Fan Focus: Saints' View From TEAMtalk's Ben Stanfield

Clive Rose

For the second time this season we got the Southampton view from Ben Stanfield, with Wednesday's Capital One Cup clash on the agenda.

Sunderland & Southampton have had contrasting starts to the season. On reflection do you see the draw between us earlier in the season as a disappointing one from your perspective?

Ben Stanfield: Personally I think Sunderland probably played Saints at just the right time - our first home game of the season when we hadn't really got going. Having now made our best to start to a Premier League season ever we can't help (selfishly!) but think it could have been even better if we had beaten the likes of Sunderland and West Ham at home - rather than drawing with both.

But having said that we have no right to beat any team we face and Sunderland battled hard for the point they got that day - which was so nearly three - and you have to give credit to them for that. Saints have historically found it hard to break teams down who come to St. Mary's with a game plan to try and frustrate and take away at least a point. Sunderland got their goal early on and did all they could to hang on to it. So I don't necessarily see it as disappointing because you sometimes have to give credit to the opposition when they have worked hard to achieve something.

That draw came at St Mary's. Are Southampton better at home or away this season, or has the venue not really impacted on your form?

BS: With the well documented high-pressing game that Saints now employ, it's a tactic that seems to be easily implemented both home and away. It's a clear plan really - if you have the ball, pass it and keep it and, if the opposition have the ball, chase them down as high up the pitch as you can to win it back. Its not rocket-science but it does rely on a very fit team who can work hard for each other and that's what Saints have now built.

If you look at our results this season - which are fairly spread points wise both home and away - you would probably say our away form has actually been slightly more impressive due to the calibre of teams we've played. We beat West Brom first game of the season and, whilst we did lose to Norwich narrowly thereafter, we have since gone on to win at Anfield and draw at both Old Trafford and Stoke. None of these grounds are easy so to come away with 8 points out of a possible 15 is a pretty good return I think.

There is no doubting though that more testing times are around the corner (I think something like 8 of our next 10 games are against teams currently in the top half of the league?) so it will be interesting to see how results carry on. For now though there seems to be no doubt that playing either at St. Mary's or away from home holds no fears.

On the basis of league form, you'd expect Southampton to progress comfortably, but the League Cup often presents a chance for fringe players, making it a little bit . What sort of side has Pochettino used in previous rounds?

BS: You're right, notoriously the League Cup has always been given negative press for manager's and their ‘second string selections' but with so much pressure (particularly financial) its no surprise that it happens more and more these days.

Saints have indeed played a mixture of fringe and young players so far in the competition (against Barnsley and Bristol City) but I guess as you make further progress in the tournament you start to see manager's recognising there may be a chance to win the trophy and start considering selecting more senior players.

It's hard to know what Pochettino will do but, with a very winnable league fixture against Hull City at St. Mary's next weekend, I fully expect him to again go with a lot of the players who have already featured in the competition this season.

This will mean the likes of Jos Hooiveld, Maya Yoshida, Gaston Ramirez, Steven Davis, Jack Cork etc. all getting a run out. We are very lucky at Saints at the moment in that we have almost two quality players for each position and (touch wood) not many injuries. Therefore it does mean that, should he want to, Pochettino can really select from 22 players if he wants to.

Alongside the above I fully expect Kelvin Davis to be in goal so that regular number one, Artur Boruc, can have a rest (especially after conceding from 100 yards at the weekend!).

Davis has been a very loyal and committed servant to Saints but I'm well aware that there is a lot of negativity in relation to his time on Wearside - both felt by Kelvin himself and the Sunderland fans. I think it's fair to expect that, should he play, he'll be very quickly made aware of what the locals remember of his performances during his time at Sunderland!

Similarly to Sunderland, Saints have progressed against lower league sides so far. How would you gauge the performances compared with league games?

BS: The performance away to Barnsley was very good - we scored 5 goals and played very well. At home to Bristol City in the last round wasn't so cut and dry. We got a fairly early goal and played well in the first half but Bristol City came back in the second half and had several good chances to equalise before we wrapped the game up with about ten minutes to go.

Due to the start we've made in the Premier League the League Cup performances seem to have paled in to insignificance a little but there is no doubting that both the fringe and young players that have played in those matches have performed admirably and I'm sure have given a lot of food for thought for Pochettino when he has been selecting teams for league games.

Have you seen enough of Sunderland to suggest there's anything you need to be worried about from us this week, bearing in mind there are likely to be changes from the weekend's Premier League game?

BS: I've not seen enough of Sunderland this season to really comment intelligently on their threats to Saints. But no game is easy and I know that, whoever is selected for Sunderland, it will be a tough match for Saints. I honestly think it's a fixture that really could go either way - depending on how ‘seriously' each manager takes it with their selections.

Gus Poyet has history with Saints (in fact once saying, when in charge of Brighton, that we played the same style of football as Dagenham and Redbridge!) so I'm sure he will want to get one over on us again if he can.

If the likes of Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson etc. play then it could be very worrying night for Saints but, on the flip side, if there are lots of changes and Sunderland perform like their results suggest they have the majority of the season (I appreciate some results may not have been completely fair on Sunderland), then Saints clearly have every chance of progressing from the fixture.

Likewise, who should Sunderland fear from the Saints' likely lineup?

BS: As mentioned earlier, I think that Pochettino could well change the entire line-up from Saturday's game at Stoke. So, assuming that this does happen, the player that I would suggest Sunderland fans should ‘fear' is Gaston Ramirez.

Ramirez was signed just over a year ago from Bologna but has struggled to really live up to his expectations. There is no doubting that he has incredible technical talent but the issue has been more around his commitment and desire to perform - doesn't that happen with a lot of foreigners these days!?

Whilst a cold, November night away to Sunderland in the Cup probably isn't the sort of fixture that will make him jump out of bed in the morning with anticipation, there is no doubting that, should he perform like he has shown in patches at Saints, then he can definitely cause Sunderland problems.

He is deceptively quick, has a beautiful touch and is able to pick a pass. He is definitely the sort of player that can unlock a defence. It really just depends whether Ramirez wants to actually get involved in the game himself or not!

Given that Chelsea are up next and will be a stern test for either team, are you bothered about progressing or would you rather focus on the league at this point?

BS: These sorts of questions, when raised by the media/fans etc., always cause a quandary don't they?

We all know that the Premier League is where the main revenue streams are these days. So, whilst having a good Cup run is nice, I don't think there are many Clubs (this doesn't include fans I should add!) that really see it as a priority.

Even if we do beat Sunderland and get to face Chelsea in the next round - we know that they will have a fringe side out as that was shown in their game against Arsenal last week. Does this make it more winnable? With their strength in depth (the likes of Juan Mata, Demba Ba etc.) probably not!

So, if you offered me a chance to win the League Cup or finish in the top 6 of the Premier League this season then of course I would go with the latter! Although both would be nice of course!!

Finally, a prediction please?

BS: I'm afraid that I think it could be a long, cold night in store for all of us attending! I can genuinely see it going to extra-time, if not penalties. So, with my bias hat on, I'll say that Saints will nick it with the odd goal in extra-time but I can't say I'm brimming with confidence!

The other prediction is that I hope Kelvin Davis will be leaving the Stadium of Light with a smile, and not egg, on his face!

Cheers to Ben for once again providing us with the Saints' view ahead of this weekend's game. Why not give him a follow on Twitter @BenStanners and read his work over at TEAMtalk.

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