Southampton could momentarily send shudders through the Championship with a lunchtime win against Swansea City today, leapfrogging a strong Ipswich Town side to second spot with a victory before the Tractor Boys then have the opportunity to respond on Monday night.
Russell Martin won’t travel to face off against the Swans with any past sentiment attached still, previously managing the Welsh club in a stint, with another win the only goal in his head to get to a staggering 20 games unbeaten in the division.
Martin will just pray that key first-teamer Kyle Walker-Peters potentially leaving the Championship promotion hopefuls this January doesn’t derail the current positivity in his group, with this replacement being lined up if the Southampton number two does leave.
Kyle Walker-Peters replacement lined up
Football Insider have reported recently that Martin’s Saints are keen on signing wantaway West Ham United figure Ben Johnson this month, the defender offering Southampton some versatility at the back that could be necessary with Walker-Peters exiting.
TalkSPORT journalist Alex Crook has opened up to GIVEMESPORT over the past few days regarding Walker-Peters’ future at St. Mary’s, the right-back yet to sign a new contract on the South Coast with Chelsea and the Hammers keen on trying to tempt the 26-year-old away.
With Martin opening up about all the speculation and telling any potential suitors to “go away” yesterday, it could be a tetchy week or so left for Southampton in the transfer window to try and keep hold of their star man.
Yet, with Johnson available on a loan deal reportedly until the end of the season, this could well be a shrewd buy in the short term regardless of whether or not Walker-Peters does depart.
How Johnson fits into the Southampton team
Unlike Walker-Peters who excels in venturing forward – the Saints number two successfully completing three dribbles in Southampton’s 4-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday last weekend – Johnson is far more at ease just sitting back and completing his routine defensive duties well.
With the plethora of attacking options available to Martin already at St. Mary’s, alongside rumoured purchases for the likes of Manuel Benson and David Brooks in the pipeline, losing Walker-Peters’ attacking output wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Johnson’s addition to the team this January could see the promotion chasers improve their back four to help when the defence is tested in pivotal games to come, with the adaptable Hammers defender bettering Walker-Peters when it comes to basics such as duels, blocks and clearances over the last year.
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According to FBRef, the 23-year-old betters Walker-Peters aerially with Johnson winning 1.48 aerials on average per 90 minutes compared to the current Saints man’s lesser 0.56.
Moreover, Johnson comes out on top between the two in clearances and tackles managed per 90 minutes with 2.30 clearances and 2.14 tackles registered on Johnson’s end in contrast to Walker-Peters falling flat with 1.44 clearances and 1.48 tackles.
Able to play at left-back and at the heart of defence if needed, Johnson’s flexibility makes him a smart and worthwhile replacement for Walker-Peters if the latter man is tempted by a big move away.
Described as “superb” on social media by former Hammers striker Trevor Sinclair when given a rare opportunity in the first-team in 2021 – making 57 top-flight appearances over seven seasons for the Londoners – Johnson will hope a move to the South Coast means he’ll finally be a starting player elsewhere and not just a utility figure.
Potentially denting promotion rivals Leeds in the process by winning the 5 foot 9 titan’s signature, alongside strengthening the Saints at right-back with or without Walker-Peters present, it’s a no-brainer move for Martin’s men to make this January.