27 January 2014

Southampton Preview: Q&A with George Weah's Cousin

Ahead of our Tuesday trip to St. Mary's Stadium, I reached out to Chris Rann, a self-described football-obsessed Southampton fan who runs the blog georgeweahscousin.com while also featuring at ESPN Southampton. He was kind enough to offer some insights into Southampton's season as well as Tuesday's clash. You can follow him on twitter at @crstig.

At any rate, I pitched him a few questions, and here's what he had to say.

  1. Southampton got off to such a strong start but seem to have faded lately. Does this seem as if the squad was overachieving and have now returned to "normal" or is there another explanation?
    RANN: I think that that is true to a certain extent, but a collection of injuries to our key defensive players coincided with a run of very difficult fixtures too, which made it tough. We have a very good first choice eleven, but often the players that come in to cover aren't quite as good. We lost that defensive stability that had us up there with the best defences in Europe and that meant a run of poor form.

  2. Arsenal may owe a debt or apology of sorts to Southampton. How might you describe the general feeling towards Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain for having left the club? I ask in part because Arsenal has similarly lost key players, with fan-reactions ranging from venomous to despairing.
    RANN: I'm not sure an apology is in order, but some gratitude would be nice. Only joking, football is cut-throat and being able to sell players like Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain kept us going while we rebuilt the club after relegation and financial meltdown. I think the general feeling to both players is good, and they will get a decent reception. We are proud of the young players that come through our academy and go on to play for England. Hopefully now we are in a position where they achieve it in a Saints shirt. Perhaps the miracle really is that we still have Lallana.

  3. Along similar lines, the January window will close at the end of the week. Do you see Southampton signing or losing anyone?
    RANN: This morning I would have said no, but with the recent Osvaldo incident, the manager has hinted that we might bring somebody in. I don't think we will lose anyone, or at least anyone that plays regularly. The club keep reiterating that nobody is for sale, but it won't stop the rumours. Decisions in football can change in an instant, so I would never say never, but unless someone offers crazy money I can't see anyone going.

  4. Southampton has been quite good at home, but Arsenal have the Prem's best away-record. How will Southampton set up—play to win or draw? (Don't worry. Arsène doesn't seem to come around here much).
    RANN: We always play to win. We have nothing to fear at home. We gave Man City a good game, and were even a little disappointed not to win. We will press from the front and put you under pressure. I think we will take some comfort from the game at the Emirates, where, although we didn't deserve anything, we weren't outplayed by any stretch. Only one team have outclassed us this season, Chelsea, sadly they did it twice.

  5. What seems to be Southampton's bigger priority--making a push for a top-five finish and European competition or winning the FA Cup?
    RANN: I can't see a top-five finish to be honest. I think we would be delighted with 9th, perhaps with some good form, make it to 8th. The FA Cup has opened up nicely with the top 4 all playing each other, and this presents a good opportunity for a club like us to make the final. I'm sure we are taking it seriously, and it would be some way to end a good season.
Some interesting food for thought there, especially playing to win. We may have beaten the Saints 2-0 in November, but I highly doubt that we can count on a Boruc howler to put them on the back-foot again. Look to Southampton to come out, as Rann has suggested, pressing up the pitch and playing an attractive, aggressive style. Even with the departure of chairman Nicola Cortese and resulting uncertainty over Pocchetino's future, I'd suggest that a 9th-place is a bit modest, and, if anything, there might be a certain circling of the wagons as players rally to support Pocchetino. 

While rumors swirl around Lallana or Shaw, they look likely to stay, and Southampton therefore can boast of a vital core of young players, including also Rodriguez and Clyne. Victor Wanyama may make a return after a seven-week lay-off due to injury, as should Boruc, but Lambert may miss out with injury-woes of his own. At our end, there are some doubts around both Wilshere and Ramsey, but we otherwise come in at close to full strength and with a full day's rest on the Saints.

Given Southampton's willingness to play a high line with an offsides-trap, along with a willingness to press up the pitch, I'd like to see Gnabry on the right-flank in order to use his pace to get in behind the defense, much as Walcott might were he available. This is far and away our toughest match of the month, and it's vital that we come out knowing that we were rather lucky to win at home against the Saints but may have to grind it out against a determined, well-drilled team.

That said, it looks to be a tense affair, but I think we can get three points with a 2-1 win.