This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Southampton centre-back Maya Yoshida has often had to settle for being second-best during his time with the south coast outfit, and it appears as though he is going to encounter the same old problem this term, too.
Since making the move from the Eredivisie in 2012, the Japan international has found himself behind the likes of Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld and Virgil van Dijk in the pecking order over the years – not too surprising given the calibre of those aforementioned players.
Now in his eighth season at St Mary’s, he is still 14 appearances away from a milestone 200th outing which shows he has been anything but a regular.
However, there appears to be far more of a level playing field when it comes to the quality of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s central defensive options right now, with no-one in particular standing out.
It appeared that the long-serving Saint – who has emerged as something of a cult hero among fans during his spell on the south coast – had as good a chance as any of his teammates to nail down a regular starting spot, especially when the Austrian manager preferred a 5-2-3 formation in the early stages of the campaign.
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That said, Jack Stephens got the nod ahead of the 31-year-old for the opening day trip to Burnley as he partnered Jannik Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek, and we wrote at the time how Yoshida had every right to be unhappy with that call.
Despite the deadline-day arrival of Kevin Danso, Yoshida looked to be in a good position to take up a role in the back three – as he did against Liverpool the following week.
A second successive defeat led to Hasenhuttl switching to a 4-2-2-2 formation for the subsequent fixtures against Brighton, Fulham and Manchester United though, and with two wins and a draw coming from those it may well be a system he chooses to stick with.
The problem for the Japanese player is that he hasn’t started in any of those three matches, with Vestergaard and Bednarek preferred in the Premier League and new boy Danso getting a chance ahead of him in the Carabao Cup.
The early indications are that the experienced centre-back is now fourth-choice in a position where only two players can play, and it is very much a familiar story for the 31-year-old.
Now it is up to him to prove that he should be a regular in the starting XI, and in fairness it isn’t a task that is as difficult as it has been in previous years with all of his competition looking to have their own weaknesses.