It’s now just 11 days until the 2016/17 Premier League season gets underway, and so far, Southampton’s business has been astute as ever. Having spent just under £26 million pounds, the South coast club have managed to secure the promising midfield star that is Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, have snapped up their long-term target in Nathan Redmond, have applied pressure on Cedric with the signature of Jeremy Pied and finally, have added capable backup to Fraser Forster in Alex McCarthy. So, with Southampton now four targets down and still holding plenty of money left in the bank, where should we look to improve next?
In my opinion, Southampton Football Clubs priority should be placed on securing a player who can carry out the most important role in Claude Puel’s attacking system; the number ten. Whilst at this moment Southampton hold two players that are capable of filling this role – Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond – I believe that if Southampton want to improve on last year, they need a player that is naturally suited to this role. But what is it that’s needed in a player to make this role so effective?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the need for Intelligent movement. This role demands the player to persistently hunt for space and vacate areas of the pitch that give his side the best attacking option. Without this movement, counter attacks are rendered near enough useless, and unpicking a ten man defence becomes an impossible task. A player can hold all the ability they want, but if they lack the intelligent movement needed to take up the correct position, it’s almost no use at all. In the system that Puel is currently implementing at Southampton, the movement of this player is especially important as he helps to determine the positioning of the two strikers. If this key player isn’t finding the right areas, then the threat of the two forwards will most likely be nullified.
Secondly, the player must possess the ability to quite simply, put the ball in the back of the net. An asset which in truth, has been lacking from Southampton’s attacking midfielders in recent years. Due to the way that the two forwards drift wide and make runs between the channels in Puel’s 4-1-2-1-2 system, the ball will often be cut back to the number 10 – typically on the edge of the box. It is for this reason that a dangerous finisher must takes up this position. Failure to do so would be waving goodbye to some potentially crucial goals.
Whilst Tadic holds immense creative ability – the third most Premier League assists over the past two seasons in fact – he has built up the tendency to miss clear cut chances. In truth, Puel needs someone who can not only bury clear cut chances, but also creep those half chances into the corner of the goal too. As for Redmond, he’s looked very promising in this role so far, but his past would suggest that he is not yet ready to reach the required goal tally. Not to mention that this would be a position change for both Tadic and Redmond too, having spent the previous season on the wing – this adjustment would take time.
No one in Southampton’s current squad fits the number ten role to the standard that they should be aiming for. But with the acquisition of Hakim Ziyech of FC Twente or Sofiane Boufal of LOSC Lille, that problem would be no more. Both of these players are comfortable in the number 10 position, continually find space between the lines, have the ability to unlock a defence and both reached double figures in goalscoring over the 2015/16 season.
Next up? the Mane replacement. Over the past two seasons, Southampton fans have had the joy of watching Sadio Mane bare down on goal and at times, single-handedly destroy a side. In games where the opposition stands with their backs against the wall, it was so often Mane that would find the much-needed yard of space, and in times where you need a moment of brilliance to overshadow the genius of Mourinho, Klopp or Wenger, Mane was the man.
Mane’s direct and relentless style of play helped to raise the tempo in Southampton’s attack, and without him, there is no denying that we are weaker going forward. It’s damaging to lose the intensity that Mane provided and for that reason, we need a like-for-like replacement. Even more so considering that Mane would have fitted perfectly into the plans of Puel.
At this moment in time, Redmond and Long are the only players in the Southampton squad that possesses pace and the ability to operate in the channels – two attributes that are key if you want to be successful in Puel’s two man up top system. But whilst Long holds both of the above, his dribbling is far behind that of Mane’s, and while Redmond also holds the two key attributes, he has a lot to learn about playing a more central role. So, for now, we need a player that is a proven goalscorer in both wide and central areas. Perhaps Carlos Vela of Real Sociedad could fit the bill?
With that, I conclude my transfer hopes of Southampton Football Club this summer, but by no means am I saying that doing otherwise would be a failure or a disappointment – if it’s what Puel wants and it fits his system, then I’m on board. My only demand for this window? that Claude Puel enters the season as a happy man with a team that he believes, will make Southampton Football Club progress yet again.