Fans of Southampton must hate the summer.
It seems that no matter how well their team performs, it isn’t enough to inspire loyalty from their players and prevent an exodus. A fantastic 8th place finish in 2013/14 was unable to prevent Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Dejan Lovern, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and even manager Mauricio Pochettino from departing the club. Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin then proceeded to follow them out of the exit door the following summer. Many of the fans, who were perhaps still reeling from all of those departures, were hopeful that this could finally be the summer where their team could keep their best players and consolidate.
However, these hopes soon went up in flames when the highly-rated Ronald Koeman jumped ship to join Premier League rivals Everton. His shock departure has since opened the door for stars Sadio Mané, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pellé to leave the club. Leaving Southampton yet again desperately scrambling around to bring in replacements.
One of the reasons that Koeman was so highly rated was his ability to keep the club moving forward in the face of all the turmoil. Southampton finished 8th in Mauricio Pochettino’s final season in charge yet Koeman was able to guide the club to 7th and 6th place finishes as well as two consecutive qualifications for the Europa League. This demonstrates how Koeman helped the club to defy the critics for the last two seasons and improve despite selling their best players. However, Southampton face their biggest challenge ever this season and many think this could be the season when this incredible run comes to an end.
“This guy is perfect to build something with young players. For the academy of Southampton, it’s good news.”
In an effort to replace Koeman, Southampton have decided to take somewhat of a step into the unknown. The appointment of Claude Puel left many reaching for their phones and asking their good friend Google for help. Puel is hardly a well-known name but he did earn plaudits for leading Nice to a fourth place finish in the French Ligue 1 last season, narrowly missing out on the Champions League. However, despite being in charge of Monaco, Lyon and Lille, he only has two honours to his name and has often been criticised for not mounting winning more league titles (he was in charge when Lyon’s run of 7 consecutive titles ended in 2008, they haven’t won since).
With the English league being so tough and so different to the challenge faced in any of Europe’s other leagues, Puel could take time to adjust, he has never managed outside of France, and this could be costly for the Saints. If Puel takes time finding his feet the Saints could get off to a poor start which could be hard to claw back as consistency throughout the season is so key when chasing the European places. Puel does though come with a reputation of giving young talent a chance which will be music to Southampton fan’s ears, given the club’s outstanding youth academy. French journalist Maxime Dupuis wrote “This guy is perfect to build something with young players. For the academy of Southampton, it’s good news.”
“Nathan Redmond can be Southampton’s Thierry Henry”
Southampton also have to overcome a rather familiar problem, replacing their stars. They have done this well in the past with the likes of Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pellé but with these now gone the search needs to begin again. Yet, with the new season fast approaching they haven’t been as active in the transfer market as you would expect. Having said this, the club deserve praise for bringing Nathan Redmond to the club. The £10m signing is one of England’s best young players right now and has proven Premier League pedigree from his time at Norwich, despite being in and out of the side. The club seem to be delighted with the signing, Puel recently compared him to Arsenal great Thierry Henry. He could well prove a strong replacement for Sadio Mané.
Victor Wanyama added much needed steel to the Saints midfield
However,Victor Wanyama could be harder to replace. His disciplinary record was at times poor, he was sent off three times last season, but he added much-needed steel to the Saints’ midfield, He was their N’Golo Kante. Without him, they are left with Steven Davis, Jordie Clasie, James Ward-Prowse and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. While they are talented, they are all smaller and more cultured players who are more interested in starting attacks than breaking them up. None of them could act particularly well as a shield in front of the defence and this could cost Southampton dear in tight matches.
Another big loss is Graziano Pellé upfront. The Italian had become the vital spear-head in Southampton’s attack, scoring 30 goals in the last two seasons. His choice to leave the Premier League for the Chinese Super League was by far the most shocking and disappointing of the recent exits. This leaves Southampton very short up-front.
Southampton will need to find more goals
As replacements, they have Shane Long, who has a surprisingly poor league scoring record, 83 in 331 league appearances, 15 for the Saints. Charlie Austin, who has struggled since his January arrival. He scored a memorable winner away at Old Trafford on his debut but has since struggled with niggling injuries. If he can get playing regularly and recapture his QPR form then Puel’s attacking problems may well be solved. Finally, there is Jay Rodriguez. It is great to see him back after a torrid two years with injury, he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in 2014 and only returned after 16 months out this season. Yet a series of setbacks saw him play only 12 games last season. He has completed very few 90 minutes in the last two years and because of this his last Premier League goal came in the 2013/14 season, therefore he can’t be considered anywhere near ready to lead the attack for the Saints.
The situation is far from unsalvageable for Southampton but they go into this weekend’s season opener with major question being asked of them. Some audacious pundits have even tipped them to be fighting relegation this season. While I don’t believe things will be that bad I don’t think that the Saints will be able to continue their gradual improvement up the table. They look light up-front and lack a strong presence in midfield. Don’t be surprised to see Puel dip into the transfer market in search of reinforcements. If they do buy well they could challenge for Europe but with such upheaval this summer, it could finally be the year that Southampton’s summer sales take their toll.