Southampton 2017/18 Premier League season preview: Can Mauricio Pellegrino bring back attacking football?

Southampton find themselves in a familiar situation at the start of a new campaign

Luke Brown
Thursday 10 August 2017 13:36
Mauricio Pellegrino has replaced Claude Puel in the Southampton dugout
Mauricio Pellegrino has replaced Claude Puel in the Southampton dugout

What’s changed?

More pessimistic supporters will be tempted to conclude that not enough has changed. Three seasons ago Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren all left the club for bigger things, a year later they were joined by Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne, while last summer it was Sadio Mané and Victor Wanyama’s turn to quit.

Virgil van Dijk is the latest to decide that Southampton can no longer match his ambition. To the club’s great credit they have dug their heels in and insisted he will not be sold, but his very public transfer request — in which he claimed the club had left him feeling “insulted” and “disappointed” — could yet force the chairman’s hand.

The Van Dijk saga has robbed new manager Mauricio Pellegrino of anything resembling a honeymoon period. But his appointment has gone down well with fans, who were longing for an end to Claude Puel’s brief tenure. The Frenchman was far too defensive and, although he did lead Southampton to a 8th-place finish, it is important to note that they accrued only six more points than 17th-place Watford.

The Van Dijk saga rumbles on

Pellegrino is not an experienced manager, but has a reputation for achieving success without resorting to blowing millions in the transfer market, which suits Southampton down to a tee. And fortunately for him, the club have been handed an exceptionally kind opening set of fixtures: Swansea, West Ham, Huddersfield and Watford are first up.

Who’s in?

The club broke their transfer record to bring Mario Lemina in from Juventus, for £18m. The 23-year-old Gabon international, who plays in midfield, spent two seasons playing in Italy, during which time he won the Serie A title and the Coppa Italia twice, and played in last season’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.

He’s an exciting arrival. But he will take time to develop, having scored just five goals in his career so far, and never having played more than 30 games in a season. As with last summer’s marquee signing Sofiane Boufal, he needs time.

Lemina is an exciting arrival

As does the club’s other signing: 21-year-old Poland defender Jan Bednarek. The centre-back was a first-team regular at Lech Poznan but will likely be used as defensive cover in his first season at St Mary’s. Providing, that is, Van Dijk doesn’t leave the club at the final hour.

Who’s out?

Jay Rodriguez is the only high-profile departure so far, moving to West Brom for £12m. The young defender Jason McCarthy moves to Barnsley on a permanent deal, while Harrison Reed joins Norwich on loan.

Rodriguez has moved to West Brom

Cuco Martina and Martín Cáceres were allowed to leave the club on a free at the end of last season, and have joined Everton and Hellas Verona respectively.

How will they line up?

Assuming that Van Dijk is still throwing a temper tantrum come Southampton’s first game this weekend, their starting XI could look a lot like this:

(4-2-3-1): Fraser Forster; Cedric Soares, Jack Stephens, Mayo Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand; Oriol Romeu, Steven Davis; James Ward-Prowse, Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond; Manolo Gabbiadini.

Expect to see new signings Lemima and Bednarek integrated slowly into the first-team, rather than chucked in at the deep end.

Bednarek is a talented young defender

What’s the one big question that must be answered?

Can Southampton spring into life in the transfer market?

It is still looking more likely than not that Van Dijk will leave the club before the transfer window shuts. If he does, Southampton have to act quickly and sign a central defender capable of slotting straight into their first team. They are far too thin at the back to leave it until January.

Signing another goalkeeper to provide some competition for Forster wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Forster made some high-profile errors last season (AFP/Getty)

What’s the best that could happen?

The new signings adjust to English football quickly, Gabbiadini begins banging in the goals again and Southampton sneak into the top seven.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Van Dijk leaves late into the window with the club failing to replace him, before either Yoshida or Stephens picks up an injury. Finishing in the bottom-half of the table after four good seasons would be a big blow.

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