European ambitions clashed with the realities of second-tier finances for Southampton this summer, resulting in a big-four raid on much of the Saints’ core of talented players. Liverpool signed Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, leaving Manchester United to swoop in for Luke Shaw. Manager Mauricio Pochettino left for Tottenham, and Southampton again had to rebuild.
Enter Ronald Koeman, whose Dutch style will be similar to the one Pochettino instilled last year if a bit more mechanical and less risky than the latter’s high-pressure approach. It will be hard to top Pochettino’s start, winning six of the first 11 matches last year to jump the team into third place in November. In that span, the Saints received stunning results away to Liverpool, winning 1-0, and Manchester United, pulling out a 1-1 draw on Lallana’s 89th-minute goal.
The talent exodus makes it unlikely that the team will fulfill chairman Ralph Krueger’s ambitions right away, but the Canadian-born former professional hockey player and coach should really try to instill a sense of continuity instead of worrying too much about results right away. Last year was an excellent second season in the Premier League since promotion in 2011-12, and finishing eighth was a step up from 14th the year before.
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However, building sustainable top-10 success takes more than one good season on the back of a couple breakout performers. With the departures in the summer, another finish in the top half of the table would be a more realistic watermark for success than trying to win a European place right now.
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KEY ARRIVALS: D Florin Gardoș (from Steaua Bucharest), M Saphir Taïder (from Inter Milan, loan), F Shane Long (from Hull City)
KEY DEPARTURES: M Adam Lallana (to Liverpool), F Rickie Lambert (to Liverpool), D Dejan Lovren (to Liverpool), D Luke Shaw (to Manchester United), D Calum Chambers (to Arsenal)
PLAYER TO WATCH: With the support around him leaving for Liverpool, Jay Rodríguez’s role at Southampton – once he returns from a torn ACL suffered in April – will be magnified this year. The team’s leading scorer last season with 15 in the league and 17 in all competitions, Rodríguez won’t have partner Rickie Lambert to lean on this time, so the club’s goalscoring success will be squarely on his shoulders at least until another player steps up to fill the void.
KEY STAT: Southampton has never finished higher than eighth place in the Premier League, which is where it finished last season. After losing a couple key pieces and inspirational manager Mauricio Pochettino, topping that will be tough this year.
STADIUM: St. Mary’s Stadium (Built in 2001; Capacity 32,589)
More than doubling the size of The Dell, the team’s former home, the complete bowl with stands of equal height features plenty of translucent skin in the façade to help the grass pitch grow.