Transfers

Southampton keeping tabs on Barcelona’s Paco Alcacer

According to the latest reports from The Guardian, Southampton will look to bolster their frontline this January with the services of Paco Alcacer.

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It’s been stated that Alcacer’s dream move to the Camp Nou hasn’t gone to plan, with the 24-year-old growing increasingly frustrated at his lack of game-time.

Southampton aren’t the only club showing an interest in the Spanish International however, with both Celta Viga and Lille keeping a close watch on the forward too.

But whilst being on the books at Barca will most certainly tempt fans (on top of his fine goalscoring record at Valencia) is this the transfer that Southampton need to solve their troubles in front of goal?

To cut a long explanation short, I’m not entirely convinced this is the type of player that we should be hunting for.

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Alcacer’s stats and reputation would suggest that he can add the extra dimension in attack that Southampton so desperately need, but in my view, he would simply be another body in our crowded search for a solution.

Alcacer typically operates best as a lone forward in either one of a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, aiming largely to wreak havoc from inside the box, using his fine movement to unlock the oppositions defence.

To compensate for Alcacer, Gabbiadini would have to drop deeper or wider in the attack, and this is something that he’s openly spoken out against in his past at Napoli.

A two-pronged partnership is also ruled out in my eyes, as both players regularly look to take up the same areas inside the box. The whole objective of playing a partnership is to allow both players to compliment each other’s strengths, but in the case of Gabbiadini and Alcacer, the duo would be all too similar.

The largest issue regarding Southampton’s attack doesn’t lie with the frontman, it lies with those surrounding him. Blistering pace, unpredictability and direct runs at the defence are three qualities our attack has so sorely missed over the past 12 months. Coincidently this is around the same time that Southampton lost Sadio Mane; a player our club have clearly failed to replace since his departure.

With all things considered, I hope for our sake that Alcacer is an option that Southampton choose not to pursue; the Spaniard is a classy player who will prove to be a fantastic asset for the right side, but this is money that needs to be spent on solving the real issue in our frontline.

Theo Walcott: a return to the South coast?

According to the latest reports from The Express, Southampton are willing to spend up to £15M to form a reunion with Theo Walcott this January.

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The article states that Arsenal are looking to reshape their squad over the next two transfer windows, and as a result, Walcott will be free to search for a new club.

But is this just a typical transfer rumour created by putting two and two together? Or could this deal be exactly what Southampton need at this moment in time?

As I stated (screamed) on numerous occasions prior to the 2017/18 season kicking off, Southampton desperately needed a quick goalscoring winger. The failure to replace Sadio Mane’s output from the season before was criminal – not only were the fans starved of entertaining football, but it could also be argued that Claude Puel lost his job as a result of the transfer too.

In the form of Theo Walcott however, numerous boxes that have been left unticked since Mane’s departure, could potentially be crossed through.

Regardless of all the stick that Walcott’s had thrown his way over the past two seasons, he continues to ask questions of the defence with his blistering pace, and he still has an eye for goal – two things our side have so sorely missed in recent times.

Even last season when many were writing him off, the 28-year-old managed to record 10 Premier League goals and find the back of the net four times in the Champions League. And a year prior to this whilst battling injury, he maintained an impressive strike rate whenever an opportunity was handed his way; scoring seven goals in just 18 Premier League and Champions League starts.

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Whilst that may not be good enough for some at a club of Arsenal’s stature, numbers like these would have been a very welcome addition to Southampton’s squad last season. Especially when you consider that we finished our League campaign with Nathan Redmond as top goalscorer (7).

A player that’s shown his value in the Champions League would no doubt be a valuable asset in our hunt for Europa League football.

However, there are of course some potential negatives to this deal, or at least some points to consider.

Whilst this signing would follow Southampton’s recent trend of signing out of favour players from “big clubs”, Walcott would surely hold very little sell-on value.

Going off the assumption that he signs a four year deal and decides to see three of those years out, we’d be flogging him on at the age of 31 years old; it’s safe to say that financial profit wouldn’t be the reason for chasing Walcott’s signature.

On top of this, Walcott’s overall game has often been criticised at Arsenal due to his over-reliance on his pace in the final third. He plays a very simple and often repetitive game of looking to get in behind, lacking the versatility to ask the defence different types of questions.

Despite this, there’s a saying that goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and I can’t help but feel this is applicable to Walcott’s style of play. The same attacking approach that Walcott frustratingly applies at Arsenal, could be the same approach that Southampton so desperately need in their frontline.

The bottom line however is that Southampton Football Club need goals, and at this moment in time I’m not convinced we’re in the position to roll the dice with another “could be” or “potentially” type signing.

We need someone that’s willing to charge at defences, get in behind, and above all else, take the chances that fall their way. With that considered, the acquisition of Walcott would be a welcome addition to the squad, and in terms of proven quality, would be as safe as we can possibly secure.

The latest twist in the Van Dijk tale

Just three days after making his much publicised return to the Southampton starting line-up, Virgil Van Dijk has once again managed to get his name plastered over all the largest news outlets.

The International break can be a painful and frustrating time as a football fan; not only because we’re often starved of entertainment, but also because of the endless stream of transfer focused news and gossip, that emanates from the various international camps.

Players back in their home country and away from their club’s press officer are often free to essentially speak with whoever they (or their agent) want, about whatever they (of their agent) want.

When asked about his future on the South Coast, Van Dijk responded “Halfway through the season, maybe we can see what’s possible” before going on to claim that he has “no regrets” about asking to leave the Saints.

In isolation, the quotes really aren’t that bad, and similar quotes have been made by plenty of players before whilst on International duty. However, add a little context and it’s understandable why these quotes have left so many Southampton fans angry with the Dutchman.

First and foremost, he’s continued to show almost no regard for our club. This behaviour is remarkably insensitive and some would say immature – almost playground like – as he comments on an issue that should now be put to bed or at least filed away, and untouched until further action can actually be taken.

Secondly, after wearing our colours for a mere 90 minutes in a single fixture, Virgil has entertained questions regarding his future. I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping he’d focus primarily on helping us to put points on the board and keep clean sheets, before starting to vocalise dreaming about Champions League nights?

Let’s not forget that last weekend he got the nod over both Wesley Hoedt and Jack Stephens too, who had done nothing wrong to lose their place in the starting line-up.

We know that you want to leave Virgil. You’ve made it quite clear, and any possible suitors most certainly know that too, but at the moment (whilst employed by SFC) it would serve your cause better to use action on the pitch instead of words off of it.

So with that considered, what would have been wrong with simply deflecting the question?

Or even giving a generic “All I’m focused on is Southampton” PR answer?

I for one hate those dull as dishwater comments, but they are commonplace for a reason, and I can’t help but feel this situation is a prime example.

You want to leave? That’s fine. But at the very least respect the club that you signed a six year contract with, and show at least a drop of respect for the fans who backed you throughout your return from injury.

Luciano Vietto remains a target for Southampton this January

With little evidence suggesting that Southampton’s goalscoring woes will soon come to an end, reports of interest in Atletico Madrid’s, Luciano Vietto, have once again resurfaced.

According to numerous sources, Atletico Madrid are ready to cash in on Vietto this January, after his two-year spell with the club has failed to take either party forward.

The 23-year-old striker was considered to be a high priority transfer for Southampton last summer, but due to a situation outside of the club’s control, any hope of a potential move was soon ruled out.

The issue at hand was the complicated matter of resolving Diego Costa’s future, who had been banished from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea plans, and went AWOL to force a reunion with Diego Simeone.

When Southampton made their push for the Argentinian forward, it was late on in the window and a resolution to Costa’s situation seemed far from over – forcing Simeone to take no risks in waving goodbye to Vietto.

Since the window closed however, a deal has been struck between the two European giants, and Costa will now make his return to La Liga when the transfer window re-opens (January).

This is music to the ears of Les Reed and Mauricio Pellegrino, as the arrival of Costa will consequently make room for the departure of Vietto, who has since become surplus to requirements.

As for the qualities of the player himself, he seems to fit the Southampton transfer blueprint down to a T; he’s got time on his side, boasts serious technical ability, and is being poached from a European powerhouse (a common theme amongst recent Saints transfers).

During Vietto’s time in La Liga, he’s shown that he works best when playing just off another forward, using his close control, passing ability and illusive movement to ask questions of the oppositions defence.

In theory, I could imagine him deployed just behind Manolo Gabbiadini, being used to help battle the isolation our Italian forward is currently facing.

But whilst this looks like a tempting transfer and one that we would chase, I’m not sure if it’s exactly what we need. Whilst Vietto showed fine promise during his days at Villarreal, he’s since recorded just seven goals in his last 40 appearances for Atletico and Sevilla.

My only worry is that Southampton boast too many “maybe’s” and “what if’s” in their frontline at the minute, and they simply need a proven goalscorer – something Vietto can’t promise to be.

Fight and a physical presence has returned to Southampton’s spine

Whilst goalscoring woes have been the go-to talking point surrounding Southampton Football Club in recent weeks, it appears that many are failing to see the remarkable work being completed down the other end of the pitch.

I’m of course talking about the addition of Mario Lemina, and Wesley Hoedt.

Last season Claude Puel was forced into fielding a makeshift defensive midfielder alongside Oriol Romeu, whilst having to fight the fires of Virgil Van Dijk’s injury and Jose Fonte’s mid-season departure.

And whilst individuals such as Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens were consequently able to develop themselves as top flight defenders, we were undeniably prone to conceding sloppy goals, crumbling late on, and being bullied in the air.

With thanks to Mauricio Pellegrino, the boards investment and the infamous black box, however, Southampton have once again been able to forge a strong, physical and dependable defensive spine – a common feature of the most successful Southampton sides in recent Premier League seasons.  

Each of those sides were composed of two defensive midfielders that can impose themselves on the opposition off the ball, whilst still holding the technical ability to cooly maintain possession and effectively break from back to front. Similarly the centre-backs must have an aerial presence and be able to work the opposition’s midfield out of shape, whilst also having the eye to execute an inch perfect diagonal ball (see Toby Alderweireld, Virgil Van Dijk, and now Hoedt).

With the signings of Lemina and Hoedt, Southampton have the potential to replicate that same spine.

Lemina has so far proven himself to be the athletic box to box that everyone was hoping for, and a whole lot more. He’s intelligent in possession, boasts quick feet, a fantastic defensive work rate, and upper body strength that’s incomparable to others his size. Over the past 12 months, Southampton have been rightfully criticized for lackluster play in their midfield, with players all too often turning toward the safe option. Lemina, however, is quite the opposite, with his style largely revolving around bringing a high intensity to the game both on and off the ball.

It seems that Romeu has finally found himself a midfielder partner that he can rely on week in, week out…

Then we come to Wesley Hoedt, who’s added the muscle and aerial presence that our backline severely lacked during Van Dijk’s absence. Yoshida and Stephens improved ten fold last season in terms of their defensive awareness and distribution of the ball, but despite this, they still held the tendency to miss out on those all-important aerial duels – an issue that no longer exists with Hoedt leading our backline.

At this moment in time, Southampton not only boast a supreme amount of quality both in front and at the heart of the defence, but also an abundance of options.

You have, Mario Lemina – the heartbeat of our midfield. Oriol Romeu – the anchor. Wesley Hoedt – the man mountain. Virgil Van Dijk – the complete defender. Maya Yoshida – the ideal backup. And even Jack Stephens – the clubs work in progress.

Here we have the personnel to effectively play numerous formations, apply great competition on fellow team-mates, and even approach fixtures in a number of different manners.

Southampton most certainly failed in their hunt for goals in the previous summer transfer window, but credit must be given for their seemingly impeccable defensive recruitment. If we’re going to continue struggling to score goals, we should at least be aiming to make the opposition do the same…

Loan report: Olufela Olomola

A number of Southampton’s academy graduates have been sent out on loan this season in desperate need of vital first team experience, but one youngster in particular has made their mark at their new club quicker than anybody else.

Whilst many academy graduates initially struggle to handle the physicality and competitive nature of the Football League, Olufela Olomola has appeared unfazed, kicking off his loan move with Yeovil Town in the finest of fashions.

After five League Two appearances, Olomola has already found the back of the net on four separate occasions, averaging a goal for every 93 minutes that he’s played. What’s even more impressive about this however, is that he’s managed to do this with just six attempts at goal – missing the target with just one attempt in green and white colours so far.

But believe it or not, I haven’t spent my last few Saturday’s keeping a close eye over Olomola and Yeovil Town. So rather than sitting here and rambling away about his fine form whilst out on loan, I decided to speak to Stephen D’Albiac – a sports writer at the Western Gazette and the Somerset Live.

How have the Yeovil fans taken to Olufela Olomola so far?

SD: So far, very well. Fela has made a great start and provided a constant attacking threat. He’s clearly a determined young player and his attitude has certainly endeared him to the supporters, along with the goals that he has added.

What does he bring to the side that you didn’t have before?

SD: He has helped Yeovil become an attacking threat, which is something that was lacking last season. He’s strong, direct and not afraid to run at defenders, and his pace and the way in which he has linked up with fellow attackers Francois Zoko and Otis Khan has been a real threat to the opposition.

What strengths has he shown?

SD: As before, he’s strong and direct, able to run past defenders and his finishing has been very good. He never stops running either which is a quality that any supporter likes.

What areas of his game still need work?

SD: There have been a couple of times during games this season where he has decided to go it alone when he should have picked passes out, but that is only a very minor criticism given what he has brought to the team so far.

Olomola’s loan deal ends in January; do you think the club should look to extend his stay?

SD: Absolutely, and I would go so far as to say it should be the club’s number one priority between now and January. I’m sure the club will try to extend his deal. They were stung in the loan market last season when they lost Ryan Hedges – who was equally impressive – to Barnsley in January and they will want to do everything they can to avoid a repeat of that. As long as Fela keeps scoring goals and continuing his development, I don’t see any reason why Southampton would not be happy to agree an extension.

And finally, have the fans conjured up a song for him yet?

SD: Not yet, but there’s still plenty of time! If he keeps banging in the goals then I’m sure he’ll get one.

 

Review: The Ins and outs of Southampton’s summer transfer window

The 2017 summer transfer window has had all the drama and rumours of recent seasons, except there’s just one little difference; no key departures.

So, with that being said, there’s only one place to start as I begin my review of Southampton’s summer transfer window.

There’s been social media stalking, airplane tracking, and even hunts for a certain Mercedes people carrier, but with August now behind us, the future of Virgil Van Dijk has finally been decided.

The Dutchman will remain on the South Coast until at least the January transfer window, after not a single bid was filed for the center back throughout the entire summer.

Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Juventus and even Barcelona reportedly held an interest in Van Dijk, but with thanks to Les Reed and co, the club have been able to retain their finest asset.

Being able to have a player of Van Dijk’s quality in the side is obviously a huge boost for the club, but most importantly, we’ve now set a precedent for future transfer windows. The pressure that the club have been under with Van Dijk has been like no other saga before, so to stand strong against the players wishes will send a message to any players in the future who wish to follow in Virgil’s footsteps.  

Van Dijk now has to get his head down, apologise and give his all to Southampton Football Club. If he decides not to do this and therefore not play, then he misses the opportunity to play for his country in the World Cup (if Holland even qualify, of course).

Regardless of if they do however, he will still wish to be firing on all cylinders when the time of his inevitable transfer does come around. He simply has no other choice but to find any last professionalism he has left in him, and right his wrongs of the summer.

From here Van Dijk can get back to showing his incredible talent on the field, Southampton get an extra years service from a world class defender, and he gets his dream move at the end of it all. Everyone’s a winner.

Incomings

Jan Bednarek – signed from Lech Poznan for a reported £5M, the Polish U21 International appears to be one for the future. With Hoedt, Van Dijk, Stephens and Yoshida above him in the pecking order, it looks likely that the 21-year-old will spend his first season at the club working with the U23’s. I’ve seen little so far to leave me excited about this signing, but developing players is what Southampton do best, so give this one some time.

Mario Lemina – pinched from Juventus for a club record fee of £18.1M, this is yet another example of Southampton’s latest transfer strategy; snatching the fringe players from Europe’s elite. Lemina is an athletic, powerful, box to box midfielder, who boasts the defensive mindset to help Oriol in the middle of the park. Early showings suggest that he will be used as Southampton’s midfield outlet for turning defence into attack. He adds much needed energy into a Southampton midfield that was previously lacking legs.

Wesley Hoedt – The arrival of Hoedt for £15M is one that truly met the needs of the fans. Whilst Yoshida has stepped up massively and Stephens is an incredible prospect, the two have their weaknesses as a partnership; they are prone to being dragged out of position, have often crumbled under pressure and are painfully weak in the air. With the addition of Hoedt however, these issues have certainly been addressed (particularly the latter). 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%. Standing at 6ft 4 it would be easy to label him as this battering ram of a defender, but in truth, he’s built up quite the reputation as a ball playing center back (watch out for some delightful 40-yard diagonals with his left foot). It’s brilliant to see that this signing is an addition to the squad, rather than a replacement.

Departures

Jay Rodriguez – Jay had a wonderful five years at the club and left us fans with nothing but good memories, but this transfer was best for all parties involved. The club had moved on and no longer saw a space for him in the side, whilst Rodriguez needed a new challenge to rediscover his love for the game – with that considered, accepting a £12 fee from West Brom is just common sense. Rodriguez is (was) a fantastic system based player, so given how organised a Tony Pulis side tends to be, this move could certainly work out. Back when Rodriguez was working under Pochettino, he would persistently make runs from the wide left into the edge of the box; this is a typical feature of a Pulis wide man, so I wouldn’t mind betting he can notch a fair few this season. All the best Jay, just don’t go scoring against us.

Jordy Clasie – once linked with a move to Manchester United to work under Louis Van Gaal, it’s fair to say that this transfer never quite worked out, and it’s all rather sad really. Having dropped behind Lemina, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Davis and even Hojbjerg in the pecking order, Clasie’s loan move to Club Brugge was needed simply for the players own development. He never really put a foot wrong when he stepped out onto the pitch, but at the same time, it never really clicked either. Whether it was the Premier League’s physicality, pace, or maybe just a lack of trust from managers, I know that Southampton fans will now be sure to keep a close eye on the Belgian First Division title race…

This brings about an end to my review for the summer transfer window, but I’ve got to admit, I find myself a tad frustrated that I’m not writing about an addition to our front line –  we’ve been crying out for a goal-scoring winger for over 12 months now.

All too often Southampton have worked so effectively in the first two-thirds of the pitch, only to lack that final touch of quality when it really matters. I can’t help but feel this is one hell of a gamble to take, and for that, I can’t particularly label this window a true success. We could easily be left looking red faced two months down the line when we continue to lack that missing piece in attack. 

From here on I can only pray that with the fine management of Mauricio Pellegrino, we can put an end to our misery in front of goal, and return to our fluid and free-scoring ways.

Les Reed himself stated at the end of the season that this summer would be a quiet one – in terms of both ins and outs – so for that Les, I take my hat off to you. He’d have been the first and main figure to take criticism and abuse if he wasn’t true to his word word, so when a job is well done, credit is certainly due. 

The same old story

Mauricio Pellegrino remains undefeated in the Premier League, yet the cracks of last season are still there to be seen.

After once again failing to deliver the thrilling and fluid attacking football that so many fans desire, some initial worries and fears appear to be settling in. My answer to this is that whilst they are indeed justified, it’s important to remember that Pellegrino is no magician.

We can see that the Argentine is looking to implement a controlled style of play coupled with a high intensity in pressing and defending. This has seen Southampton record two clean sheets from three Premier League fixtures without the services of both Virgil Van Dijk, and our new boy Wesley Hoedt.

This limited defence has shown fantastic maturity at times, displaying a fine understanding of Pellegrino’s defensive demands, whilst the midfield pairing of Mario Lemina and Oriol Romeu hold fantastic promise looking forward. Romeu offers defensive security and physicality, whilst Lemina is an outlet to turn defence into attack with his athleticism.

Unsurprisingly however, we’ve continued to crumble in the final third, with inexcusable mistakes letting both us (the fans) and the manager down. Poor touches, wayward passing and out-right embarrassing composure in front of goal; you name it and we’ve done it.

It’s clear to see just how well Pellegrino has already organised both his backline and those protecting it, so with that and our poor form in front of goal last season considered, I cannot help but conclude that this issue runs far deeper than the manager.

This is an issue within the personnel of our squad, and regardless of who we could ever possibly have in charge, the issue would still remain.

Southampton are a club famed for their tendency to coach and develop players rather than run to the cheque book, but in our current situation this is something that we simply can’t afford to do.

We’re crying out for a pacey and unpredictable goal threat from wide areas – someone that’s in the same mould of Sadio Mane, a player who I personally believe, sparked the beginning of Southampton’s poor form in front of goal.

No, I’m not slipping into meltdown, and no, I’m not even fearing relegation. I’ve seen plenty that’s left me positive for the season ahead, but we are a club that boasts ambitions to once again fly our flag in European competitions and challenge the status quo.

Such ambitions will be hard to obtain (and quite frankly ridiculous to expect) without investment before the window closes. So let’s act now in the market and as a club truly get behind our manager, Mauricio Pellegrino – something both the board and fans arguably failed to do last season.

Hoedt’s transfer to Southampton confirmed as imminent

The wishes of Southampton fans will soon come true, with Wesley Hoedt’s transfer from Lazio to Southampton all but complete.

For weeks now the rumours have been circulating regarding the future of the Dutch centre-back, but yesterdays quotes from Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi have brushed aside any remaining doubts.

“The boy wants to play with more continuity. He just doesn’t have the opportunity here. A dissatisfied player can not stay. By tomorrow he will go to Southampton. He and (Balde) Keita will have to be replaced.”

This follows on from comments made by Lazio’s sporting director Igili Tare, who stated that Hoedt “requested to be transferred.

“He wants to be a starter in England and will be transferred to Southampton in the near future.

“He has had a positive experience here in Rome. I wish him all the best.”

The original fee offered to Lazio was believed to be in the region of £15.5M, but Sky in Italy have since stated that the final deal is nearing £17M. This would mean that Southampton have now twice beaten their club-record transfer fee prior to this window – £16M paid for Sofiane Boufal last summer.

What appears to be most encouraging about this deal however, is the numerous reliable sources claiming that this transfer bears no implications on Virgil Van Dijk’s future. Hoedt is being signed to strengthen our defensive options and hopefully form a double Dutch partnership within our back line – only time will tell with the latter however.

Will Hoedt make an instant impact for the Saints this season? See for yourself as tickets for Southampton games this season are available from Footballticketpad.comWhilst the club may be looking for more goals this season, adding Hoedt’s quality to the defence can only help the teams performance.

With Hoedt’s arrival on the South coast imminent and Southampton standing strong over Van Dijk, it’s not long now until we can see a Mauricio Pellegrino team firing on all cylinders.

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.