Southampton 1 Blues 2 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 26 August 2009 By Richard Barker
Then, upon hearing that both Giovanny Espinoza and Christian Benitez would be starting, I thought, "sod it, I'll go - it's a chance to learn something about them".

In some ways, that's what these early Carling Cup games are about - they're slightly more serious and competitive versions of friendies. No one really takes it too seriously until you start getting into the Fourth Round or something like that. You want to win - of course you do - but it's also a chance to try and learn a few things.

So, what did we learn?

Firstly, trying to get to Southampton from Worcester when leaving work at 5.30pm is a challenge, but just about do-able. Secondly, there's too many bloody roadworks going on around the motorway network at present. Is there any stretch of road free of them??

More importantly though, there were things to learn from the football. I'll start with the most pleasing lesson - Christian Benitez looks excellent.

This was his first start for Blues, and he comfortably lasted the full 97 minutes, so it'll have done his match fitness the world of good. He's clearly an exceptionally talented player too. Before he arrived on these shores, rather lofty comparisons with Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez were drawn. Well, the Messi thing, I can't really see. The Tevez one though? Definitely.

I'm not for one second suggesting that he's as good as Tevez, but he has the same sort of build and the same terrier-like approach. Until Garry O'Connor's introduction as Blues chased the game, he played as a lone striker. Now, to me, it didn't make a great deal of sense using him that way when he's about 3'8". However, he caused more problems on his own than a strike pairing of O'Connor and Jerome would together. He occupied both centre halves in a Tevez-like way, closing them down, hustling and bustling in around them, getting his body in front of the ball to shield it and the like.

The other thing to say is that, surprisingly, at 3'8", he looks the best "hold up" striker that we have. He gets the ball under control quickly, gets his head up and is aware of those around him. He often turned back towards his own midfield, but he was a lone striker - you have to look to do that. A little ball back to a supporting midfielder, and then he'd turn and go. He has a footballing brain, and looks a real asset in that sense.

Then there's his ability, as demonstrated by his turn, run and shot off Kelvin Davis' right-hand post in the first half. The power he got on the shot was unbelievable, and it was a little snapshot of his ability, as was his involvement in both goals - see later. I will temper this by adding that it was against Southampton, who are bottom of League One, but they weren't bad and were competitive so it was a good test. He was kicked quite a bit too, so it'll have done him some good.

One thing I would say, and it's no criticism of him, is that he may not actually be the kind of player Blues hope he is. He does play deep, and so unlike Tevez, he's unlikely to get 20 goals a season (or even 12-15). Blues need goals, and whilst I have no doubt that Benitez will be an asset, a Mikael Forssell-type alongside him may be the requirement. In fact, in one of those "dream combinations", that would be a hell of a strikeforce in my mind.

So, if one Ecuadorian is like Carlos Tevez, is the other like a fine export to the English game? Well, yes, Giovanny Espinoza is Radhi Jaidi-esque. In fact, the comparison was quite striking - similar height, similar build, similar levels of fitness. Espinoza wasn't quite as commanding in the air as Jaidi (at first he was surprisingly weak given his height), but looked slightly more comfortable on the ball at times, often playing little passes into his midfield when under pressure. He looked solid enough, but occasionally got caught out of position and occasionally lost concentration and played a sloppy pass. He also looked susceptible to runs in behind him. Basically, he's the same as Jaidi.

The third new boy that we got our first real glimpse of was James O'Shea, and like during his brief appearance at Old Trafford, it was clear he needs to be stronger. He's decent on the ball, but is far too easily knocked of it and his withdrawal at half-time indicated as much.

We also learnt a few things about some of the older heads - Maik Taylor, for example. One or two people have suggested that Joe Hart's looked a little shaky so far and questioned whether he's better than Taylor. Well, on this showing, definitely. Taylor was fairly poor, but for a few routine saves. Slow to read the game leaving his defence wondering whether he was coming or going at times, plus routed to his line for a number of crosses (one of which passed his goal-line about a foot out), he looked tentative, nervous and, well, not very good.

Gary McSheffrey also got a full 90 minutes, with him possibly being in the shop window. The shop may as well have left the shutters down. McSheffrey has become weak and bottles challenges constantly. He has also completely lost the ability he had (which, in fairness, once was good) to beat a full-back. He was desperately poor and offered little. He kept going though, in fairness, and in the final 20 minutes or so improved a little, but that's the best I can say about him.

And so onto Seb Larsson… well, he seems to be someone else who's lost what he once had. He's still a decent player, but there looks to be something missing. Whether it's the transfer talk of 12 months ago or the ongoing contract discussions, but his ability to impose himself on a game in a Savage or Beckham like way is long gone.

Southampton's goals came from James McFadden sloppily giving the ball away in his own half after good work, but then Larsson messing around on the edge of his own area and giving the ball away. Leilani, former Page 3 girl and just about the only decent player Southampton have retained finished superbly, but it was all from Blues errors.

Blues had been very sloppy at times against a well-drilled, energetic Southampton side. Blues had still had the best chances though, with Benitez hitting the post, Larsson and McSheffrey both being denied by Davis from free-kicks and Larsson also shooting tamely when well-placed in the first half.

The Southampton goal lifted Blues though, and brought them to life a little more. For the first goal, Benitez held the ball well and saw McSheffrey run into space behind the full-back. It had taken about an hour, but Benitez has learned that passing to McSheffrey was about as productive as playing "tag" with Usain Bolt, so he ignored him, turned inside and clipped a fine through ball to Lee Bowyer who'd made a great run. Bowyer clipped the ball over Davis, and it was 1-1.

Almost instantly, Blues broke again and Bowyer and Benitez homed in on goal. Bowyer returned the favour and clipped the ball inside to Benitez who hit a right-foot shot very well, which Davis (who was excellent) tipped around the post. From the corner, Blues built and either McSheffrey or McFadden (I think it was McSheffrey, but have my doubts as it wasn't in keeping with his overall display) knocked a ball inside the full-back to Stuart Parnaby, who attached well in the second half. Parnaby took a touch and from close to the byline cut the ball back for Lee Carsley to drive home with a strong shot.

Southampton pushed, but through Benitez, O'Connor and McFadden, Blues had enough ability, control and talent (well, ish, in O'Connor's case) to continue to threaten and eventually see out the win.

So, all in all, I'm glad I made the last minute decision to go, as it was an interesting game to take in. Sloppy from Blues at times who will need to be much better in the Premier League, but some goals (and very good goals too - both were fine moves) and some positives to take forward too.

Oh, and Wembley's on the horizon now too...