With Southampton all but safe in the Premier League for another season, the newly promoted club can now look towards the future and plan ahead for next season’s expectations. Prior to the 3-0 loss against West Bromwich Albion, there were talks about possible qualification for Europe through the Fair Play league, but the two red cards shown to Danny Fox and Gaston Ramirez shattered those prospects. Therefore, it begs the question, what does Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino have to do this summer to take Southampton to the next level?
During this campaign, we have witnessed the Saints grow and mature from strength to strength during their first season back in the top flight, with the arrival of Pochettino injecting an extra spark into the side who have kept outside of the drop zone since the turn of the new year. Despite the all-but guaranteed survival, Southampton fans will hope for some new additions to the squad over the summer, to eliminate any chance of being involved in another relegation battle next term.
But Pochettino has already set his sights on a top four finish next season as he revealed at a recent pre-match press conference. The 41-year-old told reporters: “In the next two years I want to be back in the Champions League with Southampton and I believe it’s not unreal.”
All supporters love to see confidence in their manager, but Pochettino may be looking a step too far when talking about a top four finish. Admittedly, Southampton have played some beautiful soccer this season and have beaten some of the best teams in England, but do the Saints really have similar quality and depth like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham, who have filled the top five spots this season?
First on the ‘to do’ list for Pochettino will be sacrificing the players who have been out on loan and unused substitutes for most of the season. Players like Billy Sharp, Dean Hammond, Danny Butterfield, Lee Barnard, Jonathan Forte, Danny Seaborne, Steve De Ridder and Tommy Forecast have all played the majority of the season away from St Mary’s.
The back four have improved dramatically since the beginning of the season, but Pochettino will still need to strengthen this area of the team particularly. Too many goals have been leaked with the current defenders and despite the arrival of Vegard Forren – who arrived at the same time as Pochettino, he is yet to make an appearance for the club.
Southampton are well-known for having an astonishing youth set-up at the club, with previous graduates going on to respectively bigger clubs (Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain etc.) and the tradition continues with young left-back Luke Shaw, who has developed into a first team regular since making his full Premier League début in November. Shaw has now played over 20 times for the side since breaking into the team and looks to have cemented the left-back position for the future.
However, experience is key in the top flight and if they are to be taken to the next level by Pochettino, the Argentine must spend wisely in the summer and bring in prime, experienced players in order for the Saints to develop as an established Premier League outfit. The system of football that Pochettino has the side playing is effective. And there is no doubt that the ambition is instilled with the players, manager and chairman, and the bank balance at Southampton is far from empty, so I believe all Pochettino must do now is build a strong enough team to challenge for an improved final position next season.
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