Southampton host Brighton & Hove Albion at St Mary’s on Sunday for what is a huge Premier League fixture for both sides. This week I spoke to former Brighton and Southampton captain Dean Hammond to discuss Sunday’s game.
Having played 124 games for Southampton and 173 games for Brighton & Hove Albion, you have a strong connection with both clubs. I’ve even seen some tweets this week describing the match as the ‘Deano’ derby. I have to ask, how tested are your loyalties when Southampton and Brighton play each other?
“Massively tested! It’s a massive test of loyalties, it really is.
“I have such a huge connection with both football clubs in terms of coming through the youth system at Brighton & Hove Albion to making my debut, to signing my first professional contract and then becoming captain of the football club. Then, obviously the amazing times I had at Southampton with the promotions, winning the JPT Trophy, playing at Wembley and the amazing players I played with so I have a real affiliation with both clubs so it is testing.
“I think if anyone asks me this week what I think the score is going to be or who do I want to win, I’ll very much sit on the fence. They are both brilliant football clubs. Its great to see both clubs in the Premier League it really is, because both clubs deserve to be there. They’ve come such a long way and developed in such a huge manner since I was there as a player. Its brilliant to see”.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s game; Brighton currently sit 4th from bottom, level on points with Fulham who sit 3rd bottom. Brighton have failed to win any of their last seven games against Southampton but with Fulham playing Manchester City this weekend, there is no better time for Brighton to buck that trend. Just how important is this game for Brighton?
“I think it is a really important game for Brighton. They had a really good run of fixtures where they went six unbeaten and picked up some really positive results but the last three fixtures have been a little bit disappointing in terms of results but I think the performances have still been there.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching Brighton play this season; they really are an exciting team and they create lots of opportunities and play the game in the right manner in my opinion. Obviously, going into the game this weekend they do need a result.
“Looking at the fixtures they’ve got coming up towards the end of the season I’m sure they will have identified this game against Southampton thinking ‘we probably need to get maximum points here’, which I think will work well for style of the game and how both teams are going to approach it and try to win the game.
“I’m sure that the manager and the players are not naïve. They’ll know this is a really important game and a chance for them to pick up three points. Southampton are pretty strong in terms of their performances so it will be interesting to see how this game goes”.
Southampton’s form going into this game is alarming, picking up only four points from a possible 33 in their last eleven games. If they lose on Sunday, they could well be sucked in to that relegation battle. Should we be expecting a battle of nerves on Sunday at St Marys?
“It a great question but I don’t expect huge nerves. Even during the difficult period that Southampton are going through at the moment, except for a couple of games the performances have been very good and of a real high standard.
“Maybe not for the whole 90 minutes but they’ve gone ahead in games and performed well but obviously there have been some results that have been a little bit surprising but I don’t think there will be huge nerves. I think from a Southampton point of view, if they win Sunday, they are almost safe from relegation.
“I don’t believe they are in a relegation battle. I think they are too good a team and they have shown this season they can beat anyone on their day. Suspensions and injuries have really affected the squad and the squad has been tested this year more than any other time due to the number of games in short periods of time, due to players not being able to rotate or be rested because the squad is not quite as competitive as the manager would like.
“I think Southampton are coming off two really good performances. Against Sheffield United I thought they were outstanding. They were brave on the ball, created lots of chances, scored two goals and probably should have had more.
“Against Manchester City, not many teams go there and create the number of chances that Southampton did. Yes, they lost the game because Manchester City had a 30-minute period where they were exceptional but if you look at Southampton; they scored two goals and in the first 15 minutes they had 75% possession which I don’t think has ever happened before (at City).
“There are lots of positives at the club. Che Adams has found a bit of form again when he scores, he usually gets a run going. He’s got two in two so hopefully that will continue on Sunday”.
If you look at Southampton’s starting eleven at Manchester City during the week, Ralph Hasenhüttl clearly had one eye on the Brighton game by leaving two key players, Kyle Walker-Peters and Ibrahima Diallo, on the bench. Both players are expected to start against Brighton so in terms of quality and balance, how much of a boost will their return to the side be for Saints?
“It really will be a boost for Southampton. Kyle Walker-Peters has been fantastic this season, not only in the way he has defended but in the way he attacks. He gives Southampton a different dimension, he really does. He almost plays like a winger but he is also fit enough to recover too.
“When he’s not been in the team Southampton don’t quite look the same. One, because they don’t have a replacement and two, because he is such a quality player. Against Sheffield United he demonstrated just how important he is.
“That back four with Kyle Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand is brilliant. Fraser Forster in goal looks confident now so that back five really gives Southampton a foundation now.
“Ibrahima Diallo coming in to the centre of midfield alongside James Ward-Prowse is a big bonus as well because he’s got that energy, he got that willingness to win the ball back. He is very, very competitive and he has grown in confidence as well. He is still a young man but he does bring something different to that central midfield and he compliments James Ward-Prowse”.
You know better than most about the quality and effectiveness of Adam Lallana, having played with him at Southampton. He scored his first Brighton goal last week against Leicester, playing in an advanced role with Neal Maupay. Given Brighton’s lack of goals this season, how vital will that Maupay / Lallana partnership be, not just against Southampton this weekend but for Brighton’sremaining fixtures this season?
“I think it will be really important! Adam Lallana is an exceptional player; he’s had a brilliant career. Obviously, I had the privilege of playing with him and training with him for a number of years so I know his qualities. I was actually at the game (against Leicester) on Saturday working for Leicester City and I got to watch Adam up close.
“In that advanced role, in that kind of number 10 role, he is so effective because his awareness is so good. He can play one touch; he can carry the ball, and he gets himself into good positions. The rotation between himself, Neal Maupay, Pascal Groß and Alexis Mac Allister was really good and caused Leicester City huge problems in that first half in particular.
“Getting Adam into that position, one-on-one with the goalkeeper he is always going to score because he has that real composure. That’s been the issue for Brighton this season; they’ve not been able to get the right players in the right positions in terms of goalscoring opportunities to be able to take those chances.
“If you can get Adam into those areas he will score. It’s not only his technical ability in his performance, he is a leader as well. Being at the Leicester game was brilliant because you can hear everything now. All I could hear was Adam Lallana on the pitch motivating and encouraging the others which is huge.
“If they can keep him fit, he will be really important for Brighton”.
Do you think Brighton have enough about them to stay up this season?
“I think they do. Yes. Is that because I’m a former player? Is that because I’m a fan? Maybe.
“I don’t think I’m being naïve. I do think they have enough. Let’s take away the last three games, the previous six they beat Liverpool, they beat Spurs and they beat Leeds. They kept five clean sheets, winning games 1-0 and performing well at the same time.
“They weren’t just holding on to the victories. They were dominating games and winning games so they have shown they can beat anyone in this league and they have shown they can put a consistent run together.
“You have a problem in your football team if you are not creating chances. Brighton do create chances. At some point, Brighton are going to beat a team heavily. I think they will be ok because the manager has a very consistent message to the players. He doesn’t confuse them by changing the tactics or changing the philosophy and I think that helps players.
“From a personal point of view, that really helped me when I was at Leicester and we managed to stay up. We won the last eight games out of ten in the Premier League and stayed up. The manager (Nigel Pearson) was very consistent with his message and he believed in the players and I think the players get that from Graham Potter.
“Its going to be tight, of course, because of the points tally and the form of Fulham but I just think Brighton will be better than Newcastle this season”.
You mentioned earlier about staying impartial when it comes to Southampton and Brighton however, I’m going to put you on the spot now. Which way is this game going to go?
“I think it will be a very good game. I know for a fact Southampton will try to win the game because that’s how Ralph plays. That’s how the manager sets his team up, to be on the front foot, high intensity and to try and start the game very, very well and gain control of the game.
“It will be a good technical game in terms of both teams wanting possession of the ball, and being progressive with that possession as well in terms of creating chances. Will there be a lot of goals? I’m not sure but I think there will be a good number of opportunities within the game.
“I’m going for a 1-1 draw, but a really entertaining game”.
Both Southampton and Brighton have felt the sharp end of poor VAR decisions this season, for example the Lewis Dunk free-kick at West Bromwich Albion and also Southampton’s games against Aston Villa and Manchester United (to name a few). It has been reported this week that the Premier League have written to all 20 clubs asking for their recommendations on how to improve VAR for next season.
Where do you stand on VAR, and if you could improve one aspect of VAR, what would that be?
“Great question! Where do I stand on VAR?
“I’m going to sound like a real traditionalist and a really old player now aren’t I. I’m not too sure about it to be honest. Personally, I understand why it has come into the game because football, especially at the top level, is such a big business. Football clubs, if they get relegated because of a poor decision and it wasn’t the right decision it could cost them hundreds of millions of pounds which isn’t right.
“You wouldn’t have it in any other industry but, football is entertainment as well so you love the excitement of the inconsistency and referees getting things wrong. I liked that as a player. It was difficult when it happened to you in a game but it did kind of level itself out in the season, I really believed that.
“I would like to see a little more control given back to the referee because I think it is affecting their performances. They are trying to get every decision perfect and giving too many fouls just in case they have missed something. They look nervous. They look like they don’t really enjoy their job or their career anymore because they’re under such scrutiny and this is affecting games.
“I don’t understand the rules too much myself anymore. I’m still within football in terms of working in the media and I watch a lot of games but I don’t quite get it myself. I would like to see that, someone can see an incident quick on a replay and if they believe a referee has got the decision wrong or needs to look at the decision again, send him to the monitor.
“Still give the referee the responsibility of making the decision. Give the referee a time limit, or a set number of camera angles to then make the decision. We don’t need these long, drawn out decisions. It’s taken the fun away from the game. They need the responsibility back and yes;they will get things wrong but VAR still gets things wrong.
“It needs changing and it will be interesting to see how the clubs react to it and what their opinions are.”