Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 42: Southampton

Manchester City face Southampton on Sunday in the hope of recording their first win in four games in all competitions. Pep Guardiola’s men have endured a tough spell in recent weeks, dropping points at Celtic, Spurs, Barcelona and at home to Everton. The opponents on Sunday, Southampton, have enjoyed a good spell in recent weeks after a slow start to the season. We caught up with Steve Grant, owner and founder of SaintsWeb, in order to gauge his feelings towards Sunday’s game, and his overall thoughts on Southampton and Manchester City.

Hi Steve, thanks for talking to us. First of all, what have you made of Southampton’s start to the season, and has it altered your targets for the upcoming year?

It was a pretty slow start but one that’s weirdly changed into a pretty good one. Disappointing draws at home to Watford and Sunderland didn’t bode particularly well, but having been robbed of a point at Arsenal, we then smashed Sparta Prague and haven’t really looked back since.

I think our targets are probably unchanged, with progression in the unfairly-maligned Europa League the top priority (we’re not going to be challenging for the top 4 any time soon) and anywhere in the top 10 if we do make good progress in Europe perfectly acceptable.

Southampton had to deal with a big loss in the summer when Ronald Koeman joined Everton. What are your feelings towards his successor, Claude Puel? Has he impressed you so far?

He’s been quietly impressive, having shown himself very adept at rotating the squad to deal with multiple competitions, and the players seem to have bought into a slightly different system to the one we used under Koeman. Ultimately, the club has earned the trust of the fanbase with its dealings over the past few years, so any early doubts were always likely to be from a minority.

Saints also lost some important players in the summer, such as Victor Wanyama. Were you happy with the club’s transfer window business on the whole?

Generally, yes, although with the way some of the fees ended up going, perhaps we should have held on to Sadio Mané for another six weeks or so as we might have got £50m rather than £36m for him! I still think we’re perhaps a striker light as Austin, Rodriguez and Long have all been prone to injuries over the years, but to be fair to the club they knew they were selling Pellè and signed Austin well ahead of that. Koeman’s departure has also reopened the door for the many talented youngsters at the club, so some of them have been like new signings.

Is there an area of the Southampton squad which you believe to be particularly strong/weak?

As mentioned above, perhaps we’re a bit light up front – we certainly don’t have the lone front man option that Pellè gave us, and against certain opponents, I think we’ve got to be a bit pragmatic at times rather than dictating how we’re going to play. Otherwise, I had concerns at the lack of a midfield destroyer with Wanyama’s departure (and Schneiderlin a year ago) but Oriol Romeu has been superb in that role so far this season.

On to Manchester City now. What are your perceptions of City as a club, both past and present?

Fortunately I’m old enough to remember City as the annual tragedy/comedy story, a mantle graciously now owned by Newcastle. The new City seems a much slicker (see what I did there?) operation but occasionally the mask slips.

Personally I quite like that the fanbase hasn’t gone full-on big-time alongside the money poured into the club, it’s refreshing that there is still independent thought so when the club charges too much for a Champions League game nobody’s got any interest in, people just won’t buy the tickets. Stuff like that helps to keep the club honest, they’ll struggle to take the piss, and that’s to be admired.

After a perfect start to the club, Pep Guardiola is starting to experience the harsh realities of the English Premier League. What do you believe is the key to getting a good result on Sunday?

For us, it’ll be keeping Silva and Sterling quiet, they both tend to do quite well against us. Cut off the supply to Aguero (or Iheanacho) and we’ll have a chance. That said, I fully expect our big effort this week to have been expended in the San Siro, and yours in the Nou Camp, so 0-0 it is… (which obviously I’d bite your arm off for)

If you could choose one player from the current City squad to join Southampton, who would it be and why?

Iheanacho. A frankly ridiculous talent, and let’s face it, we’d be able to offer him more regular first team football right now. A loan would be fine for now 😉

And finally, please can we have your Southampton team prediction and your prediction for the final score?

4-4-2 diamond: Forster, Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Romeu, Clasie, Davis, Boufal, Redmond, Long.

Would be delighted with any positive result, but your deeper (and, frankly better) squad should give you a narrow 1-0 win.

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