The Saints have sold key players once again, so can Ronald Koeman re-engineer a successful side once more?
This has been another summer of regeneration for Southampton. Out have gone key trio Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool) and Toby Alderweireld (first back to parent club Atletico Madrid, then to Tottenham). In have come Dutch playmaker Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Portuguese full-back Cedric Soares (Sporting) and Spanish forward Juanmi (Malaga). You won’t need reminding that selling big names and delving into the transfer market to replace them didn’t do Southampton too much harm last season, but Ronald Koeman will be under a little more pressure now he has to repeat the trick. The added strain of European football could also test a relatively thin squad, but if any club are in a position to thicken things out with a handful of youngsters, it’s the Saints.
Why they’ll do well
Last season proved the value of a good start. Convincing early wins against West Ham and Newcastle helped allay fears the club was in ‘crisis’ after selling Lambert, Lallana & Co. Suddenly, the fans were buzzing and the players had the confidence to continue their impressive form way into the new year. Lightning could strike twice because this season’s early fixtures don’t look too daunting. Home matches against Everton and Norwich, and away trips to Newcastle, Watford and West Brom, should give them a decent chance of building some early momentum. Do that, and they should have a decent chance of another top-half finish, at least.
Why they’ll do badly
Goalkeeper Fraser Forster was another of last season’s star turns, but he’ll be missing for at least the first few months of the season with a knee injury picked up in March’s home win over Burnley. Koeman has recruited countryman Maarten Stekelenburg as his replacement, but the former Ajax and Roma keeper struggled during his previous spell in the Premier League with Fulham. The Dutchman failed to hold down a regular first-team place at Craven Cottage, and rarely inspired much confidence when selected. If he flops again (and Forster takes longer to regain full fitness), last season’s impressive defensive record is unlikely to be matched.
The big questions...
1) Can Jordy fill Morgan’s boots?
Schneiderlin’s importance to Southampton’s success over the last few seasons was huge, and replacing the Frenchman will be the responsibility of Clasie, who previously played under Koeman at Feyenoord. Although more than proficient when it comes to passing, he doesn’t make as many tackles or interceptions as the Manchester United-bound midfielder.
- Juanmi (Malaga)
- Cedric Soares (Sporting CP)
- Cuco Martina (FC Twente)
- Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord)
- Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham)
- Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool)
- Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United)
- Artur Boruc (AFC Bournmouth)
- Jos Hooiveld (Released)
- Dani Osvaldo (Released)
2) Will Koeman bring through more kids?
Last season was an undoubted success for Southampton, but the one thing Koeman failed to do was make one of the club’s academy graduates a first-team regular. Midfielder Harrison Reed came closest, starting five Premier League matches, but there may be pressure from high up to show a little more faith in the youth.
3) Can J-Rod get back to his best?
England forward Jay Rodriguez is finally about to make his long-awaited return from injury, having been sidelined since April 2014 with anterior cruciate ligament woe that saw him miss out on a place in England’s World Cup squad, not to mention all of 2014/15. The former Burnley man has already started scoring again, but finding his feet back in the Premier League will be an altogether different proposition.
Key player: Jordy Clasie
The former Feyenoord captain believes he is ready to step up to the Premier League. “For me, I think this was the right time,” he said on his arrival in Hampshire. “I’ve played four years in the first team at Feyenoord and was at the club for 15 years. It was not easy for me to leave, but I felt this was the right moment.” There’s no doubt he has the raw talent to succeed, and him doing so will be crucial to the Saints’ hopes of matching last season’s success.
What we’ll be saying come May
“Morgan who? I didn’t actually notice any difference…” OK, maybe not, but the signs are that Southampton should be well placed to recover once again from cashing in on their most prized assets. Matching last season’s seventh-place finish may be a stretch, but this season will be all about their European adventure.
To see where FourFourTwo think Southampton will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, out Saturday 1 August.