SAINTS’ record signing Gaston Ramirez will be at the centre of a massive dilemma for boss Mauricio Pochettino this week.
For the first time since he took over at St Mary’s, Pochettino, left, is expected to have all six of his main attacking players available for selection for Sunday’s Premier League trip to Newcastle.
Injured pair Ramirez and Guly missed the stunning win over defending champions Manchester City last time out, while Adam Lallana was not deemed fit to start as he continues his comeback from injury.
But all three are now in contention again, along with Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Jason Puncheon.
But of those six, Pochettino can only realistically start with three – and with Lambert a shoe-in, that leaves the other five, including £12m ace Ramirez, battling for just two slots.
How best to accomodate the Uruguyan’s skills in the high pressing, high energy system that accounted for Roberto Mancini’s City is the main question he will be asking himself now.
Adam Leitch's analysis of where and when Ramirez will fit in:
STRENGTH in depth is something no manager will ever complain about.
But Mauricio Pochettino will be asking himself just how he will fit some hugely talented players, including Saints’ record signing, into his team.
They say don’t change a winning side and it would be immensely harsh for any of the players that did so well to defeat Manchester City to be left out when Saints return to action at Newcastle next Sunday.
But football is, and always has been, a ruthless business and the new manager will not shy away from making whatever decisions he deems necessary to bag another win.
Beyond this weekend, the selection dilemma Pochettino faces is an indicator of similar problems
to wrestle with in the future.
They are positive ones to have. You would much rather have quality options than be desperately trying players in a losing team and hoping to find some sort of magic formula.
It will be interesting to see which way Pochettino goes. His primary problem is the attacking midfield roles.
In the current 4-2-3-1 formation we expect that, when fit and available, Rickie Lambert will be the lead striker. But there are six experienced first team players, all of whom have shown good form – one of whom cost £12m, another £7m and another who is the captain – vying for just
three spaces in the team.
That means every week that three have to sit it out.
No doubt every fan will have their own first choice preference as to who they would like to see starting.
It is a great topic for debate, and proof of how far Saints have come that they have these kind of options. And, of course, who’s to say that they won’t be expanded still further in the summer if, as seems likely, Saints retain their Premier League status.
For Pochettino it’s about picking a winning team, and that means one that fits his style of play.
So far what we have seen is Saints playing very high up the field, and working tremendously hard throughout the match to make that system pay.
Jack Cork even said you need two hearts to cope with the workload. That is not going to suit every player. For example, take Gaston Ramirez and Guly do Prado for example.
They are talented on the ball but their abilities lie with what they can conjure up when drifting and dropping into space, rather than chasing down opponents like a terrier.
Steven Davis, on the other hand, might not be quite as creative on the ball – but has a phenomenal work ethic for his team. It would seem on the face of it, therefore, that Davis would fit more easily into a Pochettino side.
But there must be some room for flair. Adam Lallana, Jason Puncheon and Jay Rodriguez are probably easier categorised as they tick the boxes of being both hard workners and creative.
So just where does Ramirez fit in?
For £12m, there is surely a plan for him. As Saints go on they will lose the element of surprise.
In the first handful of games under Pochettino, many opposition managers will still be trying to figure the new man and his tactics out.
That is, and has been, a huge bonus for Saints, but it won’t last forever. Teams will quickly get wise to it and will start to work out ways to combat some of Saints’ good work.
As they do that then Saints will inevitably need something extra, something else, something a little different – and a little special – to prove the difference.
That is where some of these hugely creative talents that didn’t make the side to face City, such as Ramirez, will surely come in.
If you have ten workhorses you can carry a mercurial player who isn’t going to buzz about all over the place ...... as long as they are able to provide you with that bit of magic that proves the difference.
This is where Saints will possibly be able to justify the inclusion of Ramirez. We haven’t really seen the Uruguayan settle yet.
We certainly haven’t even got close to seeing the best of him, or justification for a £12m price tag, beyond the odd moment here and there.
It won’t be easy for him, adjusting to a new life, a new language, a new way of football and a new culture. That is absolutely certain.
But after a season, and heading into the next campaign, he will be expected to step up and
deliver upon Saints’ considerable investment.
Looking to the future for a second rather than the here and now, that role in the hole behind Lambert is his for the taking. Lallana and Puncheon are very proficient in the wide areas and provide the kind of work that covers their respective full backs as well.
Davis might well compete for a central midfield berth, certainly if for any reason Cork or Morgan Schneiderlin are unavailable.
As for Do Prado, he looks like the fill-in man as he can play any of the attacking three positions, though back up for Ramirez is probably more likely in a Pochettino style of team.
Rodriguez has the string to his bow that he may well end up playing as the main striker anyway at some stage, though Lambert’s unbelievably brilliant fitness and form record continues unabated for now.
If not, then he is the obvious option to interchange with Ramirez for when you face a team where hard work will earn the selection over pure talent.
In the Premier League there are a good few of those days too, especially away from home.
\both in the short and long term, there is much for Pochettino to wrestle with.
But how refreshing that these seem like exciting and interesting dilemmas, rather than headaches.