Southampton v West Ham United

In view of all the transfer speculation that takes place at this time of year, we would like to issue a official statement as follows: Preview Percy is categorically NOT for sale. You can take him away for free if you want. Here's his usual mad Friday ramblings. Contains geothermal energy, village idiots and, if you look hard enough, a few words about this weekend's trip to Southampton. Possibly.

Next up in our start of season world tour we schlep down the M3 to the UK's dullest city, Southampton. (They actually boast about geothermal energy for pete's sake). Kick off at St Mary's is 3pm on Saturday, which is just how it should be. This match was originally scheduled to be our first home match of the season but they will still be installing the in no way retractable seats at the Olympic Stadium, hence the switch to the South coast.

Travel might be interesting - ten of the platforms at Waterloo are currently closed. That's roughly half the station so there are significant alterations to the timetable with trains and stations likely to be overcrowded and generally unpleasant. Or "a normal service" as most people would call it. The good news for those of us who have been suffering the "delights" of the M3 for the last two years is that the section between junctions 2-4a is now fully open - and they have also removed the temporary 50 mph speed limit. So as you drive down at a steady 70mph you can consider the fact that, in driving down a "smart" motorway, you are traversing a section of tarmac that is infinitely more intelligent than the average Spurs fan.

They have been in a state of flux as a club. For over a year now talks have been going on over the sale of the club to a Chinese company by the name of Lander Sports Development. Lander's Chief Executive is a chap by the name of Gao Jisheng. Gao has been in hot water over alleged attempts to bribe politicians back home in China, so it will come as no surprise that the Premier League have recently declared him a "fit and proper" person to be involved in the running of a Premier League club. After all if Abrahamovic (Google "Aluminium Wars") and Sheikh Mansour (Google "Human Rights Abuses & Torture") are deemed fit and proper persons to own clubs, why what's a small backhander between friends?

The "fit & proper" announcement prompted much speculation that completion of the sale was imminent. However, Katharine Liebherr who has (apparently reluctantly) been in effective charge since the death of her father Markus seven years ago, is not one to be rushed about these things and negotiations are ongoing.

Make that "were ongoing". It appears that those negotiations have now been concluded and that 80% of the club is now in the hands of Gao himself, the deal having been concluded on a personal basis rather than via Lander Sports. All of which begs the question: will we now have to refer to Chairman Gao? Ms Liebherr will retain 20% of the club as a result of the deal, which is said to have cost Gao ?210m. Southampton are the second Premier League club to fall into the hands of Chinese nationals after West Brom. They also have a stake in Man City as well as owning Reading, Wolves and Villa. It is said that if all the Chinese owners in the league stood together in the right place and jumped up and down the resulting earthquake would cause ?20 of improvements to Selhurst Park. However this is not said often or by reputable scientists.

On the playing front, although they finished in 8th place last term there were rumblings amongst the faithful throughout the season that the style of football they were seeing wasn't exactly what they would prefer to be seeing. There were further rumblings emanating from within the club that manager Claude Puel wasn't exactly the most popular person in the city. Despite the air of doom and gloom about the place they managed to reach the final of the League Cup going down 3-2 to Andre Marriner and his officials acting for and on behalf of Man Utd, an appalling offside decision denying Gabbiadini an early opener and, what ultimately would have been a hat-trick. Received wisdom was that the trip to Wembley had bought Puel a bit of time, but not that much and it was little surprise that his services were dispensed with at the end of the season.

The new boss is Argentine coach Mauricio Pellegrino who came in from Alaves. He too reached a Cup Final last season, reaching the final of the Copa Del Ray, which, of course, is named after our very own Ray Winstone. Pellegrino was on the losing side as Alaves went down 3-1 to Barcelona.

On arrival at St Mary's, one of Pellegrino's first problems has been the issue of Virgil "Dick" Van Dijk. Liverpool got caught out tapping up the player (yet again) and Southampton quite rightly reported the bent scousers to the authorities. Possibly trying to avoid a ban on signing first team players to add to the academy ban their dodgy dealings have already landed them, Liverpool held their hands up and announced that they had no further interest in signing the player, presumably their usual tactic of adding a decent chunk to the transfer fee in return for the other club not reporting them didn't cut much sway with Southampton's owners. However, it has been clear that ever since Van Dijk has been unsettled and he recently submitted a formal transfer request, taking the time to deny rumours that he had refused to train in the process. The latest statement from the club is that the player will not be sold. We will see. Meanwhile he will miss this weekend's fixture due to an "illness". And if you actually believe that please send me your bank details in connection with a business deal I am putting together in Nigeria.

Another of the issues that Pellegrino needs to address is the lack of goalscoring prowess in front of their own fans. You have to go back to April and 6 matches at St Mary's to find a notch in the home goals for column. Their one match so far this season gave the MOTD scheduling guys an easy decision at the weekend, resulting as it did in a 0-0 draw at home to Swansea. Still, on our own showing last weekend, it's not a run that is likely to continue much further. More of that later unfortunately.

The work-experience kid of as yet-to-be determined gender wearing a hoodie who seems only able to communicate with some strange grunting noises informs me that they have signed just the two players so far this window. ?5m was enough to secure the services of centre-back Jan Bednarak from Polish outfit Lech Poznan. Bednarak has been capped at every age level by the Poles up to and including U21 level. However he has yet to figure for the full side, though at 21 years old there is still time for that.

Further forward they shelled out ?15.4m for Juventus midfielder Mario Lamina. I say midfielder, he has featured in numerous positions in his career, including central defence, but it is as one of those "box to box" midfielders that he has gained his reputation. Born in Gabon he represented the French at various age levels before electing last summer to throw his lot in with the country of his birth, It wasn't an easy choice for the player mind - he rejected an earlier call up to participate in the African Cuppa Soup before relenting. It is rumoured that the player can throw a bit of a strop when things aren't going his way, something that no doubt Southampton's notorious little black box took into account when they fed the stats into it.

One of their more successful signings last term was that of the aforementioned Manolo Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini made his debut in the corresponding fixture last season, opening the scoring on debut against none other than ourselves (we went on to score three without further reply you recall). He went on to score in each of his first four games - the first Southampton player ever to do so apparently - including the "hat trick that wasn't" League Cup Final. His run however was derailed by the best part of a month out through injury and he seemed to be trying to catch up for lost time towards the end of the season, as evidenced by the home goalscoring record.

The rising star at the moment is James Ward-Prowse who, in between running a theatrical ticket agency has worked his way through the ranks to first team regular status. He gained full international status back in March, debuting in the 1-0 loss against the Germans, getting 8 minutes at the end of the match when replacing the (inexplicably selected) Jake Livermore. He has been known to take the odd free-kick and even more occasional penalty.

Also making his England debut in that Germany match was Nathan Redmond, who got slightly longer game time when replacing former Southampton midfielder Adam Lallana in the 66th minute. Redmond first came to prominence a few years back when making his debut for Birmingham City as a 16 year old, being about a month older than Trevor Francis had been when he made his own debut. He moved to Norwich in 2013 spending three years there before joining Southampton for a reported ?1om as the Canaries were relegated to the second tier. As a winger he has pace and enjoys taking people on which should be noted by our wide midfielders and full-backs. Additionally, at Birmingham and Norwich, he saw occasional action as a second striker as well.

Like the Dick Van Dijk, Drusan Tadic has spent most of the summer being linked with moves away from Southampton. In fact at one point, when the Arnautovic deal was moving with all the pace of a scouser en route to a job interview, newspaper talk had us linked with the player. A more likely destination would have been Liverpool who have, rather arrogantly treated Southampton as a nursery club in recent years, ignoring (as they always have done) every transfer rule in the book. Despite Southampton finally catching them out over the illegal approach to Van Dijk they still carried on, planting the usual coded messages in the press about Tadic. One rather gets the impression that Southampton would rather give away players for free than sell them to Liverpool at the moment. However, that hasn't stopped half the clubs in Europe being linked with the player and they could yet have a battle on their hands to keep hold of the Serbian international over the next fortnight or so.

OK I have put this off for long enough. It's over 500 miles from the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered to Old Trafford and Back, especially if you take in the opportunity to visit friends & relatives during the trip as one does. I made the journey as did the usual 3,000 or so Hammers. If only 11 players had done so as well. It's rare that you see players not actually trying so I wouldn't insinuate that for a moment - only Ince & Payet when trying to engineer moves really fall into that category. However, there was a distinct lack of application about the whole team. As if they knew that there was a game plan - they were sure something had been said in the team meeting - but they couldn't remember what it was so they would potter about a bit until it came back to them. The result was that we defended far too deep, their midfield were allowed to get away with murder and our defence were every bit as statuesque as that of the home side had been in the previous week's so-called Super Cup. In short, good as they were we made them look a hellova lot better.

Things were not helped by the usual lenient refereeing up there but even then we ought to have been a bit more savvy. It appeared that it was open season on Hernandez - Atkinson finally brandished the yellow after the SIXTH tackle from behind on the striker. Can you imagine Billy Bonds allowing someone to do that to Trevor Brooking so often? He'd have had a "quiet word" after the first challenge had escaped a caution to the extent that they'd never have gotten to challenge no. 2, never mind six.

And there you have our main problem at the moment. Nobody is denying that Noble is "West Ham" through and through and, to be honest, in this match he was one of the "least worst" (the word "better" doesn't seem appropriate after that display). However, when I looked at that performance there was nobody taking the game by the scruff of the neck and sorting things out. It doesn't have to be an "up and at 'em" type. Dear old Bobby god rest his soul was a man of few words but if for example he had seen Masuaku struggling down the left through a lack of cover in front of him, he would have had a (genuinely) quiet word with Arnautovic to try and rectify the position. Billy would have had a much louder word - either way Arnautovic would have listened - he'd have respected Bobby and would have been too frightened of Billy NOT to react. However, on Sunday there was no leadership on the pitch. If we had any true leaders out there they'd have been doing the job irrespective of who had the armband. I'm reminded of when Upson was our captain and made such an impression that your Sunday papers referred to "captain Scott Parker" every weekend.

The problem is that I'm not sure who we have that can do that job. Sure Winston Reid gets very angry during every game and shouts at people a lot but that tends to happen just after something has happened. Recriminations are one thing but inquests aren't much use to anyone unless they are acted on.

Injury news is slightly better that last week. Sakho's return to action was welcome if rather anonymous and seems to have had no ill-effects. Antonio survived a runout with the U23s and will bring some much needed mobility to a moribund squad. Lanzini is still out and Carroll and Kouyate both face "late fitness tests". So that's a `"no" from them then.

So prediction time then. Well we surely can't be as bad this week as we were last. Can we? The return of Antonio will give us a boost and if Kouyate can manage to drag his limbs on to the pitch so much the better. They will score of course. Even if they weren't playing the country's foremost sequence-busters the simple law of averages would suggest that they must score at home eventually. And they are playing the country's foremost sequence-busters. 0

So much will depend on whether we can get our act together going forward. I think, on the whole, that this will probably end up all square. So I will be hobbling down the hill and stopping off on my way to the Swan And Superinjunction at Winstone's the Turf Accountant where the ?2.50 that I was going to spend on an Ordnance Survey map to help me remember where our home ground actually is will be spent on a wager that the match will finish in a 2-2 draw.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At St Mary's: Won 3-1 (League February 2017)

Gabbiadini opened the scoring. We had barely the time to start moaning when Carroll latched on to Obiang's "eye-of-a-needle" through ball to level. Just before the interval creator turned goalscorer as Obiang buried a half-cleared set piece from distance. Noble's second half effort from a free-kick completed the scoring. A good day at their office then.

Referee: Lee Mason

Do you live in a village? Is it missing its idiot? Search no longer.

Danger Man: Manolo Gabbiadini

Showed enough last season to suggest he could be a handful. Still trying to get back to his best but even so....

Percy's Poser:

Last week we asked you which other team were found guilty in the courts of match-fixing alongside Man Utd. Congratulations to Mrs L Troubridge of Thorpe Bay who not only knew that it was Liverpool, but also was aware that both clubs escaped expulsion from the league in the post WW1 league set up thanks to Arsenal's bribery policy. This saw Liverpool, Man U and their friends amongst the northern club base support Arsenal's promotion from mid-table in the second division in return for Arsenal's friends in the south supporting the non-expulsion of two very corrupt clubs in return for supporting Arsenal's leap-frogging of Spurs into the re-organised top flight. Mrs Troubridge wins a copy of "The Referee's Guide to Giving Penalties to the Away Side at Old Trafford. Whenever it gets published. Well done Mrs T!

This week we look at the phenomenon of double-barrelled surnames. These are ten a penny today as any Herbert has cottoned on to the fact that you can add your own hyphen. However back in the 1980's it was less common (in every sense of that word) to see a double-barrelled surname. So for this week's poser we ask you: which Southampton player from the 1980's could arguably lay claim to the poshest name in football history. A copy of "Debretts" to the first name pulled out of the digital hat.

Good luck everyone!

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