Carlos Alcaraz has the magic to save Southampton from relegation
Within just 14 minutes, Carlos Alcaraz had contributed a goal and an assist to put Southampton 2-0 up away to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Ultimately, the Premier League table-toppers fought back to salvage a 3-3 draw and a point, but Alcaraz had showcased his ability against one of the best teams in the division.
It was a reminder of the magic the 20-year-old can produce. Signed for £12m from Racing in his homeland of Argentina in the January transfer window, Alcaraz has the potential to be a Premier League star. Southampton must find a way to harness his quality to stay in the division he is clearly good enough for.
Southampton pulled off a coup by capturing Alcaraz. The youngster had been linked with Arsenal and was on the radar of Benfica who wanted him to replace Enzo Fernandez, on his way to Chelsea. The Saints, however, offered Alcaraz an opportunity to play first team football at Premier League level. They fast-tracked him and sold him using the club as a springboard – Southampton have done this with several players including Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane.
Alcaraz has since played 12 league matches for Southampton amid a period of great upheaval and disruption for the south coast club. The Argentine arrived at St Mary’s Stadium not long after Nathan Jones had been appointed manager, but played only a handful of matches under the former Luton Town boss before Ruben Selles was hired.
Despite this, Alcaraz has been able to demonstrate his talent even if Selles has held back the 20-year-old at times. “I think we manage the squad and we manage the opponent in terms of what we need for the games,” said the Southampton manager when asked why Alcaraz has been used as a substitute so often this season.
“So Carlos has been a key player as a number nine, but also staying in one of the sides. It can be that he’s playing a different role or in the same role. And sometimes we just need him to come onto the pitch after 50 or 60 minutes just to give us a different approach and to make things harder.”
It’s true that Alcaraz’s versatility is one of his best qualities. Against Arsenal, he played as part of a front two alongside Theo Walcott with the pair combining for Southampton’s second goal. In the past, though, Alcaraz has been used in central midfield. He has even operated in the wide areas when required to.
In Argentina, Alcaraz’s primary position was as a deep-lying playmaker. Even in this role, though, he carried a goal threat, scoring seven times in 32 Premiera Division games with an xG of 0.3 per game. This could be where his long-term future could be even if Southampton need the Argentine in a more advanced role as they combat an injury to Che Adams.
Southampton are at risk of being cut adrift at the foot of the Premier League table. They are four points from safety with just six matches of the 2022/23 campaign left to play. The mid-week fixture against Bournemouth could be crucial in the Saints’ fight against the drop to the Championship.
There are several players in the Southampton squad with the potential to grow and develop – see Romeo Lavia, Mohammed Salisu, Kyle Walker-Peters, Gavin Bazunu etc. – but none have the natural talent of Alcaraz. If he can replicate the performance he produced against Arsenal between now and the end of the season, he could keep his team in the top flight.