. Pochettino’s men were in 9th position before today’s game, seventeen points behind Liverpool. Rodgers’ Reds have been nothing if not exciting to watch this season. Unfortunately that excitement has been at both ends with the defence leaking at least two goals per game on regular occasions. Sterling was dropped for Joe Allen as Rodgers’ looked for ways to deal with Southampton’s creative midfield. Lovren returned in defence for Southampton after six weeks out through injury. It was Luis Suarez’s 100th league game for Liverpool.
After six minutes Henderson sent Sturridge away down the right. Sturridge tried to pick out Suarez with his pass across the six yard box but Lovren reached it, just about, taking it off of Suarez’s toe. Southampton had a shout for a penalty denied after Lallana and Flanagan collided just inside the box, but it was deemed to have been a fair shoulder-challenge.
Southampton did most of the pushing in the first half an hour but as ever Liverpool looked dangerous on the break. Suarez had not scored in five matches so was eager as ever while Sturridge was on a streak of seven scoring appearances in a row in the league.
Just after the half-hour mark Suarez and Sturridge tried to play a one-two into the Southampton box. Sturridge’s return pass was misplaced but fortunately for Liverpool the Southampton defenders made a hash of the clearance. The ball ricocheted into the path of Suarez who placed his first-time finish perfectly inside the post, just beyond the dive of Artur Boruc.
A few minutes later and Southampton almost equalised. Rodriguez sent in a cross from the right, Lambert chested it down brilliantly to Lallana. The number 20 controlled it with one touch and with his second placed it past Mignolet only to see it deflect away off of the post. Two minutes after that and Southampton threatened again, this time down the left. The excellent Luke Shaw broke forward in a Gareth Bale-esque surge. Shaw passed to Lambert who was on the penalty-spot. Lambert showed fantastic awareness with a clever dummy to let the ball run to the unmarked Rodriguez at the back post. Rodriguez hit it first time but Mignolet pulled off a fine save down low to his right. The save was all the more impressive after Mignolet had to dive back towards the side he had been coming from initially. Southampton were unlucky to go in 1-0 down at half-time.
In the second half Liverpool seemed to gain more control and were very professional in their approach. Rodgers had made the tactical change late in the first-half of bringing Henderson to more of a right-midfielder role. This appears to have been to assist Flanagan in coping with the threat that Lallana was providing for Southampton.
It worked well and Lallana was noticeably less involved in the second-half. Liverpool brought Sterling in for Coutinho before the hour mark. Coutinho had been impressive and this move may have been to test the Saints’ defence with Sterling’s pace just as they would have been tiring.
Whatever the reason, it worked well as Sterling scored with his first touch of the ball. Gerrard played Suarez through in the inside-right position, Suarez spotted Sterling’s late run into the box and pulled it back to the youngster. Sterling put it powerfully past Boruc. Liverpool were in control now and Southampton never looked like threatening Mignolet again.
Liverpool created more chances: Sturridge put an effort across the face of goal after taking the ball to a very tight angle after rounding Boruc; Gerrard broke from midfield and tried a shot from twenty-five yards which Boruc tipped around the post; Suarez had a shot direct from a corner which was saved by Boruc; Henderson played Suarez in on the right but his shot went just wide of the far post.
In the last few minutes Suarez was in space on the left-hand side. After receiving the ball he took on Fonte, turning to his right and then back to his left as he entered the box. Fonte was too slow in following Suarez’s turn and he left his foot in and connected with Suarez. Down he went and it was a penalty to Liverpool. Gerrard put a super penalty into the top-right corner of the night above Boruc who had at least guessed the correct side.
Liverpool jumped to 2nd place with the win, four points behind Chelsea. A top-four spot seems to be close to guaranteed now for the Red’s and Merseyside must be dreaming of the possibility of a first league title since 1990. Southampton remain in 9th position. Pochettino must be wary of his team drifting into auto-pilot for the rest of the season as they are eight points ahead of 10th placed West Ham and four behind Newcastle.
Of recent weeks Everton have seemed to run out of steam in their push for a top-four spot. Roberto Martinez has had a fantastic first season in charge, bringing his passing-and-pressing style to the role. It certainly bodes well for the future at Goodison Park.
The game itself was a mostly dull, tight affair. Romelu Lukaku got the only goal of the game and his first since returning from the injury he sustained in January. The win keeps Everton in sixth place, two points behind Spurs. West Ham remain in 10th position.
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Back from the Brink
The LMA Vice-President and former Southampton boss, Lawrie McMenemy, voiced his concerns after Nigel Adkins’ surprise dismissal on January 18th 2013.
“With due respect to Pochettino, what does he know about our game? What does he know about the Premier League?”
McMenemy’s feelings on the matter were indicative of those of the majority of Saints fans on hearing the news. As is common-place these days social media was where the opinions of most supporters could be heard.
“Is this the worst managerial sacking of all time?”
“Football has gone CRAZY again!!”
“I don’t think there is a Saints fan who isn’t ashamed of their club right now. Scandalous and downright wrong decision”.
“Back to back promotions, unbeaten in 5, & 15th in Premier League, apparently = grounds for dismissal!”
From Zero to Hero
Nigel Adkins had been a relative unknown during his goalkeeping career. He played for Tranmere Rovers from 1983 until 1986; he then joined Wigan Athletic where he stayed until 1993. He wound down his playing career with BangorCity from 1993 until 1996. It was with the Welsh club that he also took his first steps into management, signing as player-manager initially.
Adkins led BangorCity to two consecutive Welsh league titles in 1994 and 1995 before leaving the club in 1996. He moved to Scunthorpe United as the first-team physio.
The man from Birkenhead spent ten years as the physio at The Iron. In November 2006 Adkins was appointed caretaker manager following the end of Brian Laws’ second managerial spell at the club. Laws left Scunthorpe to take the managers role at Sheffield Wednesday.
Adkins immediately guided Scunthorpe to the Championship by securing promotion with three matches to spare that season. They went on to win the League One title that season.
The next season Adkins could not keep his team in the Championship but he secured promotion again the following season, and clung on to Championship survival with a 20th place finish in the 2009/10 term.
Oh, when the Saints….
It was on 12 September 2010, when Adkins joined Southampton. Again Adkins led his team to promotion at the first time of asking. They finished 2nd in League One, three points behind champions Brighton and five ahead of their nearest challengers, HuddersfieldTown. Rickie Lambert, who had been signed from Bristol Rovers in 2009, was their top scorer with twenty-one goals. Costing the club a relatively cheap £800,000, Lambert would go on to be one of Southampton’s most notable bargains in recent years.
In the 2011/12 season instead of struggling with the step up to the Championship a successive promotion followed, this time to the glistening heights of the Premier League. Southampton also finished 2nd that season, securing automatic promotion behind champions Reading. Again Lambert finished as top scorer with twenty-seven league goals for the Saints.
In August 2012 Southampton played their first top flight game since May 2005. As luck would have it they had to travel to the reigning Premier League champions, ManchesterCity. The Saints gave a great account of themselves and just lost out 3-2 in the end. Unfortunately the results did not pick up and Adkins’ men could only manage five points from their opening eleven games. They seemed to turn it around for a spell after that with only two defeats in their next twelve league games. This improvement lifted Southampton to 15th position, three points clear of the relegation zone.
The light at the end of the tunnel was nearing for Adkins and his team, or so he thought. After another spirited performance at StamfordBridge, salvaging a 2-2 draw from being 2-0 down, Adkins was dismissed. This took most fans by surprise. Just when their leader seemed to have got the team performing at a level that could secure Premier League survival, he gets sacked.
To understand this decision we need to learn some more about the man who made it.
The Sanity of Saint Cortese
When Markus Liebherr completed his purchase of Southampton in 2009 he appointed the Italian-born Swiss banker, Nicola Cortese as Executive Chairman. Cortese was to take over the day-to-day running of the club.
In August 2010 Markus Liebherr passed away. Less than a month later Cortese sacked Alan Pardew and brought in Adkins as his replacement. Liebherr’s daughter, Katharina, became the rightful owner of the club in her fathers wake. Communication between Katharina Liebherr and Nicola Cortese is thought to have broken down at some stage in late 2010, more on this later.
Nicola Cortese is one of a rare breed; a Chairman who knows his football and has the clubs best interests at heart. Along with Markus Liebherr, Cortese saved Southampton from liquidation in 2009. Under his guidance they are now an established force in the Premier League, having said that Cortese was described as “an embarrassment” by fans and former players alike after dismissing Nigel Adkins in January 2013.
“I’m shocked at the timing, it’s very strange and it’s an odd thing to come to terms with today,” said Saints legend Matt Le Tissier. ”It seems to be the way the club’s being run under the chairman. Nothing’s surprising and it’s a bit of a laughing stock.”
That was damning and, it must be said, extremely harsh and short-sighted criticism coming from Le Tissier. However, I am working with the advantage of 20:20 hindsight.
Cortese is a perfectionist, as are so many of the larger personalities in sports. This man has brought his fantastic business acumen and transferred its uses to that of running a growing football club. He immersed himself in the daily running of the club from day one. Cortese has overseen the design and building of Southampton’s new training ground which they are due to move into this coming summer. The club has a fantastic scouting set-up along with a youth system devoted to developing the best in English talent.
It is this need to achieve the ultimate standard in everything he is involved in that leads to the dynamic goals in Cortese’s vision. Nigel Adkins served his purpose well for Cortese but the Chairman then felt that the manager could not take the Saints any higher.
Faith in an out-of-favour manager
The next step for Southampton called for ex-Argentinian defender, Mauricio Pochettino. Pochettino is probably best remembered for his long hair and penalty-conceding challenge on Michael Owen at the 2002 World Cup. The centre-half made twenty International appearances and spent ten years of his seventeen year professional career at Spanish club, Espanyol.
Pochettino went on to manage Espanyol from January 2009 until November 2012. His contract was then terminated “by mutual consent”. He had managed to lead Espanyol to a comfortable position in his three full seasons there but his sacking came when Espanyol were bottom of La Liga with only nine points from thirteen matches.
Cortese took the brave step of bringing Pochettino in to replace the fans favourite Nigel Adkins. Pochettino had to step in and replace the man that had led the Saints to two successive promotions in the most recent two seasons. Comments such as the starting statement in this piece from Lawrie McMenemy were common-place and not without substance.
The Southampton Chairman however had been impressed by what he had seen from the Argentine’s leadership qualities. Also, it is worth remembering that Cortese is a more hands-on Chairman than the usual “suits” we see at the helm these days. Therefore Pochettino’s style also played a part in Cortese’s decision. He wanted his team to adapt Pochettino’s possession-based, high-pressing approach to each game, no matter who the opponents.
Cortese stated that “Mauricio … is an astute tactician and an excellent man-manager”. Pochettino recognised before arriving how important Cortese was to the Saints, “He has a clear vision aimed at starting a new era of sustained success in the Premier League and beyond”.
Pochettino’s first game in charge was a 0-0 home draw against Everton; his first win as boss was on the 9th of February, a memorable 3-1 victory against then reigning Champions, ManchesterCity.
Southampton went on to finish in 14th position in the Premier League in May 2013. Pochettino had them playing his way, the way Cortese wanted, and relegation was never really a danger to them in the second half of the season.
The Saints started the current season strongly and were as high as 3rd position back in November. A poor run from late November until January saw them win only two of their next ten league games. Even after that poor form however Southampton are sitting pretty in 9th position at the time of writing. They are seven points clear of 10th place HullCity.
Pochettino’s squad now boasts at least ten full International players. Regularly impressive performers such as Lallana, Rodriguez, Lambert, Schneiderlin, Lovren, Clyne and Shaw look like they’ve played in the Premier League for years. It will be interesting to see how high these players can take their team in the coming years if they stay at St Mary’s.
And nothing remains the same. On January 15th 2014 Nicola Cortese officially left his position as Executive Chairman of Southampton FC. The owner, Katharina Liebherr, named herself as his immediate replacement in the role. She will be acting in a non-executive role, aiming to appoint a CEO in the coming months.
“With great regret we have accepted the resignation of Mr Cortese. He has done a wonderful job and we very much wanted him to stay.”
That was the official statement from Ms Liebherr but her relationship with Cortese had broken down shortly after the death of her father, Markus, in late 2010.
After Mr Liebherr’s passing Nicola Cortese stated that “well-laid plans” that had been agreed with the late owner would “continue to be implemented uninterrupted”. However Katharina Liebherr wished to sell the club her father had purchased through Cortese in 2009. Cortese initially considered resigning in May 2013 and only stayed on after being assured by Ms Liebherr that she would not actively seek a buyer for Southampton. The issue raised its head again in the autumn though and Cortese actually submitted his resignation in November 2013 with Southampton flying high in 3rd position.
Saints fans now have to deal with the very real prospect of Pochettino following Cortese out of St Mary’s.
“I would not understand staying in this role if Nicola was not here” said Pochettino shortly after he arrived at Southampton. “The person who actually called me from the start, told me about the project and put faith in me was Nicola.”
It has been a rollercoaster ride since 2009, from the brink of administration in the depths of League One to the heights of the Premier League and possible European qualification. This week’s events could have a huge bearing on where Southampton head in the near future. Will the wheels come off? Will Pochettino stay past this summer? If he does will he be able to keep their key players now that Cortese has gone? Will Katharina Liebherr carry through with her wish to sell the south coast club?
Only time will tell but it promises to be an interesting new chapter on your journey, Saints fans, enjoy it!
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