We’re now just over halfway through the 2016/17 Premier League season, and it hasn’t quite been the season many fans had hoped for thus far.
After another preseason of change, we once again saw some all too familiar traits from years gone by. Key players seeking pastures new and our manager moving to a rival Premier League club; giving Les Reed and the board a much busier summer than they would have anticipated. Key decisions had to made to try and push on from a sixth place finish and Europa League qualification – that is quite the task of a club playing in the third tier only five years ago. They chose a relatively unknown Frenchman to take the reigns from a record setting, Champions League winning Dutchman.
Claude Puel was appointed on the 30th of June to replace Ronald Koeman on the recommendation and advice of a certain Arsene Wenger no less. Prior to the former Monaco midfielder’s appointment, Saints had already sold Sadio Mane to Liverpool and Victor Wanyama to Tottenham Hotspur for an estimated combined total of £46 million. Saints were also in extensive talks with Chinese club, Shandong Luneng, for the transfer of Graziano Pelle, with the move being completed a few weeks into Puel’s tenure – leaving him with the unenviable task of meeting his players, assessing them, then going into the transfer market to fill the gaps. With not a huge time-frame from his appointment to the opening game against Watford, himself and the club decided to not bring in any recognised strikers and to put faith into Shane Long, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez. Puel also stated his intent to use new recruit, Nathan Redmond, as a striker – comparing him to former French protege Thierry Henry.
Redmond started life on the South Coast perfectly as he bagged Saints’ equaliser in the opening day draw against Watford, but since then, he’s gone on to score only twice more. Since the start of the season, Redmond has been a figure commonly placed in the starting eleven, meaning Puel has chopped and changed his starting partner. During the opening games of the season, the Frenchmen preferred Long to start alongside the former Norwich man, and rightly so too. After the Ireland international’s impressive goal scoring feat during 2016 he was more than deserving of his place in the starting eleven. But as the opening games of the season unraveled, Long couldn’t rediscover his form of the back end of last season as he failed to score in each of the matches he featured in.
Subsequently, Puel has rotated his frontline, featuring most commonly Austin as a strike partner with Redmond. Since the Englishman’s first start against Sunderland, Austin has netted on nine occasions in all competitions as he stated his claim as Saints’ best goalscorer. Things were going tremendously for Austin as talk of an England call up became common ahead of Southgate’s announcements. Unfortunately for him however, the call from newly appointed Southgate never came and during Saints’ final Europa League game against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, he landed awkwardly when rising for the ball and dislocated his shoulder. After Saints were eliminated by the Israeli champions, it was revealed that he would need surgery and could miss up to three months of action. This sent Puel back to the drawing board as Saints’ only prolific goalscorer so far will be sidelined for a substantial amount of time.
In comparison to this point last season, as many know, Saints have been far less clinical in front of goal. Before Saints’ game against Norwich on the 2nd of January last season, Ronald Koeman’s men had scored 45 goals in 26 games – averaging 1.7 goals per game. Whereas this season, Saints have scored 30 goals in 29 games – averaging 1.03 goals per game. When examining the stats it’s not hard to see why we haven’t been scoring as much as we could have.
Prior to the trip to Carrow road, Mane had been involved in 15 goals over all competitions; registering seven goals and eight assists. Shane Long had scored seven goals and registered two assists, whilst the beautiful Italian, Pelle, had netted nine times and assisted three times. In comparison to this season, Long has notched just one goal in all competitions, and Nathan Redmond has grabbed just three goals. As previously mentioned, Austin has scored nine goals in all competitions and Jay-Rod has scored four goals, two prior and post his injury – including a wonder strike to seal all three points away at Bournemouth.
As we are now entering the early stages of the January transfer window, it doesn’t take a mysterious black box to highlight what we need to invest in this winter; however, the black box will be able to identify the players we do need. With every transfer window, there will be guaranteed speculation of players coming in and players leaving the club, that’s just the way it is at St Mary’s. With Southampton’s lack of goals it hasn’t been hard for the press to link strikers to a move down south. Two of the names that have been linked are Liverpool striker, Daniel Sturridge and Napoli forward, Manolo Gabbiadini.
Daniel Sturridge is a name every fan in England is aware of. The 27-year-old Englishmen has been one of the most prolific forwards in the Premier League and on the international scene. During his greatest goalscoring season, Sturridge grabbed 25 goals in all competitions as Liverpool narrowly missed out on the title. Last season, the Englishmen grabbed 13 goals in all competitions as he played a bit-part role under new manager Jurgen Klopp. This poises the question ‘Why wouldn’t Liverpool want to keep hold of a player with such great talent like Sturridge?’ Well, the main cause for concern with Sturridge is that he has been plagued with injuries ever since Luis Suarez left Liverpool in the summer of 2014.
Since the end of the 2013/14 season, he has featured 68 times for club and country as regular hamstring injuries seem to be the cause of a lack in game time. Another perception Sturridge carries is that his commitment for the team isn’t the greatest. Jurgen Klopp’s style of play is much like that of Mauricio Pochettino’s. Both men like to establish a high pressing game to give the opposition as little time on the ball as possible. This could be one of the reasons why Sturridge is lower than Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi at Anfield as perhaps Klopp doesn’t feel he works as hard as the Brazilian and Belgian off the ball. The likelihood of this transfer being completed is very slim. Jurgen Klopp was quoted in saying he “doesn’t want Daniel to leave the club.” Another factor could be location. With a few London clubs interested in the striker, including West Ham, Sturridge is believed to prefer a move back to the capital; where he once played for current league leaders, Chelsea.
As previously mentioned, the second player Saints have been linked with is Manolo Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini is a 5ft 9 forward who can player as a striker or as an attacking midfielder. The 25 year old is an Italian international who has scored one goal in his six appearances for the Azzurri. The Italian forward failed to reach double figures for Napoli last season as he bagged nine goals in all competitions. So far this season, he has netted five times, so could be on course to reach double figures if he stays put. The reason why many clubs in the Premier League have been linked with Gabbiadini is due to his immense goal scoring form during the 2014/15 season; where he spent half of the season at Sampdoria before joining Napoli for €13 million. Whilst at Sampdoria, he scored eight times; prompting Napoli to fork out on such a high transfer fee. Life at Napoli started well for the Italian as he scored a further 11 times for his new club-including one against his former employers. There is a possibility Saints could sign him as he’s been linked with a move to the South Coast in a variety of news outlets in Italy. However, like always, Saints aren’t the only club interested in his services. Wolfsburg appear to be the frontrunners for him as they look to replace the now PSG man, Julian Draxler. My issue if Saints do complete the signing of Gabbiadini is that he lacks Premier League experience. At this point in the season I believe we need someone who knows and is adapted to the pace of the Premier League.
One man who is certainly that is Jermain Defoe. Former England international, Defoe, has been prolific in every Premier League season he’s featured in. With eight goals already at a struggling Sunderland side, it proves how clinical he can be when not having much quality around him. His 18 goals last season proved pivotal in Sunderland’s battle against the drop and he’s on course to match that again this season. In 276 league appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, he netted 92 times and since joining Sunderland in January 2015 he’s scored a further 27 goals in the Premier League.
Sunderland boss, David Moyes, was quoted saying that Sunderland need to decrease their wage bill if they are to bring in any new players this winter. Defoe is earning over £50,000 at Sunderland, so Saints could definitely test their resolve. Defoe would be the quick fix of goals we need from now until the end of the season, and at the age of 34, he’s certainly coming to the end of a fantastic career. The one problem many fans may have if we try to bring in the Englishmen is his ties with our South Coast neighbours. Defoe joined Bournemouth on loan from West Ham in October 2000 and scored 18 goals in 29 league appearances. Defoe has also played for the blue side of Hampshire, joining Harry Redknapp’s Pompey for £7.5 million in 2008. He scored 15 goals in 31 games for Pompey before leaving after just one season to rejoin Tottenham and Redknapp at White Hart Lane. Southampton haven’t been linked with a move for Defoe, but I would like to see Defoe bag the goals we need in the red and white stripes.
The final striker we’ve been linked with is FC Utrecht’s Frenchmen Sébastien Haller. Since joining the Dutch outfit from Auxerre he has scored 37 goals in 67 appearances. He’s only 22 years of age and is giant in stature as he stands at 6ft 2. He’s was linked with a deadline day move to Saints in the summer but a move never materialised. So far this season he has netted nine times in all competitions. This is probably the most likely transfer to be completed as Haller is familiar with Claude Puel. He has also been seen following Nathan Redmond on twitter – if that means anything!
With Haller being so young at 22 he can definitely adapt and fulfil his potential in the Premier League. My concern however would be the immediate amount of goals he would get and how long it would take him to adapt to life in England.
Claude Puel has kept his cards very close to his chest saying that Saints won’t be completing any signings during the January window; but as Saints fans know, this could mean anything. Saints have always liked to keep the transfer business in secretive fashion for as long as possible. For example, when we signed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the summer very few media outlets reported we were interested in him; then all of a sudden it was announced that we had completed the signing. The reasons Saints do this is to minimise the competition and price we have to pay. If very few clubs are aware of our interest, then those who may be interested won’t feel obliged to start a bidding war over the player, thus preventing the price to rise and rise.
I also believe Claude wouldn’t come out and say we need players so publicly for a number of reasons. Firstly out of respect for the other clubs in the Premier League. The Frenchmen appears to be a man of dignity and compassion, therefore speaking about other club’s players would go against his morals. Secondly, not to add pressure on the current squad and to keep the squad harmony high. For example, if you say that you’re perfectly happy with the squad then the current squad will feel that their efforts are being noticed and welcomed by the manager.
I’d love us to sign a striker with great Premier League pedigree, but if the board feel as though a deal will not be financially correct for the club then the last thing I’d want to see is us bring someone that we can’t afford. We also need to remember that the Southampton board like to bring in players who understand and represent the ethos of the ‘Southampton Way’, and if there aren’t any players who can fulfil that this window, I won’t begrudge a lack of activity this winter.