Is Mario Lemina the next 'big thing' at Southampton?

With Southampton picking up their second triumph of this eventual Premier League season, midfielder Mario Lemina is receiving all the plaudits.

Is Mario Lemina the next 'big thing' at Southampton?
Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

The dyed hair, the titles at Juventus, and the classy midfield runs: yet Garth Crooks hasn't given him his uncle in the armchair act, saying inane things until someone gives him attention. Mario Lemina - the player Arsenal need and Southampton have.

Lemina bustled through Crystal Palace's midfield on Saturday afternoon like a Year 11 pupil who had rocked up at the Year 7 trials by mistake and decided not to confess.

At times the James McArthur - Yohann Cabaye partnership looked like an angry divorce in which neither of them had any money left because the lawyer had taken it all. Lemina was the lawyer and he was squirrelling the money to the left where Ryan Bertrand's cheques kept bouncing on delivery at Nathan Redmond's feet, and squirrelling it to the right where Cédric cleverly invested it.

He'd scored an absolute zinger for Gabon in a 2-0 win over Ivory Coast in the last international break and, in fitting with the general desire of the travelling support to see some goals, every time he galloped through the centre of the park, hurdling swinging legs, barging off the bargers, he was encouraged to shoot. No sublime finish materialised - nor was it needed thanks to a 6-minute well-placed strike to Wayne Hennessy's right from Steven Davis' left - but the crowd chanted his name as if he had nonetheless. Earth, Wind and Fire's September was the tune and Lemina's refusal to give up possession was the theme - "Mario Lemina, he's a class midfielder, and he never gives the ball away."

It may be statistically wrong - if you want numbers load up Football Manager or something - but it felt like Lemina could pick the pocket of a pick pocket and the pick pocket wouldn't know before his possession was already with the next man half way down the street. It all took a second to do, too. For every rangy pass to the wing, there was a simple sideways ball to Oriol Romeu, and for every quick one-two with Davis, there was a ball ready to drop over the shoulder of Joel Ward or Jeffrey Schlupp for an oncoming Dusan Tadic or Redmond.

Football pundit Jamie Redknapp likened him to Andres Iniesta, because he "had that much time on the ball." Lemina created that time, though. He chopped away from incoming tackles that became closer to GBH charges as the second half progressed, just like that Balón d'Or winner from Portugal. It was anticipation - probably at least a 17 on aforementioned computer game - and his positional awareness that gave him the nous to take a first touch away from his marker or turn out of a dark alley that nobody wanted to see him in in the first place. In doing so, yes Jamie, he had that time.

A bargain for Saints

His performance was a 90-minute episode of a programme that could well be titled "Patrick Vieira left 12 years ago," but I doubt Arsene Wenger even saw the pilot because Lemina would otherwise be playing keep ball with Jack Wilshere and Nacho Monreal on a Thursday night in Belarus. If that sounds attractive to you it happens on Thursday 28th September - minus Lemina, of course.

During a summer in which Neymar moved from Barcelona to PSG for £200m, and Virgil Van Dijk didn't leave Saints to join Liverpool for £70m, Mario Lemina cost £18m. He came with two Serie A winners' medals and just as many for the Coppa Italia. Twitter ninjas will likely scoff "yeah but I've never heard of him." Yeah, and he's never heard of you either, but he's spent the last two seasons playing with the likes of Paul Pogba, Paulo Dybala, and Sami Khedira, and it shows.

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