How this International star has become more than just a goal threat for Southampton
When Graziano Pelle joined up with Ronald Koeman and Southampton, there were naturally a few doubts raised.
This was a man who was filling the boots of club legend Rickie Lambert, recently departed to Liverpool, with the full page spread in the Daily Echo still fresh in the mind of the average Saints fan.
Moreover, despite banging in the goals for Feyenoord for the best part of two years, this followed a decade of roaming around the mid-reaches of Serie A (via a brief stint as a squad player in Van Gaal’s title winning AZ side). Even then, whenever anybody mentions an Erdivisie goal machine, there will always be hushed whispers of past failures, Kezman, Alves etc.
However, despite joining Jose Antonio Reyes and Jonathan Woodgate in the early own goals club (albeit, Pelle’s was in a friendly), Pelle’s first season in England was on the whole, successful.
Following another summer exodus, the importance of consistency in the Saints team has never been higher, and once again, Pelle has been effective at leading the line, in a Southampton side, that one again, is defying expectations. These are the direct comparisons between the Pelle of 2014/15, and the Pelle of this season thus far.
Despite heroics in the Dutch league, even the most ambitious of Saints fans, wouldn’t have anticipated a repeat in the much faster, meaner and generally tougher Premier League. So it never really came as much of a shock that Pelle’s 2014/15 was defined by purple patches and barren spells, rather than outright goalscoring.
Between December and April, Pelle hit zero goals, dovetailing with a slump in form for Southampton, that ended the impossible dream of Champions League football. As with any strikers shorn of confidence (Torres, Graham, Altidore etc), finishes are dawdled on, with the attempt to make chances unmissable, often resulting in a sacrifice of striking instinct.
So far in 2015/16, whilst Pelle hasn’t hit top form in regards to goals, he has been successfully chipping away on a consistent basis, so much so, that when a chance comes his way, he has looked clinical.
Southampton are a much more well rounded team this season, with goals shared between the whole team, rather than a few key players, yet Pelle still appears sharp, and capable of finishing instinctively.
Verdict: 2015/2016 Pelle appears a sharper goalscorer.
One of the greatest aspects of Ricky Lambert’s game was to drop back effectively and play the trequaresta, as well as being able to win flick ons. Think about everything that Wayne Rooney is meant to be, Lambert did it to a tee, particularly in 2013/14.
During 2014/15, Pelle notched up 2 assists all season in the Premier League, with much of the play coming from the wide areas (Tadic and Clyne in particular).
In the current season, with the rise of players like Sadio Mane making runs behind, Pelle has been able to bag three assists already.
Again, without trying to pick on Chelsea, but his setup for the second Southampton goal at the Bridge, sums up how Pelle is able to now drop deep, and pick out runners.
Verdict: 2015/16 Pelle, in this Saints team, is much more capable of assisting his teammates.
Importance to Southampton
During the previous season, the Saints only really had the one out and out centre forward. Therefore, as a big target man, and imperative for holding up the ball in a one up front system, Pelle was vital more for his physical ability, rather than his out and out skill.
This season, the long awaited return of Jay Rodriguez should materialise, meaning for the first time since 2014, Southampton have depth up front. Yet with Pelle a much more rounded player, and the role he now plays in being a focal point for Mane, Betrand and Tadic among others, his importance has not dwindled a jot.
Graziano Pelle has successfully adapted to the Premier League, and is now proving his worth on a much more well rounded level, rather than just pure goalscoring.
While he may be 30, this may be a blessing in disguise for Southampton.
After consecutive summers seeing their best young talent being asset stripped from beneath them, having a player already at his peak, with maybe 2/3 years left in him, means that clubs are unlikely to be on the hunt.
Moreover, having a striker who will likely notch up 12-15 goals, is gold dust at this level, with this often being the barometer between success and failure in the Premier League’s mid-tear.
If Southampton can keep him fit, particularly alongside Mane and Tadic, it would be surprising not to see him build on an already impressive first season in English football.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Nazionale Calcio.
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