A mass exodus over the summer left many people fearing the worst for Southampton. If losing one of the best tacticians in the Premier League wasn’t bad enough, household names such as Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert followed Mauricio Pochettino through the exit door. So when I suggest that the late purchases that Ronald Koeman has made are better players than those that have departed, you may be left scratching your head.
Opening the season against a team that snared their starlets was never going to be easy and so it proved as Liverpool won the match 2-1. Nevertheless the performance from the South Coast club was worthy of far more than the result suggests. A shaky start was overcome and the visitors interchanged to open up a reds defence that included Dejan Lovren, on more than one occasion.
Placards were held aloft reading,”We March On”, in the first home match against West Brom. Their bullish message was matched by a solid, if uninspiring performance, against the baggies. Afterwards the bosses appraisal of his team was brutally honest and discouraged by the offensive ineptness of his side.
Any deficiencies that were evident at St Mary’s, were brushed aside at Upton Park as the away team recovered from a Mark Noble strike to pummel a West Ham side that had done the same to Crystal Palace.
Since then they have amassed four points when a draw against West Brom was backed up with an impressive 3-1 victory against Southampton. Now the new players have arrived, tactics have been grasped and team bonding is in full flow, the team in red and white stripes can repeat last season’s feat of finishing 8th?
If Sadio Mane can repeat the goal tally of 45 goals in 87 games, he will go some way to repaying the £10m Southampton paid Red Bull Salzburg for his services. Incidentally it was the Senegalese that netted in a two nil victory for his Country against Botswana in midweek. The prospect of the winger linking up with Shane Long is sure to get Saint’s fans salivating on the sidelines. Long, another signing from Hull, is full of intelligent running and will interpret the movement of Mane to add to the physicality of Graziano Pelle (above image).
The left wing berth has been Dusan Tadic’s up until now and it will be interesting to see if Mane plays on the right hand side, upfront or centrally. A series of meandering bursts forward, saw the Serb endear himself to Saints fans who travelled to Merseyside and the guile he showed to nutmeg Martin Skrtel was a crisp assist for Nathaniel Clyne.
Speaking of Clyne, it is not every day that a player joins Manchester United and a club have a player of a similar ilk to replace him. Along with Ryan Bertrand, the duo have exemplified the high octane game that Southampton pride themselves on.
At the other end of the pitch, Toby Alderweireld is the perfect replacement for Dejan Lovren, having arrived from Spanish champions Athletico Madrid. Initially on a season long loan, the move is likely to be made permanent next summer due to both clubs already agreeing a fee. A miserly defensive unit will be reinforced by the addition of Romania international Florin Gardos (see image below) from Steaua Bucharest. Despite being an unknown quantity to British football fans, the defender is 6’4, can play in midfield and has played in the Champions League against Chelsea.
Pulling this great team together is England’s number two goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, who joined from Scottish giants Celtic. Calamitous errors were costly for the saints against Arsenal last season and it will be assuring to see a domineering figure between the sticks.
In many ways the clean slate that was presented to Ronald Koeman was ideal rather than unfortunate. Look at Manchester United and the chaos that has surrounded Old Trafford if you want to see how inheriting a winning team doesn’t guarantee success. The players he has retained, though, look to have risen to unprecedented depths. For Morgan Schneiderlin, leaving Southampton was a necessity at one stage and his outspoken stance led to his position almost becoming untenable. Equalling last seasons total of two goals in one game is testament to the revised attitude of the Frenchman which perhaps is down to the canny manager in the dug out. Playing second fiddle to Lallana meant that Schneiderlin was restricted to marshalling the back four. It is now apparent that he is being asked to roam forward more often and thriving on this aspect of his game. You might say that he is the perfect person for James Ward-Prowse to learn from although the youngsters recent form suggests that he is confident in his own ability.
Sitting to take his first press conference, Koeman is the affable, self-assured man that answers questions in a forthright manner. He is accommodating of the interviewer and headstrong in his approach to pre match press conferences. Ahead of the forthcoming meeting with Newcastle, he stated that ”Maybe there’s a little bit more pressure on them to win finally but I like to see more what my team has to do to win against them. That is in my opinion more important”. Rectifying the shirt tug on David Platt and scoring the goal that saw England knocked out of the 1993 World Cup cannot happen. Sure there will be people who bare a grudge for his part in this and he will need to have an aire of caution when questioning his sides own decisions. One thing’s for sure, the man that is affectionately known as Tin Tin (due to his resemblance to the cartoon character) will gain plaudits and then some, in time.