Southampton has had more than its fair share of tabloid inches in recent times thanks to an eventful transfer window. The change in personnel has of course not been limited to on the pitch. Vatsal Dani expounds the various changes at St. Mary’s.
Southampton have been through a lot over this summer. Losing four of their key first team players to Liverpool and Manchester United along with their manager Mauricio Pochettino to Spurs. Add to that a promising young lad coming through the ranks in the form of Chambers being snapped up by Arsenal. All this in a single transfer window. People thought they were done and dusted.
It would have been the case if Saints hierarchy had made a blunder in choosing a wrong coach for their first team. But with Ronald Koeman the team seems to be in safe pair of hands. He made a couple of smart buys and with one of the best British youth set-ups at his disposal the Dutchman has given some indication of what lies ahead at St Mary’s. They are indeed contrary to some popular beliefs.
Here are the few points highlighting the difference between Koeman and Pochettino.
Change of Tactics
Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino were always a high pressing and a counterattacking side. This slightly pragmatic style has been given a Dutch twang of flair and attacking flavor under Koeman. They lined up an attacking 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid formation with new boys Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle being the highlight in a three pronged attack with Steven Davis completing the troika. Morgan Schneiderlin (after a bit of drama off the pitch) partnered Victor Wanyama in a double pivot at the heart of midfield with academy product James Ward-Prowse playing as the most advanced central midfielder behind target man Pellé. Despite the Dutchman being experimental with his formations, he retained the back four with Bertrand and Clyne as fullbacks and Yoshida and Fonte as centre-halves. The defense played with more freedom and tried to have more of the possession with a combative midfield protecting the back-line.
Every time Southampton marched forward their wide men were heavily involved, be it the full-backs or wingers. The plan was to stretch the opposition defense and open up space for their central figures in this case Pellé and Ward-Prowse. This has been case with the Dutch coach who heavily relies on his wide players whilst going forward. He did the same at his former club Feyenoord. It remains to be seen whether he brings his adventurous 5-3-2 to the South coast or not. Some reinforcements in the centre-back position and who knows we may finally see the 5-3-2 formation.
Southampton were never a treat to watch. Be it under Nigel Adkins or Mauricio Pochettino. There’s a sense of swagger in Ronald Koeman’s Southampton side. Anfield is not an easy ground to visit by any means and with the recent history between the clubs it was all the more significant and special. The way a 19 year old Ward-Prowse ran at Liverpool’s defense was something special. Those one touch passes in buildup play between the midfielders was reminiscent to the ‘Total Football’ sides of Johan Cruyff. Marauding runs by their full-backs especially the ones by Nathaniel Clyne were so ‘un-Southampton’. The move which led to their solitary goal summed everything up. Fonte playing the ball out from defense was another highlight of this highly impressive Saints’ side.
With all these positives there is a major drawback as well. Offensive full-backs always expose the central defenders and with their current central defensive setup, it is the biggest chink in their armour.
The loss of Dejan Lovren has broken up a solid defensive partnership which had been so successful for Southampton. Maya Yoshida is by no means Premier League quality. On analysis of both the goals it is very clear that there were some defensive lapses at the heart of defense. Especially in the first goal where Raheem Sterling had acres of space to run between the centre halves. That kind of space to any player is catastrophic for the defending side. If Koeman wants to repeat his predecessor’s feat of a top half finish he needs to bring a bit more organization in his defense. Unless he adopts a “We’ll score more than you approach” which with their current resources would be highly disastrous.
Ronald Koeman has a reputation of building (rebuilding) teams from scratch. This team certainly needed some shopping of their own to compensate for their preseason garage sale, so here is a look at his summer buys to get Saints rock n rollin’.
Dusan Tadic: The £10m signing was a prolific creator in the Dutch league, the Serb will be the most important cog in this Southampton side. Tadic was primarily bought in to replace the creative spark of Adam Lallana. The influential captain was crux of erstwhile Southampton side. His replacement may well be Saints’ go-to man in crunch fixtures. He gave us a glimpse of his abilities at Anfield and they were mouthwatering to say the least. His cute little pass to Clyne in their goal was enough to silence all those who doubted him. Pick of the bunch for me.
Graziano Pellé: Signed from Koeman’s former club Feyenoord, he is one of those players who can walk straightaway into his system. The 28 year old knows the manager in and out. He hasn’t found his feet in the Premier League as of yet but he is very much capable of setting the league on fire. He can play as an out and out no 9, a role vacated by the sale of Rickie Lambert. At £8m Italian is worth a gamble.
Ryan Bertrand: The ‘Loan-Ranger’ of English football. The Chelsea nomad has been signed on loan to bridge the gap created by the exit of Luke Shaw. It is bit odd to sign him to replace one of your best players. Bertrand is similar in style to Shaw but the gulf in class between the two Englishmen is clearly visible. He had a decent outing with his new team and remains to be seen whether he can make an impact at St Mary’s as his Chelsea future is even worse than Fernando Torres’. Make or break for him as far as his career is concerned.
Saphir Taïder: Another loanee, he is part of the deal between Saints and Inter which saw Osvaldo move in other direction. A defensive midfielder, he will provide depth and competition to partner Morgan Schneiderlin in central midfield. He is a midfield workhorse. He gives a bit more freedom to Schneiderlin if paired together. A squad signing maybe but a good one. One to watch in that midfield with Victor Wanyama.
Shane Long: It was a major surprise to see him feature for Saints after signing for Hull City not so long ago. He certainly provides versatility upfront along with his Premier League experience. A good striker still waiting to live up to the hype that surrounded him in his Reading days. The £12m man looks like he’ll be Koeman’s plan B if Pellé fails and also providing cover for injured Jay Rodriguez.
Florin Gardos: He has been on radar of many Premier League clubs but will represent the club from the South coast. The £6m man has experience and can be another shrewd signing by Koeman. If he performs at his expected levels then they have an able replacement for Dejan Lovren. With Maya Yoshida being his competitor he has free ride into this side unless he plays really badly or gets injured.
It promises to be an intriguing journey for Southampton under their new Dutch leader. A journey which may even bring merry days back to St Mary’s.
Written by Vatsal Dani.
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