Watt View - The “Scottish Berkovic” will be key to a swift turnaround
Thursday, 17th Sep 2020 08:06 by Matt Watts
Two straight defeats is not the way we wanted to start the season, but a swift turnaround may be just around the corner when Stuart Armstrong returns from injury and Matt takes a look at his value to the team.
Two defeats in five days is not where any club and its fans want to be at the start of the season. Not least because recent days and weeks would have been spent pondering what might be achieved in the year ahead whether that be survival, a cup run or European football.
For Saints, coming off the back of an excellent post-lockdown period to end the last campaign, it is a particularly disappointing return.
Despite being only two games in, Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl was damning in his verdict of the 0-2 loss to Brentford in the Carabao Cup last night.
“It's very clear – what we showed was simply not enough,” he said. “With this form it will be difficult to win games.”
Hasenhuttl pointed to fitness as a key problem. He stated: “The fitness of some of the players you can definitely see we are not quick enough at the moment. I think we are not at the same level [as post-lockdown].”
For Saints’ style of high-intensity throughout, it is certainly true to say they are not yet at the level required to execute the Austrian’s game plan.
However, it is also important to highlight that the opportunities were there in the 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday which, had they been converted, would have changed the perspective somewhat.
Striker Danny Ings had a header well saved by Spanish keeper Vicente Guaita, Nathan Redmond blew a great chance following a slick build-up, Che Adams was unlucky not to bag with a close-range volley which Guaita beat away and James Ward-Prowse couldn’t work his magic on set-pieces on the day.
While the intensity and desire may have been lacking somewhat in last night’s defeat to the Bees, more so than at Selhurst Park, Adams did sting the post and Jack Stephens had a header tipped over the bar, while Ings couldn’t turn home a chance in the box.
Sometimes the rub of the green can be the difference in bagging a goal or two to change the face of a game. That, unfortunately, has not been with Saints as of yet.
It is also no surprise to anyone associated with the club to see a slow start. Saints have recorded wins on only three occasions out of 12 in the opening four games of the season going back to 2015-16.
While many will be quick to raise concerns over the need to speed up centre back Mohamed Salisu’s availability and ensure a replacement is found for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, it is the absence of the “Scottish Berkovic” that I feel is most significant to a swift turnaround for Saints.
Stuart Armstrong, who picked up an injury while on international duty with his country prior to the trip to Palace, became a critical core of the team last season with his intelligent play, energy and goals - and he will remain so this term.
His impact and performances led former Saints skipper Jason Dodd to liken him to the legendary Israeli Eyal Berkovic, whose arrival at The Dell in 1996 and subsequent displays will live long in the memory of Saints fans.
In an interview with The Courier following Armstrong’s role in Saints’ 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford in July, Dodd said: “It’s a while ago now (1996-1997) but Eyal Berkovic had a brilliant season with us. He was smaller but he linked the play really well, like Stuart, in the danger area.
“It was in areas that mattered – the final third. That’s where you need players to make the difference and win you Premier League games. Stuart is definitely doing that.”
For me, Armstrong is now an integral part of the team, its success and Hasenhuttl’s masterplan and his return will be key to the improvements in form needed to ensure wins on the board in the coming weeks.
Some inspiration will also be needed when the going is tough and, with the unpredictable but skilful Sofiane Boufal likely on his way out of St Mary’s shortly - wrongly in my opinion as discussed in Watt View last week - eyes will be on Moussa Djenepo to provide that spark.
With the return of Armstrong, some magic from Moussa, more games and fitness under the belt for the whole first team and a potential signing or two to provide reinforcements or alternatives, I am hopeful of winning run will not be far away.
Photo: Action Images
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