Koeman can stabilise Saints but won’t match last term’s achievements
Premier League top 10 chances Southampton (7/4) will start the season as a new-look side following their mass exodus of star players this summer. They will even have a new manager, Ronald Koeman, who replaces Mauricio Pochettino, to try and steady the ship.
The Dutchman arrived at St Mary’s with a squad that finished in an impressive eighth place last season, just one spot behind the previous campaign champions Manchester United. However, over the course of the transfer window, he has seen the likes of star English quartet Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers, as well as Dejan Lovren all depart. Koeman could be forgiven for thinking that he had made a mistake joining the club.
But the new boss has seemingly not let that diminish his desire to enjoy success with the Saints, and delved into the transfer market for new talent, most recently reported £12m striker signing Shane Long and Romanian defender Florin Gardos (£7m).
Koeman has certainly been as productive bringing in players to replace the departed, splashing out the near £100m earned from sales to also bring in Graziano Pelle (£9m), Dusan Tadic (£11m), Ryan Bertrand, Saphir Taider (both on loan) and Fraser Forster (£10m).
With the vacant positions now largely filled, the former Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord coach, who will be assisted by his brother Erwin Koeman, has an arduous task to gel his new side together.
Republic of Ireland international Long is certainly looking forward to his new challenge, after moving from Hull City, the club he signed for only last January.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “This came out of the blue for me but, once I’d come and had a look at the training facilities and met the manager, it seemed like the right decision for me and my family.
“You look at how well [Southampton] did last season and they are developing a new squad for this year to try and achieve those accomplishments again, and hopefully I can be a big part of that.
“Southampton play a brand of football that’s enjoyable to watch, and I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable to play in as well. I think the formation they play will suit me, and the manager has a lot of knowledge about football and I’m looking to learn off him.”
Koeman has done well to prevent Portuguese defender Jose Fonte from following his former teammates out the door, and has tied the 30-year-old to a new contract as well as handing him the captaincy, taking over from Lallana.
So far, the Dutchman has also managed to hold onto want-away duo Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin, who have both been linked to Spurs. With just over a fortnight to go until transfer deadline day, time is certainly running out for this pair to seek pastures new, despite the latter in particular being involved in a spat with Southampton.
With the Saints achieving their highest ever Premier League points total last season, with 56, and joint-best finish, Koeman certainly has a lot to live up to. This term could mean more game time for another promising Saints player, James Ward-Prowse, who has also been linked with moves away recently. Surely Southampton will not want another starlet to leave, though.
There is no doubt that the Saints will struggle initially to adapt with their new contingent, but Koeman brings a wealth of experience, having won numerous trophies as a player and manager. The club should have enough in their armoury to survive for sure (odds-on at 1/8 to stay up), but will not be able to match their effort of finishing in eighth.
Southampton ironically first face Liverpool – the very team who poached three of their players – at Anfield this season in the league, and are 8/1 chances to cause an upset and grab a win, or 4/1 to claim a draw.