Russell Martin must revert to their 4-3-3 configuration this evening and get rid of this rubbish.
Southampton started life in the Championship well, with victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth Argyle, and Queens Park Rangers, but have since been thrashed by rival promotion contenders Sunderland and Leicester City.
Russell Martin expected a response from his players after they were beaten 5-0 by the Black Cats, but after conceding to Jamie Vardy after 21 seconds, it was clear he wouldn’t get one.
With a challenging match against Ipswich Town on the horizon this evening, Martin faces a difficult task in rallying a confident group and making various decisions over tonight’s team selection.
Will Smallbone, who failed to become the combative, aggressive, and press-resistant midfielder that the Saints were screaming out for to push them up the field, was one of the standouts from their defeat against the Foxes.
How did Smallbone fare in his match against Leicester City?
While Smallbone has recently gained prominence, his performance on Friday was one to forget, with a 6.9 Sofascore rating that understated just how bad the 23-year-old was.
Smallbone was restricted to space in midfield by Leicester’s devastatingly dynamic trio of Harry Winks, Wilfred Ndidi, and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall despite having 81 touches across 90 minutes in a Southampton side famous for being possession-heavy under Martin.
Although four tackles and one interception has been the Irishman’s standard since becoming a revelation at Stoke last season, his performance in Southampton’s midfield underwhelmed in most areas.
The £17k-a-week earner was dribbled past five times, more than any other player on Martin’s team, illustrating how light he was in the middle of the pitch.
Smallbone, who lost 62% of his ground duels, was also non-existent in his attempts to hold the ball for his team, highlighting Southampton’s troubles in their 4-4-2 style, which was overpowered by Leicester’s passing brilliance and incisiveness.
Following this heinous performance, Martin may decide to drop one of his Friday evening villains, Smallbone, and revert to their tried and tested 4-3-3.
Who should take Will Smallbone’s place?
When Southampton were at their finest, Shea Charles was anchoring their midfield and acting as a screen in front of the Saints backline, flanked by Stuart Armstrong and Carlos Alcaraz.
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill described Charles as “magnificent” after his performances for the national team, and he’s showed glimpses of why he’s worth the £15m price tag since signing from Manchester City this summer.
Despite starting at center-back in their past two losses, the youthful phenom must revert to his more natural position at the base of midfield, sweeping up possession and impressing with his fine passing range.
The two aforementioned characteristics are highlighted by the fact that he’s averaged 4.6 ball recoveries per game, 1.8 interceptions, and a throw completion average of 92%, according to Sofascore, which is outstanding given he attempts a lot of deep balls. In addition, he is only dribbled past once per game, compared to Smallbone’s 2.3.
If Southampton are to recapture their flow and launch a promotion bid, using the 19-year-old at the base of midfield is a critical component that can get their machine back in working order.