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Aribo: What is in store for Southampton and Nigeria star after Jones’ appointment?

19:51 EAT 11/11/2022
Joe Aribo Southampton 2022-23
The Nigeria international had a mixed start to life under Ralph Hasenhuttl and will wish for an upswing after the World Cup

It was probably not the start Joe Aribo imagined at Southampton when he joined the club from Rangers in the summer.

The Nigeria international switched clubs in July, trading a Champions League group stage participation for a potential Premier League relegation battle on the south coast under Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Four months after that move, Hasenhuttl has been jettisoned by the Saints’ hierarchy, with Nathan Jones replacing the Austrian who departed after four years at St Mary’s Stadium. The club in the relegation zone after two defeats on the spin and a daunting visit to Liverpool to come this weekend.

It is a bow Jones will relish before the World Cup-enforced hiatus, but one history has not gone Southampton’s way since picking up a 1-0 win in 2013. The Saints’ last victory at Anfield came nine years back but they have got no joy on Merseyside since.

The last eight games have produced six wins for the Reds with the last six meetings at Anfield producing an aggregate score of 16-0.

Despite a hitherto floundering campaign for Jurgen Klopp’s crew, they are favourites for a sixth straight win over Southampton even if they would be wary of lightning striking twice after the experience that was Roberto De Zerbi’s Premier League debut as Brighton & Hove Albion boss.

In truth, both teams played at Anfield with new head coaches, but the forms of both sides preceding their visits were incomparable.

Little is known about what to expect from Jones at Liverpool, especially owing to his official announcement coming two days before this weekend’s trip.

While nothing should be read into the former Luton Town boss’ first XI, Aribo ought to play in some capacity despite getting dropped in Hasenhuttl’s last defeat in the dugout, a 4-1 home loss to Newcastle United.

Nigeria’s non-participation in the World Cup gives Jones time with the Super Eagle and his colleagues, and you wonder just how much things would change when the Saints return to league action against Brighton on Boxing Day.

Much was made after the Nigerian’s move to Southampton, with GOAL highlighting the merits of the switch from Rangers, especially his ostensible fit into Hasenhuttl’s 4-2-2-2 approach.

However, the opening months in England’s top flight saw Aribo feature as one of the number 10s in his former coach’s preferred formation, up front in tandem with another frontman, in the hole and even as a defensive midfielder on one occasion.

The 26-year-old’s versatility has been something of a hindrance early on, with Hasenhuttl moving him around as results fluctuated. Under Jones, the Super Eagle will hope for some consistency in how he is utilised.

While the Welshman may be viewed as being wedded to a back three, the Welshman’s approach in two spells at Luton town (2016-2019 and 2020-2022) suggests this remains to be seen. Admittedly, he has heavily leaned on a back three since the start of last season, his previous spell at the Hatters saw him largely utilise a 4-4-2 diamond and other variations of a back four.

Of course, the 3-5-2 was an alternative approach at times, especially in his first full campaign in Bedfordshire, but the 49-year-old was undoubtedly a back four man early on in his managerial career.

This continued even at Stoke City where, despite an inclination to approach games with four at the back, he struggled to settle on one after taking over at the turn of the year in 2019. Having said that, Jones’ preference for a 4-4-2 diamond was noticeable in the opening months of the 2019-20 campaign before his sack in November 2019.

A more permanent change to utilising a back three began in 2021-22 where Jones still played his previously preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation and a 4-3-3, albeit seldomly.

In this campaign, though, the Welshman certainly looked to approach games in a 3-4-1-2, and it will be interesting to see what he inclines to at St Mary’s.

Undoubtedly, playing in the hole in a 3-4-1-2 may be Aribo’s best position in the formation his new manager mostly used in those final months at Kenilworth Road, while he could be utilised the same way in a 4-4-2 diamond.

The Nigerian’s versatility means there are a few positions in which he could play if Jones opts for a 4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-3, or 3-5-2, although the abiding feeling is that the Super Eagle is best utilised in any role that frequently allows him to occupy the right half-space.

What Jones chooses to do at Southampton remains to be seen. However, a largely young squad to work with ought to be a positive, even if growing pains are to be expected.

Saturday’s meeting with Liverpool may not reveal what the Welshman wants to do with Aribo but the next months after the World Cup will make for fascinating viewing.