Matches

Southampton bid €17M for Lazio’s Wesley Hoedt

According to the latest reports by Sky Italia journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, Southampton have made a €17M offer for Lazio’s Wesley Hoedt.

The report states that the bid was submitted last night, and whilst it’s still yet to be accepted, the €17M on the table does match Lazio’s initial valuation of the player at the start of this window.

To many looking in from the outside this will be considered an attempt to secure Virgil Van Dijk’s replacement, but given the clubs consistently strong stance on the situation, this could still be the Fonte funds being reimbursed.  Reports from the ever reliable Simon Peach have also reinforced that.

This report will no doubt be encouraging news for fans, who despite feeling optimistic about life under Mauricio Pellegrino, can see that our current defence doesn’t match up to that of previous seasons.

Whilst Maya Yoshida greatly improved last season and Jack Stephens is proving himself to be a promising talent, fans are hoping for a little more ambition as teams around us continue to strengthen in the transfer market.

As a pair the two have put in some fantastic performances, but they still hold the tendency to get bullied in the air, drawn out of position and left exposed. In a dream scenario Yoshida can act as reliable back-up, whilst we allow Stephens to progress alongside a player of Hoedt’s quality.

The Dutchman has proven himself to be a strong and dependable centre-back in the top flight of Italian football for the past two seasons, helping Lazio to finish eighth and fifth respectively.

Of those to contest 50+ aerial duels in Serie A this term, only Bruno Alves (79.3%) came close to Hoedt in the air, who recorded a staggering 84.1%. Given Southampton’s evident shortcomings in the air at the minute, this interest certainly doesn’t surprise me. Especially when his ability to build from the back has also been praised during his time at Lazio – something that’s to be expected if you wish to be a Southampton centre-back.

Review: Southampton 0 Swansea City 0

Southampton showed attacking intent and played with a high intensity from the very first whistle, but ultimately the narrative was all too familiar. 28 shots on goal, two on target and just one point to show for it.

This was Mauricio Pellegrino’s very first competitive game as Southampton boss, and had it not been for our poor form in front of goal, it would have been a dream start to life on the South Coast for the Argentinian.

It’s very much early days, but based upon this first showing, there’s plenty to look forward to in the Pellegrino era. Since his appointment Pellegrino has stated numerous times that he wants to entertain the fans – something that was clearly discussed during his sit down with Les Reed and co.  The players had a sense of urgency about the situation and were brave enough to take risks. We had a nice mixture of some neat triangles, defence splitting passes and even direct play (an option we very rarely turned to last season).

Both full backs were heavily involved in each phase of play, looking to bomb on down the line and ask questions of the defence. But this wasn’t at the cost of defensive stability, as both Cedric and Bertrand continually turned to check the positioning of their man.

I still maintain the stance that Southampton must invest in another centre-back this summer, but for all the talk about Virgil Van Dijk, Southampton didn’t allow Swansea even so much as a sniff at goal. Stephens and Yoshida were commanding in the air, quick to intercept and even brave in their distribution of the ball.

It wasn’t just our work on the ball that impressed me either. Our physicality, defensive positioning and alertness also stood out. We were rarely outnumbered, reacted first to almost every second ball, and looked to impose a greater physical edge over the opposition (not entirely dissimilar from a certain Pochettino).

The jury is obviously still out on whether this will be maintained consistently, but it certainly isn’t a bad place to start. As mentioned earlier however, there’s something that definitely doesn’t need debating; our ability to throw away golden chances.

Minus Gabbiadini and Austin (who never start together), we don’t have a player that can cleanly strike the ball inside the box, and boy has it harmed us. Mishit efforts and a lack of composure in front of goal has cost us too many times, leading me to conclude that we simply have to act in the transfer market.

There’s been whispers of Southampton holding an interest in Atletico Madrid’s Luciano Vietto, and given his ability to play off the forward as a second striker, this certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Perhaps Pellegrino has already recognised his sides need for a clinical late arriver in the box?

Pep guardiola once stated “My job is to take you to the final third, and your job is to finish it” and with this considered, it’s been an incredibly encouraging start to life under Mauricio Pellegrino.

An insight into Mario Lemina

Whilst some were bemoaning Southampton’s lack of transfer activity this summer, the board decided to respond in the finest fashion; by securing the services of Juventus’s Mario Lemina for a club-record fee.

The midfielder has joined the club on a five-year contract for an initial £15.4m, that has the potential to rise to £18.1m. Lemina has been detailed as an athletic, powerful, box-to-box midfielder, who is capable of initiating counter attacks, whilst also boasting the defensive mindset to help out his midfield partner; good news for Oriol.

Lemina spent his youth career developing with FC Lorient in France, rising up the ranks to make his first team debut at just 18 years old. During his first and only season with the Ligue 1 outfit, he greatly impressed and soon after prompted Marseille to chase for his signature. He joined the club at the start of the 2013-14 season, and whilst he struggled to make his mark in the side during his first year, his talent was clear to see. It was with the appointment of Marco Biesla in May 2014 however, which brought about the Gabonese International’s finest form. Lemina played a vital role in helping Marseille finish fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

Throughout the summer of 2015, Lemina was the host of plenty of Premier League attention (by some accounts, this is when Southampton’s interest started) but on deadline day, it was Juventus who came out on top. They signed Lemina on a season long loan with a view to a permanent at the end of the season, and over the next year he faced the impossible challenge of fighting for a place amongst Juve’s midfield. Despite only starting seven Serie A fixtures, he did show glimpses of his talent, causing Juventus to activate the €9.5M release clause agreed in his loan deal. The following season however would follow the same story line as his first year with the Old Lady, and this brings us to today…

To gain further insight into just what type of player we’re acquiring, I spoke with Juventus fan, Marco Messina – the owner of ItalianFootballTV.

“Mario Lemina is a young player – 23 years old. He’s raw but you can see his talent shine through. Unfortunately I’ve never been a big fan of him to be honest; he’s a good dribbler but far too raw for a team like Juventus. Maximiliano Allegri actually liked him if you remember that he was subbed on many times in the Champions League. His time at Juventus wasn’t the best, as there were too many good players in front of him, and unfortunately he wasn’t good enough to ever break through. The general feeling is that Juventus fans are happy Lemina is leaving as he was holding up a spot for a better player in the squad. Maybe the Premier League could suit him better and at a club like Southampton, he’s actually going to get real time to play so it could be perfect for him.”

Preview: Southampton vs Swansea City

It’s almost here; the first game of the 2017/18 Premier League season. But in traditional Southampton style, we once again enter this season with a new boss, an endless supply of transfer gossip, and the determination to prove our doubters wrong (again).

Southampton’s first challenge of the season comes in the form of Swansea City, but rather than us sitting here and giving you a general low down, we decided to speak to someone who truly knows the ins and outs of the club; Kevin Elphick, the editor of Vital Swansea City.

Paul Clement and Swansea City appear to be a match made in heaven; what has he done to once again reinstall hope into the fans?

First and foremost, he kept us up last season when the odds were stacked massively against him. I don’t think he’s received enough praise from the media and pundits etc that he deserves. Like he said, it was his proudest managerial achievement and it’s not hard to see why.

It’s a cliche but he got us back to the basics, quickly recognising our strengths and weaknesses as soon as he came in and improving them almost instantly. After the disastrous spell of Bob Bradley, he identified his strongest side and stuck with it to get some consistency.

He got us playing in a much more organised and compact shape, and played to our strengths – mainly getting the ball wide and putting in crosses for Llorente to finish.

Looking ahead to next season, having simply played to our strengths last year to keep us up, it looks like he’s trying to get us back to playing a more possession-based, passing style and playing out from the back. A style of play that we got used to but has lost its way here in recent years.

He also comes across as an assured and confident character – unlike his two predecessors. With the likes of Claude Makelele, Nigel Gibbs and some former Spurs coaches amongst the backroom staff, I’d say we’ve got one of our best management teams in the last few years.

How have the squad looked over pre-season?

Paul Clement wasn’t happy with the performances during the U.S Tour, he admitted that by the end of the tour that the squad was behind his own targets, but they showed a big improvement when they came home, beating Birmingham and Sampdoria and keeping clean-sheets in the process.

Without Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente, our two key players last season, we have looked short of attacking creativity at times, and we need to address that weakness before the end of the month, as it doesn’t look like Sigurdsson will be kicking another ball for us.

What have you made of Swansea’s transfer window so far?

It’s not been great so far. It’s been too dependant on the sale, or lack of, of Gylfi Sigurdsson. We’ve signed two first team players, which is better than signing most squad players last Summer. Roque Mesa looks like the perfect player to help us revert back to a passing-style game, while Tammy Abraham is the sort of confident striker that we need to replace the flop Borja Baston – who’s headed back to La Liga on loan.

The most of us are hoping now that Gylfi Sigurdsson’s move to Everton is completed sooner rather than later so we can push through some much needed signings. We’re looking a bit thin in certain areas. We don’t have enough strength in depth or enough competition for places. I don’t know who we can turn to in games as an impact sub if things aren’t going our way. Therefore we need to bring at least 2 players that will walk into our side – the main one obviously being a replacement for Sigurdsson. We also need a defender (it’s a toss between a centre back and right back) and a winger/inside forward.

With both clubs holding a wantaway star, you could say Saints and Swans fans are in the same boat at the minute; what’s your stance on the Sigurdsson situation?

We’re all fed up with it now. It’s rolled on for weeks and weeks and we’re getting tired of this ongoing saga not being resolved.

He’s gone down in my estimation since he refused to travel to the U.S on the morning they were jetting off. He’s trained with the squad since they’ve been back home but has still refused to take part in any friendly matches.

It’s frustrating to see him resigned to leaving us, and refusing to take part in friendlies despite us still paying his expensive weekly wages.

I just want him to join Everton now, at £45m if needs be, mainly because we need the money quickly to bring in some much needed signings. We don’t want to be going to January with the squad as it is.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

Gylfi Sigurdsson would be the obvious choice if he was staying, and Fernando Llorente next, but because we’re looking to move to a possession-based game and his future not 100% secure, then I’d say it’s our new loan striker Tammy Abraham.

Llorente will miss the first one or two games, and we need Abraham to get off the mark quickly, otherwise – without Sigurdsson and Llorente, we could be struggling to score goals.

What would make for a successful season?

Reaching the 40-point mark still has to be our first and immediate target for the season. I’d hoped by now after 6 full seasons, that we could be possibly looking to be established in and around mid-table, but we’ve experienced the threat of relegation now for the last two years – and that’s where we’re currently at.

Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you, and who would you take to join the Swans?

Dusan Tadic springs to mind as being the player I remember to give us the most problems when we’ve faced you. He could walk into our team easily and would be able to play anywhere across our front three and would definitely improve us. He’d be excellent playing as a number 10 behind our front 2 or anywhere in a front three or wide.  That’s the sort of player that we’re currently lacking at the moment.

Finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?

Our record at Southampton isn’t great, we’ve won one and lost three out of five, we don’t score many at St Mary’s either and I expect another tough game. With a lack of impact subs available – I think you’ll be a bit too strong for us in the end so I’m predicting a narrow 2-1 defeat – with you going on to win it in the final 15-20 minutes. But I’m hopeful of a good performance ahead of our first home game against Manchester United at least.

Jack Stephens: the latest talent off our academy conveyor belt

Just over six months ago the sale of Jose Fonte was sanctioned to West Ham United, before Virgil Van Dijk was dealt a season ending injury blow just two days later. The following ten days proved to be even worse than any Southampton fan could imagine, with the board opting to stand still in the January market. An onslaught of panic amongst fans was well and truly beginning to settle in.

But when one door closes, another door opens, as the emergence of Jack Stephen’s has most certainly shown.

Should we have aimed to sure-up our defence up with an experienced defender? Were we right to let Fonte leave? And did we chose to work with what we’ve got, or was it simply poor planning?

These topics are all up for debate and will most likely divide opinion amongst fans, but there’s one thing that we’re all certain about; the undeniable talent of Jack Stephens.

We really shouldn’t be surprised to see another academy prospect benefiting from the opportunity of first team football, but I’m sure I won’t be alone in saying that I didn’t see Stephens breaking through in the manner that he has.  

So often in the past Southampton have aimed to gently integrate their promising starlets into the first team, ensuring not to hand them too much too soon. It’s vital to present a youngster with opportunities, but only when it truly benefits their development; this often requires having a leader alongside them, ensuring that there is capable back up to cover for them, and keeping responsibilities limited. There’s far more to developing a youngster than simply throwing them into the starting XI.

However, Stephens introduction into the first team as an academy graduate has been really rather different; quite the opposite in fact. Rather than being handed the opportunity as a reward for good form in the youth leagues, or even just to showcase the clubs future, Stephens was being used out of necessity. He had no natural leader by his side, no first-team standard back up to take his place, and was being handed all the responsibilities that Virgil Van Dijk took on before him.

Stephens was placed in a position whereby he simply had to deliver, and boy has he done just that.

The England U21 International has always held promise – there’s no disputing that – but it’s over the past six months where he’s truly come into his element.

Southampton Football Club as a whole have always promoted the idea of playing with an attractive style of football, and naturally, this creates a demand for a certain type of player; in this case, a certain type of defender.

With Virgil Van Dijk sidelined through injury, Southampton lost a vital cog in their approach of building from the back. Without a player of such a mould, Southampton heavily reduce the intensity of their attacking play, and there’s often a disjointed link between the defence and the attack.

In the form of Stephens however, Southampton are able to effectively maintain this approach to their games. Each and every time that he receives the ball, I’m astounded at his awareness of his surroundings, as he instantly knows who will next take charge of possession.

He holds the ball with great composure and plays his passes with real conviction. If there’s a full back free on the opposite wing, then you can bank on him to make that pass, and if the opposition’s midfield shows a gap, then you can be sure that he’ll drive into the space.

Dare I say it, but his qualities on the ball have an heir of Van Dijk about them…

Don’t begin to think that these technical strengths come at the cost of bread and butter defending however. Stephens is improving defensively on a weekly basis, showing that he can handle all the different challenges that the Premier League can throw at you – be that a nippy and pacey forward, or a physical and classic British number nine.

I’m yet to see him back out of a single 50/50, he’s brave enough to always put his body on the line, and he’s even adopted his own signature method of tackling; this involves sliding, then hooking his ankle around the ball from behind the player, before quickly rising to his feet and recycling play. It never fails to get a standing ovation from us Southampton fans…

However, I’m not wearing red and white tinted spectacles; Stephens does have his weaknesses.

In those all important moments against the big teams he boasts the tendency to switch off, and whilst he’s certainly not troubled physically, his aerial presence does need improving.

On top of this, having only spent half a season in the Premier League, Stephens can still be dragged out of his defensive line in those manic end to end fixtures. He can be guilty of over committing when the opposition overloads their attack, but with time on his side and plenty more challenges on the horizon, these shortcomings can be corrected.

At a time when everyone is talking about Virgil Van Dijk and the transfer window, it’s important to appreciate the talent of those who will proudly step out onto St Mary’s this season; especially when they’re one of our own.

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.

My centre-back choice for Southampton FC

Many Southampton fans have already highlighted their main objective from the current transfer window; to retain our assets rather than reform our squad. But whilst this is an opinion I certainly share, there’s one position in the side where Southampton Football Club can’t afford to stand still.

Regardless of whether Virgil Van Dijk stays or goes, Mauricio Pellegrino needs another body at the heart of his defence; and in my eyes, Kevin Wimmer fits the billing.

At this point some may understandably have their doubts, due to the 24-year-old spending the past two seasons as back up at Tottenham Hotspur, but hear me out…

First and foremost, being second choice to Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen is certainly no insult; far from it in fact. Under Mauricio Pochettino’s management, the pair have arguably become the strongest centre-back partnership in the Premier League, and given that current Saints Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu were forced out of Chelsea due to unassailable competition, it’s mindless to discount a player’s ability for these reasons.

The Austrian International has built up a reputation as a tough tackling centre-back, who isn’t afraid to put his body on the line and block efforts at all costs. He’s more than capable in the air, and despite his naturally strong physical nature, is accomplished on the ball too – a vital characteristic for being a Southampton centre-back.

However, there are of course some areas of his game that desperately need work.

Wimmer deputised well for Vertonghen over the 2015/16 season, and barely put a foot wrong; proving himself to be reliable back up should anyone be on the injury table. But over the 2016/17 season and so far in pre-season, Spurs fans have found that the lack of game time has taken a toll on his fitness. His reading of the game is also struggling at the minute too, with opportunities coming few and far between.  

But when you consider Pochettino’s demands of a centre-back, it’s understandable as to why Wimmer has struggled over the past 12 months. Wimmer’s not a quick defender by any means, so when he plays in a defensive line as high and physically demanding as Tottenham’s, he’s naturally going to be exposed in these areas of his game. On top of this, he can’t evade pressure or carry the ball out of defence quite like Vertonghen or Alderweireld, meaning he’s forced to operate in a system that doesn’t play to his strengths.

What’s most encouraging about these current shortcomings however, is that all of them can be solved under the right management and set up; something Southampton Football Club have shown with a number of players in recent years.

Wimmer would be my personal choice, but of course I would back any other first-team signing given our track record. The bottom line however is that we simply have to get someone through the door; not only to potentially prepare for a Van Dijk exit this summer, but also to ensure that we have a mature defender who knows his demands if Van Dijk departs next year.

Aiming to form an entirely new defensive partnership in just one window is a risk that would be all too mindless to take.

I’m confident that if our club is keeping tabs on Wimmer – as some reports are suggesting – we’d be able to mould our system to his strengths, and he could get back to realising the joys of being a truly valued squad member. He only has to ask Romeu and Bertrand what it’s like…

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.

The early promise shown by Mauricio Pellegrino

During Ronald Koeman’s reign at Southampton Football Club, I remember racing to watch each and every press conference, desperate to hear his comments on the week’s drama and results; and following an entire season of quite the opposite, it’s wonderful to have that back again with Mauricio Pellegrino.

Southampton announced the appointment of Pellegrino on the 23rd of June, and it’s safe to assume that he’s a name many English fans aren’t particularly familiar with. Yet despite the Argentinian being in charge for less than a month, I’ve already been left excited for the project that could be under our new boss.  

We’re yet to see a ball be kicked in a single competitive game, yet solely through Pellegrino’s early press conferences and interviews, my interest has been captured and my attention grasped. It’s not a matter of accent and dialect, it’s his knowledgeable mannerisms, phrases and aura that has already created an excitement about the product we may see on the pitch.

The Saints have just concluded their pre-season training in Switzerland after a 0-0 draw with St Gallen, and the videos shared throughout the week have helped to give the fans a slight idea of how the Argentine will operate at the club. It appears that there’s been double sessions, drills on high intensity, and pressing the opposition; similar to the style of play Pochettino enforced at Southampton. If this is the case then it’s not only pleasing to watch, but it’s also an exhilarating style which the Saints fans will welcome with open arms.

One clip in particular that stuck with me was the crossbar challenge between Pellegrino and Kelvin Davis. As a fan it’s always nice to see certain figures ‘break character’, so seeing our new manager and a club legend partake in this was highly entertaining; which also helps the club to connect with the fans.

Admittedly, Claude Puel was also known for getting stuck in during training, which I personally loved, but as we later realised, player/manager relations were not as they seemed on the outside.

During Claude Puel’s short time in charge of Southampton Football Club, he guided us to an EFL cup final, developed a number of players into first team stars, and even pushed through a number of academy prospects. But whilst the headlines will predominantly focus upon our goalscoring troubles and dull football, off the field issues played an equally important part in his sacking. When a manager continues to present tedious, predictable and repetitive performances and press conferences, combined with a non existent relationship with fans, something has to give.

Which brings me onto a vital aspect of being a Southampton manager where Puel clearly fell short; unity in the squad.

This is something that Pellegrino has clearly acknowledged himself, as he proves when asked about his objectives and goals from pre-season…

“We have to create one style of playing, one model, one behaviour, and an understanding between manager and players, medical staff and us. Not just inside the pitch but always outside the pitch too.

“We have to meet how they are because in modern football today there is a lot of diversity. We are a lot of people with different behaviours and different beliefs, and you have to try to unify them to create one team on the pitch. It’s something that looks really easy, but it’s not too easy.”

Now by no means am I getting carried away or forgetting just how much more there is to prove; but just like any other fan, I’m growing increasingly optimistic of seeing us rebuild that bridge between the club, the manager and the fans.

Is Remy right for Pellegrino’s Southampton?

Once a fully fledged French International and a menace to Premier League defences, Loic Remy’s career has come to somewhat of a standstill, as he finds himself locked out of Antonio Conte’s plans.

Sky Sports have since reported however that he’s free to leave the club this summer, stating that Southampton are one of three clubs interested in the Frenchman.

Remy travelled with the Blues squad for pre-season and even scored twice during an 8-2 win over Fulham, but it seems that he was selected solely to improve his fitness.

So with Remy firmly placed in Roman Abramovich’s shop window, and Southampton fans divided in opinion, is this a deal that takes my fancy? And is it the kind of gamble Southampton Football Club should be taking?

Firstly, it’s only right to paint the picture of Remy as a footballer; he’s an experienced centre-forward who at 30 years of age, is still quick on his feet and cool in front of goal. He’s a more than capable dribbler on the ball, and whilst his movement is generally considered intelligent, he’s considerably more effective in sides that look to counter attack.

He’s proven himself as lethal forward in Ligue 1 from 2008-13 – maintaining a one-in-two strike rate – before scoring 20 Premier League goals in just 42 appearances for QPR and Newcastle United.

From this profile it would seem like a no-brainer to race for Remy’s signature. However, I have my reservations for a number of reasons…

Since moving to Chelsea in 2014, Remy has featured in just 37 Premier League fixtures, scoring eight goals. And whilst failing to start for Chelsea is certainly no insult, that tally includes a miserable half-season loan spell at Crystal Palace, where he failed to open his goalscoring account in red and blue.

It’s been a long while since Remy has been able to string together a number of promising performances, and injuries have certainly played their part too. As the years have gone on, it seems that injury is waiting for the Frenchman around each and every corner; this is an attribute that we certainly don’t need in our squad. Regular injuries not only cost the club, but they also disrupt the way the team are playing, as someone else with different qualities takes their place.

On top of this, Remy hardly makes for the most Southampton-esque signing given his age; there’s little room for development, next to no sell on value, and the possibility that he blocks the pathway into the first team for others.

Not to mention that with Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini, Remy will be facing hot competition, and I’m not convinced that’s what he needs for his own development. In order to get back to his best, he needs a guarantee of consecutive starts with limited competition and a manager who trusts him – something we can’t offer.

Admittedly Remy’s pace does offer us something different in our frontline, and I’m sure that under the right management, a revival of his career can be made. But when you consider the high wage bill, missing form and recurring injuries, I can’t help but feel this is all too big of a gamble for Southampton Football Club.