Ahead of Saturday’s game, I chatted briefly with Allen Gunn of St. Mary’s Musings, SB Nation’s Southampton blog. Be sure to read the reverse version of this over at their site, wherein we talk Morata, Willian, Barcelona, Shane Long being annoying, and who’s more hard-headed, Roman or Conte?
To the musings!
WAGNH: Southampton seem to be worse off this season than in recent seasons, and that's despite not doing the usual rounds of selling to Liverpool in the summer. What gives?
SMM: Our summer recruitment hasn’t been good enough over the last two seasons and it has finally caught up to us. I don’t think it would matter who is managing us, but we currently don’t have the quality to produce results, including scraping one out. Sofiane Boufal, despite being very raw as a player with lots still to learn, has been our best recruit. He has only recently begun to start games on a consistent basis and hopefully more minutes will give him the confidence to become what we need him to be.
On the whole, we still have failed to replace the likes of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle. Both were instrumental to our success and Mane has clearly continued his growth at Liverpool. Mane and Pelle were an impressive duo for us and the sale of the Italian has really impacted the performances of Dusan Tadic. There’s a reason why we sang, “Tadic and Graziano - It’s magic, you know”.
WAGNH: Do Chelsea have any chance at Virgil van Dijk or is he still set for Liverpool eventually?
SMM: I think Van Dijk will go to the highest bidder, which could happen as early as January. We clearly need to invest in the squad and it seems selling someone will be the only way that happens. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up at Liverpool ... unfortunately.
WAGNH: Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand is in his fourth season already at Saints, but there's a feeling that he's missed his opportunity for a big-money move to City or back to Chelsea or wherever. What's next for him?
I don’t think he’s necessarily missed out on a big money move, however, he signed a five-year contract which will keep him at the club until 2021 so we aren’t in a position where we have been forced to sell him to cash in or lose out. He clearly has the capability to play for Manchester City or Chelsea, but he would have to force a move rather than us grant him his leave. At Saints he knows as long as he’s fit he will start every game and if he’s happy finishing somewhere mid table then great, but based on his telling frustration he could be nearing an exit just out of sheer misery.
WAGNH: Speaking of ex-Chelsea players, how's Oriol Romeu getting on these days? Is he living up to his Barcelona-origins yet?
SMM: Oriol Romeu won Fans’ Player of the Season last year and was a deserved winner. He was easily our most consistent player and that has carried over into 2017/18. I think the fans enjoy that he sees red and gets stuck into a tackle more than anyone else on the squad — that is until Mario Lemina arrived. The pair work well together, but Lemina has started to show his quality. At 26, the big move would have to be next season. His only downside as a defensive midfielder is he doesn’t score goals. I know not everyone can be a goalscorer, but one needs to be more than just a defensive player, especially this day and age when goals are at a premium.
WAGNH: Great things were once expected of Sofiane Boufal; how are those coming along?
SMM: Like said, Boufal finally has been given the confidence to start on a regular basis. He clearly has talent, but often forgets he also has teammates. Boufal is one for the flair as seen by his goal against West Brom — he just needs the rest of his development to catch up. He’s definitely a fan favourite, but nowhere close to being the next Mane.
WAGNH: Sitting mid-table but just 4 points above the relegation zone, Southampton's primary directive to avoid getting drawn into a relegation fight seems pretty clear. But what are the expectations beyond that, if any, for the rest of the season?
SMM: Survive. Survive 90 minutes to the next 90 minutes. Each week gets harder and harder to watch and our next four games, which includes Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United, will be a telling sign of what is to come. Sneak a few points from that and I’ll be happy. We surely aren’t expected to win, but with each poor result the next becomes more important. It’s just a shame we need a result against three of the better teams in the division.
We’re out of the League Cup and should at least be able to progress past Fulham in the FA Cup. At this point of the season I wouldn’t mind us taking the FA Cup seriously and put together a bit of a run. It’s the last bit of hope we have left considering how poor we’ve been in the league.
WAGNH: What can we expect in terms of tactics or approach tomorrow?
SMM: Expect Chelsea to see a lot of the ball. We tend to play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 with the lone striker up front, who inevitably has to drop deep if he wants to even sniff the ball. Our best threat comes down the left side through Bertrand and Redmond. The pair have developed a solid partnership going forward, but the final ball tends to let them down. If they can pick out Charlie Austin, who is likely to start, then that could spell danger for the Blues.
WAGNH: Care to offer a prediction?
SMM: I’ll be smart. 3-1 to Chelsea. But if you score two goals then the worst you’ll get is a draw because we struggle to score more than that.