Author Archives: Robert Evans

What’s next for Højbjerg under Hughes?

Before Southampton had kicked off their crunch fixture at home to Everton on November 26, 2017, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg had played just six minutes of Premier League football under Mauricio Pellegrino. Unfathomable, unintelligent and simply unjustifiable… these are just a few of the words that sprung to my mind with regards to Pellegrino’s blatant dislike towards Højbjerg.

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Skip forward two months later and our favourite dynamic Danish midfielder had just played a vital part in recording our first win in ten fixtures against Fulham in the FA Cup. But as the visibly knackered and worn midfielder left the field of play, it was followed by a chorus of boos and chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” chants to Pellegrino – ironically, I think Pellegrino was right to substitute him and save him for the Premier League fixtures, but that’s beside the point.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has quickly become a fan favourite, netting his first Southampton goal last weekend against Wigan in the FA Cup, under Mark Hughes. At just 22 years old, he is one of the most well-rounded midfielders I’ve seen for a long while – he’s a dominant tackler with a strong physique, phenomenal passing range, and the ability to drive the ball forward. Not to mention his mentality and intelligence that surpasses many of his colleagues, and his sheer captain-like presence that we’ve been missing in hard times.

To say that Pellegrino limited Højbjerg would be an understatement; not only did he have to overcome the issue of rarely starting or being played outside of his natural position, but he also had to combat the fact that our midfield was banished from displaying expansive and creative football.

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However, despite having yet to register a Premier League assist or goal this season, he still averages close to 50 passes per game (48.7 to be exact), with a pass completion percentage of 87.3%, 2.1 long balls per game, and 0.5 key passes per game. Whilst those statistics may not stand-out as world-class at this moment in time, we have to take these in relative terms. This is an extremely young talent who needs the nurturing and guidance to push him higher, he needs more game-time and a manager who will glean the best from him; step up new Southampton manager, Mark Hughes.

My hopes for Pierre-Emile Højbjerg are relatively simple: to become Southampton’s current deep-lying playmaker, and within the next couple of years, to become Southampton’s captain. His mentality and attitude, coupled with his outstanding technical footballing ability at such a young age can only pave a very bright future path for him.

He has a relationship with the St Mary’s faithful which has not been matched by many for a few years: we are never short of tweets, songs or articles that praise him. He was one of the first of the senior team to step up and shoulder blame for our disgraceful performances under Pellegrino – most notably his post-match interview after the 3-0 drubbing to Newcastle.

He has the skill-set to keep players like Oriol Romeu and Mario Lemina out of the team, and in my opinion, Højbjerg should be considered one of Southampton Football Club’s prized asset – he has an extremely bright footballing future and has the necessary mental capacity to become a club captain. So what next?

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We already know that Hughes has a huge job on his hands to keep the Saints in the Premier League for another season, but when it comes to getting the best out of Højbjerg, I’m hopeful that Sparky can do exactly that.

Pierre gave an interview after the Wigan win in which he praised our new manager’s mentality and expectancy of player performances. A manager in the mould of Hughes, who’s already expressed his desire to deploy football of a higher intensity with greater freedom, will surely enable the likes of Højbjerg to excel and become one of the first names on the team sheet. A manager like Hughes, who has won everything as a player, will also (with great hope) be able to mirror and improve the young Dane’s mentality, and hone him to become even more of a captain-like figure than he already is.

“I think I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say it has been positive,” said Højbjerg, speaking to Southampton’s official website. 

“It is a new impulse, new energy, good vibes, a fresh start. He worked a lot on intensity and discipline, and the desire to go the extra yards as individuals and as a team. The coach said before the game today the key would be mentality, desire and hard work because he knew that we had the quality.”

In Hughes and Højbjerg, we could find a brilliant manager-player partnership that helps us to excel and form a new leader at Southampton Football Club over the next eight Premier League fixtures.

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Club legends such as Rickie Lambert, Claus Lundekvam and more similarly to Højbjerg, Morgan Schneiderlin, had a number of traits in common. It goes without saying that they all boasted a wealth of talent, but most importantly, they had the desire to lead by example and always look to improve. To never accept the levels that they’re currently performing at, and to make sure that their teammates are on board too.

If we stay up – and that’s one massive ‘if’ – then we need to forget the past 18 months of failure and rebuild the same philosophies and values that got us into the Premier League in the first place. And I can confidently say that if we have any hope of doing so, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will be right at the heart of it as our catalyst for change.

Re-igniting Romeu

I’d like to discuss a player who, in my mind, was arguably the biggest victim of Mauricio Pellegrino’s managerial shortcomings: Oriol Romeu.

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It may be harsh to single out Romeu in what’s been a disastrous season for the Saints, but after his breakthrough into the starting XI last year when Victor Wanyama left for Spurs, I was expecting the gritty Spanish midfielder to stand out yet again. For him to become a leader in a relatively young squad.

It’s hard to deny his ball-playing qualities that were developed in Barcelona’s famed La Masia, and it’s certainly arguable that he’s one of the most effective defensive midfielders in the Premier League, with his monstrous physicality and crunching tackles.

But this season he’s been a passenger – something that’s really disappointed me. I expected him to be the first to grab others by the scruff of their neck and pull us out of this rut, especially when you look at his captain-like qualities and characteristics. However, those duties have been left to the younger players such as Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Stephens.

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Romeu’s simply not been good enough at breaking down play and shifting the ball in comparison to last season, and there are a number of games in which he’s gone missing. The same mind that was decisive and calculated last season is suddenly being affected by doubt and hesitancy. Something which I can only guess was installed into his game by Pellegrino, a man who spent his time at Staplewood and St Mary’s in constant fear of the opposition.

Over Pellegrino’s 30 Premier League games in charge of Southampton, we approached the vast majority with a negative and fearful approach to just about every passage of play.

Our slow and lacklustre approach to attacking, which would often just turn into a depressing game of keep-ball, forced Romeu into playing countless sideways and backwards passes, knowing that the manager would blast him for playing a risky ball. For over eight months he’s been told to be in constant fear of the opposition picking up the ball, and in turn it’s harmed the way in which he controls the midfield and views the opposition.

Then on the rare occasion that we did actually take the lead, Pellegrino would encourage us to take up a deeper starting position with the aim of shutting out the opposition. This means that not only is he being forced into defending in deep areas, where he’s less likely to make risky and game-changing tackles/passes, he’s also having to defend on the back foot. Romeu’s best when he’s playing instinctively and on the heels of the opposition. He has the talent to play one step ahead of his opponent, but Pellegrino’s shortcomings have forced him into showing all too much respect.

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Rather than imposing himself on the opposition and aiming to simultaneously play and bully them of the park, Romeu’s been forced into retreating, reacting and respecting. Having come through the ranks of La Masia, this mentality just simply isn’t in his DNA.

But in the form of Mark Hughes, I’m holding out hope that Romeu can turn his season around.  

In spite of being dropped for the FA Cup Quarter Final against Wigan, I can see Mark Hughes utilising a crunching defensive midfielder like Romeu further down the line. He’s got history of fielding a physically dominant midfield throughout his managerial career, and Romeu certainly fits the billing there.

Hughes hardest task will be encouraging attacking play and positivity throughout the entirety of the squad, so some fans will understandably ask why we would want to field a defensive midfielder.

But I feel like that’s selling Romeu short. Not only does the Spaniard boast an impressive passing range and a fair share of technical quality, but his defensive traits can help the side offensively too. Rewind to last season and I can remember countless interceptions and tackles from Romeu that initiated counter attacks and lifted the side. 

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Playing effective attacking football isn’t just as simple as fielding attack-minded players. If a defensive player can help our attackers to flourish by recovering the ball in dangerous areas high up the field, then I’m all for it.

As a manager who’s had to manage big-name players at Manchester City, and as a player, who’s won everything in the game at teams such as Manchester United, I’m confident that Sparky is capable of re-igniting Romeu and getting the best out of him.

Hughes has a huge task on his hand – getting the best out of Romeu is just one of a number of smaller tasks that will ultimately keep us from being relegated, or not, but I have the confidence that Oriol will return to form over the coming weeks.

West Bromwich Albion vs Southampton F.C. – An FA Cup preview

Just under two weeks ago, these same two sides met at The Hawthornes in a relegation six pointer, which arguably served up one of the games of 2018 so far. Southampton came out on top in a 3-2 win over WBA, and in doing so, clawed back some pride and managed to put themselves in a much better position in the fight for survival.

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So let’s fast forward two weeks; Southampton are back in the relegation zone after a dire display against Liverpool, and West Brom have all but given up in their fight for survival, should their fans on twitter be believed. So what’s in store for the FA Cup 5th round tie?

In an ideal world Southampton would play some young guns and those that have not featured as much, and in turn rest some of our more important players. However, that is unlikely to happen. Due to Pellegrino’s tactical incompetence, we’ve offered few curve balls via team selection and formation this season, meaning Southampton will most likely line-up in a deep 4-2-3-1 formation, looking to absorb pressure and win the game 1-0. Our next Premier League fixture takes place exactly a week on from this FA Cup clash, so I naturally expect few changes to be made against the Baggies.

Pellegrino’s team will most likely lineup as follows:

McCarthy, Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, Romeu, Lemina, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg, Tadic, Carrillo.

Pellegrino will most likely continue with the same back four that has leaked goals all season and in recent weeks has seemed fatigued, despite our crunch fixtures in the fight for premier league survival

Hojbjerg, for some reason unbeknownst to me will likely act as the furthest forward of the three central midfielders, as Pellegrino likes to play him as support behind Carrillo – again something that seems at best illogical.

Tadic and Ward-Prowse will look to provide the width, despite both players being more-suited to central roles, and look to cross the ball into our target man, Carrillo.

Boufal may well find his way into the starting XI, however, after being dropped against Liverpool last weekend. If I had my way though, he’d be saved for our trip to Turf Moor. Burnley are a team that have mastered the deep block and that’s something that Boufal specialises in breaking down. 

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My starting XI would look something like this, in a Koeman-esque 4-3-3:

Forster, Pied, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Davis, Redmond, Sims, Gabbiadini.

In defence, I think Forster needs another run out, and the cup is the perfect opportunity, alongside Yoshida and Pied, who need to replace Cedric and Hoedt after the pair’s poor run of form, as both also seem to be fatigued.

In this formation we allow Romeu to sit and hold so he can regain his confidence after what’s quite frankly been a poor season by his standards. Davis and Hojbjerg will then act as two box-to-box midfielders, with one sitting deeper as one pushes forward (and vice-versa). Davis needs some game-time, and whilst Lemina has been in better form than most, he needs to be saved for our crunch Premier League fixtures, especially after our knock in confidence against Liverpool.

Finally, our frontline definitely needs a mixup, I think that Redmond, Sims and Gabbiadini would provide a breath of fresh air, in a dreary and lacklustre strike force. I would hope that we’d play some flowing football, start to hit low-crosses for Gabbiadini’s front-post runs, with Redmond and Sims swapping wings in order to confuse defenders.

In spite of the fact that West Brom are in troubles of their own, and that Saints beat them just two weeks ago, I fully expect a 1-1 draw and a replay. Neither team will want to be overzealous in their attempts to win the game, given their dire straits in the Premier League, so will likely rest players and look to keep it tight and win by a slim margin, but I can see both teams cancelling each other out. Predicted goal scorers: Jay Rodriguez (WBA) and Tadic (Saints).

Ward-Prowse and Stephens: two bright lights in a dark time for Southampton F.C.

In spite of the horrific situation that Southampton currently find themselves in, there are are a number of positives that we can take away from our recent fixtures. After all, if you can’t learn to savour the little pockets of joy when your teams struggling for form, football may not be for you…  

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In a season that’s been underwhelming at the very best, 2018 has provided us with some of the only highlights, and most importantly, they’ve come from two players who have risen the ranks at Southampton alongside each other. While others have shied away from taking responsibility for our embarrassing rut, this duo have displayed the leadership qualities that are oh-so important in a relegation battle.

Jack Stephens recently recorded three goals in three games having never scored previously for Southampton. Some of them have been of utmost importance; an equaliser in a relegation six-pointer vs Brighton, probably saving MoPe his job, on top of giving us the lead vs West Brom, which led us to our first Premier League win in 12 games. He’s even contributed outside of our battle to beat relegation too, by scoring against Watford in the 5th Round of the FA Cup to place our name in the next round of the draw.

Oh, and before anyone says, yes I know we bought him from Plymouth, but please just let us have some joy. The work that’s required to turn a 17-year-old who’s playing U18’s football into a regular starter in the Premier League is extraordinary. We can take our credit.

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However, goals aren’t the most important part of his game, given that he’s a centre-half. What’s been most impressive for me is his seemingly new-found mentality. The way he handled Boufal’s moaning at James Ward-Prowse over the free-kick vs West Brom really impressed me; he knows who our chosen set-piece taker is, he took Sofiane away and calmed him down, and showed the captain-like qualities that he needs. An attitude like that, with a bit more of a steely resolve and leadership, is what we’ve been missing this season; Stephens looks like he’s making a huge step to become a leader in our squad, and if he continues in the same fashion, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him go on to fight for Southampton F.C. captaincy in the future, which is only mirrored and improved by the way in which he carries himself in pre and post-match press conferences.

With all of that said, he is still a young, rough gem. He’s not nearly physical enough, nor does he have the aerial prowess required to be considered a top-class Premier League centre-back. If you look at our past central defenders, such as Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte, Virgil Van Dijk, even going back as far as two of my all-time favourites, Claus Lundekvam and Michael Svensson, you can see a natural trend of ball-playing ability, leadership qualities, physicality and aerial dominance. Jack Stephens is on the road to becoming as good as some of the aforementioned players but seriously needs to improve his defensive dominance. I have every faith that he one day will.

James Ward-Prowse is another player who’s stepped up massively in the last two months, with important goals against Fulham, Watford and West Brom. His set-pieces have also proved to be an incredible attacking outlet in those games, too. His dead-ball ability is second to none in the Premier League, and he has all the makings of an old-fashioned right-midfielder, but there’s still something lacking in the former England U21 captain’s game.

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The Premier League these days is all about pace and power, neither of which James Ward-Prowse really has. I wouldn’t be surprised if his career as a right winger will most likely be short-lived, especially if Saints bring in Quincy Promes. However, that’s all depending on if we beat the drop and believe that there is indeed a “deal in principle” as numerous local journalists suggest.

So where does JWP fit in? He’s not quick or skilful enough to become an inside forward on the left wing, and there are at least three central midfielders who are better than him, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. However, his set-piece ability, the leadership qualities he’s demonstrated alongside Stephens, and his bond with the fans having come from the academy are just a few reasons as to why he needs to be playing week-in-week-out at Southampton, furthered even more by his recent form.

In my eyes, Ward-Prowse has to become an attacking midfielder, who’s capable of pushing out to the right in the mould of Hakan Calhanoglu – with phenomenal set-piece ability, defence-splitting through balls and more goals to his game. Realistically, should we keep Lemina, Hojbjerg and Romeu in the long term, Ward-Prowse must cement a role outside of central midfield if he wishes to remain a regular in the side.

There’s no denying that Ward-Prowse has the ability, and if recent months can act as a measuring stick, then in a more free-form and fluid attacking team, he could genuinely thrive as our future playmaker and attacking midfielder.

Southampton F.C. – a plethora of attacking talent

Since the beginning of the summer transfer window, we as fans have been inundated with attacking talent in the Premier League – It’s truly a neutral’s dream-league of world-class strikers, wingers and attacking midfielders ranging from all areas of the table.

Teams like West Ham have brought in a proven goal-scorer in the form of Javier Hernández, Manchester United have purchased arguably the best striker in the league in Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea have bought a very promising Spaniard in Álvaro Morata, whilst other teams such as Man City and Tottenham have retained their star strikers Harry Kane and Sergio Agüero.

But whilst this has left many football fans up and down the country excited with their new signings, I’ve seen some Southampton fans lose sight of the talent that we have sitting before our very eyes.

I personally believe that at St. Mary’s, we too have a lot of attacking flair – arguably even more than in seasons gone by – and as I have already alluded to in a previous article, some of those players will have their first full pre-season at the club.

The Finisher

I have my reservations about Charlie Austin’s talent as a footballer on the whole; he is not very athletic, quick, or even entirely skilful. However, the man is a finisher. In the 2016/17 season, Austin scored six and assisted once in 11 premier league starts, and in the 2014/15 premier league campaign, he scored 18 times and assisted five times in 35 starts, for a QPR side that was relegated. Whilst I do not like to heavily rely on stats, no one can argue with Austin’s finishing ability and I am definitely of the opinion that he can score 15+ PL goals, should he play most games.

I do have a few worries with Austin, though. Primarily, I’m not sure he fits into Mauricio Pellegrino’s high-pressing style of play: he isn’t quick enough nor does he have the stamina to press a top-flight defence and latch on to loose balls. I hope that his lust for goals can sway Pellegrino onside, and to push us on in the hunt for more European football.

The Space Finder

His Italian heritage isn’t the only thing that makes many pundits connect him to Filippo Inzaghi; Manolo Gabbiadini’s sheer ability to find pockets of space and get beyond defenders despite his lack of natural pace is astonishing. With four goals in his first three premier league games, we thought he could set the league on fire before his injury at Tottenham, after which he struggled to find the net. However, considering he slotted straight into the side without having a chance to fully train with his teammates, and without any knowledge of the English language, he was an absolute hit. My hope for Manolo is that he uses the full pre-season under the new manager to fully comprehend the language and style of play, whilst also developing cohesive relationships on the pitch with the other players. Solely based on his first four games, including a stellar EFL cup final performance, we could see 15-20 Premier League goals from the Italian in the 2017/18 campaign.

One other point on Gabbiadini is his versatility: he can provide goals as a lone striker, he can cut inside from the right wing as more of an inside forward to compliment Austin, and I believe that with his abilities he could play just behind a striker in the “number 10” role, as more of a shadow striker. His capability to play a number of roles and positions will make him one of Pellegrino’s favourite players, and scare the life out of PL defences.

The Back-up Speedster

Whilst last season he was more the villain of the year rather than star of the season, Shane Long provides much needed cover for our main two strikers. In the 2015/16 season under Ronald Koeman, he played a crucial role in securing Europa League football for the Saints, by chasing down loose balls, pressing defenders and through some instinctive finishing, so his value must not be forgotten. I believe he will be an asset to the squad, playing mostly EFL and FA cup games, providing depth and competition for the aforementioned strikers.

As I have also mentioned, Long is ideal for systems that look to press defences in order to cause mistakes and create more chances. Pellegrino may find that Long is his perfect striker for this system, and I am hoping that under a new, more attack-minded manager, the Irishman can get back to his best form.

The Young Target Man

We also have a young, hungry, English academy graduate who plays a different role to the three above. Sam Gallagher can provide a completely different striker, and one that we were missing last season after Graziano Pellè’s departure: the target man. Last season, he scored 11 goals in 35 starts for the now relegated Blackburn Rovers in the Championship, and I am hoping that he manages to translate this potential into performances when given the opportunity at St. Mary’s next season. His aerial prowess and physicality gives us a different dimension to our attacking line, should he be given game time.

Although I would keep in mind that he lacks Premier League experience and is only 21 years of age; it is unlikely that he will play many games, but like Long, he adds competition and cover for our frontline, but he is also an academy graduate, something us Saints fans are hugely proud of.

The Midfielders

Most Southampton fans can be forgiven for being underwhelmed by our attacking performances under Claude Puel last season, but in spite of our lack of goals from strikers, I think that some of our midfielders need to step up and play more of a role in creating and scoring goals. Nathan Redmond was the standout, and I am hoping that he can provide more goals and assists from the wings, with his pace and determination. I also believe that Dušan Tadić must improve on last season, and create more clear-cut chances for our strikers, which is something the Serbian was lacking under Puel.

Finally, my diamond in the rough for the season is Sofiane Boufal. With a full pre-season under a new manager and the opportunity to form new attacking relationships with his teammates, I’m sure that Sofiane can only improve – especially when you consider that he joined us having missed pre-season whilst also nursing an injury. I hope that he can be the signing we all wanted him to be last summer, and that there is still a huge amount to come from him, including a new found sharpness in front of goal.

These are the many reason why we haven’t rushed to sign another forward, and why in my opinion, we probably don’t need one.

Review: Southampton’s summer so far

Like many of you reading this, I spend a large amount of time in my day-to-day life checking the saintsFC hashtag on twitter, trying to find the latest news about all things Southampton F.C.

Over the past six weeks, things at Saints have been, in some ways, as turbulent as ever – our captain has declared himself mentally unfit to play, we have a new manager and there are constant links to European gems. However, in many ways, it has been a much quieter summer than in years passed, so I’d like to jot down a few feelings that I believe many Saints fans will share, and I’m going to break it down into four sections.

DISCLAIMER: Like all football fans, I am reactionary to a lot of news, and I have no insider knowledge at the club, as some other fans believe they do.

The Manager:

From his first interview as new Southampton manager, to his handling of the Virgil Van Dijk saga, I have been thoroughly impressed by Mauricio Pellegrino. Solely based upon the way he has spoken and his demeanour in interviews, we have seen his calmness, we have been engaged by his desire to play pressing, attacking football (something found wanting under Puel), and he also managed to convey the fact that he will take each game as it comes, playing to our strengths but accepting when to take a more conservative approach (something he was highly praised for at Alavés). Our pre-season friendlies have not set the world on fire by all accounts, but we must keep in mind that these matches are organised for team cohesion, fitness and adaptation to the new manager’s philosophy. His tendency to play a 4-2-3-1 has intrigued me, as it has worked in the past at St. Mary’s and is probably the formation that suits our current squad best.

Mauricio Pellegrino has managed to captivate and unite a fan-base that had been heavily divided under Claude Puel, he seems to have also intrigued many Southampton players, who again were divided under the previous manager. I am truly excited to see his press conferences, his team’s style of playing and to see where we end up under MoPe next season. One final point, though, I think his spoken English is excellent. Out of our last three managers, only Ronald Koeman truly captured the fans in press conferences and pre/post match interviews. I think this could be something MoPe manages to do with the language he uses and the way he speaks English, subconsciously swaying fans onside.

The Players:

From the way in which Southampton F.C. has used youtube, twitter and other social media, it is easy to see that squad harmony is at a much higher level than it has been for the last 12 months. The players seem to have bought into the new manager, they seem much happier, and they seem much more motivated than they were under the aforementioned Puel. I have seen and read interviews with certain players, most recently with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who, for me, could have a breakout season if given the chance. He admitted that the pre-season has been good thus far, that the players are enjoying the new manager, and that he wants to thrive this season under MoPe. For such a young man, he’s more mature than most footballers, and I am really excited by the prospect of more appearances for him this season, hopefully whilst learning under a manager who places faith in him.

Other special mentions have to go to Sofiane Boufal, who with a full pre-season could be another breakout star. Just from pre-season I’ve seen more defensive urgency from Sofiane than ever before, perhaps in an attempt to coerce Pellegrino into believing in him?

We Saints fans are proud of our academy graduates, and with new contracts for Gallagher and Stephens, and McQueen and Sims earlier in the year, it seems like Pellegrino and the board have agreed again on the promotion of youth. Like most of you, I never particularly liked Claude Puel’s beliefs in football, but he did manage to promote a number of youth players who shone under him, something that I hope continues under the new manager.

Virgil Van Dijk:

Here we go then, the arrogant, petulant, opinion-dividing centre-back that is both our best player and captain. As with many of you, I change my opinion every single day on him. One day, I want to hold him to ransom, force him to see out the remainder of his contract, just to prove a point to the “bigger” clubs that we are no longer a selling club. Other days, I want to get rid of him for £70 million, and to reinvest the whole of that sum in 2/3 quality players who both want to be here, and will improve our squad on the whole. But now that I’ve had a chance to sit back, to think about him and to come to a reasonable conclusion; I will have faith in whatever MoPe decides to do with him. From every statement made by both the club hierarchy and the manager since his appointment, it seems as though Pellegrino will have the final say on VVD’s future. I think his handling of our captain has been excellent, trying to get him on side, but accepting that squad harmony is more important than one player’s selfish needs. It will all come to a decision after the squad get back from France, it seems.

In the case that VVD does end up going, please not to Liverpool. It’s getting boring now. But who would I have as captain? I have seen lots of tweets arguing in favour of Oriol Romeu, and whilst he was excellent last season, he’s still only had one good season from start to finish. My pick would be England international and Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand, who seems set to stay this summer, and my hope would be that making him captain convinces him to stay for the long run. If Bertrand communicates his desire to seek pastures new following this season however, then we should of course avoid handing him the captaincy – we don’t want to find ourselves in a Virgil 2.0 situation. 

Transfers:

Finally, the interesting bit… or is it? Like most football fans, I want to see my team sign new players, so that I can get even more excited about the coming season, but it isn’t that summer at St. Mary’s. Almost every player we’ve been linked with has been ruled out of a move; Vietto was shot down overnight by sources close to the club, according to Adam Blackmore, Munir and Allan I just don’t buy into, and Stuart Armstrong’s transfer has gone very quiet, too. From an outsider looking in, I believe that this is the summer where we keep our players, rather sell and reinvest. Even the VVD saga has not ended up in a bid, and should we end up selling him for a premium, that is the only moment I’d expect us to spend big; when we have already made money.

But after a lot of thought, I think this is a highly positive outcome for the club on the whole. It means that all of our players will be Premier League ready, with experience of the league. They will know each other, and the manager, after a full pre-season together. Those who missed out on full pre-seasons last summer (Boufal and Gabbiadini due to later, and January arrivals) will now have a chance to build full relationships with their teammates. It is a cause for joy that, for once, we may not sell star players, and if we do, it will only be because the manager sanctioned the deal and thought it best for all parties, rather than the club being bullied by a larger club. As always, I am expecting a couple of additions, should some players depart, but our starting XI is looking very capable as things stand, should no player leave, and I believe that no outgoings and few players coming in will be a blessing after recent years.

Where do Southampton need to improve in the upcoming transfer window?

With 12 games gone in the Premier League this season, Southampton F.C. currently  sit 10th in the table. This means that now, we can start to see where our strengths and weaknesses lie in this new-look Saints side under Claude Puel.

The Saints have not set the world on fire, nor have they been totally under-impressive, but we all knew that it would be a tough transition period after Koeman’s departure. With that said, there have been some who have performed to an excellent standard. Virgil Van Dijk has arguably been the best centre-half in the Premier League, Oriol Romeu has been fantastic over the last two months in defensive-midfield and the ever-reliable Charlie Austin has the highest goal tally of any English, Premier League player this season – so where do we need to improve?

Firstly, Austin needs some support.

Shane Long is yet to find his first goal of the season despite a very successful campaign last term. In addition to this, Jay Rodriguez has struggled to get into the side even when fit and, lastly, Nathan Redmond has only scored three after his conversion to a striker under Puel.

In a formation where we are relying on two strikers to get our goals, we simply haven’t scored enough goals. Jay Rodriguez’s Southampton career could be over after the summer fiasco, and if Long does not start scoring soon, unfortunately the same could be said for him as well, having fallen to the bench under Puel. We need to buy a fresh young European striker, who can provide more goals and healthy competition in the hopes that Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez could start to fire again.

For this position, look no further than 22-year-old Andrea Belotti of Torino, who has manage to record ten goals and three assists in the Serie A this season. With a shot conversion rate of 65%, Belotti is an all round strong centre-forward, with decent pace, strength and most importantly, a clinical edge in front of goal. He may command a hefty fee given his age and attacking prowess, but if Southampton truly want to push on into the upper echelons of English football, they need more goals. With regards to prizing him away from Torino, Southampton would provide a club that nurtures young domestic and foreign talent, a club with ambitions of hitting the heights of European football and a springboard for him to push on to other clubs if he desires (as has happened with Clyne, Mané, Schneiderlin etc.)

Secondly, in spite of the fact that we hold great quality in the heart of defence with Virgil Van Dijk and Jose Fonte, we must be prepared for the future. The reason being is that whilst Fonte is still a fantastic defender for us, I think all fans can admit that a decline is underway (even if it is a small one at that). On top of this, Van Dijk has been receiving praise from all angles in recent weeks and in such fine form, a bid from a big club cant be too far away. For these reasons, it would be valuable and worthwhile for Southampton to snap up a young defender that can provide competition and be eased into the side at the time of Van Dijk’s potential departure or Fonte’s downfall. 

Southampton are constantly linked with Rúben Semedo, a centre back who has been superb for Sporting Lisbon this season. He is a young, versatile Portuguese defender who can play both in the centre and on the right of the defence, and at only 22 years of age, he would fit the “Southampton philosophy” of signing young European talent. Not to mention that he could also settle in easily with his fellow Portuguese compatriots, in Fonte and Cédric.

He would provide cover and competition in two different positions and he has the ability to make a name for himself in the Premier League. With regards to prizing him away from one of Portugal’s biggest clubs, we’ve already done it with Cédric, and players of Semedo’s class at his age will want to push on and play in a more competitive league.

Thirdly, with our narrow diamond we desperately need to make sure that there are players in the club that can play in one of three positions; holding midfield, central midfield and attacking midfield.

We have a plethora of creative options in Dušan Tadić, Sofiane Boufal and the young Jake Hesketh, but at holding midfielder we only have Oriol Romeu. Personally, I would like to see Southampton bring in another player who can play in both the centre and the holding roles, offering cover for Romeu but also healthy competition in the centre.

Morgan Schneiderlin is the name on every fan’s lips. He is a player that is undoubtedly still a fan favourite at St. Mary’s, a player that would slot perfectly into our formation, a player that would not need time to settle into the club, and finally, a player that would probably be favourable to Claude Puel given his nationality. I genuinely believe that we could tempt Morgan to come home, offering the push towards European football that he so desired and a good contract at a club that he is very fond of. However, it’s undeniable that Manchester United would want to recoup a large proportion of the £25m+ they paid for him.

Those are my thoughts on the three areas where Southampton need to strengthen, and I believe that getting those three players along with some other additions for squad depth and hopefully more youth promotion, Saints could continue to push on and cement a Europa League place in the Premier League. There have been rumours of takeover bids at the club in recent weeks too, so maybe our money concerns will be put to rest and we could finally financially compete with the next tier of Premier League sides.