February 21, 2017 / 5:36 PM / 10 months ago

Southampton profit from the gift of the Gab

LONDON (Reuters) - In 163 minutes of football for Southampton since arriving for £14 million on transfer deadline day, Manolo Gabbiadini has scored three times in two appearances -- more than 10 per cent of the club’s Premier League goals this season.

Britain Soccer Football - Sunderland v Southampton - Premier League - The Stadium of Light - 11/2/17 Southampton's Manolo Gabbiadini with Southampton manager Claude Puel after being substituted Action Images via Reuters / Lee Smith Livepic

Add to that goals in his final two appearances for Napoli and you have to go back to the start of December to find a game in which Gabbiadini did not score -- and even then he was only given 56 minutes to shine against Benfica in the Champions League.

So the last thing the Italian wanted after his brace against Sunderland earlier this month, was the enforced two week’s rest that has followed. But with Southampton already knocked out of the FA Cup, they have had plenty of time to focus on Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester United.

Gabbiadini is expected to lead the attack in what is their first cup final appearance since they lost 3-2 to Nottingham Forest in the same competition in 1979.

Saints manager Claude Puel is delighted with Gabbiadini’s instant impact, which has seen him become the first Southampton player to score in his opening two Premier League games since Henri Camara in 2005.

“It’s a very good start,” said Puel. “Manolo showed he is a technical player who can work between the lines. He gets behind defenders and has real quality.”

Gabbiadini can also operate out wide although, as a sole striker, his blossoming partnership with Serbia’s Dusan Tadic suggests Puel may have already found his best position.

In Southampton’s last game, a 4-0 win over Sunderland, they abandoned the 4-3-3 and reverted to last season’s 4-2-3-1 system in which Tadic proved a potent force behind Graziano Pelle, the Italian striker who left for Shangdong Luneng last summer.

The switch helped release Tadic, who set up Gabbiadini’s second goal against Sunderland, a delightful drag back on to his right foot and quick shot. It also helped check an alarming run that had seen the Saints lost six out of seven league games.

“He’s a very good player and a very good guy,” said Tadic after the game. “He wants to learn and he’s come and started well.”

“Sometimes football language is the same and it’s important to speak between each other to see what he likes. He will adapt better and better.”

Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by Richard Lough

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