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Jay Rodriguez's Southampton debut gives Nigel Adkins food for thought
IT was the kind of start Jay Rodriguez would have dreamed of.
Arriving at a new club aged just 22, having never played above Championship level, for a fee that has obliterated a newly promoted Premier League club’s transfer record is a lot of pressure.
Players inevitably talk of not worrying about the price tag around their necks.
But when it’s as substantial as Rodriguez’s, and as significant to the club he is joining, it is impossible not to let it cross your mind.
Before returning to pre-season he must have thought that he desperately wanted a fast start, for supporters not to be questioning whether he was worth so much money or not.
Well, so far, so good.
It’s one 45-minute performance, one goal, and one from one in penalty shoot-outs as well.
He couldn’t ask for much more.
Alright, Rodriguez himself will probably be the first to admit that it doesn’t really count until the first day of the season proper.
But, nonetheless, it will have done his confidence and his belief that he belongs at Saints no harm at all.
Until Rodriguez popped up with his goal – a flicked header into the far corner, coming after 32 minutes of the final match of the Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup as Saints took on a young Arsenal side – it was a getting to know you type performance.
As expected, Nigel Adkins changed his entire side from the first game, a 1-0 defeat against Anderlecht, for the second match against the Gunners.
He also changed formation.
Rodriguez was deployed as a lone frontman with Richard Chaplow in particular detailed to play off of him, but others clearly instructed to try and get forward to support as well.
It was exactly the type of formation that Anderlecht had used, and we saw some of the same from Arsenal as well.
In short, it is the kind of formation that has become a little en vogue amongst top level sides.
In the first game Saints had used their familiar 4-4-2, which is totally out of fashion in the Premier League these days.
To see the two formations in operation against better opposition was an interesting contrast.
It will surely have given Adkins food for thought.
The manager will be very wary of totally changing the recipe for success.
Over the past two promotion-winning seasons Saints have pretty much exclusively used a 4-4-2, the only occasional variations being either a diamond midfield or a flat four across the middle.
To disrupt that in a squad made up largely of the same players that have utilised it so effectively over the past couple of campaigns could prove very unsettling.
Adkins will be aware that Saints do not need any uncertainty in the minds of the players as to what they are doing when they start next season.
Handling everything else that comes with this massive step up will be quite enough to worry about on its own.
But then Adkins will not want to see Saints exposed, and that is one of the chief reasons that 4-4-2 has been ditched.
Teams lower down the Premier League pecking order, in particular, are more concerned with not losing than they are with winning at times.
That is why the division, outside of the big guns, is generally considered quite a bit duller than the Championship where the emphasis is more on winning.
The fact that 4-4-2 struggled more than the lone frontman on the day may have been mere coincidence, or because Anderlecht were pretty decent.
Certainly food for thought, though, for Adkins.
As for the performances of individual players, hard to gain too much from 45 minutes, especially given they are the first minutes of action each man has had after returning for the summer.
Against Anderlecht the side was very much a first team from last season, with the exception of youngsters Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw, the latter looking pretty comfortable.
To be fair, they were outclassed by Anderlecht but then, though the Belgian side were missing some of their star names, they have been back for pre-season longer.
Therefore you would expect them to be fitter, sharper and slicker on the ball.
The second Saints side was a little more unfamiliar.
Jason Puncheon looked determined to prove his worth while there was a welcome return for Dan Seaborne.
Puncheon certainly needs to impress in pre-season as he bids to show Adkins he is worth more than the nine league appearances he made for Saints last season.
The same goes for Seaborne, who was making his first major appearance for the club since suffering a severe head injury away from the field of play last August.
Overall, there was certainly plenty to take from the day for Adkins – much more than you usually get from the first match of pre-season.
And that is probably exactly what he, as well as his big summer signing, was hoping for.
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