Today we welcome Southampton…

Who Manages Them:

Mauricio Pellegrino is struggling in his first season as a Premier League manager.

Any first season in the Premier League is difficult whether you are a newly promoted team, newly signed player or newly installed manager. If you don’t have experience to fall back on it is even more difficult. A brief spell as a player at Liverpool, a handful of short, indifferent spells as manager of bigger clubs and a fairly successful one season as manager of little Alaves in La Liga, is no proper grounding to take over a team who were 8th in the big league last year.

If Southampton survive this season, Pellegrino may well go on to be a successful manager. It is a pretty big if at the moment. Southampton are hoping for another Pochettino but they may have got another Remi Garde.

Since the days of post-Pardew a decade ago, Southampton have been a club of direction and purpose regardless of who is in the dugout or on the pitch. Buy em cheap, sell em big and re-invest in the Academy and young players with a sell-on value, nothing wrong with that, just ask Fat Mike.

The problem is, to quote Kammy, when the fun stops, stop. The Saints have sold their creative players for big money, Bale, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and Sane and what have they bought? Decent defenders, hard-working midfielders and not many goals.

So it makes sense to bring in Mauricio Pellegrino, his success at Alaves was built on defensive stubbornness, only four teams conceded less goals in La Liga last season. He worked hard to prep his players, organise them and work out his opponents. He comes prepared, as any student of Rafa Benitez would do, Pellegrino freely admits that working under Rafa at Valencia and Liverpool was like “earning a Master’s Degree.” In what subject though? Defensive strategy, lines of 4 and 5, keeping a clean sheet?

“You have to try and find different solutions. This is the Premier League. We know it is tough. Everyone tries to win the game. Every single game is important now.”

That was what he said after the 0-0 draw with Stoke but it isn’t true. Here a lot of teams try not to lose. In Spain, small teams regularly finish in the top half of the league, this season it is Eibar, Girona and Getafe who are doing well. It doesn’t take much, a couple of the bigger teams to have bad seasons and a bit of momentum you are away. Pellegrino got fired from his other jobs and he’ll get fired from Southampton if he doesn’t learn quickly. It’s like Athletic Bilbao looking at Sean Dyche at Burnley and thinking he’d do well in Spain. It’s a massive risk, only the really top boys are guaranteed to get through it in a foreign country. They’ve got the experience which guarantees success.

(Caption for main photo at the top: ‘Dr Frankenstein and his monster’)

Who Have They Signed:

In January, the Saints signed Guido Carillo from Monaco for £19million. The 6-foot-2, 25-year-old Argentinian striker has been a one goal in four games poacher over the first 200 games of his career for Estudiantes and Monaco, so being without a goal in his first five appearances on the South coast means he is statistically due one today.

With the only natural goalscorer at the club, Charlie Austin, missing with a hamstring injury, it is certain that Carillo will play, though with the spectre of official bogey-man Shane Long on the bench, it is probably a good tactic to keep Carillo on the pitch as long as possible. His £19million, no goals in five games, 63 goal career makes Joselu look a snip at £5million. He must be good, not many strikers can do that.

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‘Guido Carillo: The longest arms in football’

Mario Lemina is another signing from a great European club that is looking dodgy early on, £15.3million plus add-ons if he is successful. Signed from Juve, not that he played for them much, 29 appearances in two seasons where he earned himself a reputation for having a temper and for lacking concentration at times. He hasn’t shown that lack of concentration this season in the Premier League, he’s been too busy being anonymous to forget what we was doing in the games so far, but he’ll play today and his 1 goal in 18 matches this season stats show that’ll be at home in the barren midfield wasteland that often engulfs SJP. That £15.3million plus add-ons if he is successful looks more and more like £15.3million every week.

Other major summer signing Wesley Hoedt should play at centre back, the £14.75million signing from Lazio looking hopelessly over-priced after two years in and out of Lazio team after a free transfer from his hometown club AZ. He is a current Dutch international though so he must be …., er, well, he must be, er, Dutch.

Jan Bednarek from Lech Poznan, a young £5.4million centre back was the Saints final summer signing and while he hasn’t played yet, to be fair, Southampton have been defensively resolute. Another 6 foot 2 fella, all of their signings have been massive, no doubt the likes of Gayle, Atsu and Perez running around this lot will look like one of the battle scenes out of The Hobbit. One thing that unites all of Southampton’s signings is their lack of PL experience, they are all new to the league and have less than 200 top league games between them. That’s a lot of ‘potential’ to be investing £60million in. It’s a gamble alright.

Who Have We Seen Before:

Fraser Forster.

The Geordie Giant never played a game for us competitively and despite being highly thought of during his six year spell at the club, four unconvincing friendly appearances in the summer of 2011 eventually led to him being considered surplus to requirements. His £2million transfer to Celtic in 2012 was a giveaway really and since then it has often looked like a ridiculous piece of business.

Ironically, coming back now is probably the first time since he left when he wouldn’t walk back into our team, our new Slovakian stopper looks fairly decent, Forster himself looks low on confidence and form. There was even talk last week that a return to Scotland with Celtic was being discussed, imagine that, at 29 years old, in his prime and chucked into the Irn Bru recycle bin.

Still, at least his lack of form hasn’t cost him his England squad place yet, you can’t drop your second choice keeper for being out of form when you don’t drop your number one even though he’s on the TV adverts more than he’s on MOTD.

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So you are rubbish too now eh?’

Are We Going To Win:

Before the season started I was looking forward to this game with all the anticipation of the next Professor Green album…but now the game has taken on a slightly greater significance.

It isn’t a six-pointer, not yet, but a team who loses today will find it tough to come back from the defeat. Maybe Southampton will find it harder than us, lacking creativity, they are struggling to score the goals to guide them to safety.

If the Saints manager has his team set up in his mould to defend well and give nothing away, then he is truly Rafa’s apprentice. Rafa has the experience though, of the Premier League and of big, pressure matches in the dug-out. Pellegrino may well get that experience eventually but if Newcastle win today it might not be with Southampton.

Get behind the lads today. We’ve been through this before, we know what it is like.

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