Blog Written by Cam Earley (@CamEarley97):
Last Saturday, Southampton kicked off their Premier League season, with a 1-1 draw against Watford, a game they will feel they should have won. Yet again, a variety of new faces filled the gaps left by the star players of the previous season, who have moved on to “bigger and brighter things,” or so it would seem. Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pellé have all left this summer, allowing to Southampton to deepen their pockets again. The South-Coast club have raked in around £50 million for these 3 players, leaving them with a lot of money, but a lot less quality in their ranks. Many fans are happy with the money, stating that the club can now buy new, exciting players. But wouldn’t it be better to keep the settled, well-performing players that you already have?
The Saints answered that question with a resounding no in the ’14-15 and ’15-16 seasons, as they continuously shocked the nation by improving, game after game, season after season, earning them a club record 6th place finish last season. An astonishing achievement considering they sold some of the most influential and important players to play for the club in the last decade, in Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin. Surely, however, they cannot do it again. Now with the extra game time of the Europa League, Southampton have never been blessed with squad depth, and many are tipping them to struggle. In 2014, however, some of the UK’s “top” pundits said they would be relegated. They finished 7th. So it really is an incredibly difficult task when trying to predict how a Southampton season will unfold.
It is way too early to tell where they will finish this season, but Southampton’s performance against Watford overall was disappointing. Although Watford set out to defend and did so very well, Southampton struggled to break them down. Although both Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic dazzled at times, it was evident they were missing something further forward. They certainly missed the aerial threat of Pellé when floating crosses into the box, and Mane’s ability to accelerate past defences and create something out of nothing. The performance of Redmond was particularly promising, rifling home a volley in the second half, following his £12 million move from relegated Norwich. Another bright spark was the second half arrival of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who showed a few nice touches, showing his ability to unlock the defence with a raking pass or a driving run. So it would seem Southampton’s head of recruitment has done it again? Saints fans will be joking that they’ll both be off to Liverpool next summer…
It would also seem that his job is far from over this summer, as Southampton legend and Euro 2016 winner Jose Fonte is reportedly looking for a Champions League club, with Manchester United and Arsenal being linked. Being a Southampton fan, I have mixed emotions about these rumours. He has proved there is still some loyalty on the South-Coast, and his sheer presence on and off the pitch has been so important in recent seasons. However, he is 32 years old and plays like it. He lacks in pace and technical ability, and has been bailed out many times over the last two seasons by the fantastic Virgil Van Dijk, before him Toby Alderweireld. If Southampton can replace with him a younger but talented defender, his leaving may not be as dreadful as it may seem.
New Southampton manager Claude Puel is worth a mention. His heart-warming season with Nice obviously captured the eye of Les Reed, and he decided to appoint him. It is well known that Puel trusts youth, with the likes of Alassane Plea, Vincent Koziello and Olivier Boscagli capturing my eye for Les Aiglons last season. The Southampton conveyer belt is obviously rather well known, but there isn’t much homegrown talent coming through at the moment. This means Puel may have to look past the academy this season, and dip into the market some more for a talent. There aren’t too many young central defenders with a lot of experience out there at the moment, but a player like Jason Denayer would be a good signing for the Saints, who doesn’t seem to be able to break into the City team, but has impressed out on loan.
It will be interesting to see what Southampton will do going into the last half of August, and will be exciting to see how they fare in the League and Cup. With some exciting new additions already in the squad, potentially more on the way, there could be another exciting season for the red and whites, but perhaps not record-breaking.