It was almost the match made in heaven. The work-rate, force and athleticism of Victor Wanyama, alongside the adeptness at creating play from deep while also breaking breaking up play effectively of Morgan Schneiderlin meant that, for spells under Mauricio Pochettino and for most of Ronald Koeman’s reign, Southampton had one of the most balanced and talented midfield pairings in the league.
A lot has been made of Schneiderlin’s journey from League One to Europe with the club – making a French World Cup squad along the way – especially in light of his move to pastures new with Manchester United. This has all been deserved; a player doesn’t make such an obvious positive impact upon his team without being excellent – however, it has meant that the talents of Schneiderlin’s former teammate have gone under the radar somewhat – with all of the touted interest from big clubs in Southampton’s midfield this summer going towards Schneiderlin.
This, however, has been a good thing for Koeman’s Saints, as the club can begin to adjust to life in the post-Schneiderlin era with the future of one of the bedrocks of the club’s midfield already secured. Of course, Jordy Clasie has joined the club already from Feyenoord, with links with further additions to come – Leon Goretzka of Schalke being the latest potential target reported by the media – and the youthful duo of James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed, who have both come through the club’s academy in recent years.
Wanyama, however, clearly offers much more Premier League experience than youngsters and new signings from abroad, with two years under his belt since his move from Celtic, and indeed plays a different role to each of the above; none have quite the physical presence of Wanyama, for example.
To describe Wanyama’s attributes as solely related to his strength, power and physique would, however, be quite clearly wide of the mark. Equipped with a great pass, good technique on the ball, and the ability to shoot from range when needed – obviously, sitting further back usually, we don’t often see this latter ability being use – Wanyama is a complete holding midfielder, really only rivalled by Nemanja Matic at Chelsea in terms of the best holding midfielders in the league, and streets ahead of players like Francis Coquelin at Arsenal or Lucas Leiva at Liverpool, whose interpretations of the role received much acclaim towards the back end of last season, largely for the balance they added to their teams.
While Schneiderlin was obviously hugely influential over the two seasons in which the pair played together, Wanyama made a virtually instantaneous impact at the club following his transfer in 2013. Obviously, an improvement in league position – from 14th to 8th and then 7th in Wanyama’s two years at St Mary’s – somewhat speaks for itself, this has been down to other factors; however, between the start of September and end of October 2013, a Wanyama-inspired Saints side conceded just one goal – that only coming at Old Trafford in a draw with Manchester United – over the course of six games. Going into big games against then-league leaders Arsenal and European challengers Chelsea in late November, the club had conceded just five goals since the start of the season. That was a side with Artur Boruc in goal.
Injury forced Wanyama into a side role for the rest of the season, with the Kenyan sustaining an injury at half time in the loss to Aston Villa at the start of December which only allowed him to play periodically in the rest of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign. Decisive goals at the start of the Koeman era, however, consolidated Wanyama as a key player at Southampton, with a late winner against Swansea in September and a screamer against Hull in the opening minute helping the Saints secure a second placed position in the late Autumn of 2014.
Wanyama also overcame his injury problems of the season prior, missing only seven games in all competitions in 2014/15. This will be crucial for the Kenyan in the coming season, too, with Southampton likely to have to deal with several European fixtures – assuming they don’t crash out in either of their qualifying rounds – as well as potential cup runs and the already strenuous 38-game season of the Premier League. Perhaps part of the reluctance of larger clubs to sign Wanyama instead of Schneiderlin stemmed from the injury troubles of the previous season.
At 24, though, Wanyama will still develop from his current status of one of the Premier League’s leading midfielders, and is set to become one of Southampton’s most important players in the coming year. With a stellar performance against Vitesse in the club’s first European qualifier, Wanyama has already shown his credentials in the new season, and his talent should help Jordy Clasie, and any subsequent signing, to settle in well to life on the South Coast.
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