Southampton - Adieu Rickie Lambert ?

Southampton are said to have told West Ham to put up or shut up in their pursuit of Rickie Lambert.

Southampton striker Lambert has been linked with a move to West Ham for the best part of a year, and Southampton appear to be doing little to discourage talk of a transfer.

The Telegraph reports that Southampton have told West Ham that if they are serious in signing Lambert, they will need to cough up £8m.

Lambert is one of several reported targets for the struggling Hammers, who have been blighted by the absence of striker Andy Carroll through injury all season.

It's a deal that makes sense, at least from a West Ham perspective. Age hasn't proven to be a deterrent in West Ham's previous transfers, although at 31, £8m may prove too much of an ask for the club's owners. But Lambert's all-round play and stocky physique makes him an able target-man, capable of creating chances for others and for himself, as well as putting the ball in the back of the net.

So what does this mean for Southampton, and Lambert ?

Lambert, 31, has long been seen as the talisman of Southampton Football Club. Wearing the club's legendary #7 shirt, and being at the forefront of the club's charge up the leagues has earned him hero status among the fans. But with Jay Rodriguez blossoming and big money signing Dani Osvaldo also arriving at St. Mary's in the summer, it hints that Lambert's time with the south coast club could be approaching its end.

Lambert had endured a tough spell, but has recently rediscovered his shooting boots with goals against both Cardiff City and Tottenham Hotspur. Lambert currently has six goals this campaign, having registered 15 Premier League goals in his debut season in the top flight last term.

1. Sign a new goalkeeper

Artur Boruc's imperious form was undoubtedly a huge factor in ensuring that Southampton remained in the Premier League in 2013, but during spells when the Pole has been absent, Southampton have struggled.

Boruc has been sidelined since breaking his hand in his side's 3-1 loss at Stamford Bridge in December 2013. Young Argentine goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga and veteran Kelvin Davis have been deputising since, but Southampton have won just one, drawing two and losing three of their six games without Boruc's presence in the goalmouth.

Twelve of Southampton's twenty goals conceded in the 2013/14 Premier League season have come during Boruc's spell on the sidelines. Boruc's time with the Saints began amid controversy, as poor performances and a perceived poor attitude culminated in the club suspending him after an altercation with home fans in the 2-1 loss to Tottenham at St. Mary's in December 2012.

Since then, Boruc has won cult hero status. His shot stopping ability and commanding nature has shone through, resulting in his return to the international scene with Poland, for whom he is once again the number one goalkeeper. Both Gazzaniga and the veteran Kelvin Davis have both struggled, so Pochettino may want to consider a move for a new goalkeeper to push Boruc in 2014.

Southampton have been linked with moves for Reading's England Under 21 goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, as well as Queens Park Rangers' Brazilian stopper Julio Cesar.

2. Rediscover Rickie Lambert's goalscoring form

Rickie Lambert secured lifelong fame with that famous headed goal with his first touch in an England shirt against Scotland at Wembley in August 2013, but the lovable Liverpudlian's overall goalscoring record in 2013 is less than memorable.

Lambert, now 31, has scored twelve times in 2013, with just six of those goals coming in open play. For comparison, Southampton's Jay Rodriguez, who arrived at the club from Burnley in the summer of 2012 has notched up a total of 13 goals, all from open play, throughout 2013.

Pochettino has benefited from the addition of Dani Osvaldo, whom he worked with at former club Espanyol. Lambert's playing time has become more limited, with the striker having currently netted just six times this season. It's a sharp contrast to last season, when Lambert had already found the net on eight occasions. Pochettino may be enjoying being able to rotate Lambert, Rodriguez and Osvaldo, but if the former Bristol Rovers man wants to be on the plane to Rio 2014, he may well have to weigh in with a few more goals to prove to England boss Roy Hodgson that he is deserving of his place on the plane.

3. Sign a new playmaker

Following the arrival of Gastón Ramírez in the summer of 2012, Southampton fans assumed they had signed the man to play that clichéd role of 'in the hole', and expected the in-demand Uruguayan to help push the club to new levels.

It's safe to say, however, that things haven't quite worked out as planned. Ramírez is still without a Premier League start this campaign, with boss Pochettino seemingly favouring Adam Lallana for that role. Despite recent appearances as a substitute, it remains to be seen whether Ramírez can re-establish a place in the starting eleven. It has long been said that Ramírez's work rate and petulance has been an issue for the manager, and it would be no surprise to Southampton fans to see Ramírez depart the club in 2014.

It remains to be seen whether Ramírez can re-establish a place in the starting eleven. With the World Cup rapidly approaching, Ramírez may consider a January move to strengthen his chances of making the Uruguay squad. If the former Bologna man does leave, it is essential that Mauricio Pochettino lands the right replacement, to ensure the attacking qualities of Rickie Lambert, Dani Osvaldo, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana can be utilised to their maximum. The Saints have been linked with Valencia's Ever Banega and Werder Bremen's Aaron Hunt.

4. Put teams to the sword

Southampton have become well-known for their possession game in recent years, but it's something they still haven't quite refined. They may be able to boast an average home possession percentage of 57.9%, and an overall possession percentage of 51.3%, but Southampton average 1.37 goals scored per game in comparison to the 1.05 goals conceded per game, ensuring far too many close encounters.

Whilst Southampton's goals scored ranks narrowly above the league average of 1.34 goals scored per game, they have only scored more than two goals in a game on two occasions this season - in the 4-1 win over Hull City and the 3-0 Boxing Day win against Cardiff City.

When it comes to facing the bottom half teams, Southampton's record is the 9th best in the league, behind their record against the top ten sides, which is the 6th best in the division. If Pochettino is to deliver on chairman Nicola Cortese's wish for European football at St. Mary's, this will have to improve. Whilst they may have tightened their defensive ranks since the introduction of Pochettino, Southampton could do with those extra goals put to bed games. There's no better example than the 3-2 home loss against Aston Villa to demonstrate how wasteful the Saints can be. Despite 21 attempts to their opponents 6, and their 78% possession to the Villains' 22%, Southampton's defensive frailties re-emerged and cost them in a game that should have been dead and buried.

5. Sort out a new contract for Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino has won over supporters and critics within the press since his arrival at Southampton, amid controversial circumstances on January the 18th.

His energetic and tenacious style of play has won admirers across the country, as Southampton continued the trend of progression that was started by Nigel Adkins. Southampton have dominated the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea at St. Mary's since Pochettino's arrival, showing his tactical aptitude and the ability of his squad to compete with the best.

An away win at Anfield and a point at Old Trafford also underline the steel instilled within his Southampton side. If Cortese's dream of Champions League football at St. Mary's is to be recognised, it's vital that he ties Pochettino to the club long-term. The former Espanyol boss arrived on a two-and-a-half year deal, but it's time for Cortese and Pochettino to show their commitment to each other and to the plans the club has made.

Despite a recent slump, largely enforced by injury woes, the fan-base are extremely satisfied with the work of Pochettino, who has succeeded in rectifying many of the defensive woes that dogged Adkins' tenure with the club. Pochettino could soon be a man in demand throughout Europe. Talk of an approach from Tottenham put fans on edge in December, but Pochettino reaffirmed his commitment to the Saints. Now it's time to put it all down in writing.

]]> Mon, 30 Dec 2013 21:08:00 +0000 the Saints

Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino hasn't publicly commented on the Lambert situation, but has gone on record to reiterate that the club will not be selling any important first team players. Make of that what you will.

image: © dom fellowes

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