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.