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2019/20 Season Review - The Central Midfield
Friday, 31st Jul 2020 09:48

We move a little further forward into the midfield to take a look at what we did good & bad during the season just ended, the good news is that the further up the pitch we go the better it gets.

The midfield was an area with plenty of choices last season, in the centre we had James Ward Prowse, Pierre Emile Hojbjerg , Oriol Romeu and the option to play Stuart Armstrong in a central role.

Let's start with the player that wants to leave to play Champions League football Pierre Emile Hojbjerg, now I am not one to change my opinion on the abilities of a player just because he wants to go, I have often said that our strength is the Southampton Way of taking a player and improving him and then selling him on.

The key to that though is the player himself, he needs to have drive and ambition, our problems aren't having players who want to play Champions League football it's having those who don't.

In my book Hojbjerg had a reasonable season, he started most of the games before the lockdown and put in a shift, he is a Premier League standard player, but is he a top 4 club player, I would say no, he won't win you Champions League finals or Premier League titles, he will though put in 100%.

His game just has a few too many flaws to make him top notch, his passing ability and lack of goals being issues, too many simple passes go astray and despite getting into scoring positions, he can't finish as his grand total of 0 goals in any competition showed.

I wish him well wherever he goes, but I fear if it is Spurs he will find things hard with too much on his shoulders and if it is Everton, he will be no better off than here.

James Ward Prowse however came of age and in any other season would have been player of the year, Danny Ings was just exceptional.

Early on he had his critics, but I felt they were being unfair, the issue for JWP was he was too versatile so you would never know where he would be played and when subs came on he was often shuffled around to accommodate, but in the latter part of the season when he got a run in his best role in the centre he showed what he can do, being handed the captaincy was a confidence booster not a weight on his shoulders and he can be a big player next season.

Oriol Romeu was overshadowed by Hojbjerg at one point in the season, in the first part of the season the Dane was preferred and Romeu often found himself on the bench, but when we returned after lockdown, Hojbjerg was dropped and Romeu did a job, some had forgot that he was actually a good player and former player of the year to boot, personally I would like to see him give a new deal and the Hojbjerg money used elsewhere in the team.

New kid on the block was Will Smallbone, at the turn of the year he was just a name in the academy ranks, but a goal on his debut in the FA Cup against Huddersfield showed that he could play a little and he ended up starting 4 games plus another 5 as sub and he made contributions including a sliding tackle in the final game against Sheffield United that put Che Adams through for one of his goals in that game.

This coming season could see Smallbone make a real impression.

We will see soon whether Ralph will make a signing to replace Hojbjerg or replace from within, one option could be Jack Stephens, sadly he has flaws in his game as a central defender that mean he will never truly be a top player in that position, but he could well be converted into a holding midfielder, he has a great ability to carry the ball forward and this is something that we have lacked.

All in all I don't think we will miss the departure of Hojbjerg, even if we don't sign a replacement, we have the cover already at the club.

Photo: Action Images

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felly1 added 10:25 - Jul 31
I think we were very fortunate to have someone with the quality of Romeu to come in a replace PEH. The issue next season may arise when we get injuries and suspensions. Is Smallbone going to be good enough to perform consistently and dominate the midfield the way JWP has now learnt to do?
Romeu for all all his attacking limitations is a really strong competitive player who gives you a 7 out of 10 performance most games. It's a lot to ask of Smallbone to step in and produce consistently when he has only started a handful of games.
Maybe Stephens can do a job for us there if required or we bring back Reed who I haven't really seen play much tbh.

SanMarco added 11:49 - Jul 31
I agree that JWP has eventually grown into the role - a bit like Spiderman and Lallana. Will be interesting to see whether the 'big' boys take a renewed interest.

I agree with felly1 re Smallbone. He looks promising but is he a Romeu? Don't think so. Reed either needs to be used in that job or sold (probably the latter) so we do need a replacement for PEH (if he goes) even if as a reserve for the inevitable Romeu suspensions/injuries. I saw a comment from Reed that he doesn't want such a reserve role so unless he is better than Romeu...

Stephens as holding MF has often been suggested (bit like Bertrand for CB) but hasn't happened. If this is a possibility I think it should have been looked at once we got to 40 points. Musn't mess around early season trying it.

claus5 added 12:25 - Jul 31
I would will be at boiling point. How dare YOU suggest JWP is any good. I fear for his/her heart.

SaintStu7 added 13:08 - Jul 31
Add Reed to the mix and we have great options in CM. Never really great the injuries and suspension arguments, all clubs have a squad for these reasons and apart from maybe the top 4 no club can replace like for like. You have your best 2 or 3 and then maybe and sometimes luckily injuries give the younger players an opportunity when often a gem is discovered. If you have too many show ponies for each position they just drain the club of money, aren’t committed and cause an unsettled squad when not playing.

GasGiant added 13:10 - Jul 31
I was really impressed with Oriel Romeu after lockdown. In many of those games he was the anchor breaking down opposition attacks and launching counter attacks. Hardly ever did anything showy but his tackles won count must be higher than Hojbjerg.

Farmhouse added 13:12 - Jul 31
For me Romeu is not a number 1 choice for that position and will never be, he doesn’t have the range of passing and can be reckless in the challenge, giving free kicks away in dangerous positions. A guy who is constantly sliding into tackles probably means that he is out of position more often. Great back up but we need a decent PEH replacement. From what I have seen of Smallbone he looks good, he will get game time in centre mid next year.

SanMarco added 13:52 - Jul 31
SaintStu - we are talking about who would come in when Romeu was suspended. Presumably we all want that person to be as good as possible. Or of course if you take Farmhouse's view then we are talking first choice.

SaintPaulVW added 14:14 - Jul 31
Looking at all those players, we have a good mix available to us. I don't think we need to recruit to replace PEH.

felly1 added 14:26 - Jul 31
Let's assume JWP and Romeu are our first choice CM choices for next season. Its quite likely one or (if we're unlucky) both are injured, suspended or loss of form, who comes in?
Smallbone currently occupies that role. How would he cope when the games are coming thick and fast and we're under pressure?
I also think Ralph has to decide to let go of Reed and Slattery or bring them back into the squad if he feels they can do a job for us.
My worry is we could end up being lightweight and overrun in this area of the pitch.

Personally I'd like us to find a young decent 10ml pound guy who's played 100+ games and ready to step up to the demands of the Prem league.

davepid added 16:32 - Jul 31
Nick, you make no comment about Reed even though some of your correspondents are calling for his return into the squad based on his time at Fulham. Are you of the view that a mere 17 performances in seven years under 5 managers plus Hughes with no appearances for three years , speaks for itself? He’s one of those fringe players that impress the fans more than the managers ( I liked his passion on the pitch, too) but surely he has no future with us.

Peterx added 18:05 - Jul 31
I reckon we can get Reed and Romeo to fight it out for the 2nd defensive midfielder spot. Interesting to me that RH also did not let Danso go when his loan must have expired in May sometime but I guess got it extended by a couple of months. We have not seen much of him but Defensive Midfield was also reputedly something he could do. Also RH has spent a year developing him, could come through this year if we hold onto him.

ItchenNorth added 18:46 - Jul 31
Every team needs a Terry Hurlock and I like to see a player get his foot in like Romeu.
JWP was excellent this season, deserving captain and apart from Ings; my player of the season.
Smallbone looks the part, but will take a few more games yet to establish himself. His potential is greater than the departing PEH.
PEH will be missed, but is replaceable, and his form was patchy this season; because he wants out.
Armstrong have really arrived this season and gives our midfield good balance.

NewburySaint added 16:10 - Aug 1
Itchen North: You are so right about needing a Terry Horlock type player I.e. someone that can put their foot in but can also play a bit & Romeu is the closest we currently have.

SanMarco added 17:00 - Aug 2
Would Terry Hurlock ever make it to the first drinks break without seeing a red card flashed before his eyes???!!!

NewburySaint added 20:36 - Aug 2
SanMarco: Certainly not as football is today!!
The thing with Hurlock is that he was a superb footballer but that all used to be forgotten because he was a “hard man”, and he also used to get a very raw deal from the refs.

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