Southampton Weekly Rondo: Don't Be Sad It's Over

The Southampton Men's historic unbeaten run finally comes to an end at the hands of Bristol City. We also recap wins against Rotherham, Watford, and Huddersfield. Performances from substitutes Joe Rothwell, David Brooks, and Sekou Mara may have the first 11 looking over their shoulders. However the Women's team goes on a mini-skid

Bristol City v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship
Bristol City v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship / Dan Mullan/GettyImages

Welcome to the 8th edition of the Southampton Weekly Rondo -- where we discuss the past 7 days of the biggest club on the South Coast. We will briefly recap the week, then analyze what happened, and predict how the Saints will move forward. If you enjoy -- we march on next week!

It has been a little while since the last Weekly Rondo, and there is a lot to cover. To recap, here are the results from Southampton's last matches.


Rotherham 0 - 2 Southampton
Southampton 3 - 0 Watford (FA Cup Replay)
Southampton 5 - 3 Huddersfield
Bristol City 3 - 1 Southampton


Southampton 1 - 2 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1 - 3 Manchester United

My apologies for the hiatus -- this will probably end up a long one as we catch up on the two weeks' news. Before you ask: no I was not at AFCON, unlike Joe Aribo. However like Joe Aribo every time I did something positive this past week a bunch of people sang Gold by Spandau Ballet at me. It was truly a transformational experience. Always believe in your soul. Now back to our usual programming.

1. RIP the Unbeaten Streak: 30/9/23 - 13/2/24.

Che Adams
Southampton FC v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

We have to start by appreciating the historic run our Saints just treated us to. 25 games, 18 wins, 7 draws, 11 clean sheets, a goal difference of +37. It was magical, incredible, at times stressful, but most importantly, it got us believing in our club again. St. Mary's has been rocking, the away support is consistently loud, and Southampton is a team to be feared once more.

There were too many moments from the run to fully recap here, so I'll put forth some of my personal favorites.

1.) Gavin Bazunu's equalizer vs. Preston
2.) Joe Rothwell's quickfire double vs. Huddersfield
3.) The Southampton faithful serenade Joe Aribo

And so so many more. It was wonderful and it was historic. Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened. And as a testament to how brutal the Championship is -- it's only put the Saints into 3rd place at the end of it (with a game in hand). There's plenty of football left to be played.

2. Sékou Mara Deserves to Start.

Sekou Mara
Southampton v Watford - Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Let's say you have two attacking players, player A and player B, with the following statistics.

Player A:
Goals/90: 0.53
Assists/90: 0.13
Progressive Passes/90: 2.91
Progressive Receptions/90: 6.29

Player B:
Goals/90: 0.91
Assists/90: 0.61
Progressive Passes/90: 2.12
Progressive Receptions/90: 8.79

Player B pretty clearly has performed better right? Besides a slight downtick in progressive passing, player B appears to be contributing more to the team. Well, player A is Ché Adams, who has played 1,356 minutes this season. Player B is Sékou Mara, who has only played 299.

Yes it is not as simple as the statistics make it out to be. Mara often plays against inferior competition, while Ché dukes it out with the top dogs. But
Sékou is outperforming Adams in almost every statistical category, and the eye test is starting to show that as well. Mara has played himself into more playing time, its up to Adams to return the favor.

3. Shea Charles Missed His Chance.

Shea Charles
Southampton FC v Leicester City - Sky Bet Championship / Robin Jones/GettyImages

I tweeted before the Bristol match that Shea Charles had a big opportunity to fill in for his injured compatriot Flynn Downes. He completely missed that opportunity. Charles looked off the pace from minute one, misplacing passes, losing his defensive assignments, and generally not contributing. Bristol City were swarming Saints, and Charles looked to be a big reason why.

Russell Martin agreed with this assessment, and removed the Northern Ireland international at halftime for Stu Armstrong, shifting Will Smallbone down to the vacated number 6 role. Things got no better for Southampton after the change, as they limped to an uninspired 3-1 defeat.

To be fair to Charles, he was not the only one who looked flat. No one on Southampton exactly covered themselves in glory. But no one else on Southampton had the chance Shea had. He could've cemented himself as the primary option behind Flynn Downes as a number 6. Instead he now finds himself back at the bottom of the pecking order. Your coach pulling you at halftime is a clear sign things aren't going great.

And this is a problem for the team. Downes is now irreplaceable for Saints. They've tried Stu Armstrong, Will Smallbone, and now Shea Charles in his position without any success. Without Downes in the lineup, Championship level pressing suddenly looks like prime Barcelona (more on this later), and no one else has stepped up to fill his void. A long term Downes injury could be catastrophic for Southampton's promotion chances. Which raises the question...

4. Flynn is Down...but for how long?

Marvin Johnson, Flynn Downes
Southampton FC v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship / Robin Jones/GettyImages

According to reports Downes' injury is not severe and he isn't expected to miss much time. But Southampton's crowded fixture list will not be kind for a gradual recovery. Saints have to get through 7 games in the next 25 days (once again...more on this later), and will need all hands on deck. And since Downes' injury against Huddersfield, the Saints have conceded 6 goals in less than 180 minutes of play. Troubling indeed.

5. Southampton Women hit a mini skid.

Rianna Dean, Steph Catley
Southampton F.C. v Arsenal Women - FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup / Robin Jones/GettyImages

The Southampton Women have not lost two games in a row all season until last week. Now there is no shame in losing to WSL Top 4 Manchester United, nor in a tight loss to promotion rival Crystal Palace. However it is incredibly important for their aspirations this season that they rebound quickly. On Sunday the Saints travel to Birmingham City with only one point separating them in the standings, and only 3 points separating Saints from leaders Charlton.

Every match in the WSL 2 is important, but Sunday's match has a little bit extra. Let's all get behind our Saints.

6. A Blueprint for Beating Saints Emerges.

Rob Dickie, Matthew James, Haydon Roberts
Bristol City v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship / Dan Mullan/GettyImages

Ok, now we have to talk about Southampton's recent issues against the press. Earlier this season, pressing Saints was a one way ticket to a shellacking. Southampton would calmly play around you and use intelligent 3rd man running to go all the way up the pitch and score. Russell Martin ball at it's finest. And so opposing teams would be pragmatic: sit deep with 9 or even 10 men behind the ball.

But this week, something has changed. First Huddersfield, and now Bristol City, have come out of the gate aggressively pressing Southampton. Huddersfield did not have the quality to sustain it, Bristol City did. But the pressing targets aren't who you'd expect. Bristol City especially were absolutely fine letting center backs Jan Bednarek and Taylor Harwood-Bellis have the ball: the Bristol strikers would show token pressure to make sure they wouldn't carry the ball forward. But as Bednarek and THB looked up, there were 4 or 5 Bristol defenders making sure none of Southampton's midfield options were available, forcing Saints out wide, where their attacks repeatedly fizzled out.

So how do you beat this compact, narrow pressing structure? Option A is go through it -- but in the absence of Flynn Downes, Southampton don't have a skilled pivot to play around, as Shea Charles has shown he is not ready for this responsibility. Option B -- go around it out wide. The Saints tried this, but with their main wide players David Brooks and Sam Edozie largely ineffective, they needed to resort to...Option C, go over it. Which they repeatedly refused to do.

We've written before about how Southampton don't play long balls. They prefer slow, methodical buildup play. But we've seen several times they have been effective being direct. They have pacey strikers and wingers to run in behind, and Taylor Harwood-Bellis especially has stood out playing long diagonals. I expect Russell Martin to make some tactical tweaks in the coming fixtures, he's too good a manager not to. My humble recommendation would be to install some patterns with players like Adam Armstrong and Ryan Fraser running in behind. Bypass the opposition press altogether. Saints are at their best when they are unpredictable, balancing their buildup play with fast direct attack. Against Huddersfield and Bristol City, they became too one dimensional.

7. Previewing the Men's Upcoming Fixtures

Russell Martin
Bristol City v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship / Dan Mullan/GettyImages

Wow the upcoming fixture list is a doozy.

16/2: West Brom (A)
20/2: Hull City (H)
24/2: Milwall (H)
28/2: Liverpool (A)
2/3: Birmingham City (A)
6/3: Preston (H)
9/3: Sunderland (H)

That's 4 teams in the Championship top 10 and Liverpool and 2 additional matches in the span of a month. Yikes. And who waits for Saints on March 16th after this gauntlet -- Leicester. This is the make or break point of the season for Southampton. They need to stay in the pole position for the automatic promotion spots, a string of bad results could see them dropping back down the table. And during this time squad depth will be sorely tested. The likes of Shea Charles, Sekou Mara, Kamaldeen Sulemana, and others who have fallen out of favor will be heavily relied on. Championship football at its very best. Here we go.

8. Is Beating Liverpool Possible?

Virgil Van Dijk
Liverpool FC v Burnley FC - Premier League / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Now that the unbeaten run is over, will Russell Martin field a strong team at Anfield? Liverpool will almost certainly not, as they play Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final only 3 days prior. Personally, while promotion is more important, giving a Premier League test to Martin ball would be a great barometer to see where Southampton are at. While I'd expect not to see heavy lifters like Kyle Walker-Peters, I want some of the regulars to get battle tested. Adam Armstrong underwhelmed in the Premiership, has he improved past that? Flynn Downes, Sam Edozie, and Kamaldeen Sulemana are similar. While victory may not be on the cards, at least putting up a strong fight could give momentum and confidence to the side going into the business end of the season.