Southampton went through a lot of changes this off-season; the most notable being Ronald Koeman’s departure to Everton and the arrival of the new head coach – Claude Puel.
Puel signed a contract that will keep him at St. Mary’s until 2019. Having managed several respectable clubs in France since his debut coaching season in 1999 where he won the Ligue 1 title with Monaco, this will be the first time Puel has taken a role outside of his native country.
The now 54-year-old spent six years at Lille, from 2002 to 2008, where he ensured the team became a regular on the European scene, and from 2008 to 2011, Puel was the head coach at Lyon where he guided the club to their first ever UEFA Champions League semi-final.
Since his stint at Lyon, and prior to his move to St Mary’s, Puel spent four seasons with Nice. The new Premier League boss also spent his entire playing career in France and with Monaco, making a whopping 488 appearances for the Ligue 1 side.
Following the departures of Pelle, Mane, Wanyama, Juanmi, and Ramirez, Puel begins life at Southampton with 24 players in his squad, a number he will be keen to increase in this transfer window ahead of the competitions the Saints are involved in this season.
The Saints have already signed Hojbjerg and Redmond from Bayern Munich and Norwich respectively for a combined fee of £24 million, and even after these deals, Puel is believed to still have plenty of funds to strengthen the squad further.
The 54-year-old’s tactics are different from those that Ronald Koeman has installed on the South Coast, and supporters can expect a preferred formation of 4-3-1-2 with one defensive midfielder and two central midfielders to be implemented.
At this moment in time, Romeu, Clasie, Hojbjerg, Davis, and Ward-Prowse will be those competing for those crucial central midfield places in this shape. While Dusan Tadic looks to most sensible option to play behind the pair of strikers – most likely Charlie Austin and Shane Long.
Southampton will be playing on four fronts this season including the Europa League, meaning any additions to Puel’s current roster will be justified.
The club have reportedly tabled a bid for Barcelona winger Cristian Tello, and it is also believed that Puel would like a new goalkeeper as cover for Fraser Forster, which explains why the Saints are in talks with Crystal Palace to sign Alex McCarthy.
Unless Southampton add more quality players to their squad, it will be quite tough for them to repeat last season’s success and secure a top-six finish. The Saints will be eager to make an impression in Europe as well as looking to maintain the progress they have made domestically; a task that requires serious squad depth.
We can expect a busy window for the Frenchman and Southampton this summer, but with the players currently present at Southampton, a starting lineup should look something like this:
(4-3-1-2) Forster – Cedric, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand – Clasie, Prowse (Hojbjerg), Davis – Tadic – Long, Austin.