June 16, 2024

Three Southampton players who could see their minutes limited during promotion run-in

With less than a quarter of the season remaining, it is very much the business end of the Championship.

Southampton have made no secret of the fact the aim for this season has always been an instant return to the Premier League.

Sat in fourth with ten games remaining, the Saints are clinging onto hopes of an automatic promotion spot, their two games in hand on Leeds United and Ipswich Town and one on Leicester City allowing their fans to dream.

Russell Martin faces the prospect of his side playing their remaining ten fixtures over a period of just 36 days after the international break and, whilst he will need to utilise his squad, with so much on the line it is not the time to give players chances to prove themselves.

Instead, it is very likely Martin will look to pick a settled side as often as possible and allow momentum to gather in the promotion push, meaning it will be no surprise to see players he considers reliable given the bulk of the game time over the final couple of months of the season.

With that in mind, here are three players who could be the victim of their own inconsistency and find minutes limited during the promotion run-in.

Kamaldeen Sulemana unlikely to be regular starter

Liverpool v Southampton - Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round

Kamaldeen Sulemana joined Southampton on deadline day of last season’s January transfer window as part of a desperate bid to stay in the Premier League.

The Ghanaian became Southampton’s record signing in the process, costing £22 million, but has struggled to live up to that price tag. Over a year on from that transfer, a brace against Liverpool in a meaningless end of season clash with Southampton already relegated remain Sulemana’s only goals for the club despite playing in the second tier this season.

Although he only joined the club in the January, it was a surprise when Sulemana remained a Southampton player for the start of the season. The 22-year-old started the campaign injured and also picked up a niggle in November just as he was starting to find himself in Martin’s side regularly, but his three assists and no goals in 20 Championship appearances is still an incredibly poor return for a player of Sulemana’s talents.

With the reliable presence of Ryan Fraser set to return from injury after the international break, Sam Edozie impressing on a regular basis and the fact that Adam Armstrong has recently been lining up in Sulemana’s favoured left wing position to accommodate David Brooks on the right, it feels as though Sulemana’s inconsistency will see him struggle to get into the team at this critical juncture in the campaign.

Speaking on Sulemana, transfer insider Dean Jones told Give Me Sport: “He’s got that edge about him. It just needs to be seen more frequently and that’s probably what’s frustrating to Russell Martin. The fact that he’s got so much potential, but at the moment, you look at his stats, and there’s nothing there to show for it. So that’s frustrating.”

Sulemana is incredibly quick and recorded the fasted recorded speed at the 2022 World Cup (35.7 kilometres per hour), but he is very raw and his demeanour can mean he looks disinterested at times. If Southampton are struggling to break down their opponents then Martin may well turn to the supercharged winger late in games, but it would be a surprise to see the former Rennes man start too many games between now and the end of the season.

Sekou Mara yet to earn Russell Martin trust

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Another young player who clearly has talent but has been unable to turn it into reliable performances is Sekou Mara.

The French striker is a player who has flattered to deceive and after a run of impressive cameos off the bench during the festive period has been unable to deliver when starting games.

It is difficult to be too critical of Mara given both the fact he is just 21 and he has only started three Championship games – especially when you consider the importance of the match-winning goal and assist he provided in the recent 5-3 comeback win over Huddersfield Town – but it is difficult to envisage a scenario where Martin opts for the youngster over the experience of either Che Adams or Adam Armstrong in the run-in.

In Southampton’s past three league games, Mara has managed just 11 minutes. There are only really two scenarios in which Mara is likely to get meaningful minutes in the remaining ten games of the season and that is if the Saints are frantically chasing a game they are losing or are so comfortably in the lead they feel they can take off their starting centre forward.

For a player with such limited opportunities, Mara’s haul of six goals and two assists in all competitions is not bad, but even if one of Adams or Armstrong falls victim to injury it feels most likely that Martin will find a solution that does not rely on the former Bordeaux man being the main striker.

Shea Charles down the midfield pecking order

Southampton FC v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship

When Shea Charles arrived from Manchester City for a fee potentially rising to £15 million in the summer a lot was expected of the young midfielder.

Perhaps some of this expectation was a little misguided and disproportionately high given the success of Roméo Lavia just a season earlier when making the same move, but Charles has had an up and down season.

One of the reasons behind the signing of Charles was his versatility, however it could be argued this has also worked against the 20-year-old as he has struggled to tie down a regular place in the team in any one position. At the beginning of the campaign, Martin used the Northern Ireland utility man as a central defender, but he has also played as a holding midfielder, a box-to-box central midfielder and even a right-back.

Charles has started 13 league games in what is his first season of senior football and has shown glimpses of quality but has also really struggled at times. Despite primarily being viewed as a holding midfield player, Charles has struggled when asked to play as the anchor in the middle of the pitch and looked more comfortable slightly more advanced, meaning that Will Smallbone has been the player to drop back into the ‘6’ role when Flynn Downes has been absent.

Now that Downes has returned and Smallbone looks to have the favour of his manager – as well as the midfield boasting options such as Stuart Armstrong, Joe Rothwell and Joe Aribo – Charles may not start another league game this season. This would reflect a recent pattern, with the midfielder an unused substitute in the last four Championship games.

Whilst he may lose out to experience at the backend of this season, Charles’ time will come and the learning curve of his first season in senior football will stand him in very good stead for a successful Southampton career.

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