Same old Saints … How do they do it ?

As a man born and raised in Portsmouth and current season ticket holder, this could be the hardest article I have ever had to write . However, you have to sometimes hold your hands up in football and just applaud what you are seeing. That is the case when it comes to Southampton. As a club, what they continue to do, year and year out is nothing short of outstanding and it’s time I put my pride to one side and acknowledge that fact.

Year after year, Southampton enter the new season as many experts pick to be one of the teams to lose their Premier League status. They frequently lose their top players and sometimes fail to keep hold of their manager as well ; this was the case with Koeman over the summer. However, despite all the uncertainty, each year they seem to go from strength to strength. Take this year for example. They lost their manager and key players in Mané, Wanyama and Pellè for hefty fee’s they could simply not ignore. Yet here we are 9 games into the new Premier League campaign and the Saints sit 8th in the league, only a point behind United in 7th.

So how do they do it ? Well the answer is simple, recruitment. The Saints are arguably the best team in the country when it comes to bringing in players who they know can do a job in their team. A key example is the summer signing of Nathan Redmond. Brought in to replace Sadio Mané, who left for Liverpool for £34 million over the summer, seemed like a huge task for a player still finding his way in the game. Yet after only 9 games he looks like being one of the league’s stand out players. Already half way to matching his goal tally for Norwich last season, it’s clear that Redmond is maturing game by game and has been helped significantly by the faith that the new manager has vested in him. You know when a player is playing well when there is an end product to their game and there certainly is with this lad at the moment. Yes against City he was gifted the ball by the cumbersome Stones but he showed great composure to round Bravo and slot it into the empty net. Of course I’m sure the worry already among Saint’s fans is how long they can keep hold of him but at the ripe old age of 22, they need not worry just yet.

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Redmond (right) celebrates putting his team ahead at the Etihad

Whilst Redmond’s performances have been the a bonus for the Saints this year, it’s the goals scored by their number 10 which have been welcomed with open arms. After only 1 goal  under Koeman following his move from QPR last January, there were growing concerns that he might not produce the goals expected of him. Thankfully, he seems to now be back to his clinical best. With 7 goals in 9 games already it promises to be a highly productive campaign for the striker and he and his team are reeking the awards.

Huge credit must also go to the manager. Some would say he has just carried on from Koeman left off but if you look closely you will see he has done much more than that. He has given players renewed confidence who sometimes struggled under Koeman and has also give them the freedom to express themselves. Players like Tadic have stepped it up a gear and Romeu has been a revelation in midfield this season putting in consistent performances week in week out. No one really knew Puel before he arrived on the South-Coast but if his team continue in the way they are, they soon will.

Though it pains me to admit it, there is no way that the Saints will be in any trouble at all this season. There are far worse teams than them in this league and ones with far less confidence as well. It is astonishing what they manage to achieve each year and they deserve enormous amounts of credit, they really do. I actually mean that, believe me

Deeney and Austin … The Premier League’s most feared strikers

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If there are two strikers who have had to work to get into their current position, then it’s Troy Deeney and Charlie Austin. The two have paid their dues in the lower divisions of English football at clubs such as Walsall and Swindon respectively and have rightly earned their chance to strut it amongst the big boys. However, despite not the most glamorous of footballing backgrounds between them, the two are currently the most feared strikers in the Premier League.

The question has always been with some strikers, can they cut it in the Premier League ? Many in the past have struggled to replicate the form they showed in the Championship resulting in some experiencing a massive fall from grace. These lads are the exception; scoring goals has proved easy for them. Not only that, but they might just be the most important players to their respective teams. Take Deeney at Watford. He has played 220 competitive games for the Hornets scoring 99 goals in a 6 year period for the club and is considered by many a true legend. He gives his all every week and is capable of moments of magic like his finish during Watford’s 4-2 win at West Ham. There was talk of him leaving Watford over the summer with Leicester interested and you can see why. A classic number 9 with a fine touch and brilliant finish to match and for Watford’s sake, you hope he stays fit this season because he will play a big part in any success they have.

Whilst Austin may lack the physical presence Deeney has and the status at the club, as he only has 14 senior appearances to his name, when it comes to scoring goals, there a few better than the former QPR man. Many forget that before his move to the South Coast, he had experienced a season in the Premier League before. It was with QPR only 2 seasons ago and whilst his team were relegated, Austin did everything in his power to stop that exact outcome. Managing 18 league goals in the 2014/15 season, and in a team as average as that QPR one, Austin received praise from many for his ability to score goals with relatively poor support from those around him. After their relegation, it was a shock no one made a move sooner but eventually he got his return to the top-flight and after a slow start, he finally looks like the striker so many teams have come to fear.

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Austin managed 18 league goals for QPR during the 2014/15 season

These two are goal-scorers there is no denying it. Sadly their talents continue to be over-looked. Gareth Southgate’s squad was fairly similar to that picked by Big Sam only a month earlier and that is perhaps the problem. The strikers picked were Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy. Bar Rashford, who rightly deserves  a place in the squad, the other three are struggling for form. With only 2 league goals between them this season, you wonder what made Southgate believe they deserved a spot. This particularly applies to Rooney and Sturridge who can’t even get in their respective teams. I find it strange that two in-form English strikers playing week and week out can’t book a place in the squad. Surely if Deeney and Austin continue to net so freely like they are, it is only a matter of time before they get that call.

Who is Claude Puel ?

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Claude Puel has taken over the Saints after Ronald Koeman’s departure (see above)

Many well-known names had been linked with the vacancy at Southampton. De Boer, Moyes, Pellegrini, but it is the un-familiar Claude Puel who has taken over the reins. So who is Southampton’s new leader ?

As a player, Puel spent 17 years playing for the French league club Monaco where he received over 600 appearances. He won Ligue 1 in 1982 and 1988 and the Coupe De France in 1980, 1985 and 1991. However, it is as a manager which the Frenchmen has made a name for himself. In January 1999 he went from psychical trainer of Monaco’s reserve team to manager of first team and enjoyed a highly successful stint winning the French championship in 2000. In July 2002 he was appointed manager of Lille where he became one of the longest-serving coaches in the French league managing them for 6 consecutive seasons.His most famous moment as Lille boss might be that night which United fans may remember where it seemed as if he was encouraging his players to walk off the pitch in protest after poor refereeing decisions.

Puel joined Olympique Lyonnais in 2008 but enjoyed little success before having his contract terminated on the 20th June 2011. He then agreed a three-year deal with OCG Nice in May 2012 leading them to 4th place in Ligue 1 last term.

Perhaps the most worrying thing for Saints fans is that outside France, he lacks any experience of management and the French league is seen by many to lack the intensity of the English game. It truly is a gamble by the Southampton hierarchy and we will wait and see if it pay’s off. However, some could say the same about Koeman, and we all know the success he enjoyed.