26 December 2015

How do you solve a problem like Özil? Man-mark with Wanyama..and rue Ramsey's rampages

Against Mancester City, one of the keys to our success came from Flamini's man-marking of Silva, denying the Spaniard the space or time to receive or do much with the ball. This in effect eroded the entirety of Man City's vaunted attack, as few others in that squad had the quality or creativity to carve out chances as Silva might have. For our trip to St. Mary's, the tables turn a bit as Southampton seek to somehow slow us. After yet another summer of seeing key-players depart, Koeman may have no other option than taking a page from Arsène's tactics, sending one of his few seasons players—Victor Wanyama—to follow Özil in much the same way that our own Flamini shadowed Silva. Fabulous. Enter one Aaron Ramsey.

If there has been one constant in Southampton's squad in the last three seasons, it's been the Kenyan. He's anchored the Saints' defensive midfield since his arrival from Celtic in 2013, which coincides more or less with his ascendance to the captaincy of the Kenyan national team. As one of Koeman's few go-to's, it's likely that Wanyama will have to find a way to waylay our telepathic Turk.

Fig.1: Özil's peripheral vision, in which "S"
and "N" represent his left and right eyes.
I speak, of course, of Mesut Özil, whose peripheral vision resembles the Earth's own magnetic fields (see Fig. 1, at right). Herein lies the problem: Silva, plying his trade for Man City, has one job and one job only: find Sergio Agüero. As such, Flamini's job was made much simpler than Wanyama's ever could be. By contrast with Silva, Özil won't content himself with staying central. He'll roam. Wanyama may find himself drawn ever further away from his own central role (literally and figuratively), exposing Southampton to all sorts of threats (mostly of the literal kind...).

Özil is not a traditional #10, the kind that comforts himself with playmaking from the centre of the pitch. He disappears only to reappear on one wing or the other. In his absence—as well as that of his marker—certain other playmakers of the central variety should find time and space to wreak havoc.

Enter, stage-right, one Aaron Ramsey. No longer "reduced" to a role on the right wing, Ramsey has enjoyed a resurgence, flirting with another resurrection, playing through the middle. Since his restoration, Ramsey has delivered two and two assists in four matches, looking more and more dangerous all the while. Critics will harp on his fluffed chances against Man City, neglecting how hard he'd worked to even get into those positions and how hard it is to deliver delicate touches under pressure after running himself so ragged.

At Southampton's end, they'll have to figure out some way to stanch the bleeding that has seen them concede 13 goals in their last five outings. With Özil alternately absconding and apparitioning hither and yon, then, Ramsey should find plenty of space in which to rampage and, one hopes, pillage. If nothing else, he's a birthday-boy, turning 25 on 26 December. Constantly risking hyperbole, I can think of no greater gift than for him to get a goal or two. With Walcott and Campbell flitting about, and Özil ghosting here, there, and everywhere, Ramsey should find (and make good on) any number of chances.

Here's to you, Aaron, on your birthday. You're the gift that keeps on givin'...