Victor Wanyama enjoyed the perfect debut in English football on Saturday, as his new club Southampton got off to the best possible start in this year’s Premier League with a late 1-0 win away at West Bromwich Albion.
The Kenyan moved to the Saints for £12.5m from Scottish champions, Celtic this summer and massively impressed those doubting the sizable price tag it took to prize him away from Glasgow.
Southampton stole all three points in the 90th minute after mid-week England hero, Rickie Lambert converted a spot-kick, but Wanyama also caught the headlines as he produced a magnificent performance in midfield.
Position and Structure
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino set his side up to play a 4-3-3 system, which could easily have rotated to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1 formation depending on whether the Argentine wanted to change the approach during the game.
Wanyama was regimented in the heart of Southampton’s midfield, with Morgan Schneiderlin and James Ward-Prowse just in front of him, whilst Dejan Lovren, a new recruit from Lyon, was also making his debut just behind him in defence alongside Jose Fonte.
West Brom manager Steve Clarke saw his side finish eighth in the Premier League last season and went back-to-basics on the opening day with two deep-lying midfielders in Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, giving Southampton fairly little space to create clear-cut chances in the first half, although they completely bossed the game with 63% possession overall.
The first-half structure saw Southampton have Schneiderlin and Wanyama in defensive midfield roles, whereas Adam Lallana was dropping deep to pick up the ball and Luke Shaw’s energy up and down the left-hand flank was relentless, as he supported James Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert at every possible opportunity.
Shaw, 18, proved a constant threat against opposition right-back, Billy Jones all match and one of his bursting runs eventually paid dividends, as it brought a challenge from Mulumbu and gave Southampton the coveted penalty to go on and win the game.
Wanyama mainly protected the backline, which proved effective as West Brom failed to have one shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, and the 22-year-old sprayed passes in every direction for his team-mates to press forwards with.
The second-half opened the game up and the image on the right highlights that, as Wanyama and Schneiderlin kept the solid midfield base intact but Lallana, Rodriguez and Ward-Prowse got more involved in the final third to help Lambert out with service and West Brom kept hold of possession far better.
Wanyama slotted in nicely alongside Schneiderlin, the most effective tackler in the English top-flight last season with a total of 146 challenges and a 73.9% (108) win rate. He was originally brought in to allow the Frenchman more breathing space with his physical presence but that didn’t rub off on the weekend, as West Brom ended up having just one shot out of their 11 on target during the whole match, in what turned out to be a quiet game in terms of defending for the former Beerschot AC man and his team-mates.
Wanyama was only called upon to make one challenge in the fixture and won it successfully. He made two interceptions, three clearances all from his own half, and won 67% (2) of his three aerial duals.
He recovered the ball four times (3 from inside his own half) and out of the five blocks Southampton made on the day, Wanyama made none and was far more influential in his side’s 78% (311/399) overall pass completion, demonstrating the many top-notch attributes to his game.
Wanyama made 41 passes during the game with an 80% (33) completion rate, whilst Schneiderlin completed 93% (41) of his 44 passes and both looked as though they could form a formidable partnership in the south coast this season.
The supporters are used to seeing their side play free-flowing and expansive football, and with the abundance of possession Southampton have in games, one more striker in the transfer window would really make them strong contenders to crack the top ten with no trouble.
Outspoken former Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels claimed Celtic manager Neil Lennon should have received a “knighthood” for recouping £12.5m for Wanyama, arguing that he doesn’t know what to do when in space.
Shiels was quoted as saying: “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.
[quote]To my mind, Neil Lennon deserves a knighthood for getting someone to pay £12.5 million for him. We found that, when you gave him space, he just didn’t have the natural instincts to know what to do with the ball.[/quote]
However, Shiels’ condemnation of Wanyama was put to shame after he excelled when in space in the contest at the Hawthorns on Saturday lunchtime. Wanyama made the majority of his passes in the middle third, with the 22 out of the 24 attempted in the centre being successful. He made four passes in the defensive third of the field and seven in the final, as Southampton had eight shots during the game with three being on target and had 51% possession in the overall game.
Perhaps Wanyama’s lack of pace and tall stature is the reason why he is often branded as purely a defensive midfielder, but he made 17/20 successful forward passes and it’s often the small work or the ‘easy pass’ that goes unnoticed at most levels in the game. He made a total of 30/36 successful short passes and indeed 10/11 backward passes, but that sheds light on Wanyama’s excellent composure in midfield and his vision also shouldn’t be quickly understated.
Wanyama picked out all of the team-mates he started the match with and also found substitute, Gaston Ramirez on two occasions with a pass. He keeps things simple and when you analyse the other 19 teams in the Premier League, you would say the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are all crying out for a player of his ilk, only making the case that Wanyama is a shrewd and sensible buy even stronger.
As this game wasn’t the most lively you’re going to see this season, it doesn’t make a great study of Wanyama’s disciplinary and concentration levels, although his record wasn’t immaculate with Celtic last season.
In 2012/13, Wanyama picked up 14 yellow cards and one red card as the Bhoys won the league and cup double in a momentous season which also brought a UEFA Champions League last-16 berth.
Wanyama committed four fouls against West Brom but was unlawfully challenged twice himself, as the Baggies picked up four bookings whereas Southampton kept a cleansheet in that respect.
On the whole, it was a marvellous first game in England for Wanyama to compete in, but he also put in a brilliant performance that has given a strong indication that his large price tag can soon be heavily justified.
Former Aston Villa midfielder and now Sky Sports News presenter Paul Merson covered the game for ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’ and gave a glowing review about Wanyama’s “scary” display, arguing that he looked more like a £20m player and he will prove to be an absolute steal for Southampton if he keeps up that level of performance all season.
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