The growing importance of Cedric Soares at Southampton
It has been a rather unpredictable season so far for Claude Puel and his Southampton side, but what is clear is the increasing importance of right-back, Cedric Soares.
The 2016/17 Season currently has the Saints awaiting a League Cup semi-final against Liverpool, but the Hampshire-based side also find themselves in the bottom half of the Premier League below the likes of high-flying Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion.
Puel may be aiming for some kind of consistency, whilst sticking to his rotation policy for cup and league games, but Cedric is someone who continues to produce for his manager through his overlapping runs and willingness cover to the full length of the pitch.
It may have been a summer to forget at the European Championships for England fans but for Cedric, it brought him his first international silverware and a platform on which to build for his club this season.
As part of the Portuguese side that won the tournament, the former Sporting Lisbon defender featured four times throughout, including the full 120 minutes of the final.
It is now evident that the Saints Puel are reaping the rewards of having a European champion in their ranks, both from an attacking point of view and a defensive perspective.
The Portugal defender joined the club following the departure of Nathaniel Clyne to Liverpool in the summer of 2015 and having had a settling-in period last term, Cedric looks right at home both in the league and in Europe.
Cedric produced a mixed bag during his debut season in the Premier League last year and even found himself playing understudy to fellow full-back Cuco Martina towards the end of the season.
However, during the 2016/17 the 25-year-old has developed into a vital part of manager, Puel’s narrow diamond or 4-3-3 formation with his overlapping runs and ability to provide dangerous crosses for the forwards.
This attacking intent has been evident throughout the nine league games the Portugal international has played in this season, having created 12 chances across those games, which is the equal to Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and four more than Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin.
Back in October, the dependence on Cedric’s defensive capabilities down the right became more apparent when he limped off during a 0-0 draw away at champions, Leicester City.
Defensive frailties began to form when Martina sought to fill the void left by Cedric in the games that followed, with the Saints failing to keep a clean sheet throughout the period in which the Curacao international featured.
Cedric’s most recent appearance came in the Saints 3-0 defeat away at Crystal Palace and whilst it certainly was the poorest performance under Puel thus far, the full-back showed grit and determination throughout the game despite the 3-0 score line.
Fellow defender Virgil Van Dijk, has been the standout performer down at St Mary’s this season and the Dutchman’s form has taken the spotlight away from his fellow teammates.
This is a slight injustice for Cedric considering the strength of displays the full-back has produced this season.
Southampton will be looking to seal qualification to the Europa League knockout stages on Thursday night when Hapoel Be’er Sheva visit St Mary’s, with the Saints needing a goalless draw or a win to progress.