Southampton’s Understanding of Weakness Reason for Optimism Despite (Very) Heavy Spurs Defeat

Ralph Hasenhuttl
Hasenhuttl saw his side get battered having looked so composed. | Pool/Getty Images

How can you be positive about a team after that? Answer: with difficulty.

But we are going to look at the positives of this Southampton performance. We have to. Otherwise this is won’t make for great reading.

In order to avoid being brutally negative, we’re going to focus on the first 44 minutes. You’ll remember them, they were the ones where the Saints were winning.

In that period, they looked so assured of their roles. Embedded in the manager’s plans and up for the fight, they were by far the better side. What was key to note from their approach was their understanding of weakness. They knew where to hurt Tottenham, from what angle in and what manner.

That comes down to preparation and planning, something Ralph Hasenhuttl had clearly worked hard on in the build up.

Knowing Matt Doherty will venture more into a right wing-back/right midfielder role, this area was targetted by Moussa Djenepo and the overlapping runs of Ryan Bertrand. With Bertrand tucking infield to draw Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg out of position, Djenepo caused havoc.

Moussa DjenepoMoussa Djenepo
Djenepo was a livewire. | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

On top of that, the uncertainty in the Tottenham midfield was exploited too. Hojbjerg, Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Winks have not played together often enough, so Hasenhuttl instructed one of either Danny Ings or Che Adams to drop deep into the hole to gather possession.

Dividing this responsibility among themselves, they disrupted the centre-half duo of Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez, who couldn’t work out between them who would push up. These runs from the Saints forwards could have, and probably should have, brought more goals. Hugo Lloris made some key saves and Spurs were at sixes and sevens.

Dier’s lack of pace was key to their opening goal, with the ball in behind used effectively as Ings hovered in between the central defenders. Diagonal passes across the back four came in from the right hand side, and it looked like being just a matter of time before a second goal would come.

Taking advantage of other sides’ weaknesses adds panache to their productivity. In terms of work rate they can’t be faulted (at least for those 44 minutes), closing down the Spurs players on the ball and pressing in central areas through both Adams and Ings. Everything was going so well. How did it all unravel?

Naivety, that’s how.

Neither Jan Bednarek or Jack Stephens are quick. The full-backs either side are to some extent, but the two central defenders are borderline useless when they’re playing a high line against pace on the break. Sure, this approach can work if the midfield offer cover and can retain possession, but against someone as quick as Son Heung-min it’s tactical suicide.

They got away with it for most of the first half as the long balls Spurs were feeding the front men were directed toward Harry Kane, but as soon as Son moved centrally and became the outlet, they got torn apart.

FOUR TIMES.

Once, okay, you can learn your lesson, but it happened time and time again – I say four but those were just the times they conceded. Getting caught cold like that so frequently demonstrates a frailty that stems from naivety. Realising the danger and altering your shape to accommodate should be clear, but instead Southampton persisted and the centre-backs were left hanging out to dry.

Ralph HasenhuttlRalph Hasenhuttl
I don’t blame him for not looking. | Robin Jones/Getty Images

Finding a balance between their fresh, innovative attacking groove and offering adequate cover for when the opposition turning over possession should be the first, and probably only, point on Hasenhuttl’s checklist come Monday morning.

Solve that (big) issue and Southampton have reason to be optimistic.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

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Luke Shaw Admits Manchester United ‘Need to Strengthen’ to Keep Up With Rivals

Luke Shaw
Luke Shaw has sent a message to Ed Woodward & Co | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Luke Shaw has backed fans’ calls for more signings in the wake of Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace in their opening game of the 2020/21 campaign.

The Red Devils have only added versatile Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek to their ranks this summer amid protracted – and seemingly non-productive – negotiations with Borussia Dortmund in regards to Jadon Sancho, their priority target.

Jadon SanchoJadon Sancho
Jadon Sancho shone in Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga opener against Gladbach on Saturday evening | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

United fans will be hopeful that their dire defeat against the Eagles will trigger a response from the club’s board in the transfer market. They have until 5 October to strengthen.

Left-back Shaw, meanwhile, was pretty damning in his assessment of the United squad, believing they have to strengthen if they’re to keep up with rivals.

“As I said, we have a very good group, but personally I think we need more players to strengthen the squad,” he told TV2 (via Manchester Evening News).

“It can give us a boost. When you look around at how other teams are strengthening their teams, then we must also do it to keep up with the others.”

Luke ShawLuke Shaw
Shaw has encouraged more signings before the window closes on 5 October | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The rest of the top six have been very active in their bid to bolster their squads this summer.

Chelsea have splurged over £200m on a plethora of talent, champions Liverpool have completed the double signing of Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota, while Tottenham remarkably re-signed former hero Gareth Bale.

United undoubtedly have a talented squad at their disposal but their incompetence in the transfer market could see them fall behind.

The club are reportedly still open to bolstering their defence via a new left-back and centre-back this summer, while 90min revealed on Saturday that they’ve been offered the chance to sign Watford winger Ismaila Sarr as their pursuit of Sancho continues to stall.

Ismaila SarrIsmaila Sarr
Could Ismaila Sarr be United’s Sancho alternative? | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Porto’s Alex Telles appears to be the man to provide competition – or even usurp – Shaw at left-back, although there doesn’t appear to be any concrete links with a particular centre-half.

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What Houssem Aouar Would Bring to Arsenal

Houssem Aouar
Aouar is Arsenal’s top target | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Quality.

There, end of analysis.

That wouldn’t be much fun though, would it?

If Saturday’s laboured, fortunate and ultimately very poor win over West Ham was going to bring about anything, it was the hordes of keyboard warriors baying for Houssem Aouar to come to Arsenal bloodying their fingers ten-fold.

He’s the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, and for good reason.

Arsenal had seven shots to West Ham’s 14 in their 2-1 win, but it was the overall struggle to slice through the Hammers’ rigid five-man defence and four-man midfield that was the biggest cause for concern. Dani Ceballos returned to the starting lineup in place of Mohamed Elneny to add creativity to the centre of the park, but the underlying lack of a spark in the final third was telling.

Mikel Arteta has made it clear he needs added bite in forward areas, with the addition of Willian an effort to provide diversity in attacking phases. At the Emirates, neither he nor anyone else was able to get a strangehold on that respect of the game.

Aouar is not your typical number ten. He operates majorly on the left inside channel, but boasts every trait one could desire from a player of his ilk. Immensely calm on the ball and as technically sound as any player across Europe, his role as the key operator in between the lines would be the ideal buff to smooth out the considerable chink in Arsenal’s armour.

Using the West Ham win as an example, Arteta’s fluid formation allows any number of players to take up central positions and unsettle opposing back fours. Hector Bellerin was seen in the inside right channel, just as Bukayo Saka likewise on the other flank.

In the second half, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang even drifted into that spot to cause uncertainty to the Irons, but none of the plethora of players who tried to occupy those spaces are tailor-made for that role. In the end, two pre-assists from Saka were crucial to victory, but employing a player whose bread and butter is picking up those spaces and delivering a killer pass has to be Arteta’s number one priority.

To do so, there is nobody around better than Aouar.

Aouar is someone who can lift the mood when his side are in the rough. If Lyon are toiling and looking out for the count, the 22-year-old is always there to pick up the pieces of such rubble and restore structure. For Arsenal fans, they could use Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla as comparisons.

Cazorla had the nimble footwork and close control that would help him wrestle his way out of tight areas, while Fabregas had the drive and vision in advanced areas that could unpick locks and galvanise a side looking devoid of ideas.

Over on Merseyside, we’ve seen Thiago join Liverpool, but in the list of aesthetically pleasing midfielders, Aouar sits alongside the Spaniard on that list. His movement and style is done with such grace that makes him unbelievably fun to watch.

With Arsenal’s current setup, a four man midfield features two wing-backs and two central midfielders. 3-4-3 can be flexible, but there is no standout number ten in that approach. Aouar doesn’t play as a number ten, but instead loves to play alongside a more defensive operator – in this case it would be Granit Xhaka – where he can drive through the thirds with the ball at his feet.

When Arsenal are in possession and deep in the opponents’ half, he can drift into pockets of space and receive the ball in tight situations, where his elegant first touch and control mean the rest of the team gain precious split seconds to make runs of their own.

His dexterity in these situations is a nightmare to defend against. He forces players to commit to challenges with his feints, draws a second man in and opens the space for others.

Ceballos was the player who dropped deepest to collect possession when the Gunners were chasing a winner on Saturday, but while he has the drive and technical quality to do so, he doesn’t possess the nous in the final third that the Frenchman does.

While all of the above points to a player whose intentions are solely on the attacking side of the game, his defensive output is surprisingly noticeable. By that reckoning, he’s like a classic number eight. There is balance to everything he does, whether that’s literal, technical or tactical.

In an Arsenal side with the firepower of Aubameyang, but sorely lacking the service he thrives on, a player of Aouar’s outstanding quality is, quite simply, essential. The club captain has been the top scorer in the past two seasons, but has done so with nowhere near the volume of creativity to truly unearth his brilliance.

At the moment, Arsenal are trying to plug round holes with square pegs. Too many players are being tasked with being that source of creativity but without resounding success. Aouar fits that bill. He is that bill. He’s the round peg they’re in dire need of.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

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Josep Maria Bartomeu Adamant the Outcome of Lionel Messi Saga Was a Success

Josep Maria Bartomeu
Josep Maria Bartomeu enters his final season as Barcelona president | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has said he simply couldn’t allow Lionel Messi to leave the club this summer.

The Argentine appeared destined to depart Catalonia ahead of the 2020/21 campaign after expressing his desire to leave to the club’s board.

Messi thought that he’d be able to activate a clause to unilaterally end his contract at Barcelona immediately, but that simply wasn’t the case and any potential suitors would’ve likely been forced to pay his astronomical £624m release clause.

Lionel MessiLionel Messi
Lionel Messi came closer than ever to leaving Barcelona | Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Thus, with the ordeal swiftly evolving into a complex one involving legalities, Messi confirmed that he’ll stay at the club and see out the remainder of his contract – which expires at the end of next season.

Much of the great Argentine’s frustration has been vented towards the running of the club by seemingly incompetent Bartomeu, who in turn enters his final season as club president.

Nevertheless, Bartomeu suggested congratulations were in order following the star’s decision to stay put and is hopeful the Argentine will prove the difference during Ronald Koeman’s debut season at the helm.

“I won’t get into any conflict with him. He’s our captain and the leader of our team,” Bartomeu told Catalan television network TV3 (via Goal).

FC Barcelona Introduce New Player Pedro Gonzalez Lopez - 'Pedri'FC Barcelona Introduce New Player Pedro Gonzalez Lopez - 'Pedri'
Bartomeu’s incompetence was the main source of Messi’s frustration | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“I couldn’t let him leave the club, he is the best player of all time and the team needs him. Having Messi is a guarantee of success.

“We have seen him do his talking on the pitch and we have moved on from the saga. We should congratulate ourselves for getting Messi to stay with us and for how he has behaved in the last few days. The best player in the world should stay at our home,” he added.

The president faces a vote of no confidence following a petition launched by fans which gained over 20,000 signatures.

An official board decision on Bartomeu’s immediate future is expected within the next two weeks but the president nonetheless remains focused on the job at hand.

Ronald KoemanRonald Koeman
Ronald Koeman is set to oversee his first campaign as Barcelona boss | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“The board and I will keep working to ensure we have the most competitive team possible,” the 57-year-old said.

“We will speak again after validating the votes but right now no-one wants to quit. The club won’t stop and we will keep working, we have lots of issues to sort out.”

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PSG Open Surprise Talks With Tottenham Over Dele Alli

Dele Alli
Dele Alli is wanted by PSG | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with Tottenham Hotspur over a deal to sign out-of-favour midfielder Dele Alli this summer.

Alli, who was left out of Spurs’ Europa League squad in midweek, was also dropped from the matchday squad to face Southampton on Sunday – a decision believed to have left him ‘upset and confused’.

Dele Alli, James RodriguezDele Alli, James Rodriguez
Alli was hauled off after 45 minutes against Everton and has not been seen since | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

His omission from the squad has only intensified the speculation surrounding Alli’s future. Inter have previously been credited with an interest in the Englishman, but according to The Telegraph, PSG are looking to move to the front of the queue for his signature.

Spurs have already indicated a willingness to loan out Alli after offering him to Real Madrid as part of the deal to bring Gareth Bale back to England, and while it is unknown whether PSG are pushing for their own loan or a permanent deal, it is understood that the French side hope to take advantage of the situation and get a deal over the line before the transfer window closes.

PSG have long tracked Alli’s development and are believed to be keen to sign an English player to boost their already huge profile.

Jose MourinhoJose Mourinho
Mourinho has made it clear he wants new signings | Pool/Getty Images

Spurs may push to part ways with Alli on a permanent basis as the Daily Star state that Mourinho is keen to splash out on Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard this summer.

Lingard’s future is up in the air after he was dropped from United’s squad for Saturday’s defeat to Crystal Palace, and Mourinho believes he could be the man to help Lingard revive his stalling career and get him back into the England squad.

Jesse Lingard, Bryan OviedoJesse Lingard, Bryan Oviedo
Lingard fears he could be being frozen out | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

A move for Lingard would supposedly set Spurs back close to £30m, which seems like an enormous figure to pay for a player who is on the fringes of the squad and has just one year left on his contract – although United have the option to trigger a one-year extension in his deal if they so wish.

That money could be raised by selling Alli, although swapping the 24-year-old for Lingard is a move which would leave large sections of the fanbase seething.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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