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The growing importance of Cedric Soares at Southampton

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

English Premier League

Southampton could be left looking foolish as Matt Targett pushes for promotion

The England under-21 international is hoping to win promotion with Fulham.

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Fulham are firmly in the fight for promotion to the Premier League. The Cottagers are chasing Cardiff City in the hunt for the automatic places and will have a shot at the play-offs if they do not make it into the top two. Fulham’s brilliant form has been largely down to the arrival of a loan signing from the Premier League. Despite Newcastle United’s own struggles, Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent to Craven Cottage to try and find some form. The Serbian has done just that, scoring goals for fun in West London. But the impact of another loanee cannot be understated.

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Matt Targett arrived from Southampton at the end of January and has gone on to become an integral member of the Fulham first-team. Targett has played 15 times since his move to the club, even finding the back of the net once.

The Saints man has been solid defensively and a threat going forward for Slavisa Jokanovic’s men.

For Southampton, loaning him out could prove to make them look foolish. Whilst Fulham are pushing for promotion, Southampton are desperately scrapping against relegation from the Premier League.

Whilst Ryan Bertrand may be the out-and-out first choice at left-back Mark Hughes’ recent switch to a back three could certainly have seen Targett playing a role in the matchday squad at St Mary’s once again.

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But above anything else, it will be the principle of the matter.

Mauricio Pellegrino was not a fan of Targett and therefore sent him on his way, but he should still be around the club and making an impact in the fight for survival. The fact Southampton, who are currently five points adrift of safety, could get relegated whilst a player they loaned out wins promotion is just bad PR – pure and simple.

It will certainly be interesting to see just where Targett ends up next season, and which division he will be playing in.

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Everton

Would Tottenham or Everton be the best move for Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand?

The 28-year-old has been linked with a move away from the south coast this summer.

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After being told by Southampton bosses that the club could not afford to lose both him and Virgil Van Dijk in the same season, this summer may finally see Ryan Bertrand depart Saint Mary’s.

The Sun report that Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle are among the clubs interested in a £25 million bid this summer, following on from Manchester City‘s attempts to lure him north last summer.

The 28-year-old has again shown himself to be a reliable Premier League defender this season but faces a tough choice on where to go next with a departure looking likely as the Saints struggle at the wrong end of the table.

With Tottenham and Everton leading the way, it may not be a simple choice for the versatile defender.

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A move to Spurs would provide the ex-Chelsea man with a return to the Champions League, a competition he won whilst with the Blues, but would also face more of a challenge to walk straight into the first team.

Ben Davies has been performing well at left-back, with Danny Rose also still at the club despite injury problems, and so he may be forced into a less comfortable role on the left of a back three, a position which Jan Vertonghen has made his own.

At Goodison Park, Bertrand can see his role as a leader in the team right from day one. With Leighton Baines not getting any younger, the club is clearly on the look-out for a replacement and he could be that man.

The doubt over a move to the Toffees would be regarding the instability at the club. Sam Allardyce’s future is anything but certain and Bertrand’s loyalty to his previous two clubs may mean he seeks a long-term project and avoid adding to the list of expensive failures that Everton racked up last summer.

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English Premier League

Mark Hughes should try again for Ki Sung-yueng this summer

The Swansea City midfielder is out of contract in South Wales this summer.

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Swansea City’s recent resurgence up the Premier League table has been largely due to the improved form of some of their first-team players. Inspired by new manager Carlos Carvalhal many of the Swansea team finally found form, helping the club move toward Premier League safety. One such player who typifies this turnaround in performance more than any other is midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng.

The 29-year-old has been in fantastic form in the heart of the Swansea midfield. But Swansea are currently fearful of losing the player. He is out of contract in the summer and AC Milan are being linked with a move. Calciomercato revealed earlier this month that the Rossoneri are keen on bringing Ki in on a free transfer this summer.

Southampton Welsh manager Mark Hughes arrives for the English FA Cup quarter-final football match between Wigan Athletic and Southampton at DW Stadium in Wigan, northwest England on March 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

But should Southampton boss Mark Hughes make his intentions for the player clear again?

Hughes is a fan of the midfielder. Back in the summer of 2012 Premier League clubs were scrambling for the then-Celtic midfielder. The Mirror reported that QPR, then managed by Hughes, were one such team. A £6 million fee was touted for the midfield maestro.

However, Ki ended up at Swansea. That season’s opening game saw Swansea absolutely obliterate QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road. As reported by Wales Online, it was that performance that helped Ki decide on Swansea and not QPR.

SWANSEA, WALES – DECEMBER 02: Ki Sung-Yueng of Swansea City celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Queens Park Rangers at Liberty Stadium on December 2, 2014 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Hughes is now manager of Southampton and, before even contemplating signing Ki, will need to steer the Saints away from the relegation zone.

If he can do that, Ki will surely be a name coming across his desk. Southampton need to improve their entire squad if they are to find their way back to the top-half of the Premier League table.

Ki would be the perfect option on which to build the Southampton midfield. An excellent passer with over five years of top-flight experience he is currently in some of the best form of his career.

At 29-years-old he is in his prime and Southampton boss Hughes would love to finally bring in the midfielder, six years after he failed to do so with QPR.

AC Milan will be formidable opponents for anyone trying to tie down Ki, including Swansea. But Southampton beating the Italian giants to a player like Ki would be a big statement of intent ahead of the new campaign.

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