The Press Box: Adam Blackmore

By SFC Media time Wed 22 Feb Man Utd vs Saints

Ahead of the EFL Cup final, we've been getting the thoughts of some experienced Southampton reporters. Next up is BBC Radio Solent sports editor Adam Blackmore...

What have you made of the cup run so far? 

"I think it's been a good example for others as to why you shouldn't throw cups away. For me, it didn't feel that they were on a march to Wembley when they beat Crystal Palace, but then you get that bit of genius from Boufal against Sunderland and another win, and once you get past rounds three and four you need to start thinking about getting to Wembley.

"The quarter-final at Arsenal, you can't praise the team enough, to go to the Emirates and win again in the League Cup. That was the match that, for me, set it up. You hope semi-finals and finals are more even occasions, because it's about players wanting it, so you don't need motivating for a semi-final or final. But a quarter-final away at Arsenal, they could easily have chucked one in and thought 'Alright, we've had a good go of it, but there's no disgrace losing here,' but they didn't. The players that came in played really well, everything went perfectly, and that was the moment for me.

to win it beating arsenal, liverpool and manchester united would be an enormous achievement.

adam blackmore
bbc radio solent sports editor

"The last two years, seeing them lose to Sheffield United and then Liverpool the way they did, you just wanted them to get past that quarter-final, third time lucky, and they did. I think it's helped the manager, as well as the fans and the players in the season."

How big an achievement would it be if Southampton can win?

"I think it's a very big achievement on two levels. I think, over 131 years, only playing at Wembley five times is underachieving probably for a club that's been in top-flight football for a lot of the last 50 years, so I think it's needed. To win it would be massive for the club on that level, because they haven't had a lot of silverware, but I also think to win it beating Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United – the three most decorated clubs in English football – would be an enormous achievement, on a much bigger scale almost than just winning it because the club haven't won much.

"To me, that would be the massive achievement, doing it that way. They've beaten Premier League clubs all the way, and if they end up by beating the biggest club in British football and one of the biggest clubs in the world, that's a huge achievement."

What do you think their chances are?

"Even. It's a final. They've done it in '76. I don't want to keep banging on about that, because it's not relevant to the day, but what it does give fans is knowledge that you can, as an underdog, perform. You can be Wigan in a cup final and win. These things can be done, so why not? Yes, you're up against a team full of players who haven't lost for a long time, but this is a Saints team that have beaten Manchester United twice at Old Trafford recently, that have won at Anfield, that have beaten Arsenal twice in cup competitions, that have knocked Liverpool out over two legs. If they win it, I don't think you can overestimate how good it is."

Who needs to really perform for Saints on Sunday if they are to win?

"You have to look at all three bits of the park. Mourinho isn't turning up just to coast. He's a trophy manager. He set his stall out at Chelsea by winning the League Cup. He's done it before and that's what he does. So if you're going to beat a Mourinho Manchester United, you need ten of 11 players to be at the top of their game.

Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida during the EFL Cup match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield, Liverpool, England on 25 January 2017. Photo by Matt Watson/SFC/Digital South.
Adam Blackmore believes Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida could be key for Saints

"At the back, you have to be compact, you have to keep Ibrahimović away from the six-yard area. He's such a threat in the air, and with his skills on the ground, that I think Yoshida, Stephens, or whoever plays at the back and marks him has to have a great day. The rest of it, I think comes off that.

"If you can frustrate United and keep him away from the penalty area then you start to get into the game in the middle of the park, where Romeu has to have a big game, and I don't have any doubt he will. If they play with someone alongside him, great. The backbone has to be strong – the two centre-backs have to be good, Romeu has to protect the back four, the tenacity in midfield has to be there. Then you need somebody to give you a moment of inspiration to cling onto.

"Ok, you might cruise it 3-0, but ultimately in my thinking is someone in the final third has to deliver a moment that then 32,000 fans and ten other players hold onto to push them towards winning. So, who's going to do that? Is it Gabbiadini, the new hero? Possibly. It depends who plays on the flanks. I'd like to see Tadić have a massive game. When he's on it, he's a great talent. I think he's come back a bit into form in the last week or two, he enjoyed himself at Sunderland, so I'm just hoping the two-week break hasn't stopped the momentum for him. He's massive for me, because he needs to unlock them."

What would your line-up be?

"My preferred line-up would be in a 4-2-3-1 and would be Forster in goal, then Cédric. I don't know about Cáceres's fitness, so it's going to be Cédric, Stephens, Yoshida and Bertrand at the back. The two full-backs are really important on the day as well, because they're very experienced players now. I would then do exactly what he did at Sunderland. I would have Davis alongside Romeu as a two and I would have Tadić ahead of them and Gabbiadini in front of him. Then I think the top three is tough, and that's a good sign, because it means there's competition around. But I would have, obviously, Gabbiadini down the middle, with Tadić behind him and let's just say Rodriguez left and Long right – I'd like to see all three."

And, on a personal level, how much are you looking forward to covering the final? 

"I'm looking forward to it a lot, because if you work in regional broadcasting, unless you're in Manchester, London or Liverpool, you don't really get too many national occasions to get stuck into. I've done a number of finals at Wembley, Twickenham and Cardiff, and it's always fun. It's one of those where you could over-prepare, but actually compared to say a normal league game I could turn up and not write as many notes and let the occasion take care of itself. It's one of those where you can really look forward to it and enjoy it, and not get bogged down in the minutiae, because it's about the occasion.

"When you work with the same set of players over a period of time, it becomes part of your life. What I do with Saints is a massive part of my life, personally and professionally. You get to know players over a period of time and when that happens you want people to do well. When I get excited about goals and things, it's because I want the club to do well. There's a lot of people at the club I know and have time for, or that I'm friends with. It's great and I think when you commentate through the rounds of the competition as well, you build with it and get to the same point as everyone else. I've got to try and stay calm, but we'll see how long it lasts."

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