Welcome to the 7th 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!
The Southampton academy was once a place of glory, where the next generation of football's best and brightest were trained. Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, Alan Shearer, James Ward-Prowse, these are but a few of the graduates who plied their trade in some of football's best competitions.
In recent years, as the Saints' performance in the Premier League began to wane, so too did the perception of the youth players coming through the ranks. Either they couldn't crack the first team, or left to seek greener pastures elsewhere. But now, Russell Martin and the Southampton coaching staff might have a golden generation on their hands. Several have already made first team debuts, with others not too far behind.
It is up to Saints brass to treat these youngsters with the utmost care. To follow in the footsteps of football legends is no easy task. A few missteps, and talents such as Dom Ballard, Tyler Dibling, and Jayden Meghoma could go from standing on the shoulders of Southampton academy giants, to stumbling behind them in their wake. As always, let's get right into the week.
1. Farewell Kamari Doyle, We Wish We Knew You Better
Case in point -- one of the promising academy products is already on the way out. Kamari Doyle is headed to Brighton for a reported fee of about 2.5 million when all add-ons and incentives are added up.
There is no doubt that Doyle is a very promising player -- at only 18 years of age he has made a first team debut in the Premier League (ironically against Brighton) and led Premier League 2 in both goals and assists per 90 minutes.
But something is off with this transfer. In an interview, Russell Martin bemoaned that Doyle was pushing for the move in order to secure more first team game time. But Doyle has been dealing with a long term injury, which obviously hampers Martin's ability to give him first team opportunities. However the appearances of Jayden Meghoma, Cam Bragg, Tyler Dibling, and Sam Amo-Ameyaw in the first team in recent weeks may have given Doyle the impression that he is lower in the pecking order than promised.
Kamari Doyle joins Jimmy-Jay Morgan as promising academy graduates to leave in recent years. But Doyle to Brighton, like Morgan to Chelsea, is leaving Saints for a team where first team opportunities will be more limited. It shows that the relationship between Saints and these two youngsters could've been irreparably fractured. Great care must be taken to avoid similar mistakes moving forward.
2. Jayden Meghoma and Tyler Dibling Deserved More
Both Jayden Meghoma and Tyler Dibling were inserted into the starting lineup in Southampton's FA Cup fixture away at Watford. Meghoma looked solid in his minutes, albeit muted offensively. Dibling looked worse, not showing his direct, explosive play we saw in his cameo against Walsall.
Both were put in difficult situations. It is important to put young players in situations where they can easily succeed, and grow in confidence as they break into the senior team. Against Watford, neither Meghoma nor Dibling were given that. First and foremost, playing away from home is not easy, even for established veterans. But secondly, both were playing directly next to senior teamers playing out of position. In Russell Martin's system, the fullback and winger must have a great understanding of each other. Meghoma (a left back) was playing with Sékou Mara (not a left winger) on the left wing. Dibling (a winger) was playing with Mason Holgate (not a right back) at right back.
Understandably, both were not able to showcase their full potential, as the senior teamers could not consistently put them in positions to succeed. When Sam Amo-Ameyaw was inserted late in the game, the regular starters were on the pitch with him, and unsurprisingly he looked the most lively of the youngsters. Going forward, when Meghoma, Dibling, and others are given significant time, I would like to see Russell Martin surround them with experience and quality, in order to allow them to fully flourish.
3. FA Cup Replay: Time to Pack it in?
A draw against Watford in the FA cup 4th round was the result no one wanted. The replay will come at a time where Saints will have 7 games in 21 days, and an extra 90 minutes in the players' legs will be difficult to stomach. Moreover, the reward for a win is a date with Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield. Gulp.
However, the unbeaten streak is a real rallying cry for Saints fans. This squad has already etched their name into Southampton's history books, but the momentum carrying on from match to match compounds itself. For me, I want the streak to last as long as humanly possible. Thus I'd ask Saints to go for the win against Watford at St. Mary's -- at the very least they will get a test of their Premier League capabilities when Liverpool comes around.
4. Southampton Women's Conti Cup Run is Over
Unfortunately the Southampton Women's squad fell out of the Continental Cup with a 3-0 loss to Tottenham. It was always going to be a tough ask for Saints to advance, considering their groups contained Super League sides Arsenal and Tottenham. However Marieanne Spacey-Cale's side put together a good account of themselves during the campaign -- with the highlight being a hard fought 2-1 loss to Arsenal. With the Saints pushing for promotion, these games against Super League competition will be great measuring sticks for the squad as they try to make the necessary adjustments to move up the football pyramid.
5. Russell Martin Goes Back to the Bournemouth Well
One incoming Cherry this transfer window wasn't enough for Russell Martin, he has now added another to the Saints squad with newcomer David Brooks. On paper, this is an excellent signing for Saints. It fills an area of need: the right wing, as Adam Armstrong has been moonlighting there as regular wingers Kamaldeen Sulemana and Sam Edozie come back to fitness.
Brooks is more than just a squad player however, he has the quality to earn meaningful first team minutes. He has Premiership experience, playing 13 matches for Bournemouth this season and contributing a goal and an assist. He is a full international with Wales. Looking at his advanced statistics he ranks very highly in non-penalty xG (99th percentile), total shots (97th), shot creating actions (94th), and progressive passing (91st). Brooks is a technical goal scorer and chance creator, and he should compete from the jump for minutes. Russell Martin will have a selection problem on his hands, and any manager worth his salt will tell you that is a good problem to have.
6. A Popular Saint is Heading to Turin
It wouldn't be a January transfer window without some outgoings however, and it is looking like a Southampton fan favorite might be out the door this month.
Carlos Alcaraz has struggled for regular game time this season. He has had moments of magic (see his goal against Plymouth) but incosistency has plagued him.
The real issue for Alcaraz is that his strengths do not suit how Russell Martin wants to play. Alcaraz is at his best when playing off a central striker and making incisive runs. He wants to play direct, high degree of difficulty passes, and finish off chances in the box. Defensively, he tends to wander, and is not strong enough in the tackle at his young age of 21.
Martin does not ask this of his central midfielders. In Southampton's system, the midfielders are true box to box players, and the buildup is slow and methodical. Saints probe and probe until an opening arrives, usually through wing play after the ball has shifted from one side to another. This doesn't suit Alcaraz at all, and thus his game time has lessened each week.
Enter Juventus, who have reportedly agreed with Saints on a loan until the end of the season (with a hefty loan fee in the region of 3 million) with an option to buy. Transfer guru Fabrizio Romano has reported the buy option is "in excess of 40 million".
This transfer is a mixed bag for Saints. On the one hand, it is great potential value for a player who hasn't been regularly playing. On the other, Alcaraz clearly has quality and high potential, and more time spent working with Russell Martin could mold him to the player Southampton need. And what happens at season's end if Juve choose not to trigger the buy option? Then Southampton will have a returning player who still doesn't fit the system and hasn't had the time to learn it. We will have to wait until the end of the season to see how this one plays out -- there is potential for it to be great for the player and the club, or poor for both. Only time will tell.