Jack: Sunderland vs. Southampton Preview

Kristian Jack
8/23/2013 9:40:24 AM
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He had just watched his team dominate their first game of the season yet they had lost 1-0. Following the match, the local media waited anxiously wondering what kind of response they would get from the charismatic manager.

Some expected shouting, some rage, perhaps anger. They would be disappointed.

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio instead stood behind a microphone and gave thoughtful answers to all questions.

When asked how he felt about Fulham scoring with their only effort on goal, there was no pity party.

"My players have to learn. I have told them for the past two months we can play attractive football, dominate, but set plays can cost you points and today it happened as their only corner kick became a goal and cost us points we deserved," he said.

You will notice Di Canio said points and not point. He had clearly felt his team should have won their opening match, in front of over 45,000 expectant home supporters, but instead they had lost it to a 52nd minute header by Pajtim Kasami after he bullied debut man Valentin Roberge off the ball before nodding  home.

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Di Canio didn't stop with his lesson to the listening media, continuing: "I warned my players, especially the ones from abroad, they need to learn that the Premier League is different to all the other leagues in the world because every side has a minimum of five or six players over 186, 190 (centimetres). In Italy, Spain, Portugal, you have a maximum of two, three players like this - a centre-half, striker."

It was a fascinating take on the approaches taken in different leagues across the continent and not only showed Di Canio's experience of the English game (having signed as a player for Sheffield Wednesday back in 1997) but also just how much emphasis a manager at that level puts on set pieces, both in their own penalty box and the opponents.

Last season, following the signing of Robin van Persie whose deliveries from a dead ball were outstanding, Manchester United not only won the league but led the standings in goals from set pieces, scoring 22 of their 86 goals in that manner (26 per cent).

Sunderland scored just half that many and even more alarmingly, netted just two headed goals all last season - a remarkable statistic when 75 per cent of their attacks came from either the left or right flank.

When Di Canio replaced former boss Martin O'Neill in April he talked about bringing a different attacking approach to the team but results so far have been mixed for the 45-year-old. In truth, he has only managed eight Premier League games in his career (seven at the end of last season earned Sunderland eight points and kept them up) but with 11 new signings joining the club this summer it is clear this is now Di Canio's team.

The enigmatic Italian is sure to be given some time to succeed, he remains a fan favourite after guiding the club to a sensational 3-0 win at hated rivals Newcastle last season, but he will know at some point his team has to start scoring goals, and he'll be hoping his team gets off the mark on Saturday at St Mary's.

Last season's top scorer, Steven Fletcher remains sidelined as he recovers from an ankle injury; turning the pressure on the likes of new man Jozy Altidore and partner Stephane Sessegnon to ensure the side doesn't repeat the same mistakes as last season when no Sunderland player, other than Fletcher, scored until November.

These teams met at St Mary's last season just three days before Christmas in a tight affair settled by one goal scored by, you guessed it, Fletcher.

Di Canio and current Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino weren't in charge of their clubs at that time but when they shake hands this weekend they will do so with more than just a foreign passport in common.

Like Sunderland, Southampton narrowly escaped relegation last season and also spent big this summer raising expectations amongst their supporters that they should spend a lot more time in mid-table this campaign than near the bottom.

Last week's 1-0 win at West Brom was a perfect start to their season and while Rickie Lambert rightfully grabbed the headlines with a last minute penalty to win the match, the performances of new signings of Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren were impressive, instantly upgrading the Saints in key areas.

"As opposed to last season, we're a much more competitive team now with these two new signings," the Argentine manager said post match. Two days later he secured the services of Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo, who will likely be watching Wanyama and Lovren from the bench on Saturday.

To continue the international feel of this match, Wanyama, the first Kenyan to play in this league, represents the 100th different country other than the four home nations to be featured in the Premier League since it started in 1992-93.

The central midfielder had many excellent games at Celtic, including a standout performance against Barcelona in the Champions League last year, but that didn't stop some from raising eyebrows when Southampton paid over 12 million pounds for the 22-year-old in July.

Former Kilmarnock manager, the outspoken Kenny Shiels, gave this less than glowing scouting report on him.

"Any time we played Celtic I would tell our lads not to worry about him being on the ball because he doesn't keep it very well. (Celtic boss Neil) Lennon deserves a knighthood for getting someone to pay £12.5m. We found that when you gave Wanyama space he didn't have the natural instincts to know what to do with the ball."

On his Premier League debut at the Hawthorns, Wanyama was steady, guided along by one of the league's most underrated players in midfield partner Morgan Schneiderlin.

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It will be a partnership worth monitoring closely throughout the season. Confident in their abilities to win the ball back against transitions (Schneiderlin led the league in interceptions and tackles last season), the duo will hope to stabilize the Southampton midfield and allow the four more attack-minded players in front of them to create and score goals.

Prediction - Southampton 3 Sunderland 1

Join me at 950am live on TSN as I get you set to watch Southampton versus Sunderland from St Mary's. You can also listen to Gareth Wheeler and I every Saturday morning from 930am est until 230pm est on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto and on the Team Radio Networks across Canada.

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