As we enter the closing stages of the 2015/16 season, its time for us all to look back over the course of the year to find our star man. Moments of class, consistency throughout the year and making fans rise from their seat with excitement are all on the checklist, so without further ado, here are my top three players of the season.
When Toby Alderweireld departed Southampton in the summer of 2015, there was not only a feeling of sadness from losing who we believed to be the best defender in the league, but there was also worry for the defensive nightmares that could soon follow into the next season. That was of course until Virgil Van Dijk stepped in.
Having made a name for himself as the Scottish Premier League’s best defender, there was not only pressure for Van Dijk to maintain his reputation, but to also live up to his £11.5M price tag and hit the high standards that Alderweireld reached before him. But quite simply, Van Dijk has exceeded all expectations.
Right from the off, Van Dijk has shown Southampton fans his monstrous ability in the air, his calming presence on the ball and ability to distribute from the back like few others in the Premier League. Consistency has been an incredible area of his game over the course of the season, but by no means does that mean Van Dijk has played it safe. With his charging runs, silky drag backs and trademark diagonal switches, he’s an entertainer too. In games where Southampton have lacked that alertness and concentration at the back, Van Dijk has been there to save us. And In moments where we hold the chance to hit a team on the break, you guessed it, Van Dijk is the man to start the attack.
The 6ft 4in giant has even chipped in with three goals along the way. And having signed a five-year deal in the summer, Southampton fans will be hopeful that there is much more to come. Virgil Van Dijk is my player of the season.
Second in line is a man who sorely missed out on the top spot at no fault of his own – Shane long. At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, if anyone told you that Ronald Koeman would pick the Irishman as one of the first names on the team sheet, you would assume that a mass of injuries had struck the squad. Yet here we are, with 12 goals and four assists to his name this season, Long is arguably Southampton’s most important player, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down either.
Back in December of 2015, Southampton were showing onlookers at St. Mary’s their most rigid and uninspiring performances since their return to the Premier League in 2013. To our disbelief, we were allowing teams to build from the back, showing no movement in attack and severely lacking the fighting passion that is needed to lift a squad from a slump in form. But It was in Shane Long that Southampton found their remedy. Suddenly, our first line of defence was once again with the talisman, our attacks were free-flowing and he was loving every last minute of it. It was clear for the fans in the stand to see that Long knew exactly what was missing, and he was going to give everything to get it back.
Since the 26th of December – when Long was given the chance to start in the centre-forward role – he has struck the back of the net seven times in 19 appearances. In football, certain players will time and time again turn their back on the club during hard times, but to others, it’s seen as a moment where the stage is set and it’s their time to bed themselves into the hearts of the fans – the Irishman has been the latter, and Long may it continue. Shane Long is my player of 2016.
The third player is a man who since joining the club, has been everything you could ever want from a professional in your sides colours. An incredible attitude, a mature head, away from the media’s spotlight and boasting talent in abundance – I’m of course talking about, Ryan Bertrand.
Frustratingly for all Southampton fans, the Saints began the 2015/16 season without Bertrand, and consequently, bailed out of the Europa League and recorded just one win in their first six Premier League fixtures. But upon his return, the boys in red and white continued to go the next six league games unbeaten.
Throughout the course of the season, Bertrand has not only further proved himself to be one of the League’s best left-backs, but also as a classy centre-half in a 3-5-2 formation, and as a makeshift winger.
Without Bertrand’s sharp technical ability and undeniable versatility this season, Ronald Koeman would have struggled to overturn such poor blips in form. Perhaps what is most admirable about this, however, is not his superb on pitch showings, but the way he spoke off the pitch. Many other players would have potentially spoke sourly of being shifted out of position ahead of International fixtures and the Euros, but not Bertrand. Instead, he kept his head down, played for the badge on the front of the shirt, and continued to deliver the classy and consistent performances that we have become so accustomed to, over the past two seasons.