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Southampton’s three big questions ahead of Newcastle’s semi-final test

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It’s not every day that the Saints fight for a spot at Wembley, but that’s what it’s all about tonight when Nathan Jones’ side take on Newcastle United in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at St Mary’s.

Having beaten Manchester City to get to this point, Saints won’t be intimidated by the challenge, but they certainly are.

Eddie Howe’s Magpies, who are third in the Premier League, have conceded just 11 goals in 20 league matches and conceded one in four League Cup matches.

The attendees are undeniably the favorites in the Twoleg affair, but Jones and his Saints don’t mind joining the event as outsiders.

Success at City is the plan, but the Saints will have to push again to hold the draw until next week’s second leg at St James’ Park.

Here are three questions we ask ourselves before the first leg of the League Cup Semi-Final at St. Mary’s…

Daily ultrasound:

1. Will there be more Chalice Magic in St. Mary’s?

It’s impossible to hide the Saints’ home kit in the Premier League this season. It’s just a disaster and could lead them to the championship if things don’t improve.

Of the possible 30 points available at St. Mary’s, the Saints scored six. One win, three draws and six losses. This is far from good enough and it was highlighted again last weekend when Aston Villa took the field for the Saints to a 1-0 win.

Dude Kaleta-Kar, Saints centre-back, tried to explain the problems at home after losing to Villa, saying: “I don’t know, maybe you could say that we play better away than at home.

“I don’t know why this is so. Maybe we are more busy at home than on the street, maybe that’s why. But no, I don’t know for sure.

“Now we have good chances in the cup. We have shown that we play well in cup games, so we know that there will be difficult opponents on our way, and we will try to correct this in the next cup games.”

Daily ultrasound:

Luckily, the League Cup brought some relief to St. Mary’s woes. After defeating Cambridge United in the second round of the League Cup, the Saints have kept them on the south coast so far.

And, having surpassed Sheffield Wednesday and Lincoln City, they faced one of their biggest challenges: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

On an unforgettable and exciting night at St Mary’s, the Saints shocked the reigning Premier League champions with a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Sekou Mara and Moussa Genepo. With the support of the supporters, the Saints have never forfeited the advantage of hosting this semi-final against Newcastle.

An equally magical night at St. Mary’s could take an equally magical night for Jones to come forward.

Prior to the game, Jones spoke about the importance of Tuesday night’s atmosphere and urged his team to heat up the event.

“It’s a cup game, a semi-final here at St. Mary’s… it’s going to be huge. They travel great, just flip it over for a week when it’s about 50,000.

“The atmosphere will be critical. And if we can put on a show for them, they’ll fall behind. If we are passive, if we are reserved, if we are not aggressive, then I understand.”

“But I want them to respond to the energy we give them and then they pick it up and build confidence and give us that little edge that we definitely need tomorrow.”

2. Isn’t it time to let Romeo Lavia go?

Against one of the Premier League’s most formative sides, the Saints will need just about anything to get their way if they are to beat Newcastle United by two legs and earn a trip to Wembley. That means the Saints are trying their best, Newcastle can’t match them and maybe they’re a little lucky too. But it also means trust in its key players.

Midfielder Romeo Lavia was rarely used by Jones after the World Cup break. The Belgian wasn’t even in the line-up for the Boxing Day loss to Brighton before playing the final moments of the Saints’ 2-1 defeat at Craven Cottage.

Three consecutive starts in the league followed, but each Lavia clung to an hour, and after one such occasion, Jones confirmed that the 60-minute limit should keep the influential Belgian fit for the remainder of the season.

Daily ultrasound:

The merits of this plan are beyond doubt. We’ve already seen how a Saints team can fall apart in Lavia’s absence, and with the 19-year-old in his first season of consistent Premier League play, it’s natural for him to worry about his body collapsing.

But can the Saints win this duel with Lavia as a limited competitor? It’s not a one-man team, and had they been captain James Ward-Prowse would have been given that honor, but the Saints haven’t won eight of their nine Premier League games without Lavia.

Jones must be alert. The Saints’ survival in the Premier League is far more important than winning the cup, but reaching the final would be no small feat that the entire club could rally behind.

It probably takes two great performances to do so, and it’s hard to see anything perfect from this Saints team without their midfield mainstay, Lavia.

3. Striving for balance or striving for glory?

Today’s confrontation at St. Mary’s presents the Saints with an interesting test. Whatever happens on the South Bank in 90 minutes, the Saints will play the second leg at St. James Park in a week.

The two-legged nature of the game brings its own challenges, some physical with extra play at a busy time of the season, but also psychological. How do you plan two legs? How do you play in the first match when you know there is another game ahead?

Jones has some two-legged experience, having reached the play-off semi-finals twice – in the Premier League and the Championship – but the former Luton boss finished underdogs both times. However, this is a completely different situation with different circumstances.

One thing remains clear, however, the Saints need to make sure they are still competing the week after Newcastle. This doesn’t necessarily mean being overprotective, but it also means the Saints can’t afford the most aggressive approach.

Daily ultrasound:

In his talk on Monday afternoon, Jones described the necessary approach for such a case.

“You have to have a balance,” he said. “You want to be positive at home, but you don’t have to be too enthusiastic. And if you are not at home, you may have to serve time.

“But you want to make sure that at the end of the 90 minutes you are in front, or in and around you, to give yourself a chance to do something. You don’t want to lose your tie because you did something stupid, so you need to fix it.

“It’s 180 minutes of football and we have to be prepared for it tactically, physically and mentally.”

180 Minutes of Football kicks off tonight in St Mary’s. Saints must do everything in their power to emerge victorious, and perhaps the best does not mean the bravest.

Author: Benji Nurik
Source: DailyEcho

Source: Dailyecho

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