It has been a summer awash with changes for Southampton as an astounding six members of last year’s starting 11 have been sold or loaned. Not only that but earlier in the summer, their manager Mauricio Pochettino left the club to become manager of Spurs.
In fact, five of those players who left this summer all started the Saints first game last season away at West Brom. According to The Independent the Saints have received a whopping £90m in transfer fees this summer while only spending £19.9m of that.
Considering the club was only sold to current owners, the Liebherr family for a reported £13m in 2009, that’s astoundingly good business – or asset stripping, depending on perception.
To date, the Saints have acquired four players this summer; Ryan Bertrand on loan from Chelsea, Dusan Tadic from FC Twente, Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord and Saphir Taider on loan from Internazionale.
They will provide team with quality, versatility and exceptional work rate – a key facet of Southampton’s successful style of play last season.
While Pochettino’s unique emphasis on high-pressing – something which derives from his connection with the iconic manager Marcelo Bielsa – won’t be quite replicated under the Dutchman, the focus on youth will.
Speaking to Southampton fan Corey Dowling, he expects to: “still see a high tempo game but I’m not sure whether we press as quick as we did under Pochettino”.
Like last season, Corey expects to see a repeat of the 4231 formation deployed by the Saints, although the Dutch love for 3-5-2 so evident under Louis Van Gaal at the World Cup could also be deployed by Koeman.
The expected line up for Southampton’s game versus Liverpool is one of youthful exuberance and overall quality, despite the high loss of players this summer.
The line is as follows: Boruc (GK), Clyne (RB) , Fonte (RCB), Yoshida (LCB), Bertrand (LB), Schneiderlin (DM), Taider (CM), Tadic (LW) (Ramirez (AM), Davis (RW) and Pelle (ST).
There are some areas of concern though, such as Luke Shaw’s replacement in Ryan Bertrand. The stats back up the general perception – Shaw is much better, despite being just under six years younger.
While Bertrand, known for being a solid if not spectacular defender, made on average 0.9 interceptions per game in the Premier League, Shaw already averages 1.1 interceptions per game. Also, Bertrand fouls on average 1.2 times per game while Shaw a mere 0.8 times per game.
The loss of Lovren at the back too, will hinder the Saints. His replacement, Maya Yoshida, played little football last season compared to the Croat. While Lovren made 0.3 blocks per game Yoshida only made 0.1 blocks per game.
One area of slight concern for Saints fans will be if Dusan Tadic can adapt to the Premier League quickly to fill the mark left by former captain Adam Lallana. Lallana, who left this summer for Liverpool, was not just a key creator for Southampton but a finisher too. WhoSchored.com list one of Lallana’s key characteristics of his game to be strong finishing and his defensive contribution – he scored nine league goals last season.
For Tadic to replace Lallana he will need to settle quickly, especially coming from the Dutch league which is infamous for players not making the grade in England.
Another recruit from the Dutch league is Graziano Pelle, who last season plied his trade at Feyenoord. Despite having a journeyman career – the Italian has made eight club changes in his career to date – his last season proved fruitful where he scored 23 goals in 29 appearances.
Although a weaker league, this is one area where the Saints may feel safe, as the former striker Rickie Lambert was perhaps beginning to slow down a bit too much for the system deployed.
When Southampton visit Anfield this Sunday they will know they have a job to do. Playing in the home of the runners up of the Premier League last season the fans – and the payers – will sense blood from a depleted Southampton side.
For the Saints to win they will need to play as aggressive a game as possible – they won in their last two Anfield visits through a similar style.
While Southampton’s season will not be defined on Sunday it certainly will illustrate how Koeman and the raft of new players will settle in and line up for the interesting season ahead.