Tactics writer Sam Tighe, of Bleacher Report, assesses the influence of left-back Ryan Bertrand on the team's recent positive form...
Leadership qualities. They’re hard to find in players, and even more difficult to replace when they’re gone. Clubs can spend both months and millions searching for them or replenishing them, knowing that getting caught without them could spell trouble.
For a spell last season Southampton were arguably in that position. The post-Virgil van Dijk and José Fonte period was a tricky one for several reasons, with one being that the dressing room would need a few more dominant voices. It’s always interesting to see which ones emerge, and some people might not have bet on Ryan Bertrand being one of them.
sam tighehe deserves to be added to the discussion of best left-backs in the premier league.
on ryan bertrand
More classed as a professional, standard-setter than a vocal, gee-you-up kind of enthuser, Bertrand’s steely determination and calm helped lead Saints through the nerve-wracking process of securing Premier League survival at the end of the 2017/18 campaign.
As he led his side out at Liberty Stadium ahead of a pivotal 1-0 victory, his focus looked laser sharp, completely at odds with some of the nervous glances given off by opposing players.
Since that day, more of Southampton’s players, new and existing, have grown into similar roles. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s regular XI boasts captains all over the pitch, from Jannik Vestergaard and Maya Yoshida, through Oriol Romeu and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, and into the increasingly influential Nathan Redmond.
Bertrand’s return from injury in February added another to that impressive collection.
With Højbjerg and Co. fulfilling the captain’s role in his three-month absence and Højbjerg continuing in it since, it wasn’t necessarily Bertrand’s mental qualities that were missed, more his footballing ones. His name isn’t added to the discussion of “best left-backs in the Premier League” as often as it should be, but it deserves to be, and his recent form shows why.
He was excellent against Fulham in February, making light work of Denis Odoi and marauding at will, then did the same against Manchester United in a game where he could quite feasibly have earned two penalties.
He showed stubbornness against Tottenham and Brighton when required, then impressed greatly against Liverpool last Friday as he worked in tandem with Redmond, creating chances and delivering threatening balls into the box from the left.
Jürgen Klopp decided to substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold – arguably the best right-back in the league this season – off in the 59th minute and bring on the experienced James Milner in his place, correctly identifying the area in which his title-chasing troops were really struggling: Bertrand’s patch of grass.
While Yan Valery’s growth has been exciting and Matt Targett stood in ably for Bertrand while injured, the 29-year-old is the best full-back at the club.
To have someone who blends his ability and mentality both fit and in-form as Southampton look to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on their Premier League status again is a game-changer.
Bertrand played a crucial role at the back end of last season for the club, and he looks set to do so again this time around.