The Great Wall: Fraser Forster the not so lowdown

Well, it wasn’t quite as draw out a transfer saga as the ‘Victor Wanyama Episode’ last summer, but with Celtic’s Champion’s League reprieve it began to feel like it would never happen, but he is here and I think everyone involved is relieved!

Welcome to St. Mary’s Fraser Forster!

Linking up again with Goalkeeping coach Dave Watson from the England setup, Forster has built a formidable record as Celtic goalkeeper, breaking records along the way and now the stopper ranks at Saints look to have far more depth.

As is now tradition I spoke to those who know more about him than me and caught up with Celtic blogger Stephen Taylor from Drop of the Shoulder and Norwich City fan and Club Metro colleague Gary Gowers from My Football Writer to get the not so low (he’s 6’7″) down.

What can you tell us about Forster from his time with your club?

ST ‘Fraser has developed into a top goalkeeper during his time in Glasgow. He arrived at Celtic from Newcastle in the summer of 2010, initially on loan, having just been awarded the Norwich Players’ Player of the Year award the previous season (coming second in the Supporters’ award), and claimed the Macron Golden Gloves Award for keeping the highest number of clean sheets in League One, 18 in 38 appearances.At just 22 years old, some fans, myself included, were a bit wary that our new number one had played just one full season of first team football, especially with it being in League One. However, Forster displayed his capabilities that year, keeping 24 clean sheets from 44 appearances in all competitions. At times he looked his age though, he seemed quiet for a goalkeeper, often afraid to come off his line to claim the ball, and while he was a giant of a man, standing at 6 ft 7 in, he did not possess the commanding physique that he does now.In his second season with Celtic, again on loan from Newcastle, he continued in much the same vein, a very impressive shot stopper, this time earning 26 clean sheets from 47 games, but still culpable to high balls into the box.It wasn’t until Fraser was signed on a permanent basis in 2012 that I believe he really began to fulfil his potential. I don’t know whether it was the added confidence that being trusted with a four year deal had given him, or if it was merely because he had spent the past two seasons as Celtic’s number 1, but Forster seemed to have much more of a presence about him. The SPL is obviously the bread and butter of a Celtic players’ season, but it is the Champions League nights that the fans really crave, and this was where Forster stepped up to the plate. As fourth seeds in the group stage, and being drawn against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, we had no right to qualify for the Last 16, and without Forster in goal we would have had no chance. His performance in the famous 2-1 win over Barcelona at Celtic Park was inspired. He was like a man possessed with the Spanish press labelling him “La Gran Muralla” or “The Great Wall”. Messi and co. could not believe their luck as Forster denied them again and again. The stats from the game read that Barcelona had 14 shots on target, the fact that Fraser only finally succumbed to a stoppage time Lionel Messi rebound having pulled off yet another great save tells you all you need to know about his performance that day. It wasn’t just in the victory over Barcelona that Forster showed his class though. I was at both the Nou Camp and the Estadio da Luz for our away fixtures against Barca and Benfica where Fraser kept us in both games, almost clinching us a famous point in the Nou Camp with another majestic display.The season just past was not a great one for Celtic. We were outclassed and embarrassed at times in the Champions League, yet in that competition Forster was still our one shining light. Our solitary victory came at home to Ajax and once again Forster earned us that 3 points with some big saves, including a late one v one with the Ajax man looking certain to score.

In the league Forster kept a Scottish record 13 clean sheets in a row, culminating in 1256 minutes, just 55 short of Edwin van der Saar’s all-time UK record. I know people may think it is easy to keep clean sheets playing for Celtic, especially since Rangers demise has left the SPL a one team league, but if you have seen us play over recent years you will have noted how ropey our defending is at times, and on numerous occasions it has been left to Forster to bail them out.’

GG ‘Top goalkeeper. He was at City, on loan from Newcastle, during the 2009/10 season and was brilliant. Paul Lambert had a dabble in trying to keep him but, at that time, him and Tim Krul were vying for the no 1 shirt at St James’.Eventually they decided Krul was the man but by then John Ruddy had been acquired from Everton to be City’s no 1, and Fraser disappeared north of the border.But the ghost of Forster remained for some time and coupled with Ruddy’s slow start here, many fans yearned for Fraser – which was never going to happen.He’s still remembered very fondly in these parts.’

Does he have any particular strengths and weaknesses we should be aware of?

ST ‘Forster is a great shot stopper. He will always save the shots he should be saving, and more often then not pull out one of his giant paws to stop what had seemed a certain goal. He is also very good in one on one situations. I have countless memories of Fraser staying big to out fox the striker as they bare down on goal. Another major strength is he seems to rise to the occasion. The big games are when you can count on Forster to turn up. The Spanish press have been so impressed with him, in what seem to be our yearly meetings with Barcelona, that as well as dubbing him “La Gran Muralla” they also awarded him with the “El Oscar” award last season, which is a weekly prize given to a footballer for outstanding contribution to their team. I would also say Forster is very good at saving penalties. It seemed as though we waited about two years for him to save one, yet since then I can barely remember the ball going past him from the spot. In fact, even though we were granted a 3-0 victory over Legia Warsaw in the second leg of our Champions League qualifier following their fielding of a suspended player (thank you UEFA!), we would still have gone out were it not for Forster saving one of two missed penalties from Legia in the first game. Remember what I said about being a man for the big occasion?Regarding weaknesses, Forster still can be susceptible to crosses into the box, especially a quick, whipped in delivery, although I am not sure what goalkeepers are good at dealing with them. His kicking can also be a weakness at times. Since he first joined Celtic it is clear that he has been trained to use both feet when clearing the ball, often alternating between left and right foot for goal kicks. The only problem is where they go, when he strikes them cleanly he can send them to the opposite end of the field without any problems, and at times they can be pin point, but on the odd occasion with a striker chasing him down he has been known to scuff a clearance straight into the path of an opposing player. The worst part is it seems that once he has done a few poor clearances he can lose his head and begin lashing waywardly at the ball.’

GG ‘His all-round game is excellent and, as you would expect of someone of his stature, he commands his penalty area superbly. He is also a brilliant shot stopper. The only weakness I can recall is his kicking off the ground, which was a bit wayward. I’d expect that to have been rectified by now.’
Friends Reunited.

Friends Reunited.

Despite England recognition, having spent the majority of the career in the SPL, some are worried he might not have been tested. Do you think he is ready for the Premier League?

ST ‘Without a shadow of a doubt. As I have said previously, Forster rises to the occasion. He seems to relish the added pressure that the big games bring and I believe he will step up to the increased quality of opposition he will be facing without too much difficulty at all. I have witnessed him produce incredible displays against the best teams in the world over the past two seasons so have no worries about his ability to perform in the Premier League. If anything his worst displays at Celtic have come in games were he has not been involved much and has appeared disinterested or bored. ‘

GG ‘I don’t have even the slightest hesitation that he’s ready for the Premier League. In my view he was ready for the PL four seasons ago. If he pitches up at St Mary’s he’ll be brilliant. You’ll love him and wonder why he’s been so overlooked by England for so long.’

What have you made of Saints’ turbulent summer?

ST ‘I have felt for Southampton fans this summer. As a Celtic supporter I know all about what it’s like to lose your star players. The difference with Southampton though, is it appears you are going to reinvest the money you have brought in. Tadic and Taider look promising, exciting young players, and I believe Forster will be a great signing for you (does this mean we can have Boruc back?) As long as you continue to replace quality with quality I believe you will continue to progress.It was a shame to see Pochettino leave for Spurs but in Ronald Koeman you have a great footballing man who has managed some top clubs and won trophies along the way. I also have big expectations for another of your ex-Celtic contingent, Victor Wanyama, this year. I know he didn’t set the world alight last season, but fit and on form he can control a midfield with his sheer strength; I have witnessed him bully Xavi and Iniesta with my own eyes. You must continue to replace the key men you have lost, if you do that then I don’t see why it can’t be another great year for Southampton. ‘

GG ‘I really feel for you. To lose a couple is understandable for clubs the size of ours, but when it turns into a mass exodus that hurts. But Koeman is a shrewd operator and I expect him to spend the money wisely even if it’s occasionally on players you’ve barely heard of!To coin a phrase, you really have been victims of your own success but, if nothing else, it’ll make the visit of Liverpool a tasty one. I hope you batter them.’
 
Club & Country colleagues.

Club & Country colleagues.

There has been talk of Virgil van Dijk making the move from Celtic Park to Saints to. Has there been much talk at your end?

ST ‘Yes, there’s been a lot of talk in the Scottish press and the gossip column’s regarding van Dijk’s potential move to Southampton. He is one player I really do not want to see leave. van Dijk is a classy ball-playing centre half who alongside Forster and Commons stood out like a sore thumb in the SPL last season. He is young and hungry, and after being snubbed by van Gaal for the dutch World Cup squad I can see him leaving in order to gain international recognition. I just hope we can keep him for another year. If he is to go this summer though I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing him joining Boruc, Forster and Wanyama on the south coast. I guess we owed you some good ones after Jos Hooiveld and Danny Fox.’

There has been talk of Nathan Redmond making the move from Carrow Road to Saints to. Has there been much talk at your end?

GG ‘Hands off! Redmond has potential to be a fantastic player, although he’s a little way off at the moment. His final ball and decision making still need work, but the raw materials are there for a future England player.He’s a little like Raheem Sterling in his playing style but probably a year or two behind him in terms of his development.If he does come to St Mary’s he’ll both frustrate you and have you on the edge of your seat. He’s that type of player, but will one for day go on to play for a top six side in my opinion.’

So there we have it! Another new face at St. Mary’s and finally it would seem we have competition for the number one spot!
Chris

Advertisements

Ryan, Like a Lion, In Bayern: Bertrand Signs for Saints!

While Liverpool are busy signing Johnstone Paint Trophy winners, Saints sprung the surprise of the summer with one the papers didn’t get hold of, bringing Champion’s League winner Ryan Bertrand to the club from Chelsea on a season long loan with the option of a permanent move. Interestingly the Merseyside club had been trying to secure a deal for the defender but couldn’t agree a fee.

With Luke Shaw gone to Man United, left back was clearly somewhere the club lacked depth and Bertrand who started for the Blues in their triumph over Bayern Munich in 2012 looks a solid signing.

As always, through the heady mixture of ignorance and laziness I have got two experts to give us the lowdown on the new man.

I caught up with Chelsea fan David Dickson and given that Bertand has spent most of his Stamford Bridge career on loan, Aston Villa fan, freelance football writer and Club Metro colleague Andrew Raeburn.

Bertrand started in Chelsea’s Champion’s League final win, but has never made it as a regular at Stamford Bridge. What did you make of him?

DD ‘Firstly, Bertrand will always, always receive a hero’s welcome back at Stamford Bridge, especially now he hasn’t been shipped off to Liverpool and had to perform the ‘biggest club in the world’ PR initiative in his first interview. I remember the slightly baffled/borderline stunned reaction to hearing his name in the starting line-up that night in Munich from all involved, and his outstanding performance against Bayern in his first ever European appearance for anybody is testament to the balls the guy has. He always struck me as a try-hard; far from a player likely to dislodge Ashley Cole from his throne but enough about him to carry on regardless, taking his opportunities when they arose.’

Bertrand spent some time at Villa last season. What did you make of him?

AR ‘Left-back had been a massive problem for us in the first half of the season, so when Bertrand came in we were all chuffed, considering his background and pedigree (starting in the CL final, etc). He was excellent on his debut in a 2-2 draw at Liverpool, and had several other good games early in his loan spell. But after having to sit out our 1-0 win over his parent club in March (when Joe Bennett came in and was excellent at left-back), Bertrand really struggled. Partly this was down to our own defensive naivety, which appeared to infect him too at times and partly it was down to being shunted between left-back, left midfield and left wing-back. But there were occasions when he was our weakest link. I’d say overall he was solid without ever being spectacular, but disappointed because he was never as good as his Chelsea background suggested he should be.’

What would you say are his significant strengths and weaknesses?

DD ‘As stated previously, Ryan seems to enjoy a complete lack of fear on the big occasion. Following Munich, he was thrown into some of the bigger games towards the end of the (sigh) Rafa Benitez era and performed with similar aplomb. He is quick, with the ability to go forward at pace, whilst also reading the game relatively well, but his defensive ability seems to suffer as a result. He never seemed particularly strong and, as a result, his ability to simply make a tackle never really stood out. He would, on occasion, be caught out of position too, but when pushing up in a good, attacking side, this may be expected and can be forgiven.’

AR ‘One of the real plusses of his loan spell was how well he got forward and linked up with Fabian Delph on the left hand side of Villa’s central three in midfield. His crossing can be hit and miss but he knows which passes to pick out. Defensively, he struggled when isolated one-on-one. Whereas on his debut at Liverpool he was excellent against Raheem Sterling, who runs straight at people, he was given a real examination a couple of weeks later by Everton’s Aiden McGeady, had problems with Ashley Young and got into all sorts of bother against Stewart Downing. Unlike Sterling, all three of those dared to cut inside and go outside to try and beat him. It may be he just needs more support defensively.’

Bertrand the winner.

Bertrand the winner.

Do you see him as a player that has yet to reach his full potential, having been backup at Chelsea for some time?

DD ‘Sad as it is to say, but I feel his potential may not extend beyond his exploits for Chelsea. He still has a decent ten years left in him, obviously, but Ryan seems to be caught between not being technically good enough for a top side, but not able to defend well enough for a less-than-top side. He was exceptionally popular at Norwich, Reading and Forest by the sounds of things, and has long outgrown being a Championship player, but it is hard to see him doing anything but bouncing between mid-table clubs unless someone devotes the time to getting the best out of him. In a Chelsea side with Ashley Cole and the resources to bring in more experienced and better overseas players after Cole’s departure, that role was never going to be taken up by Mourinho, Benitez, Di Matteo…etc. (I’m sure this article has a word limit, so I won’t list them all).’

AR ‘Very much so. Until his loan spell at Villa, he had never really been given a proper run of starts at Premier League level, which is what you need to develop. Obviously he’s had his path blocked by one of the best left-backs England has ever seen, so he’s been unlucky in that regard. Until Cesar Azpilicueta became Ashley Cole’s main backup, Bertrand could never be sent on loan so he had to bide his time. He started 14 PL games in 2012-13 but all in blocks of three or four, never enough to make a mark or develop your game. I actually saw his only Chelsea start last season as well, by sheer coincidence. I was covering the Chelsea-Cardiff game for West London Sport and in the player ratings described Bertrand’s display as: “Always keen, got up and down and provided solid support for Eden Hazard but lacks the self-assurance and attacking penetration of Ashley Cole.” Trouble is, after a half-season of regular games at Villa, I’ve seen no improvement on that. However, I do think he just needs to settle down somewhere, as a trusted, starting left-back and get a full season of regular games under his belt. The only time he’s done that was for Reading in the Championship five years ago.’

Bertrand the Saint.

Bertrand the Saint.

What do you make of the goings on at Saints this summer?

DD ‘I find it all relatively extraordinary. Yes, players from unexpectedly successful sides are regularly burgled (arf) by sides with larger budgets the following season, but the sheer extent to which Liverpool (and seemingly, Spurs) have pilfered every player with ability you have is far beyond anything I’ve seen since the great Leeds exodus of the early 2000s. Ronald Koeman has moved in, and shortly after someone has nicked his fridge, shed, boiler and roof. I am sure there are financial nuances (zzz) to this masterplan, but it is hard to see how any replacements could fill the gaps that have been left and this season could be a real struggle for you chaps, unfortunately. You’re quite nice when you’re not moaning about little smoke bombs…’

AR ‘It’s inevitable really, once the bigger clubs started circling. We got the same treatment after coming 6th three years in a row under Martin O’Neill (you were trifling with the likes of Exeter and Stockport at the time, how things change!). We couldn’t keep Gareth Barry (£12m) and James Milner (£26m) away from Man City, nor Ashley Young (£17m) from Man Utd, nor Stewart Downing (£20m) from Liverpool. The only difference was it didn’t happen all in the same summer. Sometimes that can be worse, as it appears to the fans the club won’t ever keep hold of their best players. But that’s the way football is these days – even Everton, who contend for the Champions League spots, wouldn’t be able to prevent their top talent leaving if the title challengers came knocking. The important thing is reinvesting the money you earn, otherwise you end up like us. I can see why some Saints fans may be angry – it seems, from the outside, that the club isn’t doing much to stop the top players moving on. But when players sense the grass is greener (or their agent convinces them it might be) then you can’t stop them. Speaking of which…’

 
Can we have some other Chelsea players? Please.

DD ‘Rickie Lambert’s gone. You need to replace him with another reliable goal-machine. We have this lad, Fernando… And I’ll bloody drive Ramires to you.’

Can we have Ron Vlaar? Please.

AR ‘No. Leave Concrete Ron alone, please. He’s got a phobia of the sea, anyway. Hopefully.’

So there we have it. Thanks to David and Andrew for their contributions. Let’s hope I need some more contributors soon!
Chris

The Winners of the 2013/14 Ali’s! The Results are in!

So that is the end of another fantastic season following Saints! No season would be officially over though without a spate of reviews and awards.

This site is no different and yet again the response to this years Ali awards has been fantastic, and this is what is up for grabs:-

ali_trophy

 

So without further ado, here are YOUR winners….

Player of the Year

This was calculated like so:- Each player got 2 points for a vote as winner and one point for a vote as runner up. Here are all those that received votes and their points percentage.

Scored points:- Rickie Lambert (< 1%), Victor Wanyama (<1%), Jose Fonte (<1%), Artur Boruc (<1%), Nathaniel Clyne (<1%), Morgan Schneiderlin (2%), Jack Cork (5%), Steven Davis (6%), Luke Shaw (7%).

3rd Place:- Dejan Lovren (13%)

2nd Place:- Jay Rodriguez (18%)

And the winner, making it a clean sweep in all Player of the Season awards, and about to find out for certain that he is off to Brazil! With a whopping 46% of the points……Adam Lallana!

Finally! Lallana has an Ali!

Finally! Lallana has an Ali!

Most Improved Player

The beauty of this award is that everyone interprets it differently. Some went for an overall improvement on last season, while others voted for those who improved over the course of the campaign.

Received Votes:- Whole Squad, Victor Wanyama. Sam Gallagher, Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Jack Cork, Dejan Lovren, Steven Davis, Luke Shaw.

3rd Place:- Calum Chambers (11%)

2nd Place:- Jose Fonte (31%)

And the winner, retaining the same award that he one last season, after a fantastic season in which he finished top scorer. With 37% of the votes…..Jay Rodriguez!

Two times winner! Jay Rodriguez!

Two times winner! Jay Rodriguez!

Young Player of the Year

A new award this season, though why, considering how good this club’s youth system is, I haven’t done it before is beyond me!

Received Votes:- Harrison Reed

3rd Place:- James Ward-Prowse & Sam Gallagher (2% each)

2nd Place:- Calum Chambers (15%)

And the winner, having broken into the England squad in time for the World Cup and turning the heads of the big clubs, it could only be. With 80% of the votes….Luke Shaw!

Shaw-ly off to Brazil?

Shaw-ly off to Brazil?

Unsung Hero

Received Votes:- Mauricio Pochettino, Guly, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Artur Boruc, Nathaniel Clyne, Morhan Schniederlin, Victor Wanyama.

3rd Place:- Jose Fonte (7%)

2nd Place:- Jack Cork (17%)

And the winner is, after a season in which he has proved crucial to the way Saints play. With 60% of the votes…..Steven Davis!

sdavis

Signing of the Season

2nd Place:- Victor Wanyama (8%)

And the winner with a ridiculous 92% of the votes is the ever dependable centre half and absolute bargain ant £8.5 million….Dejan Lovren!

dlovren

Performance of the Season (Team or Individual)

Received Votes:- Team v Everton (h), Team v Man City (h), Team v Arsenal (h), Team v Fulham (a), Team v Hull (h), Pochettino’s season, Wanyama v WBA (a), Lovren v Liverpool (a), Back Four all season, Clyne v Everton (h), Schneiderlin v Arsenal (h), Team v Man Utd (a), Lallana v Newcastle (h), Team v Palace (a), Team v Fulham (h), Guly v Yeovil, The Groundsmen, Chambers v Man City (h).

3rd Place:- Lallana v Hull (h) (9%)

2nd Place:- Team v Newcastle (h) (22%)

And the winner is, a memorable day early in the season in which a team that hammered plenty this season were made to look very ordinary. With 29% of the votes……Team v Liverpool at Anfield!

Anfield celebrations

The Ali Dia Award for Comedy Moment

It says everything about the gallows humour of being a Saints fan that this award always comes with most varied answers. Brace yourselves….

Received Votes:- #Scarfgate, Boruc’s headstand against Arsenal, Linesman missing David Silva offside at Man City, Jason Puncheon’s poo break (last season but still funny to someone), Pochettino’s interview after Man City, #lovrenlive tweets, Hooiveld & Fox v Spurs, Boat capsizing in the Thames at HT v Fulham, Pochettino’s interview after Everton game, Newcastle fans video after St. Mary’s mauling, Jack Wilshire bouncing off Wanyama, MELTDOWN, Asimir Begovic Goal at Stoke, Dani Osvaldo, Dani Osvaldo on the touchline at Newcastle, Training nutmeg videos, Ref getting slapped in the face at Newcastle, Lovren’s injured testicles, Rodriguez scoring on his arse at Palace, Boruc and the waterbottle (again last season), Lambert’s goal v Swansea, Paul Lambert claiming Villa deserved their victory at St. Mary’s, Fulham, Mark Clattenburg (take your pick), Lovren’s tweet about Peter Crouch, Americans watching Saints because of Jozy Altidore, Villa fans ‘We pay your benefits’, Toni Jiminez kicking off, Lambert’s miss at Sunderland, Team selection for FA Cup at Sunderland, Masks at Swansea, Schneiderlin dumping Yaya Toure on his arse, Lovren getting spanked.

2nd Place:- Wanyama’s disallowed goal celebration against Swansea & Everton’s double O.G. at St. Mary’s (Both 12%).

And the winner, with 24% of the votes, not so funny at the time but hard not see the amusing die now…..Artur Boruc’s ‘Cruyff turns’ at Arsenal!

dia-awards-Boruc

Best Opposition Team

Received Votes:- Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton, Sunderland.

3rd Place:- Arsenal (5%)

2nd Place:- Liverpool (31%)

And the winner is, the only team that outplayed Saints twice this season. With 57% of the votes……Chelsea!

willian

Best Opposition Player

Received Votes:- Christian Eriksen (Spurs), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), Oscar (Chelsea), David Marshall (Cardiff City), Willian (Chelsea), David Elliott (Newcastle United), Officials, Emmanuel Adebayor (Spurs), David Silva (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jussi Jaskeleinan (West Ham United), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Nathan Dyer (Swansea City), Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Fabio Borini (Sunderland), Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham), Yaya Toure (Manchester City).

3rd Place:- Fernando Torres (Chelsea) (6%)

2nd Place:- Eden Hazard (Chelsea) (20%)

And the winner is, the man everybody loves to hate but is simply an unbelievable footballer. With 22% of the votes…Luis Suarez!

He missed out on the title, but this is some consolation!

He missed out on the title, but this is some consolation!

Best Opposition Fans

Received Votes:- Newcastle United, Swansea City, Hull City, Manchester City, Portsmouth (?), Fulham, Arsenal, Sunderland, None stood out, Everton, Yeovil Town, Manchester United, Don’t Care, Spurs, Norwich City, Burnley, West Ham.

3rd Place:- Cardiff City & Chelsea (6% each)

2nd Place:- Liverpool (16%)

And the runaway winners and certainly my choice after their constant and varied noise at St. Mary’s. With 42% of the votes…Crystal Palace!

palacefans

Best Saints related Tweeter

As always this award is just a bit of fun and plenty of people vote for themselves!

Received votes:- crstig, James Price, Sridout92, Jim Lucas, mgnsnddn_, Dejan Lovren, dictateplay, danbsfc, Luke Shaw, Artur Boruc, Max_Sopel, Radhi Jaidi, TalkSaints,Matthew Le Tissier, TractorSaint, jamie_benjamin1, Saints Media Team, BigAdamSport, TacoAli, Kelly Mauger, Saints News&Views, L1minus10, uglyinside, gulydopradonaat, Mike1617, SamDobson1, saintsfc, Not going to blow smoke up your arse, Sirvoodoo, SaintsArg, Me, SaintsRelated, MatthewLeGod, Most are mongs, You’re all miserable, Glasgow_Saints, Victor Wanyama, Rich Robertson, markreeves999, Anyone but Chris Rann.

3rd Place:- Club’s Official Account (7%)

2nd Place:- Simon Peach (8%)

And the winner is with 9% of the votes the Peter Crouch of the Saints micro-blogging fraternity….@ConnorArmstrong!

S0 that concludes this season’s Ali’s! Congratulations and thanks to everyone who voted. A big thank you to Dan Tiller for the Photoshop wizardry! It’s been a great season! Here’s to a great summer watching more Saints boys than ever competing at a major tournament and then it will be time to look forward to another campaign following the South Coast’s top club!

For previous years awards results see here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/awards-history/

Chris

England’s Saints? Who will go to Brazil?

If anyone was still doubting the credentials of the potential England World Cup players at Saints, surely they were put to bed in Saturday’s emphatic victory over Newcastle United?

Saints put in an immaculate attacking performance, mainly due to the superb play of the attacking three, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.

Adam Lallana is a shoe-in for the squad, I’m sure of that, and people are just starting to believe that not only should he be guaranteed his place on the proverbial plane, but that Roy Hodgson should be finding a place for him in the starting eleven. If there is an English player around at the moment playing as well as Lallana in the support role, ripping defences to shreds with intricate skill and footballing brain, then I haven’t seen them.

Lallana celebrates with scorer Sturridge after his assist.

Lallana celebrates with scorer Sturridge after his assist.

I’m fed up of bigging up Luke Shaw. He is the best left back in the Premier League right now, coupling immaculate defensive performances with attacking runs that scare defences to death. He is consistently superb and England have already seen a 45 minute glimpse of how good he is. I have a feeling he will make the final squad, and it will be a surprise to everybody but Saints fans.

Attacking intent. Shaw is the future.

Attacking intent. Shaw is the future.

In terms of the two Saints forwards I’m not quite so confident that they will make the cut, though it will be criminal if they don’t.

Despite his excellent all round play, ability on the ball, superb passing, team focus and a Premier League assist record this season that is only bettered by Luis Suarez, Rickie Lambert still can’t shake the constant comparison with Andy Carroll, and some, particularly the English press believe it is a 50/50 shout between the two. What planet are these people on? If all those qualities I’ve listed aren’t enough, you can throw in the added bonus of goals. Lambert is twice the footballer Carroll is, and if the West Ham forward is preferred it will say everything about the progression, or lack thereof in English football.

Jay Rodriguez, has had a superb season, infinitely better than Danny Welbeck’s, sadly though I think he will always find himself behind the Man Utd forward in the pecking order. Rodriguez can do all the things that Welbeck can do, with the added bonus of goals. Surely the England manager will go with form?

Get ready for the World Cup with JD Sports:- http://www.jdsports.co.uk/

Forming a great understanding, but can it benefit England?

Forming a great understanding, but can it benefit England?

If Roy Hodgson doesn’t see the individual qualities of the Saints players perhaps their team dynamic might attract him. I’ve long been an advocate of using successful club partnerships to the advantage of the national team. An England team with John Terry and Gary Cahill at centre half with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park and Lallana, Rodriguez and Lambert playing a support three to Daniel Sturridge in his rightful position up top doesn’t sound bad does it? We could do a lot worse, and so often do.

Hopefully the England manager will see sense and utilise players from clubs like Liverpool and Southampton as much as he can. These are the clubs playing football in the way we should be aiming to as a national team, so it makes sense to bring them in. Surely we won’t go to Brazil, the home of ‘sexy football’ and lump it up to Andy Carroll?

Keep the Faith.

Will The Saints Go Marching On?

Everyone loves a stat don’t they? I know I do, and that is why I was chuffed when the guys from kickoff.co.uk offered to put together a season preview for me using their expertise. So dear reader, settle back and prepare to be dazzled by the numbers and enjoy!

Will the Saints go marching on?

‘Second season syndrome’ is a phrase regularly bandied around at Premier League level, with the perception being that promoted clubs are more vulnerable to relegation after their opponents have had a year to get used to facing them.

Southampton find themselves in that position ahead of the new campaign, so I thought I’d take a look back at their 2012/13 season and highlight both what they did well and any areas in which I feel they can improve.

POSITIVES

The Saints finished 14th in the final table, yet they were the tenth highest scorers in the division with 49 goals from their 38 matches. Rickie Lambert was responsible for 15 of these strikes, benefitting from being the focal point at the top of their attacking formation.

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Nigel Adkins before him encouraged a positive brand of football, with this being reflected by the fact that Southampton found the net in 29 (76%) of their top-flight fixtures. This achievement is furnished with additional kudos when you consider that this represented the best record outside of the top-seven.

Furthermore, the men from the South Coast scored in all eight of their meetings with the eventual Champions League qualifiers:

image007

As the chart above also shows, home wins were achieved against two of the top-three, whilst only late brilliance from Robin van Persie handed Manchester United victory at St. Mary’s.

This shows that Southampton can mix it with the big boys, on their own patch at least, but they also managed to remain unbeaten against teams finishing in their quarter of the final table:

image008

Although six of these games ended all-square, it is certainly worth noting that only Fulham picked up more points (13) from meetings between members of this quintet.

The Saints were similarly strong in matches in which they opened the scoring, winning eight, drawing six and losing four of these encounters. When you consider that half of these defeats came against the eventual champions, then that record starts to look even better.

NEGATIVES

Draws were undoubtedly a problem, with only Everton and Stoke managing more than the 14 picked up by Southampton. Although the team shone offensively, there was a lack of support for Lambert in the scoring stakes; no other player contributed in excess of six league goals.

Another major issue would have to be the defensive frailty displayed by the South Coast outfit. Just seven clean sheets were kept in 38 games, with four of these coming against the six sides that finished below them in the table.

Winning at the top clubs is never easy, but five draws and eight defeats from 13 trips to those that finished above them hints at fundamental flaws in the Saints’ approach to away matches. Could this be the result of some kind of mental block or is it the end product of an overly-positive tactical approach on the road?

Whatever the reason, it is hard to offer up anything other than complacency as an excuse for Southampton losing at home to three of the bottom-four last season:

image009

Alarm bells also start to ring when we take a look at results from games in which the men from Hampshire conceded first. Eleven of these 17 fixtures ended in defeat, with the 4-1 hammering of Aston Villa representing the only success achieved on the back of going 1-0 down.

Perhaps the most damning statistic of all, however, is just how easy opponents found it to convert their chances against the Saints:

image010

As you can see, nearly one in five of the shots that Southampton allowed resulted in a goal being scored against them. Only relegated Wigan fared worse in this category, and that by the narrowest of margins, whilst Newcastle were the nearest club in the other direction.

TRANSFERS

The incomings at St. Mary’s this summer should certainly provide the supporters with plenty of encouragement. Croatian international centre-back Dejan Lovren arrives from Lyon, whilst Victor Wanyama has won rave reviews for his performances at Celtic.

Although I have only seen Lovren in action once, in the Europa League at White Hart Lane last season, he comes highly-rated and has already won close to 20 caps for his country.

Young Wanyama has been far more on my radar, however, producing a string of top-class performances both domestically and on the Champions League stage from his natural position in the middle of the park.

These additions, along with the continued development of Luke Shaw, should help to address some of the aforementioned defensive issues, though the squad as a whole is an extremely young one:

image011

This perfectly feasible starting XI, for example, would boast an average age of just 24 years and nine months come the start of the season.

One more signing in a forward area could be made with a view to easing the burden on Rickie Lambert, but I don’t actually believe this to be necessary. Jay Rodriguez started to blossom when given a run in the team, albeit not in his preferred position, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka is a real talent. I would be interested to hear what Southampton supporters have made of the Zambian in his fleeting cameos, because he has impressed me greatly on the international stage.

FUTURE

If the previous campaign is anything to go by, then a difficult start awaits:

image012

If we exclude home games with the newly-promoted duo of Crystal Palace and Hull, then it becomes apparent that the Saints failed to win any of the equivalent 11 fixtures during 2012/13.

I must admit that I have my doubts about Pochettino and his high-pressing style, but I have a lot of faith in the group of players that has been assembled at St. Mary’s. This is a squad capable of pushing for a place in the top-ten, but whether or not they achieve that is open to debate.’

Thanks to Charles and Rob from kickoff.co.uk for compiling this!

Chris

The Winners of the 2012/13 Ali’s! The Results are in!

So that is the end of another topsy turvey season in the life of being a Saints fan, but no season would be complete without a spate of reviews and awards. This site is no different and yet again the response to this years Ali awards has been fantastic, and this is what is up for grabs:-

ali_trophy

So without further ado, here are YOUR winners…..

Player of the Year

This was calculated like so:- Each player got 2 points for a vote as winner and one point as a vote for runner up. Here are all those that received votes and their points percentage.

Scored points:- Adam Lallana (0.0013%), Jason Puncheon (0.0013%), Steven Davis (0.4%), Jay Rodriguez (0.94%), Maya Yoshida (1.34%), Artur Boruc (2.42%), Luke Shaw (5.24%), Nathaniel Clyne (8.2%)

3rd Place:- Jack Cork (15.8%)

2nd Place:- Rickie Lambert (17.9%)

And the winner, making it a clean sweep in Player of the Season Awards, well deserved after an amazing system, with a whopping 47.37% of the points…..Morgan Schneiderlin!

MS_2012

Most Improved Player

The beauty of this award is that everyone interprets it differently. Some went for an overall improvement on last season, while others voter for those who improved over the course of the season.

Received Votes:- Rickie Lambert, Jose Fonte, Steven Davis, Jos Hooiveld, Nathaniel Clyne, Artur Boruc, Jack Cork, Maya Yoshida, Morgan Schneiderlin.

3rd Place:- Luke Shaw (16%)

2nd Place:- Jason Puncheon (18%)

And the winner, a young man who started his career at Saints with a lot of doubters, but in the second half of the season was undoubtedly one of our top performers with 29%  of the votes……Jay Rodriguez!

rodriguez-liverpool

Performance of the Season (Team or Individual)

Received Votes:-Puncheon at Loftus Road, Second Half at Stamford Bridge (Team), Gaston Ramirez v Villa at home, Team v Villa at home, Team v Newcastle at home, Jay Rodriguez v Liverpool at home, Boruc at Villa Park, Team v Arsenal at home, Team v West Ham at home, Second Half at Old Trafford (Team), First half at home v Everton (Team), Lambert v Chelsea at home, Cork v Chelsea at home, Boruc at Carrow Road, Team at Loftus Road, Cortese v Le Tissier, Cortese sacking Adkins.

3rd Place:- Team v Chelsea at home in the league (13%).

2nd Place:- Team v Liverpool at home (20%).

And the winner, a memorable day as the champions were made to look extremely ordinary with 31% of the votes….Team v Man City at home.

SaintsvManc

Signing of the Season

Received Votes:- Maya Yoshida, Mauricio Pochettino, Gaston Ramirez, Steven Davis, Vegard Forren.

3rd Place:- Jay Rodriguez (7%).

2nd Place:- Artur Boruc (24%).

And the winner, forming a formidable partnership with Jason Puncheon on the right and proving as asset both in defence and going forward with 62% of the vote….Nathaniel Clyne!

nClyne

Unsung Hero

Received Votes:- That Fat Bloke in the glasses who hangs around outside the dressing rooms, MoPo’s interpreter, The Travelling Sains Support, Jos Hooiveld, Guly, Emmanuel Mayuka, Nigel Adkins, Artur Boruc, Jason Puncheon Jay Rodriguez, Morgan Schneiderlin, Nicola Cortese, Nathaniel Clyne.

3rd Place:- Steven Davis (16%).

2nd Place:- Maya Yoshida (22%).

And the winner is, a man who we missed in our terrible start to the season and made a massive contribution when he returned. He retains this award from last season! With 36% of the votes…..Jack Cork!

JCork

The Ali Dia Award For Comedy Moment

It says a lot about Saints fans, that this is always the award that comes the most varied answers. Great effort from everyone again! Brace yourselves….

Received Votes:- Arry Houdini, Jos Hooiveld Own Goal and Penalty King, Guly miss v Stoke, Boruc Juggling at Reading, Arsenal Away, Guly Skills v Spurs, WBA Away, WBA Home, MoPo’s skinny jeans, Danny Fox Tackle v WBA, Gazzaniga v Norwich, WBA Mexican Wave, Kelvin Davis Keeping, Steve de Ridder cameo’s, Puncheon substitution v Reading, Half Time Relay miss from 2 yards, Danny Fox, Defending in opening 10 fixtures, Boruc first couple of games, John Terry slips, Andy Carroll ‘You look like a horse’, Artur Boruc: Bottlegate, WBA ‘You’re going down on your sister’, JRod dive v Villa, Danny Fox v Arsenal, Nigel Adkins substitutions v Man Utd, Grant Holt cheating to win a penalty then missing it, Taunting West Ham ‘HOOOOF’, Ref tackled by Rodriguez, Boruc pushing Fonte after penalty save, Gazzaniga doing his boots up at goal kicks, Richardson and Seabourne defending against Stevenage, Half Time Relay – Split Trousers, Gangnam Style Sammy Saint, The amount of big clubs who had ‘off days’ against Saints, Mark Lawrenson’s predictions, Portsmouth FC – The gift that keeps on giving.

3rd Place:- Jos Hooiveld and Danny Fox together is like ‘crossing the streams’, the own goal at Newcastle (7%).

2nd Place:- That Gareth Barry perfectly place side foot finish own goal (11%).

And the winner, it could only be, the unscheduled rest break at home against Everton. With 40% of the votes…….. Jason Puncheon, he shits when he wants.

JPshits

Best Opposition Team

Received Votes:- Officials v West Ham, Norwich City, Swansea City, QPR, Liverpool, Everton, Wigan Athletic, Spurs, Man City, Chelsea.

3rd Place:- Arsenal (11%).

2nd Place:- Manchester United (21%).

And the winner, deservedly so after dismantling Saints both home and away, with 51% of the votes……West Bromwich Albion.

wbastm

Best Opposition Player

Received votes:- Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Paul Scholes, Demba Ba, Santi Cazorla, Jos Hooiveld, Danny Fox, Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Robert Green, Marouane Fellaini, Sandro, Stephen Peinaar, Youssouf Mulumbu, Michu, Chris Samba, Antonio Di Natale.

3rd Place:- Gareth Bale (14%).

2nd Place:- Robin Van Persie (27%).

And the winner, after an immaculate performance in the Baggies’ demolition of Saints at St. Mary’s. with 39% of the votes…..Romelu Lukaku!

lukaku

Best Opposition Fans

Received Votes:- Sunderland, Reading, Newcastle, Liverpool, Man City, West Ham, Wigan, Swansea, Villa, Spurs, All Shit, QPR, Everton, Arsenal, Norwich, Ajax, Stoke. (The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that only Fulham didn’t register a single vote!).

3rd Place:- Chelsea (11%).

2nd Place:- Manchester United (12%).

And the winner, a clean sweep for the team from the Midlands, boinging there way to three awards, with 42% of the votes……West Bromwich Albion!

wbafans

Best Saints Related Tweeter

A lot of people voting for themselves here I suspect…..

Received Votes:- Connor Armstrong, Ollie Johnston, anthonydjames, Joner07, MatthewLeGod, stevegrant1983, Richard Chaplow, Radhi Jaidi, macdoodle, danbsfc, shaunthecabbie, pilchards, Not Nigel Adkins, DutchTom, colinjb84, Official Club Account, kellymauger, Anyone but aap3saints, aap3saints, Matt Le Tissier, S13SFC, Iwan Thomas, Jos Hooiveld, I Hate Twitter, MoPo parody account, talksaints, Luke Shaw’s mum, SamDobson1, megan_snedden, SaintsRumours, dubaisaints, Nicola Cortese, Billy Sharp, LewisTull, Wattyspics, Anyone but sridout92, jayrodfan2, GGalpin95, Sam Hoskins, Sean Gonzalez-Lambert, OnlyWayisSO14, crespino10.

3rd Place:- Luke Shaw (14%).

And in joint first place, the imaginary trophy will have to spend 6 months in each users mind, with 16% of the votes each, errrr, this is a little embarrassing…..Simon Peach and I!

So that concludes this year’s ‘Ali’s’, some truly deserving winners there I’m sure you will agree. Thank you to everybody who voted, and thank you all for a fantastic season. I actually think the atmosphere at St. Mary’s this season was the best it has ever been, and one of the best in the Premier League. As the club goes through some interesting times progress wise our support is more important than ever.

Keep the faith.

Chris

All the makings of a classic….

After reading some great buildup pieces yesterday, notably by Sam Dobson and Sean Gonzalez-Lambert, it got me thinking that the whole Adkins/Pochettino/Cortese situation read quite like a Shakespearean tragedy. What do you think?

5th November 2012. Southampton is mutinous. The citizens protesting at their rulers incompetence and a lack of points.

‘What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?’

8th December 2012. Senator Adkins has appeased the citizens, but rumours persist that behind the scenes that he is a puppet and speaking on behalf of another.

‘They threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o’ the moon,
Shouting their emulation.’

18th January 2013. Senator Adkins is banished from Southampton by the King and immediately replaced by Senator Pochettino.

‘His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for ’s power to thunder.’

Blue tie? Weird.

Blue tie? Weird.

21st January 2013. Senator Pochettino arrives in Southampton, a small (very, very small) number of Southampton citizens protest with the waving of their white hankies (hankies? It’s 2013…).

‘You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt my air,–I banish you.’

9th February 2013. Senator Pochettino’s men defeat the horde of Manchester, repelling them from the city.

‘Would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am’

30th March 2013. Senator Pochettino’s men, having already defeated the Scouse army, successfully defend the city and points against the conquerers of Europe. The aggressive relentless style of his army gaining praise the land over.

‘Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.’

6th April 2013. Senator Pochettino will lead his men to Reading to face off against the army of former Southampton leader Senator Adkins. What will be the result?

‘Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.’

Ooooooooooh When the Saints...

Ooooooooooh When the Saints…

Whatever happens on Saturday, my own position on this is that, though as fans we have a lot to thank Nigel Adkins for there comes a time when the ‘period of grief’ has to stop. For me, MoPo has proved now that he is capable of the job and the football we are playing is impressive to the point of unbelievable. He should, no longer, have to fight for our affections with Nigel. He should have them fully.

The three points is vital on Saturday, we can put ourselves on the brink of safety, and that above all else is the most important thing. The club has moved on. We can show our appreciation for Nigel at the Madejski with polite applause when he walks out of the tunnel, but does there need to be anymore than that? And it should be followed by a rousing rendition of ‘Pochettino’s Red & White Army’. We have to live in the now.

Come the final whistle, should we have the three points be in the bag, then why not give Nigel a send off and let loose with ‘One Nigel Adkins’. Closure.

In an ideal world Saints and Reading could both stay up, but the world isn’t ideal, especially in football, and if our safety means condemning the man who brought us a lot of joy over the past couple of years then so be it. The King is dead, Long live the King.

‘What is the city but the people?’

Chris

p.s. All quotes from the brilliant Shakespeare play ‘Coriolanus’. Watch the film with Ralph Fiennes. It’s great.

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait…

14th August 2012. Saints are linked with an audacious move for Uruguay wonderkid and London 2012 star Gaston Ramirez. I updated my facebook status accordingly and it took a matter of seconds before the move was labelled as “ridiculous” and “no chance” by friends who support other clubs, particularly Liverpool.

And I have to say, I didn’t necessarily disagree with them, it seemed a little unreal, and as the days passed, it seemed more and more unlikely. I have said before that Twitter is such a good medium for info, and in this case it certainly seemed so, as the updates both positive and negative came from numerous sources. Liverpool fans seemed convinced that Ramirez’ only destination was Anfield, but as other Scouse transfer saga’s unfolded it looks like Liverpool simply didn’t have the financial muscle to sign the playmaker.

Last night at around 18:54 it was finally announced. Gaston is a Saint.

Ramirez flies in…

The star of the Uruguayan olympic team, Ramirez really is a coup for Saints, and as Nigel Adkins so succinctly put it “What we have got is one of the most exciting prospects in world football coming to St Mary’s.”

One of the best sources for info on the protracted deal was Italian journalist Daniele Labanti of the Corriere di Bologna, the Corriere della Sera local issue. I was delighted when he agreed to answer some questions on Ramirez.

After a long drawn out transfer, Saints fans will be hoping Ramirez is worth the wait. What did you make of the transfer?

DL:- “It was a very difficult deal because too many parts were involved. Saints, Bologna, Penarol and agents all tried to get the best from the deal. Bologna needed the money and when the club understood Ramirez wanted to go, the Italian club decided to sell him. The first trouble was a interview Ramirez did with Gazzetta dello Sport, talking as a ‘Saint’, just after the agreement with Southampton: Bologna were still in talks with the Saints and the Chairman was very upset with that interview. But then all details were managed and the deal was completed.”

Many Saints fans will have only seen him at the Olympics, what are his strengths and weaknesses?

DL:- “Ramirez is a great young player. As a comparison, he had more impact in Italy than Pastore had in Palermo before they sold him to PSG for €43 million. So we can say Southampton completed a good deal for ‘just’ €14 million. Ramirez can dribble, kick with both feet, is quite speedy and has good stamina. He has to improve his mentality, stop (trash) talking with opponents and referee first.”

He was a big hit at Bologna, do you think he can translate his play to the English game?

DL:- “I definitely believe he could be a star in the Premier League. The English game has more ‘spacing’ than the Italian one and Gaston is quite unstoppable if he can run.”

What other players would you liken him to?

DL:- “I don’t want to be irreverent, but the best case is a sort of Zinedine Zidane.”

Were you surprised to see him end up at a club like Southampton?

DL:- “Yes I was. Rumours told of interest from Liverpool and Tottenham and it was supposed he would join a Champions League/Europa League team. But the Saints offer was so rich and Gaston decided to not wait for a  ‘big club’ anymore.”

Many thanks to Daniele for answering these questions and getting me even more excited than I already was!

Gaston Ramirez. You’re Our Guy.

p.s. Up Your’s Mark Lawrenson.

Chris

Premier League Preview: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our Premier League Preview!

QPR:-

Name:-  QPR Report

Team:- Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR)

Website:- Blog;  www.qprreport.blogspot.com and  Messageboard http://qprreport.proboards.com

Twitter:- @qprreport

What can we expect from your club this season?

A safe season, one without all the off-the-field drama of so many previous seasons.

Who is your most important player?

Cisse.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

10-12th.

Who might win the Premier League?

Sadly Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.

Who definitely won’t?

Wigan

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Chelsea and Manchester United at Loftus Road.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Manchester United vs Chelsea.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

Stay up (15th) (made some good, early signings).

You find yourself stuck in The Madjeski Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Wear my blue and white hooped scarf!

Reading:-

Name: Dan Wimbush

Team:-  Reading

Website:-  The Tilehurst End  http://www.thetilehurstend.com

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

What can we expect from your club this season?

After last year’s unexpected title win we’ll be very happy to secure a second season back in the Premier League.  Brian McDermott has worked wonders at the club so far, despite having to sell the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Matt Mills and Shane Long and now that we’ve got new ownership it’s been great to see him able to strengthen the squad for once. Despite signing six players you won’t see that much of a difference style wise from us this year. We’ll still look to work very very hard closing down the opposition, allowing them long spells with the ball before breaking out wide through Kebe and McAnuff, or getting the ball up top to Roberts or Pogrebnyak. As Southampton fans know only too well Reading were the masters of counter attacking last season and given the jump in quality I can’t imagine we’ll suddenly start pressing from the front!

Who is your most important player?

It’s looking like being Pavel Pogrebnyak. Much as the signing of Jason Roberts helped win us the title last year, it’s going to be vital we get good production from the Russian if we hope to stay up. He’s shown his quality wherever he’s been and if we’re getting a striker anything like the one we saw at Fulham last year, we’ll be in for a good season.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Tough to call until you see how the other teams shape up. We’ve seen good teams relegated due to the strength of others and likewise weaker teams survive because there’s just been three awful sides. Right now if I had to gamble I’d say about 15th, but anything from 10th to 20th wouldn’t shock me.

Who might win the Premier League?

Hard to look past City again. The strength and depth they have at the Etihad is just staggering and while I think Chelsea and Manchester Utd will both be strong again, neither can match the power that City posses right now.

Who definitely won’t?

Liverpool, Arsenal, Reading or Southampton 😉     While Rodgers has been lauded for the job he’s done at Swansea, Reading fans will be able to tell you that he’s not infallible and can get things very badly wrong. When he came to Reading he tried to do too much too soon and left us in a relegation dogfight but landed on his feet at Swansea who were already playing a passing game when he arrived. Liverpool weren’t exactly playing like Swansea last season so it will take a while to turn it around. As for Arsenal well if Van Persie goes as expected its difficult to see them having the quality to really mount a decent challenge.  Can’t see anyone else gate-crashing the title picture either to be honest.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Wigan away obviously….  😉

Everyone has their favourites but for me, cliché as it sounds it’s got to be Manchester United away. I was unable to get to the games the last time we were a Premier League side so this time around I’m determined to see Reading take on England’s most successful side on their own patch next season. Trips to Anfield, The Emirates and White Hart Lane are also ones I’m anticipating while the home games against teams like yourselves, West Ham, Swansea and Norwich will be fun as we’ll actually be able to turn up knowing we’ve got a chance of winning.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

City v United will once again be a tussle worth watching. I expect those two to finsh first and second and Fergie will be fired up more than ever before to put one over the noisy neighbours.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I’m really not sure to be honest. Like Reading, you’ve been quite active in the transfer market and I’ll be interested to see how Rodriguez makes the step up. If Sharp, Lambert and Rodriquez can translate Championship goals to the Premier League you’ll be laughing, while Lallana is another top player who I expect to do well. I do fear for Norwich, Swansea, Fulham and Wigan this year so I think the Saints will end up roughly around the same place we are so 12th-16th.

You find yourself stuck in The County Ground. How do you escape unnoticed?

‘Can you direct me around the magic roundabout please?’

Pave-ing the way for Reading success?

Southampton:-

Name:- Ben Stanfield

Team:- Southampton

Website:- http://www.saintsfc.co.uk/

Twitter:- @benstanners

What can we expect from your club this season?

I think, as ever being a Saints fan, we can expect a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. Saints have nothing to really lose this season. We are at least one, if not two, years ahead of where we’d thought we’d be as a Club but that doesn’t mean that we are going to give up the hard work of the last two years by being the whipping boys of the Premier League.

We have a young, astute and intelligent manager and a team that, to be honest, would die for each other on the pitch. The spirit in the Club is as good as I’ve ever known it in the 25 years I’ve supported and watched Saints and I really feel that we will shock a lot of people this coming season.

Who is your most important player?

Many would argue that it is a straight race between Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana. I’d agree!

For me, although Lallana is a class player who can turn defenders inside out and create goals for the team with almost every passage of play, Lambert is our most important player.

Pretty much all of our success over the last 2 seasons has come from building the team around Rickie Lambert, getting the ball up to him and then feeding off that. Not to mention his goals of course that have helped fire us to the Premier League.

Lambert proved people wrong last season by scoring goals consistently in the Championship and I feel he will score goals again this season, but obviously not to the level’s of 20’s and 30’s that he is used to!

He is the modern day “talisman” of the Saints team and we don’t look the same side when he’s not playing. So much will revolve around his presence up front and the ability to hold the ball up against the better teams to give our defenders a breather! Like Saints themselves, I don’t think Lambert has anything to lose this season but the importance of him being in the side and playing well will play a key role in our success.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

If I’m honest I’d take 17th place now! We have to be realistic, there are a lot of experienced Premier League teams in the league that have quality and know how to get results. But we also know that the brilliant thing about English football is that the teams at the bottom can beat the teams at the top on their day.

In my opinion the Premier League is very much two divisions in one. Saints need to aspire to get off to a good start if they can, although the fixture list hasn’t helped with doing that much, and then build on that. As long as we survive I will be happy but finishing higher up the bottom half of the Premier League is certainly not unrealistic, especially if some strong signings can be made between now and the end of the August transfer window.

Who might win the Premier League?

For me its a straight race between the two Manchester clubs. City have taken the pressure off of themselves by winning the title last season – they always say that the first one is the hardest – but that doesn’t mean that the fans or owners will accept second place this season! Mancini has probably the best squad of players in the World – as you’d expect for the amount of money he has spent – and really they should win it again.

Having said that you can never right off Fergie and there hasn’t been a Premier League season in the history of the competition where United haven’t been up their challenging. The signing of Robin Van Persie could be the difference between United finishing second and winning the title. His potential partnership with Wayne Rooney has me salivating even as a non-United fan.

I think City will nick it this season, but I think it will go to the wire again.

Who definitely won’t?

Tottenham and Arsenal I’m afraid. They’ve both huffed and puffed the last few season’s but realistically they don’t have the winning-mentality that United and City have. Several times last season both Clubs lost games against teams that City and United wouldn’t have. Arsenal and Spurs both put a lot of emphasis on their attacking play but defensively aren’t in the same league as City or United.

Arsenal losing Van Persie is key for me. He pretty much single handedly got them to third last season with his goals and although they have bought in Podolski and Giroud I can’t see them scoring 30 goals between them, let alone individually. Goals wins you league titles and I don’t think Arsenal have the fire-power to topple City or United.

With Andre Villas-Boas in charge at Spurs now it will be interesting to see how he does. He didn’t have a very successful time with Chelsea last season so the pressure and spotlight will be on him from the first game of the season. Spurs are a good side and they will finish in the top-6, I have no doubts but, again like Arsenal, I don’t think they have the mental belief to go that one step further to the title and dig results out regularly the way that United and City do.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Thats a good question! The last couple of seasons we’ve had local games against Portsmouth, Brighton and Bournemouth to look forward to, but not anymore. For me, just being back in the Premier League means that every game has to be an anticipated fixture now. When you look at the fixture list every single match gets you excited – OK, maybe not Wigan away!

But I guess, after the trial and tribulations of last season, playing against Reading and West Ham will be good. We certainly owe Reading a defeat this season after they pretty much won the title at St. Mary’s last season!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

I think the two games between Manchester City and United are the fixtures that I will be looking forward to watching. The power has shifted from red to blue in Manchester now and I don’t think Fergie and everyone connected with Old Trafford are enjoying that much. I’ve no doubts that United will be looking for revenge this season and I think these two games will go along way to determining the title.

Traditionally they are cagey affairs although City did score six at Old Trafford last season. There is no love lost between the two managers or the sets of fans and, with arguably the two strongest squads in the Premier League, they should be cracking matches to watch.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

As stated above, I genuinely think that we will have a good season. I know there are going to be a few times we walk off the pitch having been given a lesson by players a lot more experienced than ours but I also know that Saints can play with little fear and have a go at sides as well. We’re expected to get relegated by all the pundits so what have we to lose?

We have the talent and commitment to win each time we go on the pitch, but the biggest issue for me will be taking our more limited chances at one end and stopping them going in at the other end An important factor for any football club!

Offer me 17th now and I’ll snap your hand off!

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

The thought of being stuck in Fratton Park is one that has probably woken me up a few times during the night in cold sweats! How do I escape unnoticed? Well as they hardly ever get that many people to watch Pompey anymore, as they only turn up when they’re doing well with a team of players they can’t afford to buy or pay, I’d probably walk to the end of the row (without having to ask anyone to get up!), up the stairs and then out the exit with them none the wiser……….

Stoke City:-

Name:- Hannah Burrows

Team:- Stoke City

Website:- Delilah’s Voice

Twitter:- @HBscfc

What can we expect from your club this season?

At the time of writing this, our lack of transfer activity is worrying. However, we’re well known for our late transfers so I’m not panicking, yet. With our current squad, I can’t see us finishing much above 12th. Having said that, if the likes of Sunderland, Fulham and the newly promoted teams fail to perform, we could find ourselves fighting near the top half. On the other hand, if the notoriously weaker teams have a decent season, it could be disaster, no chance of relegation though, I hope.

Who is your most important player?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’d love to say Wilson Palacios here. His new found fitness levels in pre-season could see him become a big, big player this season but right now I’d say Peter Crouch, although I still can’t believe he’s a Stoke player!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

I’d like to think we can achieve a top 10 finish for the first time since promotion but whether we do or not hinges on our away form. Failure to improve it could be fatal but an added win here and there could shoot us up the league.

Who might win the Premier League?

I hope City manage to defend the title, that Aguero goal will live with me for a very long time to come and it’d be great to see another end to the season like that – basically, anyone but United and Arsenal.

Who definitely won’t?

West Ham – a ticking time bomb.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal at home simply because of the atmosphere. Arsene Wenger’s made his bed so to speak and now he has to lie in it every visit to the Britannia! His comments about our style of play and Ryan Shawcross will never, ever be forgotten and it always seems the players give a little extra effort in this one!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Probably the Manchester derby. With the clubs so evenly matched now it makes for mouth-watering clashes and a fixture I always look out for.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

It’s hard to say really, the transfer window seems yet to kick in and obviously one or two signings could be crucial. Compared with the other promoted teams though, West Ham will be their usual cocky selves so that could back fire and Reading seem to have made a few decent signings. I think Southampton’s fate will be determined by the weakness of current lower PL teams, the likes of Wigan, Swansea and perhaps even Stoke!

You find yourself stuck in the Emirates Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Put on a cockney accent and suggest the very long wait for a trophy will be over this year. Also, suggest Aaron Ramsey is a world beater and claim Cesc Fabregas has taken a step back in his career by signing for Barca!

The odds on Crouch being Stoke’s top scorer?

Sunderland:-

Name:- Mark Harrison

Team:- Sunderland AFC

Website:- www.seventy3magazine.co.uk

Twitter:- @harrmn

What can we expect from your club this season?

To build on the progress made since Xmas last season and with this a push for top half but our target should always be ‘winning’ the mini league of all those teams outside the top 6.

Who is your most important player?

Sessegnon was our star last season so if we can keep him away from a top four team I expect him to be prominent again, but for me the two centrebacks need to be an injury free partnership and be the backbone of the team. Attack from the back!

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

8th

Who might win the Premier League?

Man city to triumph again.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs, I just don’t think AVB can handle the pressure and the players the way Harry did.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Arsenal away, the start of the season cannot come soon enough for me.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Man Utd v man City, I love a derby and Utd will not want to lose face to their neighbours again.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I am afraid to say they will struggle and relegation is a concern.

You find yourself stuck in St. James’ Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

I would struggle, I cannot make my face as bitter and twisted as the locals.

Thanks to all the contributors.

To read Part 1 (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton & Fulham) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/15/premier-league-preview-part-1/

To read Part 2 (Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle & Norwich) click here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/17/premier-league-preview-part-2/

Chris

Premier League Preview: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our Premier League preview….

Liverpool:-

Name:- Stuart James Quigley

Team:- Liverpool

Website:- kickingtowardthekop.blogspot.com / www.theliverpoolword.com

Twitter:- @sqstudios

What can we expect from your club this season?

That’s a difficult question, as nobody really knows what to expect. The idea is that Rodgers has come in and we’re going to suddenly look like a combination of everything that was good about Swansea last year and Barcelona is all well and good, but a little naive. We’ll probably be a lot better at both ends of the pitch, because at the end of the season it was hard for us to be any worse.

Who is your most important player?

Steven Gerrard. Suarez comes very close but there’s no mistaking as to who everyone associates with Liverpool. There’s a reasonable arguement to be made for Lucas aswell, given what happened last year. Hopefully now that will have put to bed this ludicrous idea that’s he’s anything other than boss.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

5th. Champions League football would be great and while I don’t for any reason think it’s out of our reach, it relies upon too many other factors.

Who might win the Premier League?

Chelsea. They’re addressing the problem with their aging team the only way they know how, spending lots and lots of money. I have a feeling Di Matteo will suffer a lot in the same way that Dalglish did last year (first season no pressure, now there is) but if it clicks then City and United could have a fight on their hands.

Who definitely won’t?

Arsenal. I don’t think any level headed gooner will be thinking that they’re actually challenging, but any that are deserve the same kind of ridicule usually levelled at us.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

Tricky.  Everton is more important and you feel that one coming for a lot longer but there’s that “special” something that comes with games against Man United, who probably edge it because it feels a lot less one sided.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Probably City and United. It’s a bit of a cliche but the two games last year were fascinating. Also, they had the perfect result.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I think they – along with all the promoted teams – are certainly capable of staying up. The league has been divided into three categories now and those that aren’t challenging for Europe don’t ever seem to be really out of it until March, so it’s unlikely anybody will sink without a trace. St. Mary’s will be rocking and not the ideal place for any team to go if you manage to get on a roll.  Can’t wait to see Lambert in the Premier League also.

You find yourself stuck in Goodison Park. How do you escape unnoticed?

I’m not sure because if they ever heard me talk about Liverpool they may assume I’m just one of them.  They’re not obsessed or anything…

Man City:-

Name:- Ric Turner

Team:- Manchester City

Website:- www.bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

Twitter:- @bluemoon_mcfc

What can we expect from your club this season?

Hopefully a successful defence of the league title, and a prolonged run in the Champion’s League.

Who is your most important player?

Vincent Kompany. He’s our leader on and off the field, and is arguably the best centre half in the league. It’s a great relief that he’s recently signed a new six year deal with the club.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

1st, hopefully.

Who might win the Premier League?

Realistically it’s between us, United and Chelsea.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool (and everyone else, of course).

What is your most anticipated fixture?

The derbies against United. What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? United v Chelsea.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

I think Southampton will stay up, just.

You find yourself stuck in Old Trafford. How do you escape unnoticed?

Get out my camera phone, and proclaim my love of Manchester in a southern or Irish accent.

Two’s Kompany? City will be looking to retain the Premier League title.

Man Utd:-

Name:- stiuge

Team:- Manchester United

Website:- www.weallfollowunited.com

Twitter:- @stiuge (@weallfollowunited)

What can we expect from your club this season?

A serious fight for the title, we want it back. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes. Had some shocking moments last season, for example drawing with Everton (4-4), Newcastle (1-1) and Stoke City (1-1) followed by a loss at Ewood Park in December (Blackburn beat us 3-2). We had way too many injuries and our form dipped because of that. Michael Carrick had to play as centre back more than he should have for example. If we have a good campaign, but finish 2nd I’ll take it. As long we don’t throw the title away like we did previous season.

Who is your most important player?

This one is easy, Nemanja Vidic. He missed most of last season after twisting his knee against Basel (December) and left the pitch on a stretcher. He only played in 6 Premier League matches. Now that Smalling and Evans are suffering from injuries, It’s crucial our captain stays fit.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

I think we are going to win the title back, so 1st. Who might win the Premier League? I think it’s going to be us or City, could see Chelsea and Arsenal fight for that 3rd place finish.

Who definitely won’t?

Spurs, they won’t even finish in Top 5, there I said it. I could see Newcastle or Everton pushing for that final Champions League spot. One thing that makes Premier League such a wonderful league, is the fact you usually fail with any league table predictions (at least I do!).

What is your most anticipated fixture?

There are some fixtures I look forward to more than others.. usual suspects City,Chelsea,Liverpool,Arsenal of course. Looking forward seeing United play against promoted teams too, such as your lot. Our first fixture of the season is a hard one as well, Everton (Away).

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

Well, must be derby days. Newcastle – Sunderland being a fixture I won’t miss.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

As I said before, predicting is hard but I’ll give it a go. I think you’ll finish anywhere between 12 and 16. You have only signed one new player so far (Jay Rodriguez), so It’s hard to say how much you are going to improve your team before transfer window closes. I think you will have no problem beating the drop, and when you do you can start building for your 2nd season back in Premier League.

You find yourself stuck in the Etihad Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?

Hmmm, wow. Well moonwalk is out of questions here I suppose. Fake phone call always gets you out of tricky situations I suppose?!

Newcastle:-

Name:- Ed Harrison

Team:-  Newcastle United

Website:- www.nufcblog.com

Twitter:- @TheNufcBlog

What can we expect from your club this season?

Newcastle are in the Europa league this season so we are hoping that we can have a long run in that competition, our first participation in Europe for six years. And as far as the league goes we will do well to repeat our 5th place finish of last year with Liverpool and Chelsea likely to be a lot better this season. And as far the two local cups go we’d like to see us have some good runs in those too – but if we can again qualify for Europe next season we’ll be happy enough.

Who is your most important player?

Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote run the central midfield for us, and up front Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba score the goals, so they are important. Captain Fabricio Coloccini, who has just been selected for Argentina again is a huge player for us at the back,  as well as young Dutch international goalkeeper Tim Krul. Frenchman Ben Arfa also gives us the creativity to unlock any defenses on his day.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

Newcastle should be able to finish in the top six, if we can carry on from where we left off last season.

Who might win the Premier League?

Manchester United or Manchester City would seem to be the top choices, although our own Ben Arfa is saying Newcastle could have a chance at the title, but that has to be a long shot – a very long shot.

Who definitely won’t?

Sunderland.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

The games with local rivals Sunderland are always the top fixtures at Newcastle and we haven’t lost to Sunderland for many many seasons, and long may that continue. Of course they also play in red and White stripes with black shorts like Southampton. We also like playing Manchester United, and whacked them 3-0 at St. James Park last January.

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

The local derby between the two Manchester clubs.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

They should be able to keep themselves in the Premier League next season, as they seem to have captured some decent players in the summer in Nathaniel Clyne and Jay Rodriguez, although the latter didn’t come cheap. I used to live down in Romsey when I was at IBM in Hursley way back, so I have a soft spot for Southampton.

Cabaye & Tiote will be key to building on Newcastle’s impressive last season.

Norwich:-

Name:- Jamie Grand

Team:- Norwich City

Website:- www.canaries.co.uk

Twitter:- @NorwichCityFC

What can we expect from your club this season?

The same blood, sweat and tears. The same never-say-die attitude. The same Grant Holt. The same energy levels, quick attacks and aerial threat. Oh, and a new manager.

Who is your most important player?

I’ve been vocal about Jonny Howson and think he will be instrumental this season. I’ve even predicted that he will win his first England cap during the course of the 2012/13 season.

Where do you predict you will finish this season?

I’d love to see a repeat of last season, but have a feeling that we’ve got a tougher journey this time round. I will predict 15th.

Who might win the Premier League?

Chelsea could be capable of challenging the two Manchester Clubs, but certain senior members of the squad will need to find some form and keep it.

Who definitely won’t?

Any of ther other 17 teams! – If you want me to pick on one I’ll say QPR. A few names have joined over the Summer but Hughes is still to prove that he can make them gel.

What is your most anticipated fixture?

We’re looking forward to welcoming Mr Lambert back to Carrow Road. Of all our fixtures, we will be desperate to win that one!

What is your most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club?

I love a good derby, and I think the North London clashes between Arsenal and Spurs will continue to be vital in the race for Champions League spots.

How do you think Southampton will fare?

Southampton come into the Premier League under near identical circumstances to Norwich. New management has brought fresh impetus and a desire to succeed. The manager has been clever in the transfer market this summer, and I think these signings could be vital in the quest for survival. Can Southampton succeed in the same manner as Norwich and Swansea? Possibly!

You find yourself stuck in Portman Road. How do you escape unnoticed?

With my hands in my pocket. If Ipswich Town fans spot someone with regulation four fingers and a thumb, they immediately become suspicious.

Thanks to all the contributors for their time!

Check out Part 1, featuring Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton & Fulham here:- http://georgeweahscousin.com/2012/08/15/premier-league-preview-part-1/

Part 3 coming soon….

Chris