Southampton 2014/15 Season Preview: Positives Remain Despite Tumultuous Summer
It’s been nothing short of an interesting summer for Southampton FC. After finishing off a fantastic 2013/14 season in the Barclay’s Premier League which saw them finish in 8th place, the future quickly went from bright to rather frightening. It all began with the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino, whose high pressing game won the hearts of his players, the fans, and unfortunately the eye of Tottenham’s Daniel Levy. After his departure, rumors began to swirl around almost every single player on the squad and the ‘mass exodus’ of a talented squad began before a ball was ever kicked at the World Cup.
Rickie Lambert sealed a move to his boyhood club Liverpool, which definitely caused feelings of sadness for Saints fans, but one that they couldn’t ever begin to begrudge the striker for. The same could not be said for captain Adam Lallana however; whose move to Liverpool was much more negatively received by the fans, due to having signed a new 5 year contract just over a year ago and gave the fans this heartfelt message. Then Manchester United shelled out a massive deal for teenage left back Luke Shaw and moves for Dejan Lovren, and Calum Chambers have followed suit over the course of the past few months. It seemed that once the floodgates opened, they just wouldn’t stop. Just about every day a new article would come out linking a Saints player to another team around England. But in the mixture of all of this madness some positive things happened, some things which can give Saints fans hope moving into the new season.
On June 16, Southampton announced that they had appointed a new manager in the form of the prolific Barcelona and Netherlands center back, Ronald Koeman. Since joining the club, Koeman has been able to spend the transfer funds earned from all of the player sales, which has amassed to nearly £90 million. Some of the players that he has brought in have been able to fit directly into the holes left by the exodus of players: Italian striker Graziano Pelle joined from Koeman’s former club Feyenoord and offers a goal-scoring threat. He posted fantastic numbers in the Eredivisie (69 in 159 appearances) and is being seen as a suitable replacement for Rickie Lambert, although we’ve seen Jozy Altidore struggle to adapt to the English game after playing so well in the Dutch league. Serbian winger Dusan Tadic was purchased from FC Twente for a reported £11 million, and should provide adequate replacement for the departed Adam Lallana.
To fill the void at left back, Koeman worked a loan deal for Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand but will perhaps also give a few opportunities to the next product of Southampton’s famed academy, Matt Targett. Yet another player was loaned in, in the form of Inter Milan’s young midfielder Saphir Taider. And the most recent purchase by the Dutchman came in the form of England goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who was purchased earlier this week from Celtic. Having both Forster and Artur Boruc will provide two good options, which was not the case last year when Boruc missed a portion of the season with injury and the young Paulo Gazzaniga had to fill in and had his inexperience exposed numerous times.
So where do the Saints stand heading into this new Premier League season after such a busy summer? After losing so much of their starting squad that performed so incredibly well last season, many pundits and journalists were quick to write off the club as relegation favorites. But here’s a crazy thought: what if Koeman actually knows what he’s doing and is beginning to build something special at the club? Could this plan allow them to enjoy the successes of his predecessor? After all, he was forced to manage Feyenoord on an extremely tight budget yet with those restrictions he was able to guide the club to two 2nd place finishes (and Champions League football) alongside a 3rd place finish. Koeman was able to do this by utilizing Feyenoord’s youth academy, and must be extremely excited to come to a club with another famed academy.
All of this is cause for a positive outlook in my opinion. Hopefully by the end of the month, Koeman will be able to purchase another center back to partner new captain, Jose Fonte. Current backups Maya Yoshida and Jos Hooiveld both displayed shaky performances over the course of last season when Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte were out injured at times. If the current rumors of players like Virgil van Djik come to fruition, the club will have a second quality center back to shore up the back line. Nathaniel Clyne will continue to offer his great services defending but most notably making runs forward down the right wing. The midfield is stocked with talent and it will be interesting to see who earns a place in Koeman’s starting eleven on Sunday at Anfield. Club favorite Jack Cork had a very solid season last year (although he is linked with a move to Crystal Palace), Victor Wanyama will be hoping to avoid injury in his second season in England and become a staple in the team. James Ward Prowse will look to step up and make a position his own, and then there’s Morgan Schneiderlin. After rumors of a bid from Tottenham were shut down by chairman Ralph Kruger, the Frenchman has posted this to his Twitter and told his new manager that he wasn’t ‘mentally or physically ready’ to play in the last preseason friendly last weekend. It will be interesting to see if the Frenchman is given an opportunity to play for Koeman or if he will make him earn his spot back among the new signings and old faces. The front line has been buoyed by Shane Long joining from Hull City. Plus, Florin Gardos has been signed as a defensive midfielder, who can also play centerback. Once Jay Rodriguez returns from his knee injury, he will provide another avenue for goals and will hopefully regain the form which saw him on the verge of earning a spot on England’s World Cup squad.
With all of these items of business taken into account, I am predicting a 10th place finish for the Saints. Although it would not surprise me one bit if they splashed a bit more cash by the end of the window to bring more quality into the squad and if the team is able to gel quickly, they could make a push for a similar 8th place spot that they earned under their former manager. Call me an optimist, but I foresee great things for the Saints under Ronald Koeman moving forward and am very intrigued by what the future holds for the club.