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.

Southampton vs Reading: 4 Key Battles That Could Decide The Title Race

Premier League football will be all but confirmed for the winner of Southampton vs Reading this weekend, and the match is sure to live up to its billing.

Championship leaders Southampton take on nearest rivals Reading at St. Mary’s Stadium this evening in a clash that could all but confirm Premier League promotion if one of these sides emerge victorious. Both sides lie six points ahead of heavy pre-season title favourites West Ham United with four games remaining and – with the lucrative goldmine of Premier League football, jobs, star players and all important momentum in jeopardy for one of these sides – here are the key battles that could mean Reading or Southampton have one hand on the football league’s top prize.

Rickie Lambert vs Kaspars Gorkss

Saints have had the most lethal strike force in the Championship season and Reading have the tightest defence, so one of those must surely give for this crunch match. Saints have been in the top two from day one this season, and a catalyst for this sustained streak of superb form has been down to Liverpool-born hit man Rickie Lambert, who has netted 26 times in the league this season, nine more than any other striker.

The all-important role of keeping Lambert quiet may rest on the shoulders of Latvian centre-back Kaspars Gorkss, who has helped Reading form the meanest defence of the division since his arrival in August. Since the turn of the year, Reading have won 14 matches compared to Saints’ 10 and, while they haven’t had one prolific goalscorer in the side, they have shared the goals evenly amongst the frontmen and ground out some crucial slender victories to maintain their fantastic form.

Jos Hooiveld vs Jason Roberts

At the other end of the pitch this evening, a big part of Reading’s attacking threat will form in the powerful frame of 33-year-old striker Jason Roberts. BBC pundit Roberts has caused a big stir in the media since arriving from Premier League strugglers Blackburn in January, and he has proven to be a revelation for the Royals. Eight consecutive wins after his arrival really ignited Reading’s automatic promotion charge. He’s a good finisher, a powerful target man and his years of Premier League experience have been invaluable for the club.

Saints put behind a tough turn of the year with a significant improvement in the side’s defensive performances. Central defensive pairing Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte have been vital, and it is towering Dutchman Hooiveld who I would say is best placed to deal with Roberts’ physical and aerial presence. But both defenders have been superb this season, and they will have to be at their best to keep out a confident Reading side.

Danny Fox vs Ian Harte

In such a massive game, the set piece delivery and crossing from full-backs is crucial, and the key for both sides making the breakthrough from set plays comes from left back. Southampton’s Danny Fox has contributed an outstanding 11 assists during his first Championship campaign on the south coast. Fox’s delivery from corners and indirect free-kicks has been quality throughout the season and, while Rickie Lambert is likely to be first choice from shooting range, Fox could be key to breaching the Reading rear-guard.

In blue and white, former Leeds full-back Ian Harte has been a big success. Perhaps more of a threat from shooting range with 14 goals in Reading colours since his arrival in 2010, Harte proved his importance in the side with a vital winner against Brighton on Tuesday night.

Steve De Ridder scored a late equaliser as Saints and Reading drew 1-1 earlier this season

Steve De Ridder scored a late equaliser as Saints and Reading drew 1-1 earlier this season

Adam Lallana vs Jimmy Kebe

In a game like this, both managers would look towards their main playmakers to produce something special – a bit of magic that could be the difference in a tight, tense encounter. In terms of quality that could be crucial in making that difference tonight, you don’t need to look much further than Saints’ Adam Lallana and Reading’s Jimmy Kebe.

Kebe, predominantly a winger with pace and power to terrorise Championship full-backs had a slow start to the season but he has certainly turned it round, scoring a few goals and providing a big threat on the right hand side. The Mali international scored twenty goals from out wide in his first two campaigns under manager Brian McDermott’s stewardship, and you wouldn’t be against him causing Saints problems at St. Mary’s this evening.

Nigel Adkins has described 23-year-old Adam Lallana as the most talented player in the Championship this season, and it is hard to argue otherwise. Lallana was nominated for the Championship player of the year, which Lambert won, and there is no doubt that the team look significantly stronger and more creative with him in the starting line-up. He has scored ten goals this season, but it is his movement, eye for an incisive pass and superb technical skill that has proved vital for the Saints this season, and he is definitely one to watch out for in front of the Sky Sports cameras at 19:45.

First vs second, the best home record against the best away side and the highest scorers against the league’s meanest defence; Southampton versus Reading has all the right ingredients to live up to its billing and have a huge say in the destination of the 2011/12 Championship title. Who fancies a drab 0-0?!

This feature was published in the Sabotage Times. Click here for the link.