We know that it’s part and parcel as a Southampton fan to experience the highest of highs no sooner than being put through the lowest of the lows; the 2016/17 season so far has certainly been no exception.
After 17 Premier League games, Claude Puel’s side have found themselves sitting handsomely in 7th, whilst also booking themselves a place in the semi-final of the League Cup.
Now, to the average football fan, this sounds like a promising start to the season – and they would be right in thinking so – but these facts don’t even begin to paint the picture of Southampton’s season so far.
Since Claude Puel has taken charge of Southampton Football Club, we’ve been treated to some of our most dominant and defensively resilient performances in recent years. Games have gone by where the opposition have forgotten what a touch of the ball feels like, and Fraser Forster has had the privilege of picking up clean sheets that even Paulo Gazzaniga could protect.
Watching on, I’ve been left astounded by our side’s understanding of Puel’s defensive demands on multiple occasions. At all times our defence and midfield are communicating, ensuring that each and every player is in position and alert.
With Puel’s guidance, Virgil Van Dijk has been touted by many as the Premier League’s best defender, Cedric Soares has recently come into outstanding form, and unsurprisingly, Ryan Bertrand has remained as consistent as ever. For me, It seems that defensive stability is at the forefront of Puel’s demands of a Premier League side, and boy is he doing it well.
To add to this, I’ve also witnessed numerous dominant midfield performances that would have never been possible under previous manager Ronald Koeman. Granted, Koeman liked to keep the midfield tight and he carried this out on many occasions, but never did I see the Dutchman’s midfield play with the same expression that Puel encourages.
Like the defence, each midfielder knows exactly where to be and when, whilst also boasting the confidence to remain composed on the ball and maintain possession effectively. Since our return to the Premier League, I’ve never seen Southampton’s midfield so drilled and confident whilst on the ball.
Through this, Oriol Romeu is playing the best football of his career, James Ward-Prowse is being utilised more effectively, and even Jordy Clasie has had his best game in a Southampton shirt.
These showings have seen us beat West Ham 3-0, draw 1-1 against Manchester City, beat Arsenal 2-0, and just last weekend, beat our good friends AFC Bournemouth 3-1.
However, as I finish talking about the defence and midfield, we now come to the attack, and this is where my and many other fans frustrations lie. We can stand strong, we can dictate play, and we’ve even shown that we can forge plenty of chances for ourselves; but when it comes to sticking the ball into that big white netted structure, we crumble.
Perhaps what is most frustrating about this flaw in our side however, is that it was so preventable. Southampton have been hailed countless times for their ability to replace talent in the past, but last summer, we failed in the attacking department. It’s as simple as that.
This doesn’t mean to say I’m not happy with the signings of Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond – because i’m delighted with that business – but what I am saying is that when you sell your two top goal-scorers and decide not to sign another striker, you can’t complain when the goals aren’t flowing. I can’t help but wonder that if we are in 7th place despite being the League’s fifth lowest goal-scorers, how many more points could we have salvaged with the help of some extra fire power?
For a club as ambitious as ours, failing to sign another striker was a poor footballing decision, and it’s one that must be amended this January. Ultimately, it could now also be argued that it was a poor financial decision too, as throughout our Europa League campaign our inability to finish was the reason for our group stage exit – an exit that has forced us to miss out on plenty of revenue and exposure.
However, whilst the board may have failed here, they most certainly didn’t with one particular aspect of Puel’s management – his trust in youth. It’s now common knowledge that Koeman isn’t a fan of promoting from within, and this has become even more evident with the appointment of Puel.
Since joining, Puel has handed multiple opportunities to Harrison Reed, Jake Hesketh, Josh Sims and Sam McQueen; all of which were deemed by Koeman to not be ready for first team football.
Puel hands these opportunities out through merit, not out of desperation, and through this well-placed trust, he is able to receive a confident, determined and talented young player in return.
The development of young talent is in the fabric of Southampton Football Club, and with Puel, that philosophy appears to be in safe hands.
All in all, I’m delighted with the style of football that Puel is implementing, the use of the academies talent, and our current position in the League and League Cup. But, the last thing that I want come the end of the season. is for my mind to still be riddled with questions about what could have been with the investment of a real goal-getter.
So, please Southampton Football Club, let’s back Puel’s promising start to life on the South Coast this January with investment, to ensure that we can once again stick two fingers up to those who doubted us.