Southampton have now picked up just one point from their last nine games in the Premier League after suffering a 1-0 defeat against Everton on Monday evening.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side struggled to create chances at Goodison Park and only managed one shot on target in the 90 minutes, which came in the final few minutes when Jordan Pickford blocked Jannik Vestergaard’s goal-bound shot.
The Austrian tactician was forced into a tactical change in midfield ahead of the game, following the news that the defensive-minded Oriol Romeu will now miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, meaning Stuart Armstrong was dropped into a central-midfield role against Everton, rather than his usual position as a ‘wide 10’.
Unfortunately, with Ibrahima Diallo having only just returned to individual training, Southampton were left with just James Ward-Prowse as a natural, senior option in central midfield, with Hasenhuttl preferring Armstrong there instead of academy talents Alexandre Jankewitz and Kgaogelo Chauke.
Was playing Armstrong as a CM a mistake?
Whilst the Scottish international featured in that position regularly for Celtic, his best performances in a Southampton shirt have come out wide, and Hasenhuttl’s side really missed his influence on the wing – with wingers Moussa Djenepo and Nathan Redmond rated as the worst players on the pitch at Goodison Park by SofaScore.
Having two attack-minded players in the middle for Hasenhuttl left Southampton far too exposed, which was clear to see when the Toffees opened the scoring, as Gylfi Sigurdsson was afforded far too much time and space to slip a ball through to Richarlison to round Fraser Forster and slam in from a tight angle.
The Icelandic midfielder was able to find a lot of space on a number of occasions, perhaps due to Armstrong and Ward-Prowse pushing too far up the pitch, and he caused Southampton a lot of problems, with SofaScore awarding him an 8.0 rating for his display – the best of any player on the evening.
Earlier this year, after Armstrong signed a new contract with the South Coast club, which now sees him earn £50k per week, Hasenhuttl dubbed him as a “very smart” player and praised his effectiveness as a number 10.
However, it could be argued that the 28-year-old doesn’t possess the positional awareness to play as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2, as his attacking runs left the Saints vulnerable to the counter-attack on a number of occasions.
Therefore, it seems that Hasenhuttl’s decision to play Armstrong in that position was a fatal mistake in the end, as it both limited Southampton going forward and left them exposed defensively.
Gary Mabbutt has told Football FanCast that Gareth Bale remains a “world-class” player as he looks to return to his best form at Tottenham Hotspur.
The Wales international has looked more like his old self in recent weeks under Jose Mourinho.
Should Spurs sack Mourinho?
Following a match-altering cameo appearance against West Ham, Bale scored in the Europa League tie with Wolfsberger, and followed that up with a brace against Burnley at the weekend.
It comes after doubts over Bale’s fitness and form throughout the first few months of his spell at Spurs, as he battled injury problems sustained during his time with Real Madrid.
Nevertheless, Mabbutt, a Spurs legend, insists that the Welshman is still one of the best players on the planet, and has hit out at anyone who suggests otherwise.
He told FFC exclusively: “Of course, he’s still a world class player. I can’t. I can’t take it. I see people saying, ‘oh, he’s maybe past his best’, nonsense. He’s won four Champions Leagues.
“He’s 31. For goodness sake, he’s got a number of years left in him. If you get slightly older, you don’t maybe have that extra bit of sharpness. We have that extra experience that knows how to use that to your advantage, experience and knowledge counts for a lot.”
Bale could still have a huge role to play as the season continues, with Spurs currently fighting to return to the top four and also into the League Cup final against Manchester City, while they will play Dinamo Zagreb in the last-16 of the Europa League.
And Mabbutt believes that Bale’s experience and knowhow will be key as Spurs look to end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2008.
He added: “Believe me, there’s no one within the club that’s got more experience than Gareth as far as winning things on the football field, though.
“I think he’s a great player. I think he’s got a great, great attitude. I think in the dressing room, he’s a player that everyone gets on with. He’s a player that creates a good atmosphere within the dressing room. And of course, the ability that he has, he can win games for you.”
I was a little annoyed at how simplistic the prediction of Sky’s ‘Race to the PL’ article was, so I thought I’d have a go. Instead of just PPG, I used SoccerSTATS opponents PPG, which uses opponent home PPG for away matches and away PPG for home matches. Then I predicted amount of points that will be gained by the formula: new points = PPG x (Remaining Opponent PPG/ Played Opponent PPG) x matches remaining. I have no idea whether this is correct or not. To split ties I used current GD because I couldn’t be arsed to do anything more.
In the end its basically the same as Sky’s (tho sorry Barnsley) and about equally as useless as predicting the final table.
Former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique has criticised the club’s transfer activity in January and believes their decision to sign Ben Davies rather than a world-class centre-back may have cost them the title.
Liverpool have struggled in their title defence this season. A number of injuries to key defensive players has been a major issue.
However, Enrique thinks the signing of Davies was unnecessary. The former left-back claims that Liverpool should not have been looking at Championship players given their targets.
He told Empire of the Kop: “At the start of January, Liverpool were in a good position to still fight for the title.
“We got two players, one on loan and one from the Championship on deadline day. But I’ve never seen Davies play.
“The best moment for him to play is now – with five centre-backs injured – but he hasn’t had a minute! Perhaps Klopp has seen something in training and doesn’t think he’s up to it yet.
“When Phillips still plays ahead of him, you have to ask, ‘Why did we sign him?’
“I want to see Davies, but for me, a side like Liverpool shouldn’t be signing Championship players when you think about the level the team wants to be fighting at. Still, we need to see him, to see if he’s good or not.
“When we signed players like this when I was at the club, you understood – as we were always fighting for top four – but this Liverpool should be a team fighting for titles.
“I don’t know what is going on financially, but I really believe we should have spent money on a world-class centre-back in January. Then maybe we could have still been fighting for the title.”
Usually a midfielder, the Brazilian was excelling in the deeper position, and Enrique thinks it makes sense for him to return there once he is back from injury.
He continued: “There’s been a lot of talk about what to do with Fabinho when he returns. 100%, I’d play him at centre-back.
“Because at the end of the day, [Nat] Phillips and Kabak are good players, but Fabinho is a player who as soon as he puts on the shirt, he performs.
“Phillips and Kabak are good and could go on to be excellent if they leave the club (look at Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto) but Fabinho is an elite star on the same level as Gomez and Matip at centre-back.
“Centre-back is one of the main positions on the field. The beginning of the spine. We need a leader there like Fabinho.
“Kabak and Phillips are very inexperienced, so with all the pain in my heart, as I’d love him in midfield, I’d pick Fab as a centre-back!
“In holding midfield, you can still play Thiago, Gini Wijnaldum or Hendo [Jordan Henderson] when he’s back, so we have more options. With Kabak and Phillips in defence, and Fab at no.6, we’ll have top midfielders waiting on the bench.”
Manchester City will be looking to make it 21 wins in a row in all competitions when they take on Wolves at the Etihad on Tuesday evening.
Pep Guardiola’s side are currently 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and have the chance to extend that lead further with three points against Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
The Citizens weren’t at their best for the 2-1 win against West Ham at the weekend, with Guardiola having rung the changes following the Champions League win against Monchengladbach earlier in the week, so he could go back to full strength against the Old Gold on Tuesday.
Here’s how Football FanCast expects the Spanish manager to line his side up against Wolves, with six changes from the side that started against West Ham…
Ederson keeps his place in between the sticks and will be looking to secure another clean sheet in the top-flight, having already kept 15 in the Premier League this season.
Will City win tonight?
There are two changes in the defence, as Aymeric Laporte comes in for John Stones and Joao Cancelo replaces Kyle Walker at right-back after being rested against the Hammers.
Rodri makes his return in midfield, replacing Fernandinho who is perhaps unlikely to start two games in such quick succession.
Guardiola is perhaps likely to switch both of his wingers, with Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva coming in for Ferran Torres and Riyad Mahrez respectively.
During the 2018/19 season, the former Barcelona manager was full of praise for his Portuguese winger, saying:
“He’s a fighter. He’s one of the best players in Europe. One of the best.”
The former Monaco man, who earns £150k per week at City, has started to rediscover that form with City in recent weeks, do deserves to start against Wolves on Tuesday.
Finally, Gabriel Jesus replaces Sergio Aguero up front, with the Argentinian struggling to have much impact on his return to the side against West Ham at the weekend.
A four-year deal was signed as the Spanish champions were left disappointed by a decision that was more Fernandez’s than the club’s.
The left-back made the perfect start when scoring a stunner on his debut in the Under-18s. His display against Burnley that day was so accomplished that an immediate promotion to the Under-23s arrived.
Since then, Fernandez has showcased every trait a manager could wish for in a modern full-back.
After recovering from Covid-19 over the winter, the youngster has hit top form. Eyebrows were raised with a recent series of devastating attacking displays that produced assists in four consecutive matches.
Update from U23s: Alvaro Fernandez suffered from COVID-19 over winter, but returning to form after 4 assists in 4 games.
Neil Wood: “He had tough time over Christmas. Didn’t return until lot later. We’ve seen sluggishness but he’s getting back.“ #MUFChttps://t.co/brIvBbFflg
Most modern sides have placed an increased responsibility on their full-backs to provide attacking returns. Fernandez’s skillset is perfectly suited to this gradual change.
He is exceedingly comfortable on the ball owing to his development in Real’s academy. A first-time viewer could easily mistake him for a midfielder given his technical prowess and dribbling ability.
High presses are increasingly common nowadays, but Fernandez can break them with ease. A change of direction and sudden burst of acceleration away or an incisive forward pass and before you know it, he has single-handedly turned defence into attack.
Fernandez is a threat across all areas of the pitch and is never content to remain planted to the sideline. He is equally adept at drifting in from the wing and causing havoc in central areas.
Fernandez’s attacking talents are clear, but the defensive side remains a work in progress.
Positives include being difficult to beat one-on-one thanks to his quick feet and his desire never to just contain and defend passively. Fernandez will actively look to get a foot in and disrupt attacks.
The Spaniard also possesses another unique advantage many full-backs never will. At just 17, he already stands at 6ft 1in tall. Burly centre-forwards looking to drift out wide in search of joy will have to look elsewhere.
Fernandez’s attacking talents, turn of pace, and propensity for venturing forward reminds us of Gareth Bale during his left-back days.
The Welshman’s will to do damage over the halfway line ultimately saw him transition into a left midfielder under Harry Redknapp. The same positional shift could be something to look out for with Fernandez if the attacking side of his game continues to progress at such a rapid rate.
Fernandez’s willingness to cut inside and act as a provisional number ten is also reminiscent of Joao Cancelo.
The Portuguese has become one of Pep Guardiola’s most influential players at Man City. Fernandez certainly seems to be on course to be just as effective in the years to come.
His debut goal against Burnley’s Under-18s summed up what Man Utd fans can expect to see in the near future.
Many full-backs tasked with being a creative force often fall short with the final act. An overhit cross here or a blazed shot wide there. They can have the best will in the world, but if there’s no end product, it counts for naught.
No such worries for Fernandez…
The Experts’ View
Fernandez’s prospects of breaking into the Real Madrid first-team always appeared bleak.
That was through no fault of his own, though, with highly touted prospect Miguel Gutierrez two years further into his development in the capital.
Once a move to these shores came to fruition, Real’s coaching staff were under no illusion that Fernandez’s game would bring success in England.
One coaching source told Spanish outlet AS (via TribalFootball): “Álvaro is a footballer with a great future who has been hurt by having Miguel Gutiérrez in front of him.
“But the conditions for him to do well in England, he has them, his pace and his centres will be appreciated there.”
In the months prior to his departure, Real’s official website detailed (via the Sun) precisely what those qualities were.
“He is a quality defender and good at taking the ball from behind. He stands out technically and for his intelligence on the field. He is difficult to beat one on one.”
Tell us something we don’t know…
If there was any doubt as to what type of full-back Fernandez wished to be, the identity of his footballing idol left no room for manoeuvre.
A part of Real’s system since 2017, Fernandez modelled his game on club legend Marcelo.
The Brazilian was an integral part of Madrid’s side that won a scarcely believable four Champions Leagues in five years.
If the 17-year-old can be even half as influential as Marcelo was at Real, Man Utd fans are in for a treat.
A perfect fit for…?
Luke Shaw’s re-emergence as a top-class Premier League left-back ensures the path to a regular first-team spot won’t be straight forward.
Shaw has excelled with five league assists this season. However, over the course of his career, he averages the modest sum of one assist per 12 games.
Despite his tender age, Fernandez appears on course to be a far more potent attacking threat than Shaw will ever become.
That alone could be enough to thrust himself into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans in the ensuing years.
After all, you don’t have to be a world class defender to be a world class full-back. Trent Alexander-Arnold is proof of that.
It’s taken time, but Gareth Bale is finally finding his feet again at Tottenham Hotspur.
The 31-year-old attacker has now scored four goals and assisted three more in his last four outings in all competitions, and he’s only started 50% in that run too, via Transfermarkt.
Given that the Welsh superstar only started 14 times for parent club, Real Madrid, last season, time was always needed to get him up to speed, especially with persistent injury niggles, which would have undoubtedly stalled his progress.
Throughout February, reports emerged suggesting that Bale was unlikely to be kept past his current loan spell in north London – indeed, according to AS journalist Carlos Forjanes, Jose Mourinho had ‘no interest’ in signing him permanently in the summer.
Should Spurs sign Bale permanently?
Which echoed the thoughts of former Spurs forward and caretaker boss Clive Allen, who suggested that Mourinho was “losing his patience” with the club favourite, via talkSPORT.
It’s now time for the Portuguese stalwart to take a U-turn, if those reports are to be believed, as Bale still has a lot to offer and with a proper pre-season under his belt, he could well become as devastating as he once was.
His influence in recent matches has helped Spurs stop the rot, having lost five of their last six in all competitions, before those four appearances.
Had he started against West Ham, then the result may well have been very different as he was graded as their highest-rated player (7.4) after only 45 minutes, having provided an assist, created a key pass and attempted three shots at goal, as per SofaScore.
That 7.4 rating has been his lowest across the last four games, with a high of 8.9 coming at the weekend as he demolished Burnley with two goals and an assist, on top of two successful dribbles and one key pass.
If he can keep this up, then a front three of Bale, Heung-min Son and Harry Kane is a mouthwatering prospect and ultimately, if all are in-form, one that could spearhead them towards silverware – something they are in line to do with the Carabao Cup on the horizon.
Last week, Mourinho showed a sign that things could be changing for the Welsh international, claiming he was “a player with special qualities” before suggesting at the weekend, he was “better than ever.”
Therefore, it’s time for the Spurs boss to change his mind about the long-term future of the £18m-rated star.
Fans love him, he’s sparked a turnaround in form, and it’s merely the beginning (even if it’s March).
Bale must remain in N17 past the current campaign.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has revealed that young defender Eric Garcia will play for Spanish giants Barcelona next season.
Garcia, 20, began his career with the Catalans, coming up through the club’s youth system before joining City in 2017. Initially playing for the Citizens’ Under-18 and Under-23 sides, he made his first-team debut in December 2018.
That was in the EFL Cup match and a Premier League debut followed in September 2019. The Barcelona-born starlet flirted with the senior side during 2019-2020.
But, following the resumption after the enforced Covid-19 break, he saw plenty of action at centre-back. However, he rejected the offer of a new contract last August and will be a free agent this summer.
A number of clubs were keen on the talented stopper. Arsenal were heavily linked during the January transfer window.
It was always thought that he would return to the Nou Camp but the Gunners seemed another option. However, Guardiola has now ended the hopes of any other suitors by confessing that Garcia’s future is set.
The Spanish tactician is a big fan of the player and feels he will go on to shine with Barca.
“Eric Garcia is like a son. He was a guy last season that after lockdown was our best central defender,” he said. “He never made a mistake and played in the quarter-final of the Champions League.”
“He’s going to play in Barcelona and he is not an average player.”
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman wanted to sign him in January. However, the club’s parlous financial situation meant it was impossible.
That opened the door for other clubs to try their luck. But Koeman will have his man for next term and Guardiola admits it has been tough to let him leave.
“He is a top player. He was not selected in the last two games and it broke my heart,” he added. “That is why it is difficult for all the managers when you have a squad. You cannot imagine what it means.”
But personal terms with Barcelona are said to have already been agreed and the inevitable has now been revealed. Despite his tender years, the Spain star may well see plenty of action in La Liga.
The Blaugrana have endured a tough season by their own high standards. They are second in the table but five points adrift of Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.
A 4-1 drubbing in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with PSG means almost certain elimination. There could well be plenty of player movement in the summer and Garcia will come into the mix.