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Monday, 23 September 2013

The Inside Line: Southampton (24/09/2013)

It’s not very often that Bristol City play a team that are placed higher in the league than Manchester United, or have just won at Liverpool, but that’s the fate to befall us on Tuesday when we travel to what has been a successful stomping ground for us in recent history.

There is little doubt the Saints have moved on somewhat since a Christmas-time backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win there in their promotion-winning season, but those recent good outcomes (City have won four consecutive matches against Southampton), along with the expectation that many of the starting XI who won at Anfield on Saturday will be rested for the cup-tie, has led to some raising of hopes ahead of the journey down to the south coast.

To put this in some perspective, Southampton rested nine players for the last round, and won 5-1 at Championship side Barnsley without the likes of Osvaldo, ex-Bristol Rovers and England striker Rickie Lambert and Wanyama, whilst City may also make some changes – O’Driscoll hinted at further use of the squad after Saturday’s defeat at Swindon Town, with Parish, Carey and Harewood all seeming likely to play a part, whilst the likes of Jordan Wynter & perhaps even Neil Kilkenny may offer options from the bench.

One more note to add, City haven’t reached the fourth round of this competition since the 1988-89 season, when we famously took then-giants Nottingham Forest to extra-time in a televised semi-final.  In that tournament, we beat Crystal Palace in the early rounds too…however, the last time we reached the third round?  2003-04. And we lost, 3-0. To Southampton.

To take a look at our Premier League opponents, Lewis Hancock spoke to two Saints stalwarts in Alistair Iveson and Chris Rann and sought their views.

Nigel Adkins departure from St Mary's was a shock one. In hindsight, was it the correct to decision to replace him with Mauricio Pochettino?
Ali Iveson: Yes- although that's not a slight on Adkins, who did a fantastic job. He was slightly naïve at the start of the season & results have improved since Pochettino took the reigns. He also seems to have given us a much clearer identity, & his trademark pressing means we now play every game on our own terms.

Chris Rann: Yes it was. We were pretty shocked to see Nigel go and he will always be a popular figure here but Pochettino is taking this team to another level. Defensively we look a world away from a year ago.

Saints have always been credited for having a high-profile academy set-up. Have you ever thought it could produce a player that would go onto be the world's most expensive player? Did you think Gareth Bale would succeed as much as he has?
AI: I didn't expect him to become the world's most expensive player; & neither did the old hierarchy when they sold our 20% sell-on clause & add-ons for £3M & Tommy Forecast! He was clearly a massive talent however, and while he didn't possess the physical attributes he does now, he was technically excellent.

CR: The potential was always there. We've brought through so many fantastic kids (and still are) that it was inevitable that sooner or later one would really turn the heads of the extended footballing world. Bale was quality from day one in a Saints shirt and it is pretty pleasing to see him in a Real Madrid shirt.

Another player Saints have transformed into international pedigree is Rickie Lambert. When signed from Bristol Rovers in 2009, could you ever see him scoring goals on the international stage?
AI:  I would be lying if I said that I believed Lambert was good enough for England in 2009, but every time he's gone up a level he's adapted well & shown he's good enough to go up a level again. Don't let his fairytale journey blur the fact that he is the most prolific English striker in the Premier League over the last two seasons- he's there on merit.

CR: Absolutely. When Lambert joined Saints he was an out of shape goal scorer, and to be honest I thought he would come in and do a job over a short period of time. He did the complete opposite though, got himself fit and showed us that he is actually a fantastic footballer. Hasn't looked out of place in the Premier League or in and England shirt and deserves every minute of success he has had. He is far more than the burly target man misinformed pundits think he is.

Pochettino made nine changes to the starting line up against Barnsley in the last round; is he likely to make a host of changes on Tuesday? 
AI: Yes. We've got a great crop of youngsters & Pochettino will be keen to give some of them a go, along with some fringe players. 

CR: I would have thought so. Pochettino wants to utilise the Academy and this represents the perfect opportunity. The youngsters tore Barnsley apart so there is no reason not to trust them again.

Who should City fans look out for on Tuesday? 
AI: Omar Rowe is a very exciting eighteen-year-old winger who has been banging in the goals for the U21s so far this season. Very quick, even quicker feet & he possesses a wicked cross & shot; he's one to look out for if he gets on.

CR: Take your pick, you are getting a first-hand look at the future of English football. Omar Rowe looks a talent.

In the last six matches we've played, Saints have only beaten City once, with City winning five. Will Saints err on the side of caution going into the fixture? 
AI: No, I don't think so. Our two clubs are in very different situations to when we last met.

CR:  I don't think so no. You certainly became a bogey side for us in the lower divisions but Saints as a club is slowly transforming and shaking off it's more unwanted traditions. I do think they will take it seriously though, with Saints looking for a way into Europe.

Is the Capital One Cup a competition Southampton should be looking to win? Or would fans prefer to concentrate on a solid league campaign? 
AI: I think we should be looking to win it- especially with European qualification a stated aim.

CR: As I said in the previous question the Chairman has European ambitions so why not? It is integral that we improved on last season’s league position but a cup run would be a nice bonus.

How does Pochettino set up his side to play? 
AI: To take the game to the opposition, both in terms of pressing & attacking. At home though this seems less effective, so a more attritional possession game is sometimes in order.

CR: He tends to stick to a 4-2-3-1 with the emphasis on high pressing, keeping the ball and defending from the front.

Finally, can I get a prediction for the match?
AI:  3-1 to Saints.

CR:  I think Saints will win 3-1.

My thanks to Lewis, Chris and Alistair for their time. 

It should be an interesting glimpse into a future model as for all Southampton’s big spending in the last 12 months (only Man City, Chelsea & Tottenham have spent more in English football), the future appears to be built on a successful and vibrant Academy system, producing long-term sustainability.  They’re a few years on from us and have significant pedigree with the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain already making a huge impact, and no doubt elements of their way of working has been reviewed by the City board and implemented into our plans.

The Saints fans are fully expectant of a home win, to be honest most City fans are probably thinking the same, but as Bradford proved last season, the cup can produce some moments of magic and be the sorts of games where reputations have foundations built, so let’s get behind the boys and produce an atmosphere to spur them on to a surprise victory.


The Exiled Robin

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