EPL Previews: Can Southampton replace Pelle, Mane, and Wanyama?
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last. While international competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most. In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City. We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures. So, without further ado, here’s number six and the forever-overachieving Southampton.
Falling as low as League One in 2008-2009, many wondered if Southampton would ever recover from the worst nightmare in their 125-year history. However, the introduction of Alan Pardew and Nigel Adkins as managers guided the forlorn to consecutive 2nd place finishes and a return to the Premier league in 2012. Incredibly, in terms of year-over-year growth, there may be no greater team than Southampton since their re-arrival on the scene. These days, Southampton exist as one of the scrappiest, hard-working sides in England. Competing with the budget and worldwide marketability of clubs like Manchester United is next-to-impossible, but Southampton has it pulled off with greater consistency after each passing year. This year, admittedly, will be harder without Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama in tow, but there's no spirit quite like Southampton's. Will the pattern continue and see Southampton reach high enough for Champions League? Under the leadership of Ben Forster, Shane Long, and Dustin Tadic, frankly, anything is possible in this ridiculous Premier League landscape.
This aforementioned pattern should be a source of optimism for Southampton supporters -- since re-joining the league in 2012, these are their successive table finishes: 14th, 8th, 7th, and, last year's result, 6th. Surely, this is where the train ends, right? Leapfrogging one of Arsenal, Leicester, United, City, or Spurs -- that's without even considering Liverpool or Chelsea, either -- seems highly unlikely but that won't stop us from dreaming. For those that hate the new money-dominated league and overpaid egos, then Southampton is the team for you. Over the last ten years, teams looked at Southampton as a farm system, a club that would grow talented, young players so one of the big boys could pluck them away when the time was right. Thanks to managers like Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, selling off talent no longer meant a tumble down the table, but instead, a reinvigoration of the club and its supporters' passion. With a new manager in tow for 2016-2017, the biggest narrative to follow will be if Claude Puel can keep the club pushing for greater heights, particularly without Wanyama (Spurs) and Mane (Liverpool) in his Starting XI.
PREFERRED STARTING XI
Make no mistake, the losses of Wanyama and Mane could be a crushing blow to Southampton's aspirations in 2016-2017, but the signing of Nathan Redmond from a relegated Norwich City side will help tide some anxiousness for now. Adding Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich will be an exciting proposition for Puel come August, but he'll only be 21 years-old, so the manager is likely to opt for more experience against Watford. With that in mind, here's what we'd recommend using come the Premier League's opening weekend:
PLAYER TO WATCH
Shane Long, the man with big boots to fill. Last year's top attacking options were Graziano Pelle -- who has since moved to the Chinese Super League -- and Mane, both of whom contributed 11 goals and 6 assists in the Premiership each. Now, whoever steps into that attacking role will need to play better than ever if Southampton wants to challenge for another high finish. Is the man from Ireland up to the task?
HIGHLIGHT FROM YESTERYEAR
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epSyBfwOx9A If fans didn't believe in the heart of this Southampton side, they had no chance after the 4-2 thumping of Manchester City in early May. For all of City's own inconsistencies and issues, they don't often get completely blown out of the water and, yet, that's exactly what happened here. The victory would lead Southampton to finish the season on a high, including a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace, effectively clinching 6th place and an automatic Europa League berth.
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START
8/13 vs. Watford 8/19 @ Manchester United 8/27 vs. Sunderland 9/10 @ Arsenal 9/18 vs. Swansea 9/25 @ West Ham 10/1 @ Leicester City Thankfully, Southampton will get three of their toughest away matches over in the first two months, allowing them to grow in confidence before the packed holiday season. If they can get a few points from Arsenal or United, teams they've played well against in the recent past, then there's no reason why Southampton can't use it to springboard into a successful 2016-2017 campaign. Rating: 5/10
Southampton could be one of the more intriguing watches of the 2016-2017 thanks to handful of threads worth following. Will Puel prove he belongs as a manager in England or will he fail as Koeman's successor? Their penchant for the late goal and gritty grind-'em-out strategies will make them an entertaining watch in the Europa League as well -- a true candidate for a Liverpool-like run to the Finals, undoubtedly. Without Pelle, Mane, or Wanyama, however, it's fair to wonder if Southampton can keep up with vastly richer clubs that can afford to pay 125 million for Paul Pogba alone. The early indications are a resounding no, but if any club can continue to surprise and surpass our wildest expectations, it's got to be Southampton. Thanks so much to Trip Advisor for the photo! English Premier League Previews 2016-2017: 10th: Chelsea 9th: Stoke City 8th: Liverpool 7th: West Ham