Premier League Preview: Southampton
Lessons from last season
Last season was almost too good to be true for Saints fans, and with the aftermath and the summer so far, many will be wondering whether they will ever see the like again. It was an all-around brilliant campaign from Southampton, who proved to be the biggest challenger to the Premier League's status quo, and that has certainly been reflected in the attention the players have received since it ended. Ultimately, the success of last season has proved to be the club's biggest downfall.
Saints played attractive, aggressive football last season, and many of the traditional big clubs struggled to cope with it -- with the exception of Chelsea. Areas for improvement certainly involve goal scoring. Saints should have ended the season with even more points than they did, and Europa League qualification may have been viable had they converted more of their dominance with the ball into goals. What has happened since the final whistle blew in May, though, has been unprecedented, and last season's Southampton are well and truly gone.
Predicted starting lineup
It might be quicker to explain what isn't new. What will forever be known as "The Great Southampton Exodus of 2014" has seen the squad decimated. As soon as Mauricio Pochettino entered the sack race at Spurs, the fans have had to witness the end of an era in spectacular fashion. Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers have all left the club, with several more suggested exits to come.
There is some incoming business, however, and more is likely to be done before the close of the transfer window at the end of the month. Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic were two stars of the Eredivisie last season and seem natural replacements for Lambert and Lallana. Ryan Bertrand could be a shrewd acquisition to replace Shaw, but someone to fill the boots of Lovren will be a must.
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The additions of Tadic and Pelle should see Saints become more ruthless in front of goal, and despite the exodus, there is still an abundance of talent in central midfield. To have a selection dilemma of Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama, Jack Cork, Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed is an embarrassment of riches most clubs don't have the luxury of.
It is worth noting that despite the doom and gloom, both the club's best player (Schneiderlin) and top scorer (Jay Rodriguez) from last season are still at St Mary's. The squad had little depth last season, though, and additions are necessary, both to strengthen and to quash any rumours of "asset stripping" if the board is being truthful in its claim that the club is not for sale.
Central defence. Jose Fonte and Lovren were clearly the best partnership at the club last season, and with the latter now at Liverpool, Saints again look incredibly weak in that position. Maya Yoshida has proven a capable deputy in the past but perhaps lacks the consistency to be considered a regular starter in the Premier League. Saints could have benefitted from the added depth of another centre-back even had Lovren stayed, so now another two wouldn't go amiss.
The way the new manager plays it would be wise to invest in some more pacey wide players, too. This isn't a priority, though, as Lloyd Isgrove and Sam McQueen have had very good preseasons and may force their way into the first team.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
Among all the negativity, an outstanding positive has been the appointment of Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman has gone about his business so far with an air of calm and confidence and actually looks to be enjoying his new job. Little has been said about the preparations behind the scenes, as the "fire sale" has been taking centre stage, but Saints have played five preseason fixtures, winning all five and conceding just once.
Koeman appears to be a man with a clear plan and will have everything accounted for. Of course, his biggest threat will be the board's potential reluctance to delve into the transfer market. He will need more players if he is to reinvent this Saints squad into something competitive again.
If he doesn't leave, it will clearly be Morgan Schneiderlin. The Frenchman has consistently been Saints' best player since the start of the club's resurgence in 2009 and is far better than he gets credit for. Fresh from the French World Cup squad, Schneiderlin's disappointment in not being allowed to leave is understandable, but if the club can get another season out of him, it will be a massive boost.
Should the midfielder go, though, Dusan Tadic could become a key figure in the team. The Serbian international created more chances than anyone else in Europe last season playing for FC Twente. If he can translate that ability into the Premier League, he could be the bargain of the summer.
Predicted finish: 14th
It's very difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, the expectations of the club are at the moment. This is likely to be the first season in five in which Saints won't improve on the last, and there is nothing wrong with that. Ideally, Ronald Koeman will have a steady first campaign, finish mid-table and then assess what the long-term ambitions of the club actually are.
There should be no pressure on the Dutchman for the coming season; he has the unenviable task of quickly remodelling a side that has lost several key players and faced public criticism for its dealings. The board need to stand firm now, reinvest some of the huge profits they have made into the playing squad and let Ronald's Revolution go exactly as he intends it to. It certainly won't be boring on the South Coast this season.