Welcome to the 5th 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!
First off, I hope everyone had a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season. There's a lot to cover in this Weekly Rondo. 4 fixtures, 12 goals scored, 2 goals conceded, 3 wins and one draw, and a massive 4 points gained on automatic promotion. The Saints had plenty to celebrate this December. Before we begin, a brief recap of the results since it's been a while:
26/12/23: Southampton 5 - 0 Swansea
29/12/23: Southampton 2 - 1 Plymouth Argyle
1/1/24: Norwich City 1 - 1 Southampton
6/1/24: Southampton 4 - 0 Walsall (FA Cup 3rd Round)
1. The Wee Man Deserves More Playing Time.
The Wee Man Ryan Fraser could not have had a better holiday, chipping in 4 goals and 1 assist in 4 appearances (one start against Walsall). Fraser has thrived in his super sub role, all but 5 of his 23 appearances for Saints have been off the bench. What makes Fraser most effective for Southampton is his directness: there is no wasted movement in his game, it is one, two, three touches and cross/shot. For an opposition right back, having to deal with Kamaldeen Sulemana or Sam Edozie for 60 minutes, then facing the directness of Fraser is draining.
However the Newcastle loanee has been pushing for inclusion in the starting 11, and with injuries to the aforementioned Sulemana and Edozie, Fraser has earned a chance to fill the void. Expect the Scot to play an important role for Southampton in the coming fixtures.
2. Injuries Are Starting to Pile Up.
Saints aren't in the Premiership anymore -- this is real football. As of today, most Prem teams have played 20 matches. Championship squads have played 26, plus more domestic cup games. The toll of those extra minutes builds up, and Southampton players are no exception. Injuries, some niggling, some longer term, are starting to mount: Kamaldeen Sulemana, Sam Edozie, Jan Bednarek, Flynn Downes, James Bree, and Ross Stewart have all missed or will miss time with knocks.
Southampton's squad depth will be sorely tested in the coming weeks. Ryan Fraser, Mason Holgate, Shea Charles, and Sékou Mara are all players who will have to step up in a big way to fill the shoes of the injured.
3. Where Are the Transfer Rumors?
Southampton have several potential areas of need in this January window. And they have some money in the bank after the summer departures of Roméo Lavia and James Ward-Prowse. But financial fair play regulations and future considerations (Taylor Harwood-Bellis' rumored 20 million obligation to buy upon promotion) might be limiting what the Saints can spend. Russell Martin hinted as much when discussing whether Ryan Fraser's loan would be made permanent in January.
The Saints have been linked with a loan move for Burnley's Manuel Benson, but the chances of a deal materializing are low. Aside from him, the rumor mill has been surprisingly quiet surrounding Southampton Football Club. Even more telling has been silence around potential outgoing players such as Ché Adams or Kyle Walker-Peters. Either Jason Wilcox and the Saints brass run a tight ship, or the Saints are staying out of the winter scramble for players. Given Martin's comments, and the reported FFP restrictions, my inkling would be the latter. But there are still 3 weeks for Saints to prove me wrong.
4. Ipswich Are Starting to Falter.
As Southampton have been reaching new heights, Ipswich have hit a bump in the road. Winless in their last 5, Ipswich next have to play 6th place Sunderland and leaders Leicester. The Saints play relegation zone Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea (who they just hammered 5-0). Russell Martin and his men must target all 6 points from these two games to keep the pressure on Ipswich. Passing them in the table, even temporarily, will be a huge momentum booster for Southampton going in to the 2nd half of the season.
5. Who Fills the Joe Aribo Sized Hole in Midfield?
Joe Aribo has been named in Nigeria's 25 man squad for the African Cup of Nations. The Super Eagles are a contender to win the entire tournament, and are expected to make a deep run. From a Southampton perspective, the deeper they go, the longer they will lose Aribo for, who has emerged as a surprise key contributor to their unbeaten run.
They leaves a hole to be filled in the starting 11, and 3 players are vying to fill it. Carlos Alcaraz is a creative force, but inconsistent and defensively weak. Will Smallbone is consistent, but lacks spark. And Shea Charles is the strongest defensively, but hasn't shown a cutting edge in attack so far this season. I'd say Smallbone is the odds on favorite to regain his lost starting spot, but each player provides a different skill set, and Martin would do well rotating them based on the needs at hand.