It's another season of Premier League football for Southampton. Couple that with two cups and Europa League group stage competition and everything is sunny on the south coast as we look ahead to the new season which, by the way, starts NEXT SATURDAY!
If you look at the #SaintsFC feed regularly, like myself, you'd be accustomed to seeing tweets with complaints directed to the club like, "Why haven't we signed (insert player here)?" or "Why is the club being so quiet about this issue?," and other meltdown mode talk. This preview should ease your stress about this season, because it truly is going to be a fun ride.
Let's start with the key departures:
- Sadio Mane- The Senegalese player left to join Liverpool for a record transfer deal, which looks to be another quality piece of business from Saints.
- Victor Wanyama- The Kenyan wanted this move to Tottenham for awhile, and finally, Saints let him go. With only a year left on his contract, and a replacement in the wings, it was smart business to let Vic go.
- Graziano Pelle- Will probably be missed the least of the four key departures, but that's not saying that Saints won't miss him. He's in China now, so someone will have to replace those lost goals.
- Ronald Koeman- I can't talk much of the man without sounding bitter, but just know that he's at Everton now, and we've got a good new manager.
Now the additions:
- Pierre-Emile Hojberg- This guy looks like the real deal. Can play anywhere in the back-3 of Puel's diamond, is creative on and off the ball, and already has European experience. He'll be a real stud for this team.
- Nathan Redmond- The pacey winger from Norwich, who looks to be a striker in the diamond, will play a vital role in Saints' success this season.
- Alex McCarthy- With Stekelenburg and Gazzaniga both gone, either for good or on loan, Saints were in need of a quality back-up keeper. They got one in McCarthy, and he is probably a step up from Stek.
- Jeremy Pied- One of the more unknown players in the squad, but certainly not unknown by Puel. He's used to playing RB in Puel's system so he can definitely be great for Saints there, as well as a good mentor and leader for Martina and Cedric.
- Claude Puel- Our new manager. He's French, likes the diamond formation, and is a calm and collected looking guy too. If he can get 100% out of the team, then I don't really care if Brett from Manchester has never heard of him. If you want to know more about Puel, read my article from a month ago where I dove in and discovered everything I needed to know about the Frenchman.
Projected Formation/XI/Diamond Tactics (With Depth Chart):
Claude Puel looks to be set on running his 4-4-2 diamond this season, so based on that, let's look at how Saints could line up this season.
*Starters in BOLD*
- Goalkeeper- Fraser Forster, Alex McCarthy, Harry Lewis, Paulo Gazzaniga (If re-call is needed)
- Right-back- Cedric, Jeremy Pied, Cuco Martina, Yan Valery, Maya Yoshida (I know...)
- Left-back- Ryan Bertrand, Matt Targett, Sam McQueen, Cuco Martina (Have seen it suggested?)
- Center-back- Virgil Van Dijk, Jose Fonte, Maya Yoshida, Florin Gardos, Jack Stephens, Jordan Turnbull, Cuco Martina, Oriol Romeu, Ryan Bertrand (Emergency situations only, I'd imagine)
- Defensive Midfield- Pierre-Emile Hojberg, Oriol Romeu, Jordy Clasie, Harrison Reed, James Ward-Prowse
- Central Midfield- Steven Davis, Jordy Clasie, Hojberg, Ward-Prowse, Dusan Tadic, Reed
- Attacking Midfield- Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond, Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis, Jake Hesketh
- Striker- Shane Long, Nathan Redmond, Charlie Austin, Jay Rodriguez, Sam Gallagher, Ryan Seager
When you look at the depth, you begin to realize that Saints are quite okay where they're at right now. This is just a rough sketch, based on friendlies and comments made by Puel, and there are several variations of this that I could see happening.
For starters, let's look at this XI. Bertrand and Cedric can provide the defense, but also have the ability to get forward and provide width. Hojberg has already shown his ability to be creative with passing, as well as defending properly without being reckless. He would be great working the ball out from the back. Jordy Clasie and Steven Davis are two very good passers, and with their main roles being to link-up play between the defense and attack, could do wonders there.
Dusan Tadic up at the top of the diamond is a good look, as he has the creativity to facilitate good balls to either striker, and if those strikers are Redmond and Long, he could be in for a whole lot of through-ball assists this season.
Other than that, there are a few different places players could find themselves. For example, Hojberg could find himself in a more advanced role, with Romeu anchoring the diamond. Jeremy Pied, Puel's tag-along player, could start at right-back.
There is a plethora of options for Claude Puel's men this season, and they'll need to use every option to cope with four different competitions this season. Depth in the midfield is key. In defensive midfield, Hojberg, Romeu, and Jordy Clasie are all three top players, who can fit right in at that position. Don't forget about Harrison Reed, either. All this talk about integrating youth from Puel, Reed should certainly be a guy in that discussion.
In the middle of the diamond, you've got even better options. Steven Davis, Clasie, Hojberg, Ward-Prowse and Tadic can all step in and perform when called upon. All are clever passers, with good ability on the ball. And once JWP can get his free-kicks to go, he'll be a force near the box.
The attacking midfield spot is where Saints somewhat lack. With Dusan Tadic the favorite to start the season at the No. 10, the depth behind him is lacking. Behind Tadic, Nathan Redmond and Steven Davis could fill the CAM role, but I believe that Southampton could use one more player there to at least provide some good depth and keep Tadic on his toes.
As for striker, I think Saints, barring an injury, are set. I understand the worry and calls for another striker, but looking at all of our options when healthy, it's a strong group. Shane Long will be the first name on the teamsheet, while I can see Austin and Redmond battling it out for playing time. That leaves one of those guys on the bench, along with Jay Rodriguez too.
- Oriol Romeu- We got to see glimpses of Romeu last season, but I think that this year you'll see the emergence of Oriol Romeu as a star for Southampton. Losing the physical and powerful presence of Victor Wanyama, Romeu can certainly anchor the midfield and provide good defensive cover for the back-4, as well as get the attack started from the back.
- Cedric- The European champion had trouble adapting last season, but with a good summer under his belt, and a full Premier League season, he could thrive in Puel's diamond system. He is good at getting forward already, but if he can clean up his defense, Cedric could be another emerging star.
- Charlie Austin- Austin can score goals. In his debut, he stole all three points late against Manchester United at Old Trafford, but from there, he struggled to do much else. He was bit by the injury bug. But, with a full offseason under Puel and the training staff, Austin can return to his old self, the old self who can easily be a 10-15 goal striker.
- Dusan Tadic will score 10 goals and have 15 assists for Saints in all competitions: This one isn't THAT crazy. Tadic can be a star in the CAM spot, and if he gets going, like he did at the end of last season, watch out. The Serbian could find himself as Southampton's best player.
- Saints will reach the semi-final of the Europa League: Southampton are a good team, and with the luck of the draw, among other factors, they could find themselves close to European glory.
- Fraser Forster will win the Golden Gloves: This one isn't all that wild either. Fraser Forster is England's best goalkeeper, and is a top-5 keeper in the Premier League. With a good defense in front of him, and a full season's work, Fraser could hold the most clean-sheets.
- Premier League Finish: 10th. I don't think Southampton are getting worse, I just think the rest of the league will catch Saints, and an extra competition will only toughen up the season for Southampton. Finishing 10th with a good cup run, along with European success, is another step in the right direction for the club, however. Though our status of higher finishes in consecutive seasons may come to an end, Saints status of a rising English club will not. 10th is very good this season.
- Europa League: Semi-final. I sit here with a smirk on my face as I type this. One reason is that I can't believe Saints are once again back in Europe, and two, I really believe this is possible. They've got the depth, experience, and talent to make a splash in this competition, so I'm expecting big things.
- FA Cup/League Cup: Quarterfinals in one of these, Round of 16 in other. I feel like these two competitions are where we'll see the youth integrated mostly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means that you'll have to hope for success in Europe or the league for a trophy.
- Top Scorer: Shane Long. He is Saints' number one guy, and there is no reason he cannot continue his success for another season.
- Best Player: Virgil Van Dijk. No reason to think that last year's player of the year will regress. He'll continue to be a force in that defensive pairing with Jose Fonte.
- Best Youth Player: Sam McQueen. It would be easy to pick a Harrison Reed, or James Ward-Prowse, or even a Matt Targett, but I am going with the converted LB, Sam McQueen. He has looked fairly comfortable early on in that role, and may find himself with some game time. Not saying he will be a star, but watch out for this guy. Another one to look out for would be Lloyd Isgrove.