Having had no official bids made for him in the summer (contrary to popular reports), Englishman Jay Rodriguez is currently on track for a December/January return to the pitch at St. Mary’s. However, with Southampton’s astonishing start to the season despite their summer exodus, the question of where he will fit in to Ronald Koeman’s outfit is still to be seen, despite his 15 goals in the Premier League last campaign.
£8million signing Graziano Pelle is already endearing himself to supporters on the south coast with his selfless, hard-working and thus far quality performances as the focal point of the Saints’ attack. Playing in a role not dissimilar to that of Rickie Lambert in the previous five seasons, the Italian’s link up play with the midfield trio (whoever that may be) and playmaker Dusan Tadic in particular has been excellent, with the two having developed a real understanding of each other’s games already. It appears then, that unless Pelle is having a poor game, he will not be dropped from the starting line-up for Rodriguez.
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Tadic has made the left flank his own since joining the club, with his invention, ball retention and defensive discipline very impressive for someone having come from a weaker league in the Eredivisie (from FC Twente) – where he got more time on the ball and was established as one of the most gifted players in the country. Rodriguez spent much of his time last season coming in off the left flank in support of Lambert, with direct running and a willingness to cut inside and shoot something that previous manager Mauricio Pochettino was keen on due to his desire to play inverted wingers. Koeman though, whilst giving Tadic a freedom of sorts, has still instructed him to get the ball into the box from the left as a left footed player – at the time of writing he has attempted 20 more crosses than any other player in the Premier League. Rodriguez may find his opportunities limited in this area too, unless Koeman switches formation to one incorporating Tadic, Rodriguez and Pelle up top.
Summer signings Shane Long from Hull, and Sadio Mane from Red Bull Salzburg will likely be switching duties on the inside right flank until Rodriguez returns. Long has put in tireless displays since his switch but is yet to score, and his ability to beat a man one-on-one in the wide positions has not yet convinced. One does have to feel a degree of sympathy for the Irishman though as he has previously been deployed solely as a striker, not inside forward/winger. Mane has only played one game so far – in the Capital One Cup against Arsenal at the Emirates, but his skill and speed was evident from his 65 minute cameo alone, as he drew a penalty (which was converted by Tadic). He gave the (admittedly out of position) Francis Coquelin a torrid time with his trickery and directness, with his assuredness and confidence when one-on-one already leading most Saints fans to feel that Long will be spending more time on the bench now Mane has obtained his work permit.
It is not clear where Rodriguez will fit in to Koeman’s plans, team or formation at present, but a lot of that can be put down to the fact that whilst the team is doing well, players are less likely to be dropped. With so much of the creative attacking play going through Tadic and Pelle at present, it seems as though Mane, Long and Rodriguez will fight it out to play on the right hand side of attack. Such problems in selecting the team are ones most fans would have been delighted to have prior to the start of the season, and come the Christmas period Saints could have one of the most potent selection of attackers in the division.