After what seemed like an eternal wait, the football season is finally back. After two games Southampton have just a solitary point which is not disastrous…
After what seemed like an eternal wait, the football season is finally back. After two games Southampton have just a solitary point which is not disastrous, although most Saints fans will be disappointed not to have beaten Watford at home. Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle have departed with Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Jeremy Pied and Alex McCarthy moving to the South Coast, whilst Claude Puel has replaced Ronald Koeman at the helm. Players always look to impress a new manager, but here there are some players with more of a point to prove than others. Here we look at five which fit into this category.
First up is Cedric Soares. The Euro 2016 winner joined from Sporting Lisbon last summer amid interest from Barcelona but has yet to convince fans he is the man to fill the void left by Nathaniel Clyne. Dropped by Ronald Koeman towards the end of last season in favour of Cuco Martina who was only ever intended to act as backup, he was then left on the bench as Portugal scraped through the group stages in France. Coach Fernando Santos recalled the right-back along with Saints teammate Jose Fonte and both players starred as they went on to lift the trophy. With Martina clearly not a key part of Claude Puel`s plans, Jeremy Pied has been brought in – a player the Frenchman worked with at both Lyon and Nice. The early signs look good for Cedric who has started both of Southampton`s games so far although a lack of fitness has been evident so far, unsurprising considering he joined preseason late on following his country`s international triumph. However, he still needs to cement that starting position as his own, justify those Barcelona links and make sure Clyne becomes nothing but a distant memory having had a season to adjust to the Premier League.
Another of last summer`s signings yet to set the Premier League alight is Jordy Clasie, the man billed as the “new Morgan Schneiderlin” following his £8m move from Feyenoord. His Saints career got off to an unfortunate start with an injury in the Europa League qualifier against Vitesse ruling him out of the first three months of the campaign. Once he returned he was battling with Victor Wanyama and Oriol Romeu for a starting place and struggled to find form and consistency. His small stature and lack of physicality meant he struggled against many stronger players, something evident in the defeat at Leicester when he was no match for Wes Morgan who headed in what proved to be the winner whilst being marked by the Dutchman. Even in the 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Friday night he endured a torrid time up against Paul Pogba before conceding a penalty for an incident with Luke Shaw, although this did appear to be a very harsh decision based on the replays and minimal contact with the former Saints academy prospect. In many ways this draws parallels with Schneiderlin who was highly rated but often bullied in his early days in the Championship. Alan Pardew worked with Schneiderlin to build his strength and tackling abilities and helped transform him into one of the best holding midfielders in the country who later forced his way into the France squad and joined Manchester United for £25m. Clasie needs to learn off the example of Schneiderlin if he is to make it as a top Premier League midfielder and a worthy replacement for the Frenchman.
A third player with a point to prove this season is James Ward-Prowse. The 21-year old midfielder made his debut in the League Cup against Crystal Palace in the 2011/12 season before scoring his first goal against Coventry in the FA Cup the same season. He didn`t make a single league appearance until the start of the following campaign, Southampton`s first game back in the Premier League away to champions Manchester City. He has since gone on to make 108 appearances scoring three goals including two in the 3-0 victory over West Brom last season. Ward-Prowse is seen as a set piece specialist generally vying with Dusan Tadic to take free kicks, penalties and corners. Having captained England U21s to Toulon Tournament success in the summer and made over 100 Premier League appearances, it is clear he has potential. Then-England manager Roy Hodgson said last year ‘he’ll be in our thoughts because we like him very much’ whilst calling him a “big prospect.” The problem for Ward-Prowse is that he has never managed to cement a place in the side and has often been rotated with Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman all failing to give him a consistent run in the starting lineup. Having played against Watford last Saturday before being dropped for the defeat at Old Trafford, the early indications suggest that Claude Puel is using him in the same manner. If after five seasons in the Premier League he has not become a regular, questions have to be asked as to whether he is ever going to fulfil his potential.
Next up is Jay Rodriguez. A £7m signing from Burnley following promotion in 2012, he took a few months to adjust to the Premier League but flourished from Christmas onwards and was a key player during Mauricio Pochettino`s short spell at the club. He ended his first season at St. Marys with 9 goals in all competitions before striking 17 times in the following campaign earning his first England cap in the process. It was on April the 5th that season that things went wrong for the striker-turned-winger. He ruptured his ACL against Manchester City at the Etihad which ruled him out of contention for the 2014 World Cup squad and the entire 2014/15 season. He eventually returned away to Vitesse in the Europa League at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign before scoring his first goal since injury against Midtjylland in the same competition soon afterwards. A month later he scored a brace including a brilliant solo striker in the 6-0 victory over MK Dons in the League Cup. Unfortunately this was as good as it got before injuries took their toll again. Injuries and fitness problems meant he never got back to his best and questions now remain over whether he will ever return to the scintillating form displayed in 2013/14. He has been linked with a loan move to Hull City which may give him a chance to regain form should Southampton find an adequate replacement beforehand, however, it is clear he needs to make this season a good one if he is ever going to get back to his best.
The final man who needs to show what he can do is Charlie Austin. Linked to almost every Premier League club last summer for around £15m despite having just one year remaining on his contract he stayed at Championship QPR until January when he made the move to Hampshire for a bargain £4m. A striker with a phenomenal record of a goal every other game wherever he has been including 18 goals in his debut Premier League season with QPR, many Saints fans were excited when he arrived. However it has not worked out for him just yet. Despite scoring the winner on a dream debut at Old Trafford where he came on as a late substitute, injuries and fitness problems have restricted the former Burnley and Swindon man to just seven appearances and he has failed to find the net since that late header at Manchester United. With Graziano Pelle departing to China, it is time for Austin to step up and show Saints fans just how brilliant he can be.