With the season concluded I thought I’d take a look at the three best ways to improve the current 20 teams in England’s premier football decision. I will break it down into 20 separate articles as a series of sorts in order to keep it shorter and more manageable to read so keep an eye out!
Appoint a new manager – it truly is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Premier League managers seemingly have even less job security than actors in Game of Thrones. Claude Puel guided Southampton to 8th in the league and a cup final which, had they taken their chances, no-one would have questioned they deserved to win.
There have been rumours of numerous training ground bust-ups circling that led to the board’s inability to trust him but I think it was more Southampton’s straying from their identity that did it. Such is the fickle nature of fans, they’d rather be entertained than successful. Tony Pulis is probably the only reason West Brom haven’t been relegated the last few years yet fans are calling for his head in the same way Puel’s campaign finished. His defensive style was not what the Saints were used to and so they wished to remove him.
They also won less games than they had in previous seasons under Pochettino and Koeman though it has to be said even Southampton fans will admit they were spoiled over that period.
There have been talks that they have found their successor in Mauricio Pellegrino who – I must admit I know very little about – seemingly has fit the mold of former Argentinian ace of the same Christian name. He has created a successful minnow side by guiding newly promoted Alaves into 9th in La Liga and reaching a Copa Del Rey final (sounds like a familiar season right?) though through a more similar footballing approach to Pochettino so it’s no surprise the Saints front office are enamored with him.
Southampton are usually spot on with their managerial recruiting, never losing a step regardless which of their players are poached by previous managers but I’m surprised they never go for someone more proven. Michael Laudrup would seem like an ideal fit given his CV from his time at similarly over performing Swansea and who oversees a style ideal for the fans on the south coast. Or they could give opportunities domestic managers who have shown good potential like Gary Rowett. At some point these British managers need to find opportunities existing outside of the Championship.
[Editors Note: I wrote this sometime ago and they have since appointed Mauricio Pellegrino]
Find a partner for Van Dijk – With the late emergence of Jack Stephens – academy graduate – discovered last season this may be something that the Saints have already accomplished. The 23 year old certainly looked a capable centre half in the League Cup final (until he let Ibrahimovic get behind him for the winner). However, this is as much as preparing for a future without Virgil Van Dijk as it is an improvement. The Southampton board made a big statement by refusing to sell the dutch defender to Liverpool unless receiving huge sums of money and so they have retained a vital building block if they want to push on and grow the club.
With 14 clean sheets and a year under a defensive manager, they have shown they can be tight at the back. What they should do now is consolidate this because they don’t have the funds to truly compete with the firepower of those above them. Instead they should look to find a centre back of similar quality who can partner van Dijk and step up should they ever lose him like they did Jose Fonte. Considering they have managed to hold onto full internationals Bertrand and Cedric at full back they could finish the preseason with a very good back line.
It’s a pity that they appear too late to pounce on the availability of Kurt Zouma who looks to be heading to Stoke on loan. In my opinion he is a better option than incoming Rudiger. However, the Eredivisie has been a successful stomping ground in the past for Southampton in previous transfer windows so perhaps they can return with some similar bargains this year. Watching the Europa League final and both Davinson Sanchez and Matthijs de Ligt stood out as quality centre halves with an abundance of talent and potential. Both quick, physical and comfortable on the ball they have the ideal attributes to transition smoothly into the Premier League and Pellegrino’s pressing style.
Davinson Sanchez is the older and more top-level ready of the pair. He has previously said he’d only leave for Barcelona but if they don’t come in for him then money talks; who’d have thought Xherdan Shaqiri would end up at Stoke? Overmars has been quoted saying they wont sell for less than £35million – pocket money for the Premier League and a bargain considering the figures quoted for lesser talents – which is certainly not a figure to bulk at. He had the strength and pace to physically impose himself on Rashford in the final and looked incredibly comfortable on the ball. Considering the figures paid for the likes of John Stones, they should be biting off the hands of Ajax at that quoted figure. If not, they should pursue the slightly younger/more inexperienced and incomplete Matthijs de Ligt as a developmental project who looks to be well on the way to stardom as well.
Find out Redmond’s position – Nathan Redmond is an incredibly underrated and talented young[ish] player and Southampton got him for a bargain considering the going rate for any average English player.
Redmond was a standout player for both the England u21s and Southampton this season and just needs to make the final step up to be an important player for the full national side. He is quick, got a reasonable eye for goal and is a capable dribbler. His best and worst trait however is his versatility. He spent numerous times this year being moved around by Claude Puel as a 9, a 10 and a winger. Without locking down a spot it is hard to truly settle whilst it is also difficult to really identify which position to strengthen for the Saints. With the seemingly lethal addition of Gabbiadini I would suggest they don’t need a striker and I personally see Redmond as a winger. With a new manager coming in though we are yet to see what he visualizes as Redmond’s best position. Until that time, it is hard for me to identify which attacking need they require. Likewise, until he has a set position, Redmond will likely struggle to reach the next level of his development.