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Southampton Training and Press Conference

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Fan Focus: What can Sunderland expect when they face Southampton today?

We spoke to Southampton fan Ben of the Total Saints Podcast to find out more about Sunderland’s opponents today. Who should we be wary of?

Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

After having three different managers last season, Southampton have turned to possession-focused Russell Martin, what were fans’ reactions to this and how have you found him so far?

On the proviso football fans are a fairly fickle bunch, given he’s started the season by winning football matches….we’ve obviously taken to him!

Joking aside, after two dreadful appointments last season (Nathan Jones and Ruben Selles) we’re hopeful of having a manager now who can really build the club up again across the next 2-3 years.

Russell talks very well – with a good mix of enthusiasm and honesty – and can hopefully start to really instill his philosophy in the squad once the transfer window has shut and he knows who he’ll be working with.

The possession-based style is something the fans are trying to get used to but, as stated earlier, if Saints keep winning then it should make that much easier/swifter!

Southampton FC v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Russell Martin had previous spells in charge of MK Dons and Swansea before joining Southampton this summer.
Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

Southampton currently sit 5th after taking 10 points from four matches, scoring 10 goals in the process - are you enjoying being part of the chaos of Championship football?

I shouldn’t sound ungrateful… but the Premier League isn’t the be all and end all!

Yes, the money is there and you tend to watch better football (in general), but there’s a lot to be said for the Football League. We had a great time a decade or so ago in League One and the Championship, so many fans, myself included, are actually looking forward to new fixtures, new grounds and new experiences. And no VAR is bliss!

It’s a very tough league to get out of, so we’re under no illusions that each and every game will provide Saints with a proper challenge.

Looking at your recruitment, the club have raised over £150m from selling the likes of Romeo Lavia, Tino Livramento, James Ward-Prowse, Nathan Tella and Mohamed Salisu. While it’s annoying to lose your best players, are you pleased the club have stood firm with fees?

Absolutely! It’s always tough when players want to move on (/stay in the Premier League), but Saints have been fairly transparent in the value they had put on certain squad members so fans expectations were largely managed.

In general, they’ve achieved those figures so most of us, while disappointed to see the likes of Prowsey leave, are satisfied with the income for Saints (which, given FFP, will likely benefit longer-term more than short).

Southampton v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - St. Mary’s Stadium
Southampton have managed to keep a hold of striker Adam Armstrong, who has already scored four times this season.
Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

In terms of incomings, Shea Charles followed the likes of Gavin Bazanu, Juan Larios and Samuel Edozie in joining from Man City reserves for sizeable fees - how have found that recruitment style so far?

Saints made a decision last summer that they would look to try and attract the top youngsters from the ‘Big 6’ and offer them a pathway to first-team football (some almost immediately) – before ultimately developing them into multimillion-pound stars.

The players we’ve bought in (including those you’ve mentioned) have generally done well and relegation was certainly not down to any of them.

Unfortunately, alongside those poor management appointments, we really lacked leadership and experience in the team last year. So, while the strategy was good on one hand, it negated other important factors that a team needs to thrive.

Charles has looked really impressive so far.

Also, Southampton have looked to the loan market lately to replace gaps in their squad, with Ryan Fraser, Mason Holgate and Flynn Downes all joining from the Premier League, are you excited by those signings?

Excitement might be overdoing it, but I think we all generally understand why they’ve been signed.

As I said earlier, the experience and leadership that we lacked last season needed to be addressed and all three of them will offer that.

From what we’ve seen so far, the three of them seem pleased to be here, enjoy playing football and help the team get promoted. Fingers crossed the end result benefits all parties!

Southampton Unveil New Signing Ryan Fraser
Combined, Fraser, Holgate and Downes have played over 320 Premier League matches between them.
Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

Aside from the players we have discussed, who has started the season well who you think will cause Sunderland problems?

Heading into this game, Adam Armstrong has scored four-in-four and, with lots of other ‘noise’ at the top end of the pitch (re Nathan Tella and Che Adams), he’s delivered when asked.

Quite a few Saints fans feel ‘this is his level’ but you still need to have that desire to go out and do it. Alongside those goals, his work rate has been tireless and he’s even won our TSP ‘Player of the Week’ award (as voted for by listeners) three weeks out of four – reflecting how his efforts are being appreciated.

We all know Martin’s side will look to dominate the ball, how do you think he will set up tactically at the Stadium of Light?

Ultimately Russell Martin knows the Championship and should have a good idea of how best to cause Sunderland problems. He’s been playing a 4-3-3 so far this season and I’d expect that to still be the case (although he might decide otherwise…).

If so, two of the midfielders will sit in a traditional position and the third will play ‘in the hole’.

He’ll have pace on the wings (interested to see who replaces the departed Nathan Tella!) and then one up top (which, at the time of writing (/transfer window still open)) will likely be Adam Armstrong.

As you rightly say, Saints will want to keep as much possession as possible, but they need to make sure they use it wisely!

Sunderland v Southampton - Premier League
Jordi Gomez scored twice from the penalty spot in Sunderland’s last victory over Southampton in 2015.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

After all the chaos of transfer deadline day is concluded, which eleven players do you think he will select?

At the time of writing, I’m going to assume the worst re departures! Therefore I think he will start with Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Holgate, Manning, Shea Charles, Downes, Stuart Armstrong, Edozie, Fraser and Adam Armstrong.

That said, given possible incomings/outgoings between now and the game, your guess is honestly as good as mine….

Sunderland’s last victory against Southampton was back in 2015, what is your score prediction for this time around?

I went for 2-2 on our podcast last weekend – so will stick with that!

Hopefully we’ll cause Sunderland plenty of problems, but we haven’t got a clean sheet in us and I suspect we’ll manage to mess up at the back on at least two occasions!


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