from Craig Doyle
I was happy to escape with a draw given the story of the match. Whilst we dominated for probably 70 minutes I felt we started to run out of gas and the changes we made didn’t freshen up the team whilst maintaining the same flow we had earlier in the match. At the point where Anita went off we looked sapped of energy and the game started to swing away from us. Not knowing what to expect going into the game I think we can take positives as well as identify things we need to work on going forward.
The formation for me was much as I thought it might be but certainly not how I would have played. Surprisingly Wijnaldum, Sissoko and Obertan allowed us to play with two defensive midfielders with McClaren identifying that pace in the midfield would be important. The inclusion of Obertan was a bit of a wildcard and not a wildly popular choice prior to kickoff but I think he had a good game out wide on the left despite the fact that his cross for the goal came from the right wing.
I was intrigued by the fact Cisse was chosen over Mitrovic upfront in a decision that is difficult to explain. For me Cisse was awful and he looked off the pace for majority of the match. He is credited with the opening goal but being honest it was a one yard tap-in and about all he contributed all game. The introduction of Mitrovic was a strange one with him smashing wildly through an opponent within seconds of getting on the pitch. Whether he felt he needed to announce himself or was just over eager to get involved it’s difficult to say. He did look a handful though and showed signs of doing a lot of things we haven’t seen since Andy Carroll last pulled on a black and white shirt. Winning headers, wrestling with big defenders and holding the ball up. There is definitely a crash and bash element to his game that the crowd warmed up to but he will have to show his goalscoring as well.
In the middle of the park I thought Wijnaldum was a touch of class that has been missing since we sold Cabaye. He’s not the biggest presence but he showed he has a turn of pace and a big engine to get him around the park. His finish for the second goal was a thing of beauty. Up against the physically strong Wanyama he got up early to meet Obertan’s cross with his header making it look very easy. He’s going to be a key player this season with his energy in midfield.
On the downside we were shockingly poor at defending crosses into the box. Pelle’s opener was the first real Southampton chance. We didn’t shut the cross down before it came in and the big man made us pay with a good header that look a bit too unopposed for my liking. Similarly Shane Long for their second goal shouldn’t be ghosting into the box to score headers. There was just that feeling again today that every time we conceded a corner or a cross came in that we were scrambling to clear more than getting a reassuring looking head on the ball.
Fitness looks to be a key issue. Coloccini was struggling towards the end, Tiote looked massively out of shape and Obertan had clearly run out of gas with ten minutes to go. We lost all threat and defensively we started to look like we’d leak a third goal. Hoying the ball up to Mitrovic was all fine and well but the guy had nobody to aim the ball at with De Jong not looking sharp when he was brought onto the field. Fitness takes time and with injuries healing during pre-season we look like we are a bit behind.
One player who probably won’t get the credit he deserves in the papers tomorrow is Moussa Sissoko. I thought his performance today looked like something from two years back. It wasn’t the Sissoko of last year who looked disinterested and contributed once every half dozen games or so. He looked strong and powerful on the ball whilst he made important interceptions off it. I still wonder if he’s better deployed in a midfield three as opposed to out wide on the right. I just feel with his big frame he could really put himself about in there and give us a lot of steel in the centre of the park. With Anita now injured I’d like to think it may be a good idea to try Sissoko in there against Swansea. Obertan can shift over to the right and we can deploy Aarons or Perez on the left.
One game won’t tell us all the answers but there was definitely a more positive look to the team today than there has been for over a year. We had players looking to get on the ball and we kept possession well. With a bit pace we were able to craft more chances than we have done in a long time. The outlook after the first game is positive, even if the result wasn’t a win. With difficult matches in the next few weeks we need to look to find our feet quickly ahead of what I think will be must win games right at the back of those.