Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Southampton

saints

Image: eurosport.co.uk

Southampton drastically underperformed last season, but still managed an eighth place finish and reached the League Cup final. However, despite this seemingly good performance on paper, the Saints finished six points above seventeenth place Watford, and were 17 points worse off than the season before. Only the bottom five teams scored less goals than the Saints (41), and their top scorer was Nathan Redmond with just seven goals. Claude Puel’s sacking was largely accredited to Southampton’s poor home form, as only Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Sunderland had worse home records. New boss Mauricio Pellegrino guided newly-promoted Alaves to ninth in La Liga and the Copa del Rey final last season. The Saints have so far kept hold of star players, with Virgil van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand linked with moves away from the club. If they want to close the gap on Everton, it is vital that Saints retain their stars, as well as adding quality to the squad. Jan Bednarek, a Polish Under-21 international centre-back has joined the club, and the Saints have also broken their transfer record for midfielder Mario Lemina from Juventus for around £18m. Lemina will slot in alongside last season’s top performer Oriel Romeu at the base of the midfield, allowing Steven Davis to occupy a more natural number ten role. Dusan Tadic underperformed last season, scoring 3 goals and providing 7 assists, whilst record-signing Sofiane Boufal struggled to make an impact. Both will have to step up their game or face being replaced if Saints are going to push for a Europa League place again. However, creating chances was not Southampton’s main problem last season, as they finished seventh for chances created last season, but finished in the bottom five for shot conversion rates (7.45 chances per goal). The Saints have a favourable set of fixtures, facing only Manchester United out of last season’s top seven before November. This should allow new boss Pellegrino to ease himself in to the job and get some points on the board early on, winning over the fans in a way that Claude Puel never managed to.

Key Player: Manolo Gabbiadini. The Italian took the Premier League by storm after his surprise arrival in January, scoring six goals in his first four games, including two in the League Cup final. If the Saints are looking to improve on last season, Gabbiadini will be vital in offering a more clinical option up front than Shane Long or the recently sold Jay Rodriguez. Pellegrino has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in pre-season and Gabbiadini could feature either as the lone striker or as a part of the three in attacking midfield, which would be more akin to his position at Napoli.

One to Watch: Alfie Jones. The centre back has been a mainstay of the Under 23s side, captaining the side despite being only 19. After the emergence of Jack Stephens in the first team last season, Jones will be looking to emulate that with the future of Virgil van Dijk still uncertain. At 19, it is unlikely that the club’s Young Player of the Year for 2016 will feature much this season, but expect to see him around the first team squad, especially in the cup competitions.

Last Season: 8th

Predicted Finish: 8th

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Who Should Be On Puel’s Christmas List?

With the January transfer window approaching, Claude Puel sees his Southampton side sitting in seventh place. The window will be seen as a crucial one by Saints fans, with top scorer Charlie Austin facing several months out with a shoulder injury and the persisting rumours surrounding centre-backs  Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk. If the Saints are serious about securing qualification for European football for a third consecutive season then they may consider signing the following players.

1. Daniel Sturridge – Liverpool (Loan)

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Image: Mirror Football

The Liverpool striker has found himself out of Jurgen Klopp’s plans at Anfield, and the Reds are prepared to let him leave. Sturridge has played just 42 minutes in the last 9 games, and he would certainly see that increase at St Mary’s. The England striker has a knack for finding the back of the net, but injuries have reduced his effectiveness over the past two and a half seasons. A run of first team football could be what he needs to re-establish himself as England’s first choice striker, and possibly impress for a better move in the summer. A concern would be whether Sturridge would fit in to the Southampton system with his selfish style of play, whilst another stumbling block could be Liverpool’s desire to see a permanent deal struck instead of any loan deal.

2. Jermain Defoe – Sunderland (Transfer)

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Image: Daily Mail

Having almost single-handedly kept Sunderland up last season, Jermain Defoe has continued his form in to this year, netting 8 times in the league. But with the club’s current financial situation, the Black Cats may have to cash in on one of their few saleable assets. Defoe is your typical poacher, given a chance in the box and he will likely stick it in the back of the net. Their are two real problems with this transfer, though, the first being his age. At 34, this is not a long term transfer. Defoe would probably cost upwards of £10m, meaning Saints will not get any resale value. More importantly, Defoe spent a year playing for Portsmouth in 2008, so he would have some job winning over the St Mary’s faithful.

3. Alassane Plea – Nice (Transfer)

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Image: le10sport

 

One man that could be on Claude Puel’s radar is Nice striker Alassane Plea, who has netted 10 goals in Ligue 1 so far. The Frenchman can be also deployed behind the striker or on the wing, which would give greater depth all across the front line. Plea made 54 appearances for Nice under Puel, and has one cap at Under 21 level. As well as being a player that Puel will know, he also has the advantage of being in the mould of a Southampton signing. At 23, there is plenty of time for him to develop, giving the club the option of making a profit on him in a few seasons time. Outscoring Mario Balotelli this year means that Plea probably wouldn’t come cheap, and he would need an enticing offer to leave the French league leaders.

4. Michael Keane – Burnley (Transfer)

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Image: ITV

Claude Puel will certainly be looking out for a centre back, with rumours surrounding both of his current first choices. Burnley’s Michael Keane will certainly be a player that Southampton are monitoring. The 23 year old has been a mainstay in Burnley’s defence for the last three seasons, and his performances this season have seen him linked with a host of top clubs. Keane certainly seems a strong option in defence, with a wealth of first team experience, including two seasons in the Premier League. If Southampton were to sign him in January, then he would have the rest of the season to settle in to the team, learning under Van Dijk and Fonte, before stepping up to replace them next time around – much like Charlie Austin did this time last year. Keane is reportedly attracting the attention of much bigger clubs than Southampton, and with Burnley keen to hold on to their star defender, this would not be a cheap deal.

5. Fabian Schar – Hoffenheim (Transfer)

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Image: Daily Star

The Swiss centre back has been linked to both Southampton and West Brom recently after impressing at the Euros in the summer. After an inconsistent first season and a half at Hoffenheim, Schar could be open to a move away. At 25, Schar still hasn’t reached his prime, and can only benefit from half a season to adapt to the English game. His strengths fit with the style of defender that Puel seems to prefer, being very good on the ball whilst also being a physical presence in both areas. Although he was one of Switzerland’s stars from the summer, Schar has yet to impress in a top league, perhaps putting off potential suitors.

A further option available to Claude Puel is to recall young striker Sam Gallagher from his loan spell at Blackburn. Gallagher has nine goals in his 18 starts this year, which is a fantastic return after suffering a serious injury last season. Although might be beneficial in the immediate future to recall Gallagher, Puel will surely favour keeping him out on loan playing regular football, with Olufela Olamola and the returning Ryan Seager offering back up to Saints’ first choice strikers.

Who do you think Saints should target in the January window? Would you welcome a return for Morgan Schneiderlin? Have your say in the comments or let me know on twitter @MoodyMan147.