Southampton 2015/16 Season Preview
Southampton will have to go through a process of rebuilding again after a couple of their best players were cherry-picked by other Premier League clubs with more financial clout.
Last season the club was widely tipped to go down after Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana all followed Mauricio Pochettino out of the door. This time very few expect Southampton to endure a battle for survival because only three players left and their manager remains in charge.
Ronald Koeman’s task will be to emulate last season’s record points tally in the Premier League as well as ensuring a decent run in the Europa League.
Southampton will also be seeking improvement in the domestic cup competitions. Defeats by Crystal Palace in the fourth round of the FA Cup and Sheffield United in the quarter-final of the Capital One Cup were disappointing.
Toby Alderweireld and Jose Fonte arguably formed the best central defensive partnership in the Premier League last season. Alderweireld also deputised well in midfield when Victor Wanyama or Morgan Schneiderlin missed out through injury.
Steven Caulker will be a decent replacement for the Dutch defender but the former Tottenham man will not provide the versatility of Alderweireld. Florin Gardos and Maya Yoshida are likely to continue as squad members in that department.
Cedric Soares will probably be the first choice right-back. The Portuguese international will battle for his place with another summer signing, Cuco Martina. They both had successful seasons at their former clubs but replacing Nathaniel Clyne will not be easy.
Schneiderlin will also be a huge loss for Southampton. The French midfielder was one of the key players behind Southampton’s impressive defensive record with his industry, defensive discipline and ability in possession. Koeman turned to Jordy Clasie, another technician who the Dutch manager knows very well having worked with the midfielder at Feyenoord.
The Saints should be okay in the attacking midfield department with Sadio Mane, Shane Long, Dusan Tadic, James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez all fighting for places. They can all operate in the positions behind Graziano Pelle, while the pacy Long will provide an alternative to the Italian in big away games.
There is also the intriguing case of Maarten Stekelenburg, who joined on loan from Fulham as cover for the injured Fraser Forster. The former Ajax and Roma keeper struggled during his previous spell in the Premier League with Fulham but he will be keen to impress before Forster’s return.
Jose Fonte will probably be the most important player for the Saints this season. Koeman builds his sides on solid defending and Fonte will play a crucial part in that because he is more than just a central defender; he is the commanding figure at the back.
The departures of Clyne and Alderweireld heighten Fonte’s value because he will be the calming influence for the new boys at the back.
Young player to watch
Southampton will probably continue with their brave policy of promoting their academy graduates into the first team. Jake Hesketh, a 19-year-old who made his debut last season, will be prominent in Koeman’s thoughts but Harrison Reed will probably get more game-time.
Reed started five league matches in Southampton’s central midfield last season. He will be ready to compete with Steven Davis for a place alongside Wanyama should Clasie struggle to fill Schneiderlin’s boots.
Koeman prefers a 4-3-3 formation with wide forwards dropping into midfield to form a 4-5-1 formation without the ball. He can occasionally switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation but the emphasis will remain on solid defending and cautious offensive operations.
In general, Southampton will probably expect to enjoy more possession against most Premier League opponents so Pelle should be the striker offering a target for crosses from the flanks.
Long and Mane will provide viable options in big games when Southampton will have to spend most of the time without the ball waiting to play on the break.
It will be difficult for Southampton to improve on their record-breaking achievement of last season. Koeman and his staff will have the unenviable task of juggling the demands of both Europe and the Premier League with a thin squad.
An improvement in the domestic cups and another season in the top-half will be a decent achievement for the Saints, especially if they can also reach the knockout stages of the Europa League.