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Southampton Still Have A Central Defensive Crisis
Friday, 20th Aug 2021 09:29

The departure of Jannik Vestergaard was not the traumatic event for Saints supporters that the media would have you believe, but the fact still remains that it is 5 years since we have had a central defence better than the worst in the premier League, when will that change.

The summer 2016 heralded the start of an issue at Southampton Football Club in the centre of defence that has still not been addressed today, both Virgil Van Dijk & Jose Fonte wanted to leave and split the fans due to publicly saying one thing, yet privately telling the club something differently, there are some who seem to think they were driven out, but the truth is they wanted to leave for differing reasons , one for glory and money, the other just for money.

Since then there have been a succession of applicants to replace them, most failed to varying degrees with only Jan Bednarek becoming a truly Premier League class player.

Bednarek though had to grow up fast in public, he had no experienced mentor beside him to talk him through games and help him learn his trade and it is to his credit that he has succeeded.

But the fact still remains that after 5 years we have failed to find a solid centre back pairing and now with the season underway again, we are no nearer solving the problem.

Jannik Vestergaard came in 2018 but was not the answer, maybe at Leicester he will succeed, he has talent, but at Saints he only showed it for a brief period in the first half of last season, his departure therefore is not a blow, that is unless we fail to replace him.

Dynel Simeu is a prospect and it is good to see that the club have already promoted him to the first team squad, but it would be folly to throw him into our defence at the moment.

Ralph Hasenhuttl likes to buy youth, but sometimes you have to bring in some old heads to lead the team, Lawrie McMenemy was an expert at doing this, his teams always had an over 30 player perhaps past his best in terms of his legs, but invaluable to the side in for their experience and ability to tlak players through games, almost be a coach on the pitch and a mentor off it.

This is exactly what we need to bring in now, our defence clearly lacks organisation and that starts on the training ground, we have a goalkeeping coach, but do we have a defensive one, our coaching staff is void of true experience at the highest level and that is another issue that needs to be addressed.

That is why I was happy to see Gary Cahill linked, Saints have four central defenders at present, the first is Jan Bednarek, bizarrely dropped at Everton, after him Mohammed Salisu has the talent but needs the experience, then comes Jack Stephens, a good club servant, but sadly not a Premier League quality central defender, a good back up and a role to play, but still part of the problem and not the solution to it.

Dynel Simeu may well break through this season, but it has to be slowly otherwise it will ruin him going forward.

We need that experience at the back, not just on the pitch but off it as well, someone who can impart the benefit of their experience on the training ground and be a leader just as much off the pitch as on it.

Why do we concede so many late goals ? The answer is simple we are disorganised and can't dig in and hold the line under pressure, teams chasing the game know that if they sling the ball in the box we will be all over the place.

With 20 minutes to go we need an old head on the pitch to hold the back line, I would contend if we had signed Gary Cahill and brought him on with 20 minutes to go at Goodison Park we would not have conceded the last two goals.

It doesn't look like it will be Cahill who will be arriving, perhaps with the money we have left from the Jannik Vestergaard transfer we can afford someone a little younger and with the ability to play more games, Phil Jones of Manchester United springs to mind, he might not be up to United's standards anymore but he would improve our squad.

These are just two examples I am sure there are more options if you scour the Premier League team lists, we do not need Nat Phillips of Liverpool a player who at 24 has played only 17 Premier League games, we need a 30 year old that has played almost twice than number.

We have promising youngsters in our back four already, we do not need another unheard of player from the Continent with plenty of potential but little experience, we need someone tried and trusted at the level we are playing and more to the point we need him now.

Why this hasn't been addressed before I am at a loss to explain, it is not just a Ralph Hasenhuttl thing, his predecessors failed to act as well, it is not even a backroom thing, Les Read is long gone, we have had time to assess the situation.

Good football sides are based on balance and players that compliment each other, we do not have that at present, we have those that lead by example but we do not have leaders of men and that has to change and it is needed in the back four.

I'm sorry if you have read this all before, I have been saying it for 5 years and nothing has changed.

Photo: Action Images

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HythePeer added 09:49 - Aug 20
Aren't the manager and the capt are responsible for organization?

Saintly_Mix added 10:36 - Aug 20
Almost fully agree, every team we face finds a way to score against us. It feels like we’re getting to the stage where it’ll take 3 goals to get a win.
I don’t think Gary Cahill for 20 minutes at a time is the answer, games can be gone by then, and Phil Jones is not good or reliable. But you’re right, a leader with experience is needed.

highfield49 added 10:42 - Aug 20
You make it sound as though Fonte and VVD were bought as star defenders Nick. Fonte came from Palace for a fee of just over £1m and VVD from Celtic for around £14m. Subsequently, after their toys had been collected from around the pram, the club has tried to repeat the process and Hoedt, Vestergaard, Bednarek, Yoshi, Stephens and Salisu have all been tried in an attempt to find the right combination. What Fonte and VVD had was the ability, usually, to read the game and get in the right positions and, crucially, cover for one another when caught out. None of the players we have subsequently deployed at the back has been or is a great reader of the game, Bednarek is the best and Salisu is also very promising. Whilst the club are likely to sign a central defender capable of playing at the back and in midfield I don't see the advantage in buying the likes of Cahill. You make him sound like some sort of comic book hero lumbering on to the pitch to rescue the team with twenty minutes to play. The fact is the organisation and leadership needs to be on the pitch for ninety plus minutes not Captain Marvel inspiring the leaderless to greater things by use of his inspirational super powers and rickety zimmer frame. Until we get someone in from Forest, Middlesbrough, Marseille or wherever the best choice for me has to be Bednarek and Salisu and some real leadership from a decent goalkeeper, organising and vocally assisting any ball watchers in the vicinity. McCarthy isn't the player and Forster doesn't seem to be very vocal either so £10m spent on a decent 'keeper with command of the area surely must be a priority.

stmichael added 10:54 - Aug 20
Spot on Nick..
I would have liked Cahill too..

Sadoldgit added 11:03 - Aug 20
I’m not fussed about age but speed and mobility would be useful in the system Ralph plays. Bednarek is slow as was Vestergaard and we were constantly done for pace. Cahill was not the answer. Let’s hope we finally get someone in who can make a difference.

WestSussexSaint added 11:04 - Aug 20
Totally agree with Highfield on this.

We do have the quality in centre of defence. Bednarek is good and has experience now but has scars from repeated thrashing’s so confidence is low. Salisu has bags of potential but largely unproven so let’s give the pair a chance.

The goals conceded against Everton for example were largely down to poor defending from Stephens or poor communication from the Goalkeeper.

You will get no argument that Stephens is not of the quality needed to be first choice. McCarthy is an accident waiting to happen. What Bednarek and Salisu need is a quality keeper behind them who is constantly communicating with them. That will give them the confidence and play to their undoubted ability. Whether that is FF in the short term I don’t know but he is better than McCarthy while we look for a better keeper.

felly1 added 11:08 - Aug 20
When we had Van Dyke and Fonte, and even before VVD joined us we used to play with three solid Central midfielders in a 433 formation. This protected the back four.
We now have a much weaker defence but Ralph chooses to play with two forwards and essentialy two wide attackers, leaving us short in the centre of the park to help protect the Cbs. In my opinion this is why our defenders are so exposed and eventually start to concede once they run out of steam.

SaintPaulVW added 11:16 - Aug 20
The problem for any experienced head is going to be managing Ralph's one size fits all strategy. If the right subs aren't on the pitch and Ralph is screaming at forwards to attack then no amount of digging in in an overstretched formation is going to be effective. In fact 'tightening up at the back' will only makes our formation more disjointed and opens up more space in the midfield. Ralph will still need to change tactics.

I agree that we need to replace JV. However a younger player would be my choice.

An experienced CM would be my choice. Start the tight games or bring on to tighten things up, as would have been great on Saturday. Stu and Ibrahim, good though they are, don't strike me as adequate cover at CM.

WoolstonSaint2 added 11:40 - Aug 20
We are spineless. Poor GKs, CBs and no boss in CM. WHY HAS THIS NOT ALREADY BEEN SORTED FFS??!! God help us this season.

saintmark1976 added 12:19 - Aug 20
If Ralph had Fonte and Van Dijk at his disposal he would still find a way for us to lose game after game because he is completely out of his depth tactically. He would probably play Fonte in goal and Van Dijk as a winger.

teamster1 added 12:52 - Aug 20
For starters look at the goalkeepers. They give defenders confidence McCarthy gives none. He doesn’t talk and command his area. Completely useless. Why have we not purchased a decent Premier league keeper before we look at defenders.

Billeewithers added 12:58 - Aug 20
A full on defensive coach has been a standout for a good while. Ralf is a forward by nature. We have GK coaches?
We also need more voluble leaders on the field. Real driving players who know when to bollock and when to organise and support.
To many players in defence are not really at the races when the opposition step up.
We knew that Everton were going to come out different. Ralf should have altered things there and then not wait to see what the players do ..... that implies he doesn’t know what is coming. He needs to set the agenda and be big enough to bring some more dominant players in even if it makes it harder for him to manage.

schatfield added 12:58 - Aug 20
Gary friggin Cahill......there is a reason palace didnt even bother to renew his contract and let him go free

derbydog added 13:22 - Aug 20
I don’t know why you bang on about experienced players such as Cahill. The club made its policy clear — they want players with talent which can be developed, be under 24 years old, and with luck can be sold on at a profit. And for a fee in the region of 10 mil. It’s all very clear. The Fulham lad and Forest’s Worrall fit the bill. Cahill didn’t. End of…

zonehead added 14:56 - Aug 20
I think it must be an ego thing, Ralph is ok managing young players, a wise head is needed, I’m not sure Ralph can deal with that

SaintPaulVW added 15:11 - Aug 20
Lyanco from Torino looks to be on his way in.

Block8 added 17:29 - Aug 20
Our system of pushing FB's high exposes our CB's as they have to split to cover. The idea being that our CM cover the middle of defence. The biggest problem with this is our complete lack of pace through the middle.
I would like us to play 433 as it would help out defensively.
However all three goals last week were due to lack of communication, shameful at this level!

JoeEgg added 11:04 - Aug 21
Lyanco was more often than not an unused substitute at the poor Torino side that just avoided relegation last year. Who on earth recommended Lyanco?

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