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Hot Off The Press: Southampton

The Athletic's Dan Sheldon on The Saints

11 January 2022

After the original fixture was postponed on 18 December, Southampton closed 2021 with a 3-2 win at West Ham and a 1-1 draw with Tottenham. What did you make of how they fared over the festive period?

It was nothing short of impressive, really. These were two games that, on paper, you would not have expected them to get anything from, so to go to West Ham and get three points was great, particularly as they had not won at the London Stadium before that. Then to get a draw against Spurs when they were down to 10 men for well over half of the match was equally as impressive as, arguably for the first time this season, you could see they showed a bit of grit and determination to hang on, not concede late on and give away even more points. The club were delighted with the results of those two games, but then the Newcastle game was postponed so their momentum hit a wall, to an extent. On the whole, no one thought they would get points from those games and they did, so that can only been see as a positive.

The big news at St Mary’s last week was the takeover by Serbian television tycoon Dragan Solak and there is interest from a Brentford perspective, of course, given former Director of Football Rasmus Ankersen’s involvement. Has there been any indication as to what the future might hold under the new regime?

What we know is that Sport Republic is backed by Solak, co-owned by Henrik Kraft and Ankersen and their vision is to set up a multi-club model, which draws comparisons with the City Football Group – albeit on a much smaller scale as they are not backed by a state! That is the vision; Southampton are the first acquisition and it sounds as though they are already looking around for their second club now.

They have drawn nine games so far - the joint-highest amount in the league alongside Brighton – and have taken the lead in four of those. Is that creating any level of frustration in the camp, particularly as they have only got three wins on the board?

In those four games where they have let the lead slip, the general feeling is that the table would look a lot different if they had held on for those wins. Against Brighton, they conceded in the 98th minute and even if they had won that, the table would look completely different. There is definitely a frustration that they are drawing a lot, but this year, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s modus operandi is to win games 1-0 and keep clean sheets, which they didn’t do last season. When you are not trying to score three or four goals, you are always going to be open to conceding goals and if they are only scoring once, that is often going to cost them three points.

In which areas do you think Saints will be looking to strengthen in the January transfer window?

January will be an interesting month for Southampton. They still have one slot available to take a player on loan, but it is not depth they are really looking for. If they are going to do any business, they are looking to add dynamism and quality. I think they are lacking in the No 10 area – Stuart Armstrong has not really been fit this season and they are missing him a lot. If they were to do anything, I would say it would be in the forward department, though at the moment it doesn’t look as though they will. I wouldo say, if there was the chance to do a deal similar to the one that brought Tino Livramento to the club from Chelsea – i.e. a young player not playing at a top side – they would absolutely be looking to exploit that.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Saturday?

I would have said Livramento, but he is set for some time on the sidelines with a meniscus injury, so I will go for Armando Broja (above). He is on loan from Chelsea and is the joint-top scorer with Mohamed Elyounoussi at the moment, with four Premier League goals and six in all competitions. You can just tell he has got that finisher’s touch; he always knows where the goal is and his goal against Crystal Palace in mid-December was a perfect example of that. If he gets half chance to take a shot, he will take it as he is not someone to take three or four touches and pass it on. Southampton have lacked that, so having him in the squad has been really helpful and he looks like a really good player.

How is Ralph Hasenhuttl likely to set up his side at St Mary’s?

He always sets up the same way, really, with a 4-2-2-2 system. It has two central midfielders, two what he calls No 10s and we would probably call wingers and two strikers. He has played five at the back at times this season as he has the central defenders to do that, but whether he would set up that way for a home match, I’m not so sure.

Brentford have won two of the last three meetings between the teams, with the most recent a 2-0 victory in last season’s Carabao Cup second round. What’s your score prediction for this one?

I confidently went for 3-0 before the original game, but Brentford have got a goalkeeper again now! Let’s go for a 2-0 Southampton win.

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