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…