With Jay Rodriguez’s long awaited return to Southampton edging closer, a question on the mind of many Southampton fans is how the 25 year old will fit into Ronald Koeman’s side.
In a recent interview the forward told BBC Radio Solent “Physically I’ve improved my stats. That’s what I wanted to get out of this. I’ve improved my speed and strength.”
A positive sign for Southampton fans of what is to come, and an even better sign for Koeman who will be dealt a manager’s best dilema.
Rodriguez was deployed under Mauricio Pochettino as an Inside forward, starting from the left, making runs into the middle. His play was largely dependant on his perfectly timed runs from deep and fantastic service from ex Saint, Rickie Lambert.
Like Pochettino’s side, Koeman also starts with a big forward. That big forward comes in the form of Italian international, Graziano Pelle, who has been integral to Southampton’s success this season. These similar philosophies in wide forward play greatly involve fast one-two exchanges and the use of a centre forward as a focal point. This style will be all too familiar for Rodriguez who scored 15 goals in the Premier Leagues 2013/2014 season.
Senegal winger, Sadio Mane, has now firmly placed himself as the main competition for Rodriguez on the left side. After recording 10 goals in 30 games he has now more than settled into life on the South Coast, overturning a shaky start to his Southampton career. Unless of course Koeman wishes to play Mane as a number 10, a role that was becoming more familiar in the later stages of the season.
Dusan Tadic however is the polar opposite to Mane, the Serbian playmaker has taken a drastic dip in form since January after struggling with injury; the kind of form that Koeman need not tolerate with such depth in his side.
The second spot up for grabs is the centre forward role. Graziano Pelle hit the back of the net 12 times in the Premier League last season, featuring in every game of Southampton’s “against all odds” campaign. However, despite his great influence in play and dream start to the season, a number of poor performances and a 4 month goal drought brought great worry to the fans on the south coast.
Many suggested that this poor run was down to fatigue. With the return of Rodriguez we now have a forward who can rest the Italian and pose great competition for his starting place.
Due to the style Koeman wishes to play, last season’s signing Shane Long, was not seen as direct competition for Pelle. Instead, the Irishman was often deployed as a right Winger or as a second man up top. With Rodriguez holding a stronger figure and standing taller than Long, it’s only logical to see Rodriguez as Pelle’s greatest threat.
The final player to rival Rodriguez is new recruit, Juanmi. Southampton payed Malaga £5m for the forward, in a deal that Spanish experts and fans are labelling as a bargain. The Spanish International is a small, fast and intelligent forward who often plays as a second striker. At just 22, he possesses skill in abundance and incredible technical ability, Juanmi is a striker unlike any other at Southampton. This will give Koeman a great option to switch play style, depending on the opponent and the demands of the game. Whilst both Rodriguez and Juanmi can play as forwards, their roles differ immensely.
With such depth in attack, Rodriguez will be spurred on to work for his place in the team and leave Koeman the choice of where to play the versatile forward. Perhaps Southampton fans will see in pre-season, what role lies ahead for Rodriguez and if he can hit the heights he once hit before.
One thing for sure however is that Southampton currently boast their greatest front line in recent years and no matter where Rodriguez plays, he will be loved by every fan in St Marys upon his return.