The Saints View
The games come thick and fast for the penultimate month of the season as the Eagles head to the South Coast to take on Southampton. That gave us the perfect excuse to catch up with our friends from St Mary’s Musings about their season so far.
Q. The last time we met, Palace won quite convincingly at Selhurst. Perhaps you could share your thoughts on the game?
It was easily the worst performance of the season for Southampton up to that point and still the most uncharacteristic one we’ve seen in 2016/17. Everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. From Fraser Forster’s gifted goal to not defending the corner properly on the second, it was ugly. Palace, however, rightly deserved to win because they took advantage of those mistakes.
Q. How has the season gone for you since then?
We’re tenth in the Premier League so I don’t want to come across as a petty idiot because loads of clubs would love to be that position in this league, but it has been largely frustrating with good and bad moments. Our potential is far greater than our current standing, though our lack of focus has cost us points as we’ve dropped 17 from winning positions, which is second worst in the division. Not miss a few of those sitters and it could be totally different season.
Southampton’s draw on Saturday against Bournemouth was a reminder of what we looked like prior to Manolo Gabbiadini’s arrival where we created chances but couldn’t find the net through Rodriguez or Long – one of those “could play until Tuesday and still not score” situations. That has been the narrative for the majority of the season and if that non-clinical team shows up we struggle for results.
Lastly, the down point of the year was failing to advance to the Europa League knockout round because we had two chances to secure our place and didn’t do so in what was a winnable group.
Q. The result apart, how was your trip to Wembley?
It was a big day out for the club. Saturday against Bournemouth was our first home game in eight weeks and when someone in a press conference asked Claude Puel about it, he said, “Wembley was like a home game”. That’s a massive credit to what it meant to be there for the fans, and the lads put in an effort worthy of a trophy, but unfortunately Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays for Manchester United.
Q. How do you feel the club did in the January transfer window and were all needs addressed?
Scoring goals was a huge issue for us heading into January. Shane Long hadn’t been able to live up to his form from 2015/16, Jay Rodriguez was still finding his feet, which always seemed to be disrupted by an injury, and Charlie Austin was injured.
Gabbiadini could be the buy of the season outside of N’Golo Kante (Chelsea). Gabbiadini has come in and done a tremendous job opening the opposition’s defence up and players like Nathan Redmond, James-Ward Prowse and Dusan Tadic have fully benefited.
I think we could’ve done better addressing our defensive depth following the sale of Jose Fonte to West Ham and of course losing Virgil van Dijk to a long-term injury. Jack Stephens, however, has been worthy enough of his starting role in the absence of van Dijk. The options were few and far between at the time, but we’ve come away with Martin Caceres on a free transfer so it’s a low risk gamble. I’m not sure when we’ll see him make his debut, but I like that Puel continues to trust Stephens and hasn’t made a knee-jerk reaction.
Q. Seeing as it’s Claude Puel’s first season in English football, how do you think he has done so far?
As I told the Busby Babe ahead of the League Cup final, I think Puel was dealt a very difficult hand at the start of the season when our summer recruitment plan let us down, even if marginally. It was a gamble to only have three senior strikers, including two that are injury prone, on the squad and we’ve paid for it dearly at times during the season when we could’ve used a fresh injection at that spot.
Injuries have had the biggest impact on what Puel has done and been able to do thus far and he’s weathered the storm of fan criticism. He’s continued to give players opportunities, especially the younger guys like Stephens and James Ward-Prowse, who have repaid that faith.
Q. It is great to see James Ward-Prowse get an England call up, but not before time right?
Gareth Southgate gave a great explanation of why he called up both Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond. He wanted to see how they’d handle the environment in training and on match day, but stated the duo would be part of the under 21 squad headed to the Euros in June. At the time I said it might be most logical reason we’ve received from an England manager and I stand by it.
Both have a bit of ways to go in their development before they’re at the senior level permanently, though it is nice to see them rewarded for their play this year. The biggest thing they can improve on is consistency.
Q. How about your views on Palace since we last faced each other?
Four straight wins for Palace, including a marquee one over Chelsea, and four points above the drop zone. It seems Big Sam has the squad moving in the right direction. I’m sure he’d like do-overs against Swansea and Sunderland, as those could be important results down the line.
Q. Name one player from each team that the opposition should be concerned about?
Without Gabbiadini available for Wednesday, Redmond is someone to watch for because of his pace and ability to get around the defence. His impact, however, is dependent on whether or not we can get players into the box for him to link up with and that’s something we’ve struggled with doing when Gabbiadini is not on the pitch.
Christian Benteke is the obvious choice here with ten league goals and twelve in all competitions, but I think Wilfred Zaha has rediscovered his form since returning to Palace. His movement against a stout Chelsea defence, which was tied for first in the division, should concern our backline.
0-1 Palace. Much like the feeling I had on Saturday, I just don’t know where our goals are going to come from. Couple that with an in-form Palace and Saints fans could be left frustrated.
Q. And finally, the floor is yours to promote what you do along with any projects that you are working on.
Not really any new projects, but we’re definitely trying to drive our content and get a stronger reach.