Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe explains how Cédric is a player transformed on his return to St Mary’s, after spending time out on loan last season…
It was a case of pick your positive after Southampton’s 4-0 demolition of south coast rivals Portsmouth on Tuesday, with every single player in red and white stripes turning in a fantastic performance.
Danny Ings’s two goals made him the obvious hero, but the defence held firm, Alex McCarthy was superb between the sticks, the midfield successfully wrestled control of the game from the hosts and Michael Obafemi’s performance on the flank was brilliant.
Even Nathan Redmond found time to cause havoc, despite only getting 18 minutes off the bench.
And then there was the scorer of the third, killer goal, Cédric, whose 2019/20 story is of the renaissance variety after spending the back half of last campaign on loan at Inter Milan.
The 77th-minute strike, lashed in instinctively after Ings’s tricky run into the box had caused the Pompey defence to split open, capped a composed, effective performance.
Should we have been even remotely surprised? The man’s won a European Championship alongside Cristiano Ronaldo; a bit of pressure on the ball from a League One side is child’s play for him.
His celebration certainly reflected that: a trademark skip to the sky and fist pump combo, a short roar to the crowd, then back to business. Time to get a fourth and secure that clean sheet.
Playing from his natural right-back role – as opposed to the left-sided one he operated in for portions of the Bournemouth game – he was among those who coped with the intense atmosphere in the opening 20 minutes the best: knocking it long when it needed to go, trying to instil some tempo when the opportunity presented itself.
Then, as Saints slowly became the dominant force in the match, enjoying more and more of the ball, his dynamic little movements and accurate cycling of the ball through triangles made it incredibly tough for the hosts to get anywhere near him.
This performance, off the back of impressing against Bournemouth from the left and playing his part in the clean sheet against Sheffield United, makes it three strong showings on the trot for Cédric, with the Portuguese showing Ralph Hasenhüttl why he’s a set of set of shoulders that can be relied upon.
Perhaps we can’t expect roaming runs in off the flank and deadly finishes every week – in fact, we know we can’t, given his goal against Portsmouth was just the third of his Saints career – but Cédric is playing with a renewed vigour and determination, and showing new positional versatility.
Never before has he looked so assured and confident using his weaker left foot, his crosses against Bournemouth from that leg drifting into the box nicely, his passes using it crisper and more accurate too.
His goal against Portsmouth came via an opportunistic drift to that side, perhaps a product of his newfound comfort over there.
European champion, 28 years of age, still adding strings to his bow.
His re-emergence has added a much-needed body to the defensive depth chart – Saints sailed a little close to the wind last season at right-back, really only having Yan Valery available in that position from January to May – and a sprinkling of quality too.
He ticks every box for the clichéd “like a new signing” adage – partly because he spent some time away last season, but mostly because he returns with a new confidence, enhanced ability and a fresh method of raising the team’s level on the pitch. Long may it continue.