With a break in the fixture schedule, we got the views of Southern Daily Echo journalist Adam Leitch on Southampton's recent performances...
What have you made of the team’s form the past few weeks?
The stuff Saints have played the last few games has been pretty exhilarating. Given the league season kind of feels like it’s in a bit of drift, and the cup final ended the way it ended, for me it’s actually been the most enjoyable part of the season from a purist's point of view, just enjoying the football. It’s been the best, in my opinion, that they’ve played under Puel.
If the season is to retain any real buzz or excitement, I think it has to be on these individual performances. Having some real exciting football and some players people really want to come and watch, that does keep momentum in the season and keep things going, even if there’s not a massive end goal you’re playing for.
the performance at watford was testament to the character of all of them.adam leitch
southern daily echo
How impressed were you with the response to losing at Wembley?
I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I genuinely wouldn’t have thought it was appropriate to blame the players if the opposite had happened and they hadn’t quite stepped up to the mark at Watford.
Those of us who cover Saints regularly had that slight sense of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show', and I’m sure the supporters did too. It’s so easy to turn around and say all the time that the players are professionals and really well paid, and they should give their best all the time – yes, they should, but they’re only human and have emotions the same as all the rest of us. You can’t just expect them to instantly recover from something that might have been quite a crushing blow to them, but that’s kind of what they did. I thought it was really impressive.
It was a testament to the character of all of them. The weird thing is they didn’t all play really well, but you couldn’t accuse any of them of lacking heart, spirit and desire. All credit to them, and to Claude as well. He stuck with the same team again – three times in a row now – and maybe he’s coming to learn what his best first-team is, and he’s right to stick with it.
What have you made of the change of system recently?
I’ve heard people say it’s not a formation that makes a result, it’s the players, but you’ve got to give them a chance to go out and get results and perform.
I’ve said before that I’ve not been sure why there was a need to change. I’m not saying Claude was wrong to come in with his own ideas. I heard his logic, heard him explain it, and I understood what he said, but I still didn’t really agree this was the way to go, so I’m delighted he has gone back to the 4-2-3-1 and I think that’s something the players wanted and I suspect that’s part of the reason for the upturn in their results.
They’ve got the right type of players for that. The squad has been largely built around and recruited around players to fit that formation over the last few years, so it’s great to see them doing it. The fact they’re scoring goals and attacking well – they’re getting so much more out of Tadić, they’ve really brought the attacking play of the full-backs right into the picture, and Redmond is looking so much better out wider – I’m so pleased to see that formation back. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so passionate about a formation before!
How impressed have you been with Manolo Gabbiadini, and what has stood out for you about him?
It’s been remarkable. His previous record didn’t really suggest he’d have this kind of impact, but Claude spoke about them having to play a certain style with Gabbiadini, and that actually suits the 4-2-3-1 and the style of players they’ve got. You’ve got someone who’s continually looking to get in behind, and playing on the shoulder of the last defender, which is great.
It’s been like the stuff of dreams the way he’s settled in. He walks around and is so unassuming, he doesn’t speak English yet, and he turns up and makes the Premier League look almost like it’s easy.
Who else has stood out for you recently?
There’s a few I would pick out. Ryan Bertrand has been excellent. For me, he’s one of the best two or three left-backs in the Premier League, without any doubt. I think he’s absolutely superb.
We’ve talked so much about Romeu and he’s still playing very well, but I think Steven Davis dropping into that role alongside him has looked much better. They’re getting the best of one of the highest-quality players in the squad, in terms of consistency and what he offers the team.
Tadić looks like a player reborn playing in that hole and linking with Gabbiadini, and also James Ward-Prowse has really stepped up and been very good out on the right. It would be really nice to see him really make one of these positions his own.
It would also be unfair not to mention Redmond. When he plays well, we know he’s virtually unplayable, and he looks so much more dangerous out on the left and cutting in, than when he’s funnelled in a more central position.
What do you hope to see for the rest of the season?
In a word: Progress. I think that’s vital for the team and for Claude. He’s had to deal with plenty of problems, in terms of no real first pre-season, a bit of bad luck with injuries, and an unbelievable run of matches to try to manage and get through.
All those things have conspired to make it a difficult period for him, but now he can work with the players on the training ground for a sustained period of time, he can pick his best eleven for the majority of matches that remain now, and he can really get a style and sense of momentum behind him and the team going into the summer, which I think is really important to build a foundation for next season.