Fan Focus: Saintly Chat With Ben Stanfield

Bryn Lennon

He's that good, we decided to catch up with him for a third time this season...it's TEAMtalk's Ben Stanfield, talking all things Southampton ahead of this weekend's match at the Stadium of Light.

Since the sides last met in the League Cup, Saints have lost more league games than they've won. What's been behind this downturn in form?

Ben Stanfield: It's been a mixture of things actually. Firstly we've had a run of fixtures involving a number of the sides in the top half of the league - Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea (twice), Newcastle etc. - and also had several injuries to key players in the team.

Whilst every team has injuries and they shouldn't be used as an excuse, I'm going to do just that!

Our goalkeeper has been the key one!

Artur Boruc, broke a bone in his hand in early December and has only just returned to action last Saturday. Whilst it has effectively only been a month that he's been out it has of course coincided with the Christmas/New Year period when there are a number of games in close proximity. I believe in all that he missed 8 games and it has been significant for us.

He has been in immense form all season and the level of deputy, against the aforementioned opponents, just didn't compare. Ultimately you let goals in against top quality opposition and you aren't going to win many games.

So Boruc, alongside players like Wanyama (who has also been out for a month now), Schneiderlin, Osvaldo, Lovren etc. that have been missing for several games have affected the chance to get positive results.

With all those players pretty much back now (Wanyama being the exception), and also an ‘easier' run of fixtures over the next month or so, I would expect results to improve once more.

Pochettino played a weakened side on that night in November. Given Sunderland's run to the semi finals since, do you feel it was an opportunity missed?

BS: For me you should always go out to win every game in every competition. I was at that game and Saints second-string never really competed with what was a strong Sunderland side.

I'm not saying that we would have beaten Chelsea in the next round - as Sunderland performed fantastically that night - but winning breeds confidence and it did seem to me that it was a bit of a lame exit for Saints.

Having said all this on the following Saturday, with our first-XI back, we thrashed Hull City 4-1 and, as everyone in football knows, the Premier League is where the money/real reward is these days and I guess that was always going to be the more important fixture of the two.

That cup run has meant a number of additional games for Sunderland, with another to come in midweek after the clash with Saints. Are you hoping Sunderland might have half an eye on the Old Trafford clash or even field a weakened side? Do you think Sunderland can progress against Manchester United?

BS: I think the Sunderland team may well have half an eye on the Old Trafford fixture but I don't think Poyet will. For me, even as a loyal Saints fan, most fans around the country see Southampton at home as a very winnable fixture and I think Poyet will make that clear to his players.

As per my previous comment - the Premier League is bigger than any cup win these days and, for all clubs like Southampton and Sunderland, staying in it is what really matters. Whilst a day out at Wembley is nice I think the majority at the Stadium of Light would probably take 3 points against Southampton over progressing the in the cup. Of course, I could be very wrong!

In relation to whether I think Sunderland can progress against Manchester United then the answer is very much ‘yes'!

United have shown inconsistency all season and, whilst I can see them scoring the goals they need to progress, I can also see Sunderland putting in a dogged and determined performance to sneak through. I honestly believe it is a very finely balanced tie and Old Trafford is now far from the ‘Fergie Fortress' it used to be.

I'm guessing we're likely to see a stronger Southampton side this weekend than the one Pochettino fielded in the League Cup. Is there anyone in particular who has caught the eye in recent games?

BS: Well, at the time of writing I'm hoping that Pochettino will still be in charge on Sunday in light of the ‘Cortese exit drama' currently all over the press!

Anyway, assuming he is, then you're right. It will be pretty much a different XI to that which performed so poorly in early November.

I'd imagine, if all fit, that the team will be unchanged from last Saturday's narrow win over West Brom.

In terms of anyone who has caught the eye in recent games then I would have to say Adam Lallana - who has in fact caught the eye all season!

He has been tremendous on the pitch and, whilst he has had the ‘Clattengate' issue to indirectly deal with off of it, he looks at the moment to have a very good chance of heading to Brazil for the World Cup with England.

Lallana is a very talented player who has been with Saints since he was 12 years old. He is comfortable with both right and left foot, has a quick change of pace and is happy playing on either left or right wing as well as through the middle.

Lallana is someone who tries to get in between the lines, as the experts say, and create those crosses and through balls for strikers to pounce on.

It's been a fantastic season for Adam and he is arguably in the form of his life at the moment - including scoring the winner last weekend - so I'd suggest your boys need to keep an eye on him!

Mirroring Southampton's own drop off in form has been Sunderland's upturn in results. Despite still being in the bottom three, there has been a massive improvement under Poyet. What do you fear the most - if anything - about his side?

BS: Sunderland have indeed performed very well over the last couple of months or so.

Poyet, Tarrico and the ever-lovable(!!) Charlie Oatway, seem to have got the Black Cats very well organised and playing to their strengths. They seem much stronger definitely and going forward are creating chances.

I've always been a big fan of Adam Johnson and would always consider him a big threat. Taking into account the fact that he is full of confidence at the moment, after his first career hat-trick last week, then I think he is the one to watch!

Saints are generally well organised but do look nervy when put under pressure by pace. Johnson is someone who has that in abundance and I'm sure Pochettino (or the Caretaker Manager!) will have plans in place to stop him playing.

Sunderland have already recruited a left back in the January transfer window; do you expect to see anyone leave or come into the Southampton squad in the next couple of weeks?

BS: I don't think there was ever going to be the need for any major overhaul of the squad this January.

When everyone is fit we have a top-10 challenging team but the strength in depth is just not there.

Reality says that we are 3 wins from safety (with 17 games to go) so do we need to spend lots of money - taking into account the near £30m spent last summer? - probably not!

It's hard to tell who might come in (I certainly think we need another quality centre back to partner Dejan Lovren) but a couple of fringe players may well leave.

Tadanari Lee (striker) has already left on a free-transfer this week and others, such as Billy Sharp, may well follow soon.

As ever with Saints, success in the transfer window may well be down to whom we keep at the Club. The likes of Luke Shaw, Lallana etc. are key players for us that we can't afford to lose. Hanging on to them will be key in my eyes - alongside our Chairman and Manager of course!

What would represent success for Southampton this season, given their relative safety from relegation and ever growing distance from the top 7?

BS: In my eyes, finishing right where we are currently - 9th!

The top 7 seem to be unreachable now and the bottom 10 or so seem to be fighting relegation. We seem to be in a fight with Newcastle (boooo!) for the 8th and 9th slots.

Ultimately we only returned to the Premier League last year and we just survived. Finishing 20 points better off and 5/6 places in the league should definitely be seen as success.

I would have taken that at the start of the season and nothing has changed my thoughts since.

That then gives us a platform (which of course will be heavily reliant on whether Cortese/Pochettino stay at the Club) to try and progress even further next season.


Do you think Sunderland will stay up?

BS: If you asked me immediately after Poyet had taken over from Di Canio and played away at Swansea I'd have said no chance.

But now? Honestly? Yes I think you will.

Sunderland are playing some good football at the moment and, if they keep it up, fully deserve their place in the Premier League.

I think you will also be helped by the fact that there are several other sides in the league that are potentially ‘worse'. The likes of Crystal Palace and Fulham looked doomed and others like Norwich and West Ham really can't seem to get on a good run of results - so yes, why can't Sunderland stay up?

Personally, I hope they do. At least you try to play football!

And finally, we'll end on the usual note...a prediction for the match please?

BS: (N.B - My prediction is made fully on the proviso that, at the time of writing, Nicola Cortese and Mauricio Pochettino are still at the Club!)

I'll go for 1-1.

I think it'll be another tough test for Saints but I also think, on our day, we can give anyone a hard game.

We always try to take the game to teams and, whilst that can backfire at times, I actually like the fact that when away from home Saints go out to try and win games rather than not lose them!

We have pace in our team and, whilst Sunderland have some key (or should I say Ki!) threats of their own I think we can come away with something.

A point at the Stadium of Light should always be well received I think.

Thanks once again to Ben for his thoughts on Southampton; it's almost becoming a regular feature! Don't forget to give him a follow on Twitter @BenStanners and check his writing out over at TEAMtalk.

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