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Southampton: What Saints Can Work on During Their Extended Break

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Gareth Barry of Manchester City congratulates Jay Rodriguez of Southampton as Southampton players celebrate victory at the final whistle during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary's Stadium on February 9, 2013 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Mike MillerContributor IIIFebruary 14, 2013

With Southampton out of the FA Cup due to its 5-1 bashing by Chelsea in the third round, the Saints are in the midst of a two-week break before returning to action against Newcastle United on February 24.

While there is temptation to take a few extra moments to savor the 3-1 victory over Manchester City, there are a few important things to work on over the break to keep the positive momentum going. Southampton are still only four points out of the relegation zone and still have work to do to secure Premier League status next season.

 

Get Healthy

Currently, Southampton have five players listed on the injury report, according to PhysioRoom.com. Danny Fox and Luke Shaw both have ankle injuries; Gaston Ramirez has a dead leg issue in his thigh, and Guly Do Prado and Jose Fonte both are battling knee injuries.

The fact that three regulars—Shaw, Ramirez and Fonte—all missed the Manchester City game makes that performance even more impressive. Southampton isn't exactly renowned for their depth, but Fox, Steven Davis and Jos Hooiveld performed admirably.

The good news is that all five players have a chance to return to the lineup for the Newcastle match, according to PhysioRoom. That would provide a big lift for a tricky road fixture at St. James Park.

 

Pick Up the Cardio

Mauricio Pochettino has employed a higher-pressure defensive style than even his predecessor Nigel Adkins employed. Through this point in the season, Southampton are currently first in tackles and second in interceptions per game, according to WhoScored.com

With this increased pressure, Southampton players would benefit with some extra fitness and cardio training over the next week.

Players like Ramirez, Do PradoJason Puncheon and Steven Davis, rarely seem to play the full 90 minutes when they start. If these midfielders could increase their stamina a bit, it would also give Pochettino a bit more flexibility in substitutions toward the end of matches instead of knowing he will have to use at least two of his three changes on tiring midfielders.

 

Improve the Passing

With Pochettino also wanting to play a more possession-based style when Southampton are on offense, the Saints will have to increase their passing skills.

Southampton do keep the ball reasonably well, as it ranks 10th in the Premier League with a 50.2 percent possession rate, according to WhoScored.com. However, the Saints only complete 77.8 percent of their passes, which ranks 14th in the Premier League.

Teams that are known for playing passing, flowing football like Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona have pass success rates above 85 percent. For Pochettino's style to flourish at Southampton, the Saints will have to complete at least 80 percent of their passes.

 

Smooth Things Over with Le God

To say the relationship between Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese and Saints legend Matt Le Tissier is complicated is an understatement. This is, if they have a relationship at all.

The two parties were supposed to have clear-the-air talks to discuss Le Tissier's criticisms of Cortese's handling of the club, specifically the replacement of Nigel Adkins. The meeting was canceled after Le Tissier made the meeting public knowledge against the wishes of Cortese, according to The Daily Mail.

Some of this could be seen as sour grapes by Le Tissier, who was part of a rival consortium that tried to take over Southampton three years ago. Indeed, Pochettino's hiring by Cortese looks to have been a decent move so far.

Normally, a spat between a former star player and a club chairman wouldn't be that big of a deal. But when that player has a national voice on Sky Sports every Saturday, the chairman would be wise to smooth things over.

A continued feud between Cortese and Le Tissier can only be a distraction to the team and could divide the loyalties of the fans. It's time for the two to come to an understanding and put the personal differences between them aside, at least in the public eye.

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