Southampton had a solid first season in the Premier League. Newly promoted, the Saints finished 14th with 41 points. They were only five points and four spots away from relegation, but any newly promoted side that remains in the Premier League should consider their season a success. The Saints have made some bold comments and they reportedly are hoping for a top four finish in the Premier League next season. I’m not sure if Southampton can afford to buy enough quality players for a top four finish, but I think they have a decent chance of fighting for a top ten spot if they improve the squad and maybe, just maybe, fight for a spot in the Europa League with quality signings and lots of luck.
The season started horribly for the Saints, who were 18th in the league after the first 8 games. By January, things weren’t much better and Nigel Adkins was sacked. Mauricio Pochettino took over the club two days later and brought much needed change. Under Pochettino, the Saints moved up the table and had some quality wins over teams like Liverpool and Chelsea. Pochettino had four wins and seven draws in 16 games with Southampton and had a stretch of six games where he was undefeated in the Premier League. Southampton also have to be really happy about the play of some key players such as Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw who look ready to lead the team into their fight towards European play. Those are good signs for the coming days and the Saints fans have to feel good about next season.
Rising or Keeping Form
Southampton have many rising players they should be happy about and it would be tough to list all of them. These players need to continue improving if the Saints are to be successful.
Rickie Lambert – Lambert finished with 15 goals in the Premier League, tied with Frank Lampard for the top English scorer in the competition. Only six players scored more goals, and it’s obvious Lambert is the team leader. He is 31 years old, but the fan favorite looks like he can continue being the center piece for this young team and I would put my money on him having more than 15 goals next season.
Luke Shaw – The youngster has been incredible at left back and there was talk of him possibly being called up to the English squad if it wasn’t for Ashley Cole. The 17 year old has impressed some big teams, including Chelsea and Manchester United, but Southampton seem keen on keeping him. This must be one of their top priorities this summer.
Gaston Ramirez – The Saints signed Ramirez at the beginning of the year, breaking their transfer fee record for him. The midfielder has paid off, scoring five goals in 20 league games and improving as the season went on. Ramirez is only 22 years old so you can expect him to continue improving.
Morgan Schneiderlin – Schneiderlin is the Saints’ work horse. He keeps them going in midfield and has established himself as a top midfielder. He started 36 games last year in the league, the most for his team, and has established himself as a center piece behind Rickie Lambert. If Southampton can keep Ramirez, Shaw, and Schneiderlin, they will have a very good core going forward.
Southampton don’t have many declining players. Most of their lack of quality comes from a lack of depth at certain positions.
Arthur Boruc – It was very tough for me place Boruc here in the declining section. Southampton was changing goalkeepers last year faster than Chelsea changes coaches and that prevented anyone from getting into a rhythm. Boruc came out as the favorite midway through the season and established himself as a solid choice. He gained the trust of some fans, but others are calling for his replacement. Another thing to keep in mind is that Boruc is 33 years old. He can probably play another year or two at mid-level, but if the Saints are to fight for a spot in Europe, they need a new goalkeeper who can play at a top level.
Jose Fonte – Fonte hasn’t been the greatest of centre-backs. He doesn’t have much Premier League experience and that showed early on. Jos Hooiveld and Maya Yoshida were a slight improvement over him, but not much better.
Southampton have a number of holes they need to address this offseason, but their number one priority needs to be keeping their young players in Southampton. There have been rumors about Luke Shaw, Schneiderlin, and Gaston Ramirez leaving and the Saints needs to do everything in their power to keep them at the club.
Centre-back – The entire centre-back position was inexperienced and under qualified for Premier League action. Jos Hooiveld, Maya Yoshida, and Jose Fonte all need to improve drastically to keep their jobs. The Saints already signed Lyon defender Dejan Lovren, who should be a big improvement over the current centre-backs. The Croatian cost £8.5m, and another signing of his stature is probably on the way. This is priority number one by a long stretch.
Striker – Although they have Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, Southampton don’t have much depth at striker. Only Rickie Lambert had more than 6 goals in the league. Expect them to sign at least one striker so they can have more options and depth at the position.
Back up right back – The Saints have Nathaniel Clyne at right back but they reportedly want to give him some competition.
Goalkeeper – Arthur Boruc was discussed in detail above. Long story short, they need a new quality goalkeeper who can be consistent and effective.
Dejan Lovren – As mentioned above, the defender is already signed for a £8.5m fee from Lyon. He should be a good addition and improve the defense drastically.
Davide Astori – Astori is a strong Italian defender who costs around £10m. If the Saints can land him, he can form a very solid back line alongside Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw. It’s reported Astori wants to come to England and Southampton need to take advantage.
Victor Wanyama – Wanyama plays both defensive midfielder and centre-back and he can help the Saints in a number of ways. He is only 21 years old but he’s already Kenya’s captain, showing his maturity. Pochettino is apparently close with the player’s agent, so Southampton might be able to steal him from the powerhouses that are interested in him.
James McCarthy - Midfield is not necessarily a weak point for Southampton, but McCarthy is a very qualified midfielder who can help any Premier League team. He is said to cost around £20m and is probably leaving because his side was relegated. Southampton will have to fight for him if they want his signature, as other teams are also interested.
Radja Nainggolan – Nainggolan is a Belgium winger who can provide depth to an already good Saints winger core. The Belgian plays for Cagliari and is rated around £15m.
Pablo Osvaldo – Osvaldo has played under Pochettino before so the Saints may have an edge here. The striker comes with some baggage, but he is obviously a good option on the field as he scored 17 goals in 31 games for Roma last year.
Do you think the Saints can realistically challenge for a top four finish? Can they keep Luke Shaw and company?