Considering his press conferences are so calm and uncontroversial, it is rather shocking to see how agitated Claude Puel can get on the touch line during games.
The Southampton boss was again visibly frustrated against Stoke on Wednesday night, but the reasons are rather less of a surprise. Despite a man advantage over their hosts at the BET365 for more than an hour, the final score ended in a bore-draw.
For Puel and the hardcore bunch who travelled up to the cliched “tricky away trip”, it all had a sense of déjà vu. Like so many games this season, the Saints team dominated the ball and the chances; but when it came down to the nitty-gritty of making it count on the score line, they failed to do so.
Southampton are 16th in the Premier League’s Goals Scored column, only one goal above Middlesbrough and Burnley. Whilst the Teesiders and Clarets will be fairly content as their defence will keep them up, their primary objective, Puel’s men and the supporters will be more aggrieved. Their European detour has left them wanting more.
But, again, goals are the problem. An unbeaten record at home would have left them in good stead for getting out of Group K, but their wretched away form meant the side didn’t even have an away goal to show for their 7,000 mile round tour of Israel, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Despite much of their success the past two seasons under Ronald Koeman stemming from their tight defensive structure, the trio of Sadio Mané, Graziano Pellè and Shane Long all scoring 10+ goals rocketed them into sixth and into the Europa League group stage for this season.
But with the former pair leaving for pastures new, like so many of Southampton’s key men over the past few summers, and Shane Long in a 20-game goal drought, the goal-scoring issue is becoming a real crisis.
It is clear where the problem lies. With the defence one of the strongest in the league, and a midfield with real options, the attack lacks real quality. The aforementioned Long, Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin all have real concerns against their name.
Austin is the only goalscorer in the Saints squad, but he is a double-edged sword. He scores the scrappy chances, but it comes at the price of the frontline becoming very disjointed. His fitness is a concern too, but the fact he’s out for four months with a dislocated shoulder is a real loss all the same.
Arguably of the three, it is Rodriguez who is the best striker on paper. But after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament injury in April 2014 he hasn’t looked the same player, no longer the pacy forward that can leave defenders in his wake. He may have scored twice against rivals Bournemouth on Sunday, but questions regarding his ability to show this form consistently, still remain,
While hardly being the great entertainers under Koeman before he moved to Everton, the sale of Mané and Pellè seems to have done much more damage than most of the exits before them, and the fans are frustrated at how blunt the side look going forward.
But it is not because of a lack of service. Southampton are one of the top chance creators in the league, with Dušan Tadic pivotal to that, but the fact the Serbian playmaker has not registered a single assist yet despite being near the top of the league for key passes tells its own story.
The midfield need to start scoring for starters. Of the centre-midfielders only James Ward-Prowse has registered a league goal, and that was in the Saints’ only away win this campaign at a struggling West Ham, whilst Tadic netted his only goal in that game too.
But the club need to be bold in January. The winter transfer window is a seller’s market, where struggling sides will pay over the odds in desperation, but there are bargains to be found; after all, Austin was recruited at a cut price £4 million this time last season with his contract running out.
A move for West Brom’s Saido Berahino, who is in a similar situation after his well-documented fall out at the Hawthorns, may well be an astute signing and a good move for all parties. There was interest in the England u21 international last season, and the Baggies may feel that some extra funds from an unused striker could come in handy, in order to strengthen for an unlikely European push.
It could be the best thing for the player considering how things have gone sour in the pat few seasons, and Puel has experience of getting the best of players who are considered difficult characters; just look at Hatem Ben Arfa’s for the Frenchman’s previous club Nice.
The Saints would get a striker that when on form and in full confidence can score goals aplenty. Whether or not Berahino is the man is not really important, but Southampton need to recruit a solution to their goalscoring problems. If not, their manager and supporters frustrations may well continue.
There is no danger as of yet of the club being relegated; but as Puel would have seen on Wednesday, it could be pretty grim viewing all the same.
Southampton can’t afford to lose Dusan Tadic after reports of Ajax agreement
Mark Hughes simply cannot let this reported move materialise.
Southampton play-maker Dusan Tadic has allegedly agreed terms with Ajax, with the Dutch giants said to be willing to pay £15 million for his signature, according to reports from Dutch outlet De Telegraaf. But his current side should do all they can to scupper the deal.
The 29-year-old has become the Saints’ most creative addition, since arriving from the Eredivisie in 2014, acting as the team’s catalyst to build attacks with his technical quality and experience over his 162 appearances for the club.
Despite not having a prolific 2017/18 campaign, the Serbian international notched a respectable six goals and three assists, and Ajax are now keen to add him to their ranks after failing to win their domestic league for the fourth consecutive season.
But currently, Mark Hughes really isn’t in a position to be releasing players of Tadic’s quality, notably when a lack of creativity in the final third was undoubtedly the side’s biggest weakness. The Saints created more chances than anyone outside of the top six, yet were 15th for number of goals scored, as the final pass or finish was constantly lacking.
Take Tadic out of the equation and the team could have serious problems, as the majority of midfielders at the club are more focused on defensive duties, and are lacking in offensive quality.
Mark Hughes interested in reunion with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron
Mark Hughes interested in bringing the experienced defender to St. Mary’s
Cameron, who turns 33 next month, was brought to Stoke by Tony Pulis in 2012 following a four-year stint with Major League Soccer side Houston Dynamo.
He thrived under the leadership of Hughes, becoming a versatile and influential player for the Potters in the Premier League.
It is suggested that Cameron’s current deal includes a release clause in excess of £5 million, and Stoke will want to receive that figure if he is to leave the Bet365 stadium this summer.
Cameron is currently unsure whether he has a future at Stoke under Gary Rowett, so he will be hoping to find out when he returns to training next week.
It isn’t a secret that the Stoke boss is a fan of the player, however, heis trying to reduce the overall age of the squad following the club’s relegation from the Premier League but has stated there is room for some of the aging contingent which might include Cameron.
The American defender is highly thought of in his native country and a return to Major League Soccer has been rumoured. Championship clubs are also thought to be monitoring the situation.
The prospect of remaining in the Premier League and reuniting with Mark Hughes might be a huge factor if he decides to stay in England and finds himself out of favour with Stoke City’s promotion-chasing group.
With 149 Premier League starts to his name, there’s no doubt Cameron would add experience and valuable depth to Southampton’s defence.
Xherdan Shaqiri should join Southampton and continue in his best role
The Swiss international is wanted by a number of clubs, including Southampton.
It looks as though Xherdan Shaqiri will be on the move this summer. The Swiss star suffered relegation with Stoke City last season and is not prepared to play in the Championship. The news he could be on his way has attracted plenty of attention, with the latest reports suggesting it is Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton who are leading the race for his signature.
The Mirror reported this week that both Spurs and Southampton are keen on activating his bargain release clause of £12 million this summer.
The lure of playing for Spurs will no doubt be a feature for Shaqiri. They can offer the Champions League football he probably craves.
But he should choose Southampton instead.
Why? Here’s why?
Shaqiri thrives as a big fish in a smaller pond. During his time at hometown club FC Basel he was unstoppable and at Stoke he has been in similar form. With regular football and responsibility the 26-year-old thrives and can but in match-winning performances.
In the past, when playing for the bigger sides, he has found himself lost. At Bayern Munich he played a substitute role for his three seasons in Bavaria. Once he had enough of that, he headed to Inter Milan – another European giant.
Rightly so. In terms of talent, Shaqiri is good enough for such teams. However, again he found himself a bit-part player at the San Siro, coming off the bench more than he started.
The fact is Shaqiri is something of a luxury player and, if a team is not built around him, he does not thrive.
Southampton would automatically make him the star of their team. With the presence of his former Stoke boss Mark Hughes also a factor, then Southampton is obviously the best choice for the mercurial attacker.