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Southampton Need To Sort Out Central Defence Pairing For West Ham Clash
Wednesday, 8th Sep 2021 08:47

Although it has been an ok start to the Premier League season with two draws and a defeat, it really should have been more and already a lack of concentration in the centre of our defence has cost us soft goals, after 5 years of trying we have to now get it right.

Going forward Saints are a potent attacking force, but defensively although at times tight, they still suffer from lapses in concentration and a lack of organisation and leadership.

That was highlighted in the very first game when looking good for a 1-0 lead at half time against Everton at Goodison Park, within minutes of the restart they were dragged back to level terms with a goal that started with the conceding of a needless corner and ended with the goalkeeper standing and watching Richarlison toe poke the ball past him after a lack of communication in the defence

The two late goals that sealed our fate were equally poorly defended.

Against Manchester United it was the same story and it was only by pure luck and some desperate last gasp defending that we stayed on level terms come the end of 90 minutes.

Like last season Newcastle was a game we dominated and should have won, but again we gifted the Mags two goals that really should have been defended better, we once again showed our vulnerability on the break.

The good news though was that unlike last season it was not a terminal blow, we had the firepower going forward to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.

This is of course not the first time I have brought up this subject. I bring it up so often that some accuse me of having something against certain players, nothing could be further from the truth, just because i feel a player isn't performing to the level required doesn't mean I take to social media demanding he leave the club immediately, I don't think any of them do it personally, but the reason I keep harping on is because since January 2017 it has been happening again and again and again.

Now is the time to get things right, I like Ralph Hasenhuttl as a manager, he has done well under heavy financial constraints caused by some poor signings made before he arrived, who were still on the books up to recently.

But I will criticise him where it is due and the fact is during his time we have never sorted out the problem, never sorted out an experienced leader and organiser at the back and in consequence have paid the price.

All of our central defenders are capable players, I have been critical of Jack Stephens, he has proved he can play in the Premier League, but the problem is he has lapses in concentration, as was seen in the first goal for Newcastle when he should have been the player taking command but allowed his man to get in front of him and score.

Jack is a loyal servant to the club, a good back up player, but to be blunt if he is the first choice then we do have a big problem .

Mohamed Salisu has partnered him in the opening games, Salisu is a talent but he is inexperienced, he needs someone to talk him through games and help him learn his trade.

Why Jan Bednarek hasn't started any of the first three games is a mystery, he has been far our best and most consistent central defender in the past few years and has one of the best records for blocks in the Premier League.

No one knows much about our new signing Lyanco or how fit he is, he has some experience but will he be the new Dejan Lovren or Claus Lundekvam or will he be the new Maya Yoshida ?

That we will soon find out.

The hope for the future is Dynel Simeu, he has all the attributes of being that leader and organiser, but he is still only 19 and yet to play a first team game of any sort for Chelsea or now with us.

The centre of defence is a harder position to throw in a youngster, you can get away with it at full back or in midfield, but in the centre of defence there is little margin for error, I would expect that Symeu will get a chance this season, but not just yet.

So Ralph has plenty of options open to him now, there is no excuse to continue to let in goals that in the main should be defended and now is the time to stop the rot of the last 5 years.

Against West Ham the joint top scorers in the Premier League with 10 goals in their opening 3 games we cannot afford to be so lax we have to get a partnership together.

In my mind that firstly needs the reinstatement of Jan Bednarek, it is only a question of who plays alongside him, the obvious choice is Salisu, he has a little more experience, what he does lack though is someone telling him what is going on.

In three of the goals conceded you could look at Salisu and question his decision, at Everton for the first goal he clearly thought the keeper was going to get the ball but was caught in two minds as he didn't get a shout.

At Newcastle he marked his man but didn't make an attempt to block for the first, again a lack of any sort of communication from the players who were behind him and should have been calling the shots and for the second he was a yard off his man, again someone should be holding the back line and talking, again Salisu didn't know what was behind him and didn't know whether to get tight or hold off.

It is all about communication at the back and the lack of it.

So will Lyanco be fit and ready to play ? I'm not so sure he will be or whether he can even speak English to communicate with those around him and that is a worry.

So for me Ralph has two choices on Saturday, Salisu & Bednarek and a poll conducted on the Ugly Inside message board this week showed that was the pairing favoured by the fans . (Link Below)


His second choice is to play a central trio as he did against Manchester United in the second half, again I think Bednarek & Salisu should be in there with the only question being who is the third man, in the absence of Harry Lime we have the choice of either Jack Stephens or Lyanco.

Stephens may get the nod here, he was fine against Manchester United and in a deeper lying central three it might suit him better, with Lyanco it will be the unknown and we will soon find out if he is the tough tackling ball playing central defender we are told he is and our recruitment department have found another hidden diamond or we have signed a dud.

The one thing that has to happen though is that we have to sort out our lack of a leader and experience in defence, it can't go on, we seem to have a rigid policy these days that stops us buying players over the age of 27, in any walk of life you have to have some flexibility and sometimes go outside your own parameters and with the centre of defence I think this is the case.

In the B team Saints brought Ollie Lancashire back to the club to mentor the B team and talk them through games and perhaps we need to look at that experiment and consider it for the first team.

In the past previous managers have brought in players past their best to slot into and run the back four who have got a new lease of life, Chris Nicholl or Dave Watson for Lawrie Mcmenemy springs to mind .

There are out of contract central defenders out there who could do a job not just on the pitch but on the training ground, one of them would be David Luiz formerly of Chelsea and Arsenal.

At 34 you would not be signing him to play 38 games a season, you would be signing him to step into games where experience is needed and he certainly has that, he played 20 Premier League games for Arsenal last season and that would be perhaps what Saints would need from a player like Luiz, a calm head off the bench in the final 20 minutes.

I am sorry to have to write another article like this and in the main repeat the same things that I have said 3 or 4 times a year for the past 4 1/2 years, but here we are further up the road and I am saying these things because nothing has changed and they are still happening.

Going forward we potentially have a top 10 side, defensively we are bottom 3, last season we counterbalanced poor defending with good attacking play, but we can't keep doing that.

Good sides are built with a strong spine and that starts with the goalkeeper and central defence, it is time to get that right.

Photo: Action Images

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mgprobert added 09:42 - Sep 8
You could cut and paste 'Southampton Need To Sort Out Central Defence Pairing' for any point in the last three seasons. Let's hope we're getting close.

JoeEgg added 10:25 - Sep 8
'Going forward we potentially have a top 10 side, defensively we are bottom 3, last season we counterbalanced poor defending with good attacking play, but we can't keep doing that.'

Probably that was ALL that needed to be said Nick, and certainly all this messing about changing the selected defensive players and their respective positions time after time isn't helping. Ralph again has his favourites and it would appear that Bednarek isn't one of them!
As Saints fans there is much to be excited about but once again I can see us conceeding goals to sides like West Ham and dropping more points as a result. Ralph may have to look elsewhere from his squad than rely immediately on Lyanco - clearly the guy must be given a chance but probably not just yet - I saw him play once for Torino and their whole defensive unit was a disaster that day, so perhaps I need to give him another chance!:
The one thing that I will stress, and perhaps Nick is not so strong on this as I am, the next few weeks are a big big test for Ralph himself. He doesn't have a perfect squad to play with by any means, but there seems to be some real promise and some very good reasons for Saints fans to be very excited!

saintmark1976 added 10:32 - Sep 8
Goals change games Nick and that applies as much to scoring them as letting them in. Whilst you continually tell us how useless Stephens is and before him Yoshida, you appear blindsided by our failure to score enough goals to win matches. Witness the chance by Armstrong against Man Utd with just the keeper to beat together with other players misses at Newcastle.

As for David Luiz. Your suggestion falls into the same category as your fascination with Gary Cahill. They have been let go by their clubs because they are no longer good enough. Why then should we wish to employ them?

JoeEgg added 11:11 - Sep 8
saintmark1976 - saw your comment and have to say I agree with you that we dont score enough goals (its not JUST the defence!)and as I said on a previous thread, Armstrong and Adams have yet to prove that they are a Top Ten striking force.
This is going to be a fascinating few months, broken up as it will be by these wretched 'international breaks'. Fingers crossed but our fortunes can still go either way!

stmichael added 13:04 - Sep 8
Jack Stephens will play because he has been our best centre back so far this season..
Salisu is looking fantastic but his lack of experience is costing us goals and fatal errors are being made in every game so far..
Tough one because Salisu needs to play to improve so we will just have to accept the mistakes if he is selected..
As I said before 25 million gets you the finished article 15 million gets you Salisu..

saintsfanbrock added 13:14 - Sep 8
I understand the argument for leadership at the back but you seem obsessed with getting someone older for the sake of it as exampled by David Luis, the man has got three red cards in the last two years - hardly a “calm head off the bench”. Anyone that watched Arsenal over the last two seasons can tell you that he was severely lacking at times in terms of concentration and leadership, hardly worth £70,000 a week (apparently he was on about £100,000 a week at Arsenal). There is no rule that says to be a leader you have to be old.

darkangelv2 added 13:20 - Sep 8
Worth remembering stats are just stats. Bednarek has to make last ditch challenges and blocks as his positioning and reading of strikers is pretty poor.

I think the key point remains one that you have also made already - we lack a good enough leader. We've not replaced the 'conducting' function that Fonte and VVD provided. Ironically, Vestergaard became the closest thing to it but he's now gone too!

You can see from the way Jack communicates that he's willing to take on the role but, to your point, we've seen that concentrating on his own job rather than directing others is already more than he can manage at times.

darkangelv2 added 13:21 - Sep 8
Oh, and Luiz?! We WANTED him to play against us when we came up against Arsenal - i'd rather not take on a known liability.

Billeewithers added 13:54 - Sep 8
Experience counts at the back. I like Stephens as a player. But as a last line of defence .... forget it. He is the experienced hand with blessing of the manager. His confidence and leadership should be at its highest.
He has to take responsibility for the players around him and be the man that blocks the shot by his own efforts or in organising others so to do.
It is not hard really.
Old players have done a great job for Saints in the past and it is not a bad idea to have them in the squad.
But we have the solution but somehow refuse to use it at critical times in the game.

felly1 added 14:11 - Sep 8
I don't think Bednerek is an improvement on Stephens. Bednerek scores too many own goals, lacks real pace or strength of a top defender and gets caught napping at times ( just like Jack Stephens!).
Both are average players with strengths and weaknesses.
Can't help but feel a lot of fragile egos are at play here. People desperate to prove their point so analysing every goal till you can find a moment Stephens was involved and then say "there you go, I told you, look its all his fault again!!"
Stephens gave away the corner that led to the Everton goal.. Correct, but ultimately it was Salisu who hesitated and he was at fault. Fact. Doesn't stop me thinking Salisu is our best defender though, I just accept goals will be scored against us, through a mixture of excellent attacking play and a combination of player or players making errors, that's football, that's how we also score our goals.
Quite simply if you want better defenders then write a piece about Saints not spending much money on better quality players and not just defenders, do you not see how wasteful we are in attacking positions throughout the games?
It comes down to quality of players and preparing to spend big money and we just ain't prepared to do that so inevitably we will concede more and score less than the teams that do buy better players over the course of a season.
Plus Ralph likes to play at times a formation which is basically 4 2 4 and our defence is very exposed.
Let's hope Lyanco proves to be the mythical missing piece of the jigsaw for Saints and we can all rest easily knowing Nick is at last a contented man!

schatfield added 14:57 - Sep 8
Well Hasenhuttl has just come out and said how much he rates Stephens and how much he has grown/got stronger and I feel our manager maybe knows a bit more about the players than this site does. It looks like he may be number 1 choice for CB for some time, so maybe, just maybe, it's time to stop printing rubbish articles over and over again, calling for old heads and get behind the players who actually play for us.

Billeewithers added 15:53 - Sep 8
On reflection Ralph could be playing a game here.
Bednarek has a long contract Stephen doesn’t.
Play Stephens until he signs then drop him back into the pack.

Billeewithers added 15:55 - Sep 8
Further Ralph talks about Stephens defending going forward but seems to gloss over when he is retreating towards his own goal. As the senior figure all soft goals are down to his organising and the keeper.

teamster1 added 16:33 - Sep 8
Ralph overthinks everything he will continue to play Stephens because he can play with the ball at his feet but forgets that he cannot defend to save his life. If we offer Stephens and McCarthy new contracts which seems likely then god help us. Let’s hope we can make that 4th bottom spot come end of season

felly1 added 17:48 - Sep 8
Billeewithers and teamsters, It's funny because as much I don't think neither Mccarthy and Stephens are particularly great players, when they both came into the team after the Leicester home game 2019, we ended up from being relegation certs to a very entertaining mid table side. Beating the likes of Leicester away, Chelsea away and Man City at home.

Billeewithers added 20:49 - Sep 8
Bednarek has blocked more than anybody....he has hardly scored a plethora of own goals surely?
Look at the recent goals conceded. Stephens is critically neutral when running against the opposition facing his own goal or “to nice” as Ralph puts it. Were he to develop this part of his game then he becomes a serious defender and player in my opinion.
I agree with teamster1 re new contracts and player quality but they are useful squad players currently. It does bother me that McCarthy will not attack and make the ball his with players coming at him.

felly1 added 21:33 - Sep 8
Billeewithers, i agree, it's definitely the weak part of Stephens game and Mccarthy doesn't particularly inspire confidence and I'd love to see another keeper if Forster goes. I just feel they both also have qualities that should make them a valuable part of a Saints squad.. ie realistically at best a mid table team.

kingolaf added 08:58 - Sep 9
Stephens is a garbage defender. A statue could lose him in the penalty box. He is a big reason we have conceded 6 goals in 3 games.

halftimeorange added 09:41 - Sep 9
Ralph seems to see things in players on the training ground which, unfortunately, rarely transfer to their performances on game day. The consequence of this is the continued selection of regularly weaker players (Nathan Redmond, Mc Carthy, Stephens) and putting square pegs in round holes (Djenepo, JWP). The result is open frustration displayed by other team members, confusion in league matches and, quite possibly, the reason that Danny Ings left.

SonicBoom added 14:46 - Sep 9
I've heard David Luiz described as many things. But that's the first tme I've heard him called "a calm head".

Ali_Diarea added 20:26 - Sep 9
It makes me laugh that you constantly (but rightly) bemoan the quality of our central defenders, but you refuse to criticise our owner for his lack of investment. The two are inextricably linked.

The reason we haven’t got an experienced leader at the back is because he would cost £30m+ and we simply don’t have that money to spend unless we sell first.

Gone are the days when a team can “carry” an old hand for their leadership qualities, the game has moved on, they’d get eaten alive in the modern game.

felly1 added 22:00 - Sep 9
Ali Diarea..you have hit the nail on the head.

KriSaint added 00:01 - Sep 10
Bednarek & Salisu for me vs WH.
Jan B. played very well for Poland vs England the other night, and he is physically stronger than Stephens which will have an impact against the likes of Antonio and Soucek, the latter loving to get into the box from midfield.

KWP, Jan B., Salisu, Perraud
Elyounouissi, JWP, Romeu, Djenepo
A & A

(Assuming Stuey is still not fit)

underweststand added 08:51 - Sep 10
Having complained about our lack of options in defence last season, now we have an embarrassment with many to choose from. The easy way to find Livramento's quality was to start him against a side we haven't beaten away in 24 years, and despite the result he showed up and DAJFU. Now we have have Lyanco added to the pack, and likewise we need to see what his capabilities are PDQ, and WHam is another side we regularly fail to beat -home or away. Why not start him on Saturday?

Everyone who has posted (above) has their own assessment (positive or negative) of Stephens and Bednarek's abilties, and now Salisu, but we need to give all these guys some game time and find the best combination for the long term.
IMHO our biggest mistake was not in selling VvD, but in letting Jose Fonte go.
He " fostered " a good CB partnership with 7 different players in defence over a long period with the club, but we need a firm profile who can learn to command at the back.

These opening 8 games are as tough a start as Saints have had in many years, and so it's better to find out the truth - sooner rather than later.

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