Chelsea target Luke Shaw and three other young Saints to watch

Chelsea are reportedly lining up a £4m bid for Luke Shaw

Chelsea are reportedly lining up a £4m bid for Luke Shaw

There has been no shortage of top class talent coming through the Southampton academy in recent years, with Arsenal & England wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tottenham’s former PFA player of the year Gareth Bale and former Chelsea full back Wayne Bridge developing their game on the South Coast. It’s no surprise then that Champions League winners Chelsea have been strongly linked with Southampton’s latest wonderkid Luke Shaw.

The national press are linking Chelsea with a £4million bid for Shaw, and Manchester City and Arsenal have also reportedly expressed an interest, but it will take something special for Southampton to relinquish one of their brightest young talents. Manager Nigel Adkins and chairman Nicola Cortese have insisted that he is not for sale and, as one of the richest clubs in English football following a takeover by the late Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr in 2009, there is no pressure for the club to sell – especially as they are back in the Premier League after seven years outside the top flight.

But can the 16-year-old attacking left back be the next Gareth Bale or make the same sort if impact that Alex Chamberlain did at Arsenal 12 months on? Here is a lowdown on Shaw’s star potential and three other Southampton youth players to watch out or over the next few seasons.

Luke Shaw

There is no doubt that 16-year-old Luke Shaw is the most sought-after player in Southampton’s latest generation of talented players at the moment. And, despite only making one senior appearance for Saints last season, it is clear to see why the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City want to snap him up now before he bursts on to the professional scene with a string of first team games.

He has been a regular in Jason Dodd’s Under-18 side since the age of 15, and his rapid progression through the youth ranks was rewarded with two call ups to the England Under-16’s team in 2011. He is now a regular in the Under-17’s international team, having made 8 appearances.

Shaw is an attacking full back with bundles of pace, good set piece delivery and an eye for goal, having scored three times from left back in Southampton’s successful Under-18 side, and he’s been promoted to the first team squad ahead of Saints’ comeback season in the Premier League.

He featured in the Saints squad in Cup matches against Coventry, Preston North End and Millwall last season and he will undoubtedly want to follow in the footsteps of Tottenham star Gareth Bale and former England international Wayne Bridge by making a name for himself on the left side of Southampton’s defence.

James Ward-Prowse

James Ward-Prowse

James Ward-Prowse

Arguably Southampton most impressive academy graduate of the 2011-12 campaign was 17-year-old central midfielder James Ward-Prowse, who was subsequently awarded Young Player of the Year at the club’s end of season celebrations.  Also an England Under-17 international, Ward-Prowse made two starts for the senior team and he impressed on both occasions. Despite Saints being defeated in the last 16 of the Carling Cup, thanks to two late goals from Crystal Palace, Ward-Prowse earned praise from Southampton boss Nigel Adkins for his composed performance in the middle of the park. He scored his first senior goal in a 2-1 win over Coventry in the FA Cup and featured on the bench on a few occasions.

He’s quite small I stature, but he makes up for it with great energy and a superb passing range. His composure and ability to recycle possession certainly helps him fit in to Southampton’s style of play, and he is probably the most likely academy player to break in to the first team frequently this season.

Calum Chambers

Calum Chambers

Calum Chambers

Along with Shaw, Ward-Prowse and former Plymouth youngster Jack Stephens, Calum Chambers was also promoted to the first team squad after Saints gained promotion to the Premier League in April.

He’s another exciting talent, and another player who features in the England Under-17 set up, but he still seems to have crept in to Nigel Adkins’ long-term first team plans under the radar, as he is the only academy graduate in Saints’ first team who didn’t feature in the first team last season.

He’s a tall and talented winger who offers great creativity and a quality final product going forward. He featured regularly in Southampton’s Under-18’s team that finished ahead of the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Premier League Academy Group A and contributed seven goals from out wide. He also scored the only goal in England Under-17’s 1-0 win over Ukraine in March, and has added a further two goals in just 6 appearances for the side.

Jake Sinclair

Jake Sinclair

Jake Sinclair

Every good team needs a clinical goal scorer, and the Southampton Under-18s talisman last season was 17-year-old forward Jake Sinclair. Brother of Swansea striker Scott Sinclair, Jake banged in 25 goals in 29 appearances last term – an impressive record at any level. Much like his brother, he’s got pace to burn, he’s tricky, likes to run with the ball and is a clinical finisher. There are Premier League goals in his family already, and Jake has the potential to follow in his brother’s footsteps and score goals at a high level.

He’s not gained the same sort of recognition at international level as his academy team-mates Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, but a strong season with the academy and Under-21 development squad could encourage Saints boss Adkins to call on the pacey forward for cup matches in the upcoming campaign.

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How Iniesta’s strike put the wow into Spanish press

Andres Iniesta's last gasp winner sealed progression to the Champions League Final

Andres Iniesta’s last gasp winner sealed progression to the Champions League Final

THE Spanish media was almost unanimous in its fulsome praise for Barcelona’s victory.

The ecstatic face of matchwinner Andres Iniesta adorned the front pages of most Spanish newspapers.

Pictures showed the normally unassuming Iniesta, 24, roaring in triumph, yellow Barca shirt in hand.

“Iniesta, a heavenly goal,” roared El Pais.

“Iniesta the quiet hero,” saluted El Mundo.

“Iniesta works the miracle,” offered As.

But the pro-Real Madrid sports daily, Marca, offered only a small picture of the Barcelona team, slipped above a huge image of former Real president Roman Calderon, with the headline: “Super Iniesta and the referee put Barcelona into the Champions League Final”.

Inside, Marca noted that Barcelona “hadn’t even had a single shot on goal all match”, but grudgingly admitted the two best teams in Europe will be contesting the final.

Quite a contrast to Barcelona-based Sport, which declared: “Wow wow wow, we’re going to Rome!”

This piece was published by the Daily Express. Click here for the link.

Van Persie on the double to keep the Gunners fighting

Robin Van Persie displayed his class with a vital double

Robin Van Persie displayed his class with a vital double

A THREE-MINUTE double-salvo from Robin Van Persie stunned league leaders Chelsea to keep Arsenal’s wilting title hopes alive after a rollercoaster month for Arsene Wenger’s young side.

With the critics continually writing off their title chances and just half an hour to recover a 1-0 deficit against a Chelsea side comfortably on top at the fortress that is Stamford Bridge, Van Persie struck a definitive and highly controversial blow to keep the Premier League ambitions flickering for Wenger’s men.

The striker looked at least a metre offside as he was threaded through by Denilson before rifling the ball into the top corner for an equaliser out of nothing. The comeback was completed when Van Persie (pictured, above) slotted Adebayor’s flick on header brilliantly inside Petr Cech’s far post. The victory summed up a remarkable month for Arsenal and left them seven points behind the Blues at the end of November, with Liverpool and Manchester United also to be caught.

Having beaten Chelsea and the reigning Champions Manchester United on their own patch, it suggests that they have what it takes to compete with the best in the country. But a woeful spell, which saw them concede seven unanswered goals and lose to Aston Villa and Manchester City, has left them with five league defeats against their name already.

While they have been formidable against teams who come to play pretty football, they have been outmuscled and outwitted against teams who have come with a game plan to combat their style. At times this is unbelievable to watch. Teams such as Stoke and Hull, who both inflicted 2-1 defeats on the Gunners, have shown that if they hustle and harry and remain well-disciplined, much of Arsenal’s threat can be extinguished.

So what has gone wrong? After coming within four points of the title last season, Arsenal seem to lack the strength and solidity in the midfield that counteracted many of the more physical sides last season. The key summer departures of Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva have taken away some of the vital steel that supported Arsenal’s lethal attacking armoury. The team have become more reliant on the genius of Cesc Fabregas and youngsters such as Denilson and Alexandre Song Billong packing the midfield. There is a general lack of experience in (the midfield) this area, unlike the other teams in the “Big Four”, Chelsea can boast Frank Lampard; Liverpool have Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes is still on tap at Manchester United.

William Gallas looks dejected after Birmingham disappointment

William Gallas looks dejected after Birmingham disappointment

The leadership in the dressing room at the Emirates has also been well documented. Arsene Wenger stripped William Gallas (pictured above) of his captaincy after an angry outburst at his team mates, questioning the team’s bravery. He quickly appointed 21-year-old Fabregas as the new club captain. There seems to be renewed spirit within the dressing room, and while Gallas took the punishment professionally and played with passion against Chelsea, the unrest may well be one of the contributing factors to several points dropped already this season.

Perhaps under the new leadership, there will become a new sense of direction and A revitalised title challenge. The appointment of the Spaniard Fabregas typifies Wenger’s policy of developing young players into the first team – a system that has worked brilliantly in the Carling Cup.

The young guns, with a combined age of just 19 in their Carling Cup fourth round tie against Wigan, have impressed the country and totally outclassed two very decent opponents, having thrashed Championship side Sheffield United 6-0 in the previous round.

But, with the exceptional young talent being continually drafted into the team, this means that Wenger’s men are lacking the experienced heads and leaders on the pitch that their Big Four rivals have in abundance. There are also questions over the squad’s depth and the stubbornness of Wenger to spend big during the transfer windows.

This fine victory over Chelsea may spark a revival but surely it won’t be too long before Wenger will have to strengthen. The January transfer window could be crucial for their title chances. While the team have prevailed against Manchester United and Chelsea, they continue to slip up against many of the lower ranked “physical” outfits in the Division – with another slip up likely to end any realistic title hopes for another year.

There is little doubt that the Gunners have got one of the most exciting production line of young talent in Europe, but the fans are getting restless, the team continues to drop valuable points and an unthinkable fourth trophyless season could well and truly be on the cards.