The inside track on Southampton...
27 December 2016|Tottenham Hotspur
Adam Leitch follows Southampton everywhere for the Southern Daily Echo - here are his thoughts on Wednesday night's clash at St Mary's.
Chief Sports Writer, Southern Daily Echo
What have you made of the first half of the season at Southampton?
Adam: "It was an up and down opening to the season, but Saints come into the game in a strong position. Though there was disappointment in terms of their exit from the Europa League, they are in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup and seventh in the Premier League, which is about where they would hope, especially in a transitional season. They have certainly given themselves plenty to play for in the second half of the season."
How has Claude Puel settled into the Premier League? Any notable changes in playing style?
Adam: "There have been some fairly drastic changes. For three seasons - one under Mauricio Pochettino and two under Ronald Koeman - Saints generally played a 4-2-3-1 formation, and to great success as well with finishes of eighth, seventh and sixth. Claude Puel started with a diamond midfield but has changed to more of a 4-3-3 as the games have gone on. He has also been cautious of the demands of having so many fixtures this season due to Europe, and so style wise Saints have changed to a much more possession based game. They are at their best against teams prepared to come on to them."
Below: Virgil van Dijk
Who have been your best performers this season?
Adam: "Virgil van Dijk has been the standout performer for the team so far. He has been an absolute colossus at centre half, and it is no real surprise to see so many stories linking huge clubs with bids of around £50m for him. Given that Saints only paid £13m for just over a year ago it shows what a fine piece of business it was by the club. There really are few better central defenders in the Premier League at the moment, and Claude Puel believes the Dutchman can go on to be one of the best in the world very soon."
Below: Claude Puel
How do you expect Saints to line-up at St Mary’s? What system does Puel normally go for? Anyone definitely out?
Adam: "It is very hard to pick Claude Puel’s line-ups, even the squad are guessing some of the time because he has taken the policy of rotating his team for the majority of matches. With three games in six days coming up for Saints, there is no doubt that Puel will have in mind a side he would ideally start for all three fixtures, and invariably there will be a large number of alterations. He will probably stick with the system mentioned earlier. In terms of definite absentees there are Charlie Austin, Matt Targett and Jeremy Pied, who all have long term injuries."
Below: Jay Rodriguez on target in Southampton's win at Bournemouth
Finally, how do think the game will pan out?
Adam: "A lot depends on how Spurs approach the game. You would imagine they will try and press Saints high up the field, which will possibly disrupt Saints’ normal possession game. However, Saints are good on the counter-attack and so Spurs may be wary to over commit. Whether Pochettino adapts the Spurs style for Saints, or just goes for it, will be fascinating to see. It will certainly be an intriguing game and it’s fairly easy to make an argument for any result."