Last season was one of mixed success for Southampton. After losing manager Ronald Koeman to Everton, Sadio Mane to Liverpool and Victor Wanyama to Southampton, Claude Puel was given the reins to steady the St. Mary’s ship.
Despite a league cup final and an eighth place finish in the league, there was a feeling that the ship was a little too steady – to the point of being boring. Just 17 goals at home and a dire playing style led to the Frenchman being given the boot and former Liverpool defender Mauricio Pellegrino has come in to take charge.
Again, the Saints are expected to finish in mid-table by the majority of the media, but the they are a club who have finished in the top eight of the league for the last four seasons, one of just six clubs who can boast that record. Staying there would represent another excellent season.
How has their summer gone?
It’s all been fairly quiet on the transfer front at Southampton this season, barring one particular saga.
Question marks are still hanging over the future of captain Virgil Van Dijk, who appears to have burnt his bridges with the club after handing in a transfer request this week. The Saints threatened to report Liverpool to the Premier League over allegedly tapping up the centre-back earlier in the summer, but it now seems as if his departure will be inevitable.
Whether Van Dijk goes has yet to be decided, there have been a couple of confirmed departures from the first team. Jay Rodriguez has moved to West Bromwich Albion, while youngster Jason McCarthy has joined Barnsley.
Coming in are young Polish centre back Jan Bednarek, who at 21 could prove to be a bargain at £5 million, and Gabon international Mario Lemina, who brings in Champions League experience from Juventus.
Friendlies have given Pellegrino a chance to assess his squad and has seen some mixed results. Draws with St Gallen and Brentford showed flickers of encouragement, but the side was very impressive in subsequent wins over St Etienne (3-0) and Sevilla (2-0).
However, the wins sandwiched a 4-0 defeat at home to Augsburg, which will check some of the optimism of a largely positive pre-season.
Manager: Mauricio Pellegrino
For the fourth time in a row, Southampton have looked to a manager with no English experience to lead them into the new season, and they may have found a gem in Argentine boss Mauricio Pellegrino.
After cutting his teeth in Valencia and his native country with Estudiantes and Independiente, Pellegrino took over at newly promoted La Liga side Alaves last season, leading them to an impressive ninth place in the league and a Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
He is still a pragmatic coach, and the Saints won’t suddenly start leaking goals, but he’ll definitely get them playing a more positive style.
How could the Saints line-up this season?
Who are Southampton’s best fantasy football options?
Thanks to last season’s lacklustre goal tally, there are several budget attacking options that may be worth a punt if the Saints start scoring more freely.
Both Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic, who can be an assist machine on his day, are available for a mere 6.5m. Manolo Gabbiadini showed signs of real promise before his injury last season, and will set you back 7.0m, while Charlie Austin, who will score when fit, is a snip at £6.5m.
The whole squad is fairly priced, so any investment of a Saints starter will likely turn out to be a decent investment.
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Premier League Verdict
Southampton have made a better fist of keeping hold of their best players this summer, aside from the Van Dijk saga, but the squad hasn’t improved much either.
Pellegrino will hopefully prove an upgrade on Puel with a more positive style which should get a talented Saints squad firing again. Getting back to the top six will be beyond them, but sustaining their place as a top eight team is well within their grasp.