The Press Box: Belverstone on Cherries clash

By SFC Media Fri 24 Mar Saints vs Bournemouth
Photo by Getty Images

Ahead of next week's meeting between Southampton and AFC Bournemouth, we looked ahead to the game with Premier League Productions reporter Paul Belverstone.

How important do you see this game being for each side?

It's hard to find a way to build this up as a big, big game for Southampton, although I think as they play Bournemouth more and more often the games are becoming more important on the south coast. Particularly with Bournemouth winning against them at the Vitality Stadium last season, I think some Southampton fans enjoyed winning there this season because of a few bragging rights. It's probably threatening to become a genuine derby the longer they both play in the Premier League.

it'll be a fascinating and entertaining game.

paul belverstone
on saints vs bournemouth

As far as position and points go, it's a bigger game for Bournemouth, because even though they're nine points clear of the bottom three now there's still some way to go before they're guaranteed to be safe.

It's the worst time to play Bournemouth, I think. This time last year they won three straight games at the start of March, one of which was against Southampton, and this time they've taken seven points from nine, including a point at Old Trafford with ten men.

It'll be a fascinating and entertaining game I think, but there is something for Southampton to play for, in that they're looking for a fourth straight top-ten finish, which they've never done in the top division before. It's difficult to argue the battle for ninth or eighth is something to get excited about, but that is some achievement – a cup final, European group stage for the first time, and a top-ten finish. That would be a successful season. It would be a real shame for the season to fizzle out and for Southampton to finish 13th.

What have you made of Bournemouth?

They've recently changed formation too and it seems remarkable that 'little old Bournemouth' can leave Jack Wilshere on the bench for three games in a row, and there's every chance that'll be the same this time.

Benik Afobe and Joshua King are linking up really well. They're a real threat up front and will be a challenge physically, so every facet of Yoshida and Stephens's games will be challenged.

They are vulnerable at the back, particularly from crosses into the box, so if Manolo's fit that will help. Jay Rodriguez of course caused them big problems in the game earlier this season.

They're a team that likes to play very attractive football, and they cover a lot of ground. They've given some very big teams tough games. I think Manchester City is the only top-six team they haven't taken any points from. It'll be a challenge, but if Southampton can play for 90 minutes as they did in the second half at White Hart Lane then they'll come out on top.

They've just got to make sure they come out of the international break focused and motivated to keep picking up points and climbing as high as they can in the table and they'll win plenty more games this season.

What have you made of Southampton in recent weeks?

They've been transformed. Hugely impressive. Claude has spoken a lot about the introduction of Manolo Gabbiadini, and his stats have been extraordinary in his first four games. It's remarkable he's already the club's second-highest goalscorer this season, and the fact he has scored such a variety of goals in that run as well – he's obviously not a one-trick pony. Saints have always been creating a lot of chances this season, but now they've got someone again who can really finish them off. With Charlie having been out injured for four months he's really made a big difference.

Manolo Gabbiadini
Attack stats
Goals
6
Total shots
13
Shots on target
8
Conversion rate
46%
Mins per goal
60
See all stats

But the whole team seemed to be lifted, particularly at Wembley. That performance was outstanding. And then at Spurs as well, the first half they looked like a team who had nothing left to play for, but in the second half they looked like a team who believed they could get back into Europe and believed they could take their cup form against the best teams into the Premier League as well. I've been hugely impressed in the last month or six weeks.

Other than Gabbiadini, who has caught your eye recently?

I hadn't seen Oriol Romeu in the flesh for a couple of weeks until Spurs, and he was battling so successfully against Victor Wanyama, who obviously everyone around here knows very well, and Mousa Dembélé. In the first half, Saints looked outnumbered in midfield. Spurs had four players in there and Saints had three. Second half, there didn't seem to be any great formation change on either side, but suddenly they were winning that midfield battle and so much of that was down to Oriol. He's been immense. He must be playing the best football of his career. A lot of that credit has got to go down to Claude. He's put a lot of trust and faith in him.

I'm also very impressed with the way Maya has stepped up and taken on a bit of leadership and responsibility. He's now the senior partner in the heart of defence, since Virgil's injury and Fonte leaving. He's helped Jack Stephens, who's also been very good. Maya's been at the club a long time, but has always had a more senior figure alongside him, but he really seems to have stepped up in the last few weeks.

James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond fully deserve their England call-ups, because they've had some wonderful performances, and I think we're seeing Ward-Prowse play the best football of his career. He's promised so much for so long, but he's really blossoming and flourishing now in this system and in these last few weeks, so there are good signs all over the pitch. The headlines might have been taken by Gabbiadini, but they've been real team efforts the last couple of weeks.

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