Premier League 2016/17 Preview – Southampton

charlie-austin

Charlie Austin scored just minutes in to his Southampton debut, but has struggled with injuries since. Image: Saintsfc.co.uk

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

Prediction: 7th  

Advertisements

Marquez makes it four in a row in Austin

Marc Marquez took his fourth consecutive Texan Grand Prix with a dominant display at the Circuit of the Americas. The Spaniard led the race from start to finish, with Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone completing the podium.

marquez texas

Marc Marquez’s dominace was shown by his 6 second margin of victory. Image: BT Sport

Valentino Rossi crashed out on lap three after he had slipped back from his front row start and was battling with Aleix Espargaro. Andrea Dovizioso will be wondering who he has upset, as for the second race in a row he was taken out. This time, Dani Pedrosa was unable to stop his Honda at turn one, skipping his bike in to the side of the Ducati rider. Dovi had been in third at the time, and this incident left the final podium place open for his team mate, Andrea Iannone.

Maverick Vinales overcame a tough battle with his Suzuki team mate to take fourth, whilst Scott Redding saw off fellow Brits Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith, who both crashed out within seconds of each other on lap eight. Michele Pirro, riding in place of the injured Danilo Petrucci, finished eighth, with Hector Barbera and Stefan Bradl rounding off the top ten.

In Moto2, Alex Rins dominated the race, whilst Sam Lowes’ second place takes him top of the championship. The Moto3 race saw Romano Fenati come out on top.

Who should be on Koeman’s shopping list?

If Southampton are going to settle for anything other than mediocrity this season, Ronald Koeman must look to strengthen his squad. First priority for the Saints must be keeping hold of stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama, but adding quality in a few positions could give them a chance of qualifying for Europe.

Charlie-Austin

Top of Koeman’s shopping list would have to be a striker. Southampton have struggled to find the net. Only four sides have had more shots this season than Saints (280), but only three have a lower conversion rate (11.82 shots-per-goal). Graziano Pelle is nursing an injury and is suffering a drop in form, with Shane Long the only back up. Jay Rodriguez can play up front, but he is also out until February, whilst Koeman does not seem to fancy young Ryan Seager, who has been prolific for the Under 21s. Charlie Austin would seem a perfect fit, as he is both clinical and physical. Austin has Premier League experience, however the price tag of £10-15 million may put the Saints off. A different option would be Patrick Bamford, after he cut short his loan spell at Palace. Bamford was prolific at Championship level last season and could be the goalscorer that Southampton need to rise up the table.

Sam Byram

A right back will also be high on Koeman’s priority list. The Dutchman doesn’t seem to fully trust summer signing Cedric defensively, but Cuco Martina, despite his wondergoal against Arsenal, and Maya Yoshida have been unreliable when deputising. Leeds’ Sam Byram would seem a great buy, and with the 22 year old out of contract at the end of the season would be available on the cheap. He has shone both at right back and right midfield for Leeds, and would be available for around £5 million, but this is likely to create a lot of Premier League interest. A loan option for Saints would be academy product Calum Chambers, who has found his chances limited with the form of Arsenal’s back four this season.

The final position that Ronald Koeman could look to strengthen is in attacking midfield. Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane have gone slightly off the boil, and neither Steven Davis and James Ward-Prowse have not been contributing enough going forward. Koeman doesn’t seem to have too much faith in the young summer signing Juanmi and the enigmatic Gaston Ramirez seems to be set to leave the club. Winger Andros Townsend has long been linked with Southampton, but fortunately Koeman seems to not be interested in him. Kevin Mirallas is said to be looking for a move away from Everton in search of first team football. Mirallas would add directness and goals to Saints’ attack, both of which are much needed. Koeman has also been linked with the young Ajax winger Anwar El Ghazi. The Dutchman made his senior début for the national team earlier this season, and has also been linked with Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke.

 

Starlet first over the stripe in American GP

Young prodigy Marc Marquez became the youngest ever winner of a Moto GP race in Texas at the tender age of just 20 years and 63 days old. Marquez, who became the youngest rider to qualify on pole during on Saturday, passed team-mate Dani Pedrosa on lap 13 at the inaugural race in Austin. World champion Jorge Lorenzo had a quiet race in third place from start to finish, with his Yamaha struggling to keep up with the Honda’s speed down the straights. Lorenzo’s lap times picked towards the end of the race to finish almost 2 seconds behind Dani Pedrosa, who fell away with 2 laps to go, citing “losing the strength in his left arm through the chicane section” for the 1.5 second gap from the race winner. As in Qatar, Britain’s Cal Crutchlow initially got stuck in 5th behind Stefan Bradl, before running off the track on lap 4. He lost little time though, rejoining the action having only dropped 1 place to Alvaro Bautista. Crutchlow passed Bautista through the chicanes on the next lap. The Monster Yamaha man then made up a 1.2 second gap to pass Stefan Bradl on lap 8, slipping through as the German ran slightly wide. Nine time world champion Valentino Rossi finished 6th with Aleix Espargaro again the leading CRT in 11th, ahead of 2 satellite bikes. Brits Bradley Smith and Michael Laverty finished 12th and 16th respectively. In front of a home crowd Ben Spies finished 13th and the ‘Texas Tornado’ Colin Edwards was forced to retire. It was a Spanish hat-trick as Nico Terol won in Moto2 and Alex Rins won in Moto3.