Southampton‘s Vice Chairman of Football Les Reed promised a quiet summer and that the club would take a stand on its wantaway stars—including Virgil van Dijk. In that regard, Reed and the club delivered.
New Saints manager Mauricio Pellegrino could’ve used a shiny new forward to help reinvigorate the club’s attack, given how the team scored just 41 Premier League goals last season. But he will have to embark on the 2017/18 season with what he inherited. Despite the lack in quality shown by the Saints forward line so far, hopefully the current crop of Saints attackers is all Pellegrino needs.
However, Southampton did address three important requirements with the summer signings of Mario Lemina, Wesley Hoedt and Jan Bednarek.
Lemina has been praised as a terrific addition to compliment and provide cover for Oriol Romeu, who has a knack for a rash challenge every so often. Juventus expert Adam Digby is convinced that the Gabonese International will slot right into life in the Premier League unlike the likes of former Saints Dani Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez, partly because of his past play in Ligue 1 before two seasons in Serie A. If he’s able to help protect the backline and return a goal or two in the process, consider his club-record fee a win in a crazy transfer window.
There was so much speculation surrounding van Dijk that fans were begging for a high-calibre centre back to come in *just in case* the Dutch defender left St Mary’s. But Reed and the Saints hierarchy held firm and van Dijk is still here to now play alongside new signing and compatriot Hoedt, who is equally confident in the air, something Southampton lacked in the last half of the season with Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida filling the void left by Jose Fonte’s departure and van Dijk’s injury. Despite those circumstances, Stephens and Yoshida deputised soundly, but quality and consistency at the back will help relieve the pressure on a Fraser Forster freshly culled from the England squad for some less-than-perfect goalkeeping of late.
Southampton also made a future signing in 21-year-old Bednarek. The Polish centre back is clearly not ready for English football, but he’s been thrust into difficult situations previously and responded well. The former Lech Poznan defender had a baptism by fire on loan at Gornik Leczna, who narrowly avoided relegation during his first season of regular first team football in 2015/16. He showed his rugged nature as part of Lech’s back line the following season and helped his side finish third with the league’s best defence. Given time to develop at Southampton, Bednarek could prove a steal at £6m in today’s market.
Southampton has scored just three goals in four games this season, but we’re not mashing the panic button yet. All three, however, came in one game, and just one is from open play while the other two were from the penalty spot.
It has been obvious for over 12 months what was needed: someone to link with the midfield and/or a striker that can hold up the ball, and it is baffling that the issue has not been addressed considering the problem was key to Puel’s downfall as Saints manager.
Saints’ most successful attacks of late have featured a strong striker, such as Graziano Pelle or Rickie Lambert, who could handily hold up play to allow wingers to run beyond them before giving a nice target in the box to aim for. This established a fruitful connection between Dusan Tadic and Pelle, and the former has struggled following the departure of the Italian to China.
Sofiane Boufal was touted to fill this role centrally behind the striker, but he’s been relegated to two substitute appearances, despite a productive and much improved pre-season.
Come January, it will be interesting to see where Southampton regarding their goals return. Currently, Manolo Gabbiadini has been the guy, which has kept a healthy, and more prototypical Southampton striker, Charlie Austin on the bench.
Not backing down against Liverpool was a great moral victory, though it doesn’t necessarily help Southampton on the pitch. Who knows if van Dijk will ever get back in the correct head space for a Saints return? There is no timetable for his integration back into the first team, and there’s no knowing how he will play once back in the side.
Football isn’t about moral victories, rather results.
#SaintsFC fans, how would you grade our summer business?— St. Mary's Musings (@StMarysMusings) August 31, 2017
Just over half of those who voted on our Twitter poll gave Saints a “Good” rating whilst 37 per cent called it “Fair”. Somewhere in the middle of indifferent to please seems right for a summer where prices were at a premium.
Southampton has always had the common sense to not impulse buy and without European football and an early exit in the Carabao Cup, business was always going to be quiet. Glaring issues in the squad remain, but two of the incoming signings, Lemina and Hoedt, will directly impact this season with the Gabonese international already showing promise.