In this week’s Opposition Focus, Matt Wiggins spoke to Ben from Total Saints Podcast to get a Southampton perspective ahead of the Boxing Day kick off at Craven Cottage…
Fulham vs Southampton, what comes to mind when you think of this fixture from years gone by?
I can remember being at Craven Cottage in September 1998 to see Saints draw 1-1 in the First Leg of League Cup Round Two, but the main memory is our scintillating 3-0 win in February 2014. Our front three that day – Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana – were all in sparkling form. It was a tremendous performance from start to finish, with three excellent goals. A thoroughly convincing win in the end.
Ralph Hassenhuttl seemed doomed after last year’s 9-0 home loss against Leicester City. What’s he changed since then, to turn you into the side you are today?
The significant change was a tactical one – playing four at the back rather than five. This instantly made us more attack-minded and, with confidence and belief then starting to grow, the results came. The players have slowly but surely got used to his system, all know their jobs and have since excelled as a collective group.
The Saints Board decided to stick with Hasenhuttl after *that* result – and its paid off. Ralph oozes class and respect and has undoubtedly turned things around throughout the Club – from the Academy to the First Team.
How does the squad this season compare to the one that took you to 11th place last season?
It’s much the same – with just a couple of further additions, in particular Theo Walcott. Saints aren’t a Club that are flush with cash, but they’ve invested wisely in young players they feel can, hopefully, develop into Premier League stars. Recent recruits include Ibrahima Diallo (Midfielder) and Mohammed Salisu (Centre Back).
However, it’s the return of Walcott to Saints that has had the most impact so far this season. He’s looked fit and hungry, slotting into Hasenhuttl’s system with minimal fuss.
Southampton sit 7th in the Premier League table on 24 points. Is a European campaign next season potentially on the cards?
As Saints fans we tend to not get too carried away (i.e. “16 more points needed to stay up”!! etc.), but they should certainly now be targeting a top-half finish.
Hasenhuttl has been quick to play down any specific ‘League targets’ but, given the start we’ve made to this Premier League campaign, I’d hope we can have a real push for a European spot, yes. That said, our squad still lacks real depth, so a few injuries (at the same time) might hamper any chance of that happening.
Which player will pose as your biggest threat that Fulham need to keep an eye on?
Given Danny Ings is likely to be missing through injury, I’d probably plump for Theo Walcott. He’s shown in the last few games his desire to turn and run at defenders with the ball. Even though Theo is 31-years-old now, he’s still got significant pace and has caused some of the best Premier League opponents concern over recent weeks. If Theo can bring that form to Craven Cottage then I’d expect the Fulham backline to be in for a tiring day.
Are there any Fulham players you’re particularly worried about going into the game on Wednesday?
Alexander Mitrovic has a decent record against Saints and, if fit, will certainly give our defence something to think about physically. Ralph Hasenhüttl previously managed RB Leipzig – where Ademola Lookman played recently – and, with the player in good form at the moment, will surely be wary of his threat as well.
There are a number of players to have played for both. Who would you say is the best player to have played for both the Cottagers and the Saints?
As you say, there is quite a selection when you look back – Maik Taylor, Wayne Bridge, Glenn Cockerill and Fabrice Fernandes all coming to mind.
For me though, given he’s still my favourite Saints goalkeeper of all-time, I’d have to say Antti Niemi. He was an excellent shot-stopper who won many points for Saints during his time with us. I felt very lucky to chat to Antti on our podcast a while ago.
I know you didn’t ask me this……but Paul Moody and Terry Hurlock would be fighting it out for the worst players, I reckon!
What are your Top 4 and Bottom 3 predictions?
Top Four would be Liverpool (Champions), Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
I feel that, given present company, I need to be nice re the bottom 3 prediction – so let’s say Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Brighton!
Finally, how do you see the game panning out?
I’m rubbish at predictions. I never get them right! Therefore, lets play it safe and sit on the fence – 1-1!
Thanks to Ben from Total Saints Podcast for answering our questions.