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

Advertisements

Southampton Miss Out On League Cup

Southampton were unable to claim their second major trophy in their history as they fell to a late 3-2 defeat to Manchester United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard put Jose Mourinho’s side two goals up, but a Manolo Gabbiadini brace pulled the Saints level. But it was a late Ibrahimovic header that saw the first silverware of the season head to Manchester.

league-cup-winners

Jose Mourinho has now won all four of his League Cup finals (2005, 2007, 2015, and 2017). Image: BBC Sport

It was a frustrating start for Saints, who started the game brightly. Southampton felt aggrieved when Gabbiadini turned in a Cedric Soares cross, only for the goal to be ruled out by the assistant. Replays showed that the Italian was clearly onside, whilst Ryan Bertrand, who was standing yards behind the action, was actually offside.

After that decision it was only a matter of time before United opened the deadlock. It came in the form of an Ibrahimovic free kick. The Swede swept the ball in to the bottom corner from 25 yards to give United an undeserved lead. Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead seven minutes before half time. Marcus Rojo strode forward, receiving the ball from out wide, before squaring the ball to Lingard, who had acres of space to curl the ball in to the far corner.

The game was looking lost for Saints, but there was a glimmer of hope just before half time. James Ward-Prowse whipped a low ball in to the six yard box just before half time, where Gabbiadini lost his man to guide the ball past David De Gea.

FBL-ENG-LCUP-MAN UTD-SOUTHAMPTON

Manolo Gabbiadini has now hit five (should have been SIX!) goals in his three games for Southampton. Image: Metro

And Saints fans only had to wait three minutes after the break for them to draw level. United thought that they had cleared a corner, but Steven Davis headed the ball back in to the box. Gabbiadini held off Chris Smalling as he turned and swept the ball home with his left foot.

A period of sustained Saints pressure followed. De Gea punched away a fierce Redmond volley, and Oriel Romeu hit the post with a header from a corner. In a rare United attack, an Anthony Martial cross found its way to the far post, where Jesse Lingard blazed over the bar despite being under no pressure. Jack Stephens almost gave Saints the lead with five minutes to go, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed clear his goal-bound header.

And it was Ibrahimovic who was the hero for Mourinho’s side, as he found the space between the Saints’ centre backs to nod home from close range to gift United the trophy in the 87th minute.It was a heartbreaking moment for Saints, who dominated large spells of the final and had the majority of the chances.

Despite not lifting the trophy, it was a final to remember for the Southampton fans. It was the first time that Saints had appeared in a major final since their 2003 FA Cup final appearance, and the fans were much more vocal than their Mancunian counterparts. Without the services of talisman Virgil Van Dijk and top goalscorer Charlie Austin, the players put in an incredible shift, but were ultimately punished by the difference in quality that United’s bank balance allows.

Southampton Player Ratings:

Forster – 6: Would maybe be disappointed with the first goal, but stood no chance for the other two.

Cedric – 7: Looked dangerous on the overlap, should have had an assist in the first half.

Stephens – 7: United felt he could have been sent off, but was unlucky to give away a free kick. Showed experience beyond his years.

Yoshida – 7: Really stepped up to fill the gap left by Fonte’s departure and Van Dijk’s injury.

Bertrand – 7: Strong going forward and kept Juan Mata quiet all game.

Romeu – 7: Picked up an early booking but put in a very solid display. Hit the post at 2-2.

Davis – 7: Classic Steven Davis. Covered every blade of grass and provided the second assist for Gabbiadini.

Tadic – 8: Most of Saints’ attacks came through him, unlucky to be taken off so early.

Ward-Prowse – 7: Picked up an assist and was a constant threat from dead ball situations.

Redmond – 7: Looked dangerous going forward, but was ultimately unable to recapture his finishing from the semi-final first leg against Liverpool.

Gabbiadini – 9: Scored twice and had a goal wrongly ruled offside. Should be very disappointed to be subbed off at 2-2.

Subs:

Boufal (Tadic, 77) – 6: Lacking match fitness and it showed.

Long (Gabbiadini, 83): Brought on too late to make an impact.

Rodriguez (Davis, 90): Brought on too late to make an impact, but was good to see him on the pitch at Wembley after his injury problems.

Unused: Hassen, Sims, Caceres, Hojbjerg, McQueen.

Manchester United Player Ratings:

De Gea 8; Valencia 6, Bailly 6, Smalling 5, Rojo 6; Herrera 7, Pogba 6; Lingard 7 (Rashford, 77, 6), Mata 6 (Carrick, 45, 8), Martial 6 (Fellaini, 90); Ibrahimovic 10.

Unused: Romero, Blind, Young, Rooney.