If it wasn’t for Leicester’s heroics last season, Southampton finishing sixth – just three points from the top four – would have been the story of the season. But as we have come to expect, the top performers from that side have left the club over the summer. Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama have joined Liverpool and Tottenham respectively, whilst Graziano Pelle has moved to Shandong Luneng. Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to replace Mane and Wanyama, whilst Alex McCarthy and Jeremy Pied have come in as squad players. New manager Claude Puel led Nice to fourth in Ligue 1 last season, and will look to play his 4-4-2 diamond system. Replacing the goals of Mane and Pelle will be key for Southampton, and the Saints look light up front. Charlie Austin was signed in January with a view to replace Pelle, and he will hope that having a full pre-season will get him back to full fitness. The same can be said about Jay Rodriguez, who suffered another injury hit season last time out. Nathan Redmond has also been utilised as a striker in pre-season, scoring a couple of goals. Keeping hold of their defensive partnership of Virgil van Dijk and European champion Jose Fonte will be vital if Saints are going to challenge for Europe again. The squad is relatively thin, so coping with the added Europa League games could test Puel’s men. A top half finish, a decent showing in Europe and a run in the FA Cup would be seen as a successful year on the South coast.
Key Man: Charlie Austin. The 27 year old announced himself in style as he scored the winner at Old Trafford on his debut, but struggled with injury in his first six months at the club. Having a full pre-season to regain his fitness and half a season to settle in to the club could see Austin recreate his form for QPR, where he scored 18 goals in his solo Premier League season. Austin has the physicality to play the role of Graziano Pelle, but his finishing is definitely an upgrade on the Italian. Whether or not he fits in to Puel’s system though could be a sticking point for the striker.
One to Watch: Jake Hesketh. After making his debut in December 2014, Hesketh was a victim of Ronald Koeman’s reluctance to play young players. The attacking midfielder was linked to Manchester United in January after his impressive performances for the Under 21s. At 20 years old, Hesketh featured for the first team in pre-season playing in behind the front two, and may find that Claude Puel’s system and preference for developing young players could see him feature in the coming season.
Last Season: 6th