Author Archives: Ollie Price

Would Andre Ayew Be A Good Signing For Southampton?

Southampton have struggled to add to their squad this summer, but an interesting option could be to add Ghanaian misfit Andre Ayew to their squad.

It is now looking increasingly likely that Virgil van Dijk will leave Southampton for a huge fee, after the player was left out of the clubs training camp in France. It looks as if the club are coming to the realization that they will have to let the wantaway defender move on. If that happens, the club will be armed with a sizeable transfer kitty.

Ayew arrived at West Ham just a year ago for a reported fee of £20million. I expect that Southampton would not have to pay any more than that amount to convince West Ham to part with their, not so successful signing.

Last season Southampton certainly lacked creativity and goals. Ayew can score and assist regularly and would be a bright spark in the final third for the club. The Saints top assister last season was Dusan Tadic with just 5 and their top scorer was Nathan Redmond with 7.

Despite his limited game time last season (16 starts, 9 sub apps), Ayew notched up 6 goals and 3 assists. His best form without a doubt though came at Swansea where he was given more regular game time. He managed 12 league goals in 34 appearances for the Welsh side, playing predominantly in a wide midfield role.

The 27-year-old has struggled to impose himself at West Ham and with the club recently signing Mauro Arnautovic, Ayew’s game time will again be restricted and the temptation of more regular football and a chance to reinvent himself at Southampton could be one he’d be interested in.

Betfred’s Review Page on BettingTop10 tells you the pros and cons about the bookies and where you’ll be able to find best value if you fancy a flutter on Ayew completing this reported move to Southampton.

We can see potential in this rumour and certainly feel like Ayew would be a decent addition to this Southampton squad. He’d provide some goals from wide areas, and there’s not many players in this squad that are capable of that. If a narrower formation is played then he is also capable of playing through the middle. His versatility is certainly attractive.

Time for Southampton to cash in on Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk is one of the best defenders in the Premier League; there are no two ways about it. The Netherlands international has been on the books of Southampton since 2015, and over the past two seasons, he has shown what he is capable of.

Many would have been sceptical of Van Dijk when Southampton signed him from Scottish Premiership giants Celtic in the summer of 2015. It cost the Saints as much as £13 million in transfer fees, but the 26-year-old centre-back has proved to be worth every penny.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that top clubs in England want to sign Van Dijk in the summer transfer window. Liverpool have been strongly linked with the former Groningen star, who is also reported to be on the radar of Tottenham Hotspur, who finished second in the Premier League last season. 

Liverpool could do with a centre-back of Van Dijk’s quality in their quest to finish in the top four for the second successive campaign. As for Spurs, if they bring in the Dutchman, then it would not be a bad idea to take advantage of a £20 free bet bonus and place it on the North London club to win the Premier League title next season at odds of 8/1 – they would become that strong in defence.

Southampton have stated on more occasions than one that they are not planning to sell Van Dijk in the summer transfer window, but every player has his price. A bid of over £40 million should be enough to convince the Saints to part company with the former Celtic star. After all, it is only a matter of time before the Dutchman leaves St. Mary’s Stadium. The 26-year-old’s stock is high at the moment, and it would make sense for Southampton to cash in on him and then bring in maybe a couple of young and promising centre-backs.

The Saints’ model of buying low and selling high has worked for a while now. Southampton took a chance on Van Dijk two years ago, and it worked. Instead of holding onto the defender for one more season, they should now be willing to let him leave this summer. There are plenty of young and promising defenders out there for the Saints to buy on the cheap this summer, develop them and then sell them at a high price in a few years’ time. Even if new manager Mauricio Pellegrino wants an established centre-back, he would still get to buy one with the money from Van Dijk’s sale and still have some change.

Celtic centre-back Erik Sviatchenko would not be a bad signing for Southampton; the 25-year-old Denmark international would come relatively cheap as well. Kieran Tierney is a left-back by trade, but the 20-year-old Celtic star could be moulded into a centre-back. Everton may not be willing to sell Mason Holgate in the summer transfer window, but the Saints could try to sign the 20-year-old, who can operate as a full-back or as a centre-back, on a season-long loan deal.

Charlie Austin’s fitness will be key in our upcoming season

Many Southampton fans are unhappy with how the 2016-17 season turned out, but should they be? There were many clubs that performed below par last season, and none more so than the former Champions Leicester City. Other teams like Manchester City, Stoke City and West Ham will all be looking for a big improvement on last term too. 

Southampton manager Claude Puel has come under criticism, but it’s kind of weird how a successful season comes back to haunt a club. Southampton came 6th in the league in the 2015-16 season and finished on 63pts. In the major football betting markets last season, the betting firms were clearly not fancying the Saints to repeat that. The problem that Claude Puel faced was twofold.

Had the Saints Peaked?

The fact is that Southampton are not a “top six” club despite coming 6th in the 2015-16 season. Their financial resources are far behind the traditional big six in England, so it was always going to be difficult for the Saints to replicate their previous form. Secondly (and something that went largely unnoticed) every single team in the top six finished last season with more points than the previous season.

This acted like a syphon on the rest of the division and led to many clubs being compressed in terms of points totals. An absolutely staggering 94pts more were earned by the top six clubs in the 2016-17 season, than in the previous year. This is a factor that must be taken into consideration when we look to assess Puel’s first season in the top flight of English football.

Southampton Faded

Many Saints fans were unhappy at how they finished the campaign, but they were not the only club to tail off towards the end. Southampton finished the season winning only two form their final nine, and it’s safe to say that such form is worrying for onlooking fans. However, there are a number of key factors that would have no doubt played their part in this poor run.

The shoulder injury to Charlie Austin was a big loss to the Saints, having fired in six goals in just thirteen appearances wearing the red and white stripes. A big negative for the Southampton fans over the 2016/17 season was their lack of goals overall, and this is an area that Puel (if he stays beyond this season) needs to correct.

Austin finished the season as the clubs highest scorer, and that is staggering considering he spent five months out injured. It’s clear that the Southampton fans expect greater contributions from players such as Shane Long, Jay Rodriguez and even Manolo Gabbiadini to some extent.

Long is a hit and miss striker and his stats are there back that up. Just 18 goals from 89 appearances won’t give opposing defenders sleepless nights before a game. As for Rodriguez, there are glimpses of his former self as games go by, but to tell the truth, he’s never been the same since that injury in 2014.

Gabbiadini arrived in the January transfer window from Napoli, where he scored 15 goals from 56 games, and a grand total of 42 goals during the entirety of his time in Italy. He kicked off life on South coast in immense form, scoring six from his first four appearances, but then ended the season on that same tally.

Do the Saints have the quality they need?

The fact is that Southampton clearly cannot go out and buy the top quality strikers like other clubs can. They need to stumble on a new “wonder kid” or another gem using their black box method to recruitment, and whilst the jury is still very much out on just how good Gabbiadini is, fans will want to see a greater involvement from the Italian come next season.

This makes Charlie Austin key to their chances of a successful year in the 2017-18 season. Austin has scored 93 goals in 183 games for Burnley, QPR and Southampton, and that goal every other game strike rate is exactly what the Saints need. They can’t just go into next season relying on Austin though, and they need better back up beyond Gabbiadini. Is it time for both Long and Rodriguez to move on?

Free-flowing attacking football has been engraved into the DNA of Southampton Football Club in recent years, and in order for fans to look back on the 2016-17 season as a strong building block, that needs to be corrected; I’m certain that Charlie Austin will play a vital role in doing so. 

Lap of depreciation

Last Sunday was the first time that I haven’t stayed for the lap of appreciation in my 16 seasons as a season ticket holder, which speaks volumes (I did have to get my eldest back to Uni, but that wouldn’t have stopped me before).

This was no reflection on the players, who I feel have played well individually and within the framework that they are presented. They have been professional throughout, but obviously aren’t enjoying the football.

If I’m being honest, it was an element of lethargy from me (probably derived from the style of play that I’d just witnessed again) and the fact that I had no desire to see and hear Puel being abused. He comes across as a reasonable character, professional, knowledgeable and with a clear style that he has communicated very well to the players.

From other fans perspective on the outside looking in (and no doubt with the benefit of hindsight, from our perspective in due course) his results have matched and exceeded his start of season brief – top half finish, cup final appearance and blooded youngsters. However, it’s passionless football. I’ve left St Marys of late without any emotions whatsoever. It’s effective, functional but not entertaining and that’s in a league (top 6 aside) that has been poor this season.

Yesterday was a missed opportunity to sign off the season with a smile, which makes me think he’s knows his fate already. All too often, the switched ball to an overlapping full back was on, but the full back was shackled / the midfield drove forward into a static wall (Austin(!) or Gabbi aside) of Saints and stoke players / the ball was worked to the goal line and cut back, to where a midfielder should have been, but wasn’t / the ball played into a central midfielder on the edge of the box had to be stopped and then returned to the deeper lying midfielder, as no runs were being made beyond. That wasn’t a case of unwilling, disinterested or lazy footballers, it was obviously the cautious system they were playing to.

As others have mentioned, in the second half of the last game of the season, at home, losing 1-0 to a pretty unadventurous Hughes side and with nothing to lose, why not try Austin and Gabbi together? Why, because it doesn’t fit the system.

Most worrying though is that the players don’t look happy. Bertrand is a classic case. He’s never been found wanting before, nearly always a 8/10 + in my books, but he’s looked frustrated and dare I say bored of late. He’s been professional but can’t wait to get off the pitch at the end of every match. Yesterday, at times he looked like he was wary of getting any knocks etc (protecting a move?).

With the lack of any real passion on the pitch (Oriel aside of course – THAT tackle!!) transferring to the stands, the inevitable happens in that the silence is only broken by moans and jeers (Forster, Targett and Tadic being the most recent recipients).

And so starts a downward cycle…

I don’t want to be negative (8th place, cup final, Europe, League 1) but it’s becoming difficult not to and I’m therefore convinced that something has to change.

One thing won’t change though …I’ll still be there, in my lucky pants, week in, week out ! COYR!

Southampton: A Prediction For The Rest Of The Season

Southampton finished the 2015/2016 Premier League campaign in sixth place in the standings and, as a result, they booked their place in the Europa League. For this special article of Southampton we teamed up with, according to their predictions The Saints aim to repeat the success and it remains to be seen if their participation in the League Cup final is going to help them meet the goal.

Southampton chiefs were forced to sell several important players in the summer window, with coach Ronald Koeman taking over the reins at Everton. New signings obviously needed time to adapt to the new surroundings and that is the main reason why Claude Puel’s team sit in tenth position in the Premier League standings ahead of Matchday 30. However, the Saints did remarkably well to reach the League Cup final and that could help them save the season.

The St. Mary’s Stadium outfit produced a fine display in the title game at Wembley Stadium, but Manchester United eventually came from behind and won the League Cup trophy. Anyhow, Southampton have good chance of booking their place in the Europa League and they will represent England in the European competition should Jose Mourinho’s team happen to secure a top-five finish. Considering that the Red Devils have been in a thrilling form in 2017, there is every chance they will help Claude Puel’s charges make it to the Europa League.

Speaking of the English top flight, Southampton’s main goal is to finish the season in top ten. The Saints, though, are only nine points clear of bottom three in the Premier League standings, meaning that they will have to be at their sharpest in the remainder of the season if they are to avoid a shocking relegation to the Championship. Last season’s top scorer Graziano Pelle and key midfielder Victor Wanyama have been sorely missed in the 2016/2017 Premier League campaign and, no doubt, the club management will have to be very busy in the upcoming transfer window if they are to reinforce the squad.

Southampton have yet to face the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in the second half of the season, meaning that their Premier League status could be in great danger in the season finale. The Saints need to collect as many points as possible from upcoming league fixtures against the likes of Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and WBA if they are to avoid the drop to the danger zone, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Claude Puel’s team need to take every single match very seriously if they are to retain their spot in top ten and the fact that they scored eight goals in total in victories over Sunderland and Watford is giving fans a reason for optimism.

Many football predictions suggest that Southampton will represent England in the Europa League next season, but their success depends on Manchester United. Given their tough fixture list, the Saints are unlikely to finish the season in the top half of the table, but they are definitely capable of securing yet another Premier League survival. If you are looking for more predictions of the Premier League, we suggest checking out this page:

Can Manchester United Recover From Their Bad Season

“Unlucky” was the term used by Mourinho to justify his side’s poor start to the 2016/17 campaign. 12 games into the season, United find themselves 6th in the table 9 points adrift of league leaders, Chelsea.

Even before United arrived at Wembley to play the 2016 FA Cup final against Palace, the writing was on the wall for Louis Van Gaal. The club had failed to qualify for the Champions League for the 2nd time in three seasons & the fans were vocal in their displeasure at the Dutchman’s reign at the top. Despite going onto win their 1st FA Cup title after a span of 12 years, Van Gaal was sacked within 48 hours of their triumph.

The appointment of Jose Mourinho, who himself had been sacked by Chelsea midway through the season, was thought to be the perfect choice for the club. Whether it be Porto, Chelsea, Inter or Real, Jose Mourinho has been a manager who has tasted success where ever he has been.

With almost one-third of the season having been played out, many are left wondering whether Mourinho has lost his Midas touch. United currently find themselves 6th in table with just 19 points from 12 games. United got off to the best possible start to season by winning the FA Community Shield and then following it up with three consecutive league wins.

The season took a sour turn following their 2-1 defeat at home to City & the club haven’t been able fully recover till now. Over the course of the last three months, United have been largely inconsistent taking two steps backward for every step they take forward. While the 3-1 defeat at the hands of Watford was shocking their 4-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea was embarrassing. It was the first time since 1999 that United had a lost an away game in the Premier League by 4 or more goals.

Europa League didn’t do the club any favors as they found themselves 3rd in their group after 4 games into the competition. The EFL trophy has been their only “triumph” so far this season having reached the quarter-finals beating Manchester City 1-0 in the process. Despite all the negatives we’ve listed till now it should be noted that the club are slowly but surely recovering from their slump.

The club has only managed to pick up 5 points from their last three leagues games but to be fair to Mourinho & his men they should have won against both Burnley & Arsenal. United have also almost ensured themselves qualification to the knock-out stages of the Europa League having beaten  Feyenoord 4-0 at home in their 5th game of the group, the result was important but their performance as a team was almost perfect.

Apart from Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia & Juan Mata none of the other United players have made a mark so far this season. Many of the players including Depay, Schneiderlin, Darmian, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw & Bastian Schweinsteiger have been frozen out of the side after failing to impress their manager. With names such as Griezmann, David Alaba & James Rodriguez being linked with the club right now it wouldn’t be a surprise if the club witnesses a mass exodus during the winter transfer window.

It would be a understatement to term Paul Pogba as a disappointment so far, the world’s most expensive player has certainly not lived up to his tag till now & has gone missing on one too many occasions this season. Zlatan despite having a strong start to the campaign has fallen off form & is missing sitters from 6 yards out. Arguably the biggest disappointment for United this season has been the form of Captain Wayne Rooney; the England international has failed to recover from his torrid time at Euro 2016 & has been relegated to the bench for both club & country.

Mourinho is someone who doesn’t alter his tactics according to his players, he insists on them playing his way & it may take time for them to adapt. If the club can build on their current run of form there is no reason as to why they can’t force themselves back into the top 4 & maybe even register a maiden Europa League win.

What now?

With qualification to the Europa League knockout stages almost confirmed, the club can focus on the Premier League & EFL Cup during the next two months. The do have a testing list of fixtures till the end of the year but if they can string some results together they should be able to stay in touch with the top 4 going into the 2nd half of the season.

Mourinho still expects his club to put in a title challenge however the bookies have relegated them to 5th favorites for the title with William Hill who has complete coverage of the football matches today from A-Z football teams – check who to bet on and  giving them odds of 25/1 to win the title.

Supporting Southampton from across the pond

I’ve been following soccer for a while now. Sorry, I’ve been following football for a while now. I’ve played since I was just a little boy, and growing up I only really knew the big names: Man United, Barcelona, Real Madrid. I knew nothing about any other teams, but I started learning more about them as my football viewing kept on.

I eventually found myself admiring Southampton for the same reasons any fan might. I like watching attractive football, I like the idea of supporting a team with young talented prospects, and who doesn’t like to root for an underdog every now and again?

But the one thing that kept me tuning into Saints games was simple. Southampton to me, seemed to be a club that wholly trusted itself. Regardless of what the premier league throws the team’s way, the Saints keep producing because they believe in their philosophy.

I don’t know any other Americans who support Southampton. American EPL fans will recognize the club, FIFA players will be familiar with its players, but beyond that there’s no one. I think there’s a good chance that I’m the only American Southampton supporter in the world.

My friends will continue to follow their clubs: United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton. (I even know a Watford supporter, believe it or not). But I’m good with that. I’m going to root for the Saints.

This year, at the start of the EPL season, I decided to really increase my following of Southampton. Like, truly become a supporter. It didn’t bother me that I thought we’d be in for a tough season. Sure, I wanted to win loads of games and push on to bigger and better achievements, but I was realistic. I was extremely skeptical of implementing a diamond in midfield, and although I was thoroughly excited at the purchase of Nathan Redmond – who I’m a huge fan of – were we really going to be testing him as a striker?

But as it turns out, we’ve done well at implementing both of those things and more.  

I’ve watched all the games, or at least as many as I could, and to be honest, I’m pretty happy overall. Heading toward Christmas-time and looking at where we stand in the table, I think we’ve fared decently. We’ve had many quality outings, especially in the Europa League, and our football has been good. As Puel said early on, attractive football can “give pleasure to the players,” but it “gives pleasure to the fans also.” I think if we trust how we’ve been playing, success will come.

Southampton’s identity is something that I will respect for as long as it remains intact – it’s a truly unique thing in modern football. That, plus the continued success of recent years, is truly irresistible from my perspective. There’s still plenty more twists and turns in the remainder of this season, but in this moment, I’m hopeful we can fight for yet another high finish.

We march on.

Written by Nick Thelen – @itsmenickyt

An analysis of Southampton’s attacking flair over the years

Despite the fact that Southampton FC have only been back in the Premier League for four years, we as fans have seen a number of “exoduses” – as the media would label them – and an influx of new players every Summer. We have lost players in every position and consequently, we have been forced into rebuilding in every position; in some cases we have recruited younger, more talented players at a cheaper price, but there have also been some players who have not lived up to expectation, despite the club’s continued progress and development.

However, I would like to focus on the role of the attacking midfielder at Southampton Football Club. In the last month, Saints have broken their record club transfer fee with the signing of Sofiane Boufal for a reported £16million from LOSC Lille, a player who entices the St Mary’s faithful greatly. We have also this week been linked with Hatem Ben Arfa, who has just signed for Paris Saint-Germain. In my opinion, however, this is simply lazy journalism from several media outlets; Puel was praised with saving HBA’s career and HBA has fallen out with Unai Emery, so putting those two together makes for an easy story. Finally this week, young Jake Hesketh put in a stellar performance against Crystal Palace in the EFL cup, coming in for Tadić in the number 10 role, he made some fantastic passes and even scored a well-taken goal. Now with all of these players, rumours, performances and most importantly, our emphasis on a narrow system with the number 10 being the main creative outlet, I wanted to discuss the role of the attacking midfielder at Southampton FC since our return to the Premier League.

The first and probably most controversial of these players would be Adam Lallana; a fan favourite for many years whose reputation was tarnished after leaving to Liverpool. Despite the fact that many Saints fans will still despise Lallana for the way he left, none can deny his quality and malleability. He can play on both wings, behind the striker and can play in almost any tactical system.

Jurgen Klopp seems to have him down as one of the first names on his Liverpool team-sheet every weekend too; Lallana always creates chances and even scores a few goals, despite the fact that he is competing with other brilliant players in Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané. The way in which Lallana dribbles with the ball makes up for his lack of pace that so many other wingers/attacking midfielders rely on, and the way he can pick out a pass means he is far more reliable than other players with whom he has had to compete against. However, whether Lallana would work in Saints’ current system is not 100% certain; Puel forces the strikers out wide, with the false-9 pressing centrally when Southampton lose the ball, therefore pressing the fullbacks and centre-backs simultaneously. In addition, Lallana has a tendency to push out wide to look for space rather than play more narrowly, which is where Puel wants his attacking midfielder. I have no doubts over Lallana’s quality, but he is very different to other players who would fit in more comfortably under Puel, and others who would have been the focal point of Koeman’s system.

Secondly, we have Dušan Tadić; a player of great quality who was brought in to replace Lallana himself. His crossing and passing are second to none, with the third most assists by any player in the past two Premier League seasons combined. His ability to beat a man with his dribbling and skill is fantastic to watch, despite his lack of pace that, again, most wingers and attacking midfielders rely on. Tadić has become a fan favourite due to his ability to flourish in every system he has played in; this includes the 4-3-3 under Koeman, the 5-2-1-2 which Koeman used during a slump in his reign as Saints manager, the 442 diamond, and finally, in Puel’s new system, where he plays a very similar role to that which he played in the short-lived wing-backs formation under Koeman. However, Tadić does have the tendency to drift out wide instead of staying in the centre.  He doesn’t seem to be as comfortable pressing up the pitch, as he only wants to attack and create, but he still has great ability to drop into pockets of space between the lines, which many players would miss. His vision and footballing brain are what separates him from other stereotypical wingers or attacking midfielders, and it is also the reason that I think he is a better player than Lallana, with his stunning deliveries from set-pieces allowing more threats from free-kicks and corners. I, as a Saints fan, am very excited to see how Tadić grows this season as the main outlet of creativity, as I hope his fluid style and flair shine through, whilst also learning how to move into that pressing false-9 role when on the defence. This could be a career-defining season for Tadić, as he looks to become the complete trequartista that can bring deeper-lying players into the game, score goals and make fantastic runs, rather than just being another Premier League playmaker.

Thirdly, we have one of the brightest young talents in European football at the moment; Sadio Mané. Despite only playing for Southampton for two seasons, Mané proved himself time and time again as an explosive threat, who can provide pace down the wing, yet still play down the middle as a second striker.

He has all the makings of a brilliant premier league player; his dribbling is incredible and he is one of the quickest players in the league, but under a manager such as Jurgen Klopp, I believe that he can fine tune the things that are holding him back from reaching the same level as the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard; his finishing and his passing.

His movement, however, is up there with the best in the Premier League and I am intrigued to see how he develops in the coming seasons, as Mané could provide the injection of pace and the spark that Liverpool have been missing – this could potentially allow them to truly challenge for the Champions League. However, it almost seemed as though he needed the team to revolve around him, rather than every player fluidly working and communicating together to ensure that the team’s system became the priority. This is what Puel, and many other managers want in from their players, which is why the loss of Mané may not be as hard-felt as many Saints fans want to believe.  However, with that said, Puel is credited with bringing Hatem Ben Arfa’s career back from the dead; a man who believed that he was bigger than every team he played for, who wanted the system to play for him rather than vice-versa. In this regard, I would have loved to see Mané play under Puel, to see how the aforementioned Senegalese winger developed even further at St. Mary’s.

Finally, we have Sofiane Boufal – Southampton’s brand new £16million club record signing, who has come into the club off the back of a fantastic season with LOSC Lille. Of which he scored 11 goals in 29 league games in Ligue 1 from left wing. He has already been likened to Eden Hazard, Riyad Mahrez and Dimitri Payet, comparisons which are going to make Saints fans believe that he can be the “new Sadio Mané”. But with regards to Boufal’s qualities and nuances; I would never claim to be a connoisseur of French league football, as it is a league that has not interested me as much as the likes of La Liga or the Premier League. With that said, I have read about Boufal since his arrival at Southampton; he seems to be a left winger who loves to cut inside onto his favoured right foot, constantly wanting to shoot or create chances for his team. It seems that he possesses the dribbling, skills and pace that can fill the gap that Mané has left. He will look to play directly on the left wing with the intention to dictate play in the way that Hazard so often does, whilst also holding the skill set to cut inside and score.

Although, I am very intrigued to see how he fits into Puel’s narrow system; Redmond has made the conversion to a striker, Tadić has become our star central attacking midfielder and all of the strikers are learning to drift wide without the ball, so as to suffocate the possibilities of the opposition playing out from the back. Yet Boufal has been known to play as a left winger, so, in this case I am really interested to see if Puel decides to play him as our main Number 10 (even with Tadić playing well and Hesketh wanting to breakthrough) or if he is one of the two strikers who drifts out wide during the game, as he is already used to.

Quite simply, “Attacking midfielder” is far too broad of a term nowadays, as there are so many intricacies when it comes to each player. Some are strictly wingers who look to break away and win games with their crosses, and some are inside forwards who wish to cut inside and win a game all on their own by scoring after a fantastic run into the box.

Dušan Tadić will be extremely important for Southampton FC this season as they look to use the narrow system to penetrate teams under Claude Puel; I’m hoping that Tadić himself becomes a complete trequartista, who is able to dictate the tempo of a game, make passes that others would not even see, and to even make runs and score solo goals – something that his game is currently lacking. I firmly believe that Tadić will be able to take the bull by the horns and fine tune his game to become the style of player that Saints need him to be, in the puppet-master role as Kevin De Bruyne has done for Manchester City.

I am also very confident that Sofiane Boufal will hit the ground running, as Sadio Mané did before him, due to the fact that the club place a lot of emphasis on flourishing talents from not just England, but from all over the world. We as Saints fans hope that he can be the new Riyad Mahrez or Dimitri Payet, pulling defences apart on both flanks whilst allowing his central teammates to make shadowing runs and also to create from the centre too. Should these players live up to expectation, Southampton again are in for another fantastic season. to implement our brilliant academy graduates too. 

Once again though, Southampton FC have a good mix of quality and depth allowing for competition in all of the attacking midfield positions. There is pace and power, skill and dribbling, and also distinct passing and crossing ability, in addition, Southampton also have the possibility to turn to their brilliant academy. Bear in mind that others in the U23s and U18s will be looking to push on under a manager who favours young players too. Saints fans will be more than pleased come May, as I expect attractive, fluid and dominant football with lots of ball possession – which is what fans truly want to see at their football club.

Management and mannerisms

In the last few years, the Premier League has seen an influx of world-class managers, and in the modern game, we now know more about them than ever.  Their tactics are scrutinised and analysed until which point that every fan seems to know the intricate differences between Conte’s brilliant wing-back formation with Italy during the 2016 EUROs, and Brendan Rodgers’ three-at-the-back formation which took the Premier League by storm in 2013/14.

However, there is obviously a lot more going on than the “Average Joe” might believe, with regards to formations, player roles and managers pinpointing areas of weakness in their opposition’s team. What most interests me, however, is the way in which a manager can carry himself, both in the public eye of press conferences and in the privacy of the training ground. The way in which a manager asserts himself as the focal point of a football club after a move is of utmost importance.

The past three managers at Southampton FC – including the latest man at the helm Claude Puel – seem to have very different ways of carrying themselves. In pre and post-match press conferences they have all acted in very different ways and on the training ground they seem to have very different ways of getting involved.  Not to mention that if rumours are to be believed, they also have very different ways of dealing with player disputes. But how have their respective mannerisms altered results on the pitch? this is something that intrigues me greatly.

Firstly, we have Mauricio Pochettino – a man who came to England with little knowledge of the English language. But simply based on how many players followed him out of St. Mary’s to different clubs in the summer of 2014, we can infer that there was a true bond and sense of camaraderie among the players in his squad. He joined in with training sessions, taking a hands on approach and tried to teach the players everything he knew; both technically with their feet and tactically with their brains. He seemed to love the youth players, using many of them in all competitions; Luke Shaw was a regular starter for Pochettino and owes a lot of his development to the Argentine. Sam McQueen made his debut away to Sunderland in the FA cup, and Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher made their competitive debuts under Pochettino too. He built an aura of trust and friendship with all of his players, which is why so many refused to stay when he left in 2014.

Pochettino has been described as working his players very hard; he will not tolerate anything less than 100% effort from his team.  Victor Wanyama claims that Pochettino himself was the main reason behind his recent move to Spurs – another indicator that players bought into him as both a football manager and on a human level. Wanyama also stated that Pochettino’s pre-season was a gruelling regime, which meant all players would be at peak fitness come the start of the season, but was an embodiment of the man himself and his philosophies and mannerisms; 100% effort or no playing time. I personally believe that Erik Lamela’s rebirth as a star in the Premier League can be attributed to Pochettino’s traits yet again.

With regards to Pochettino in the media, we as Saints fans are led to believe that he continued to use a translator to make sure that he was not misquoted in the media. He would always answer questions directly; giving pure truth and making sure that the general public knew exactly what he wanted to say. As a man, many respected him; he never seemed to shy away or lie, he instils bonds among his squads and he knows how to win, which led to his brilliant 8th place finish with Saints in 2013/14. In this regard, I personally believe that Pochettino will go on to have a brilliant managerial career, as he gets the best out of his players in every way.

Secondly, we have a vastly different character to Mauricio Pochettino; the former Saint Ronald Koeman. He came to England with an almost native-fluency of the spoken language, he played at the highest level under some of the best managers of all time and he was very tactically proficient. However, Koeman was a hard-headed individual and a stubborn manager who would not allow his players to undermine him in any regard. Every photo and video released by Saints’ media team of the training sessions held by Koeman show him, with arms folded, on the touchline, barking orders at his players. He never seemed to get involved with the training sessions and teach his players, despite being considered as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.

Quite simply, if we are to believe many rumours circulating Southampton F.C, it seemed that Koeman did not care for many of his players during his two-year tenure at St Mary’s. In the last few months for example, Sadio Mané was used as a scapegoat for Southampton’s poor form; during the 2015/16 season, Mane arrived 15 minutes late for a pre-match team meeting in an away fixture against Norwich City, and as a result, Koeman dropped him. This seemed like a fair punishment at the time, but soon after, confirmed reports stated that Mané believed he was perfectly on time. The mix-up was in fact on Koeman’s behalf, after  changing the time of the meeting without Mane being notified. This was the supposed beginning of the breakdown in the relationship between Koeman and Mane – one that led to Mané’s exit this summer. There are also murmurs that Tadić and Cédric would have left St Mary’s if Koeman stayed as they were tired of his dictator-like attitude. They were also reportedly made to feel like scapegoats during the team’s drop in form.

Finally, again if we can believe rumours, Koeman did not care for any of the youth team. He never bothered to watch their games, he refused to promote many of them to the first team and even went on a “foul-mouthed tirade” at a 20-year old Matt Targett during a training session, abusing him in front of many of his friends and colleagues. This again is a sudden misstep from what Pochettino had installed previously, and what Southampton F.C. want to promote in a football club.

However, in press conferences, Koeman embodied the word confidence; he nonchalantly ignored any journalist that he felt was asking unimportant questions, he blatantly lied about the Everton link and often made jokes at the journalists themselves. One thing we cannot doubt; Ronald Koeman is a winner, a disciplinarian who will most likely rise to the top and succeed in his managerial career, given his two record-breaking season in the dugout of St Mary’s. But Southampton fans should not be worried to lose him; he may have broken records and taken us to Europe, but he did not put emphasis on the club’s structure or philosophies, and his mannerisms suggest to me that he thought he was bigger than the club.

The 30th June 2016, enter the latest man to become Southampton manager; Claude Puel. With a wealth of experience in France and a history of promoting young players; including giving debuts to Yohan Cabaye and Eden Hazard, and being attributed with turning Thierry Henry into a striker from a winger, Puel seems to be an ideal fit for Southampton’s philosophies.

With regards to his personality and mannerisms, it is very hard to judge him based on his two months at St Mary’s, but I have personally seen encouraging signs. He seems to want camaraderie among his camp, constantly complimenting his players in the press and engaging with training sessions (if we can believe the Saints media team!). Nathan Redmond is a name that springs to mind; Puel has likened him to Henry already, saying that he could be a fantastic signing for years to come. Redmond then returned him with an equalising debut goal vs Watford.

Puel seems to engage the media very well, his knowledge of the English language has impressed me greatly already and he speaks in a very calm and collected manner, rather than giving a brash response. Puel himself claimed that it is very important to carry oneself well in the public eye; if he wants to scream at his players after a poor performance, then so be it, but once the cameras are on him, or as soon as the newspaper journalists start to take note, it is of utmost importance to stay professional and calm, so as to keep the aura and reputation of the club focused and pristine even in hard times. This is something I have admired greatly; I think it will enhance the attitudes of players too as they will most likely buy into his way of thinking if he continues to compliment them and keep their bond of trust private inside the club.

Finally, many former players under Puel have constantly praised his attitude towards his players; he buys into them and invests time into improving not only the club, but the players themselves, and they in turn reward him with performances and results. Thierry Henry has been full of praise for him and his way of acting on the training ground, claiming that he is the “perfect fit” for Southampton F.C.

I think it speaks great volumes that new club record-signing Sofiane Boufal rejected multiple offers to come to St Mary’s. Boufal’s agent himself even stated that had Laurent Blanc remained in charge at PSG, Paris would have been the destination for Boufal this summer. In his first interview as a Saint, he constantly attributed Puel as the reason for his move, which gives me a new sense of confidence about the new manager. His reputation in France precedes him; a brilliantly technical coach, with the level-headedness of a future world-class manager. Puel himself has attributed all of his characteristics to Arséne Wenger, and if Saints fans get even the slight taste of one of the Premier League’s and world’s best ever managers, they will be delighted with Puel’s appointment.

Personally, I am expecting a similar tenure to that of Mauricio Pochettino; Puel will start slow and steadily get the players onside, creating a bond and friendship between his backroom staff and players that will lead to stable and successful seasons in the future. Yet unlike Pochettino, I trust in Puel that if all goes to plan, he will stay loyal to Southampton F.C. and remain at the head of the club for many years, as he has done at his previous clubs.

More than just a game

After yet another record-breaking year, Southampton are currently preparing to reap the rewards of their sixth place Premier League finish last season –  the opportunity to impress in the Europa League group stages.

The achievement was celebrated wildly on the South coast, and understandably so given that the club have yet another opportunity to go toe to toe with some of Europe’s biggest and greatest names. To the players of last season, it’s also seen as a chance to right the wrongs of their premature exit last time out.

After the disappointment of getting knocked out by an inferior FC Midtjylland team, many thought that this was the end of our European hopes, and that our chance to really make ourselves known amongst Europe’s elite football clubs had gone. Matters were made worse by the fact that had we defeated FC Midtjylland, Southampton would’ve been drawn alongside Italian giants Napoli in the group stage – this left fans wondering what could have been had we qualified and faced players like Gonzalo Higuaín.

But, despite all this, the 2015/16 season saw Southampton better their league position for the 7th year in a row. A remarkable achievement given the fact that we were continually written off and tipped for relegation by many “experts.” This trend of selling players, being written off and over-achieving has been repeated and repeated until we found ourselves in 6th place, and now, we have our reward. Just last week, the club was drawn into group K alongside Israeli Premier League champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the Czech First League runners-up Sparta Prague, and Italian super club Inter Milan: the 9th most successful football club in the world.

For many (myself included) to watch Southampton play at the San Siro against Inter Milan in a competitive football match is unimaginable. It’s something that I thought until recently,  we as Saints fans could only dream about. Whilst growing up, Inter Milan was always one of the superpowers of world football, and is it any surprise when they held such great players like Ibrahimovic, Figo, Eto’o, Ronaldo, Baggio and Matthaus amongst others.

Yet despite the history and power behind Inter Milan, we – Southampton Football Club – have found ourselves in this unbelievable position. This draw has acted as a reward to the fans, staff, players and owners. It’s rewarded those who shunned interest from other clubs to stay with us, and it has rewarded the fans whose support never wavered.  

This draw is for the fans who saw us hit the bottom of League 1 with minus 10 points, for those who made the Tuesday travels to Rochdale, for those who stood proudly at Old Trafford just last season, and for those who watched our relegation fixture against Manchester United in 2005.

On top of this, it signifies the influence of the Liebherr family who saved us from liquidation. When they took over, Southampton were on -10 points in the 3rd tier of English football. That year, we finished the season with a 3-1 win at home to Southend and gained a respectable 7th place finish. 12 days later, Inter Milan would beat Bayern Munich 2-0 to win the Champions League final with the likes of Diego Milito, Javier Zanetti and Wesley Sneijder all at their disposal. Yet 7 years down the line these two teams find themselves playing against each other in a competitive match. Imagine telling someone that after Southampton’s 1-1 draw against Millwall on the opening day of the 09/10 League 1 season.

For me, such an achievement epitomises everything great about our beloved club. This achievement was made possible by the unrivalled training facilities that we possess, the trust in our youth, the mysterious black box, those who know what it means to be a Saint, and every last player that has had the pleasure of putting on that red and white shirt.

But regardless of these achievements and the significance of it all, we have a game to play and a trophy to win. We aren’t in this tournament to make up the numbers, nor will we treat it any less than any other game. We aren’t going to the San Siro for a holiday, we’re going there to get 3 points, and along the way, we will have 5000 loyal Saints fans singing  around all four corners of the 80,000 seater stadium

Win, lose or draw, this will be one of the greatest nights in our clubs history. Many haven’t seen us come up against a team of this calibre before in a competitive match, and whether we will again remains to be seen. But to see our very own youth academy graduates walk through the infamous San Siro tunnel to play on that turf, standing where the greats of both Milan clubs have stood, you can only be proud of our achievements. And who’s to say this is the end of Southampton’s rise? we are fine being the underdogs and we embrace going against the odds. We’ve done the unthinkable before, why not do it again?