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Football News: Southampton FC: A look ahead to the 2018-19 season

Southampton FC: A look ahead to the 2018-19 season
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With the transfer window closed and pre-season over, its time to look ahead to the 2018/19 season. Southampton FC have made some good signings in a solid transfer window that saw the return to the previous transfer strategy of buying young players with good potential, as RK stated we would.


All of the players brought in address an issue with the balance of the side over the last season or two so it will be exciting to see how they develop this season. The spectre of near relegation last season is likely to haunt the first team squad who were here then. They may be able to ignore it for a short time, but if performances do not improve drastically from last season, morale is likely to ebb quickly. This puts a lot of pressure on these new young players to come in and bring positive energy as well as performances.


Our first summer signing was of course to retain MH's services on a long term contract after he managed to help the team stay up last season. I remain dubious of his abilities and our friendly performances have done little to assuage those doubts, but I feel he has enough experience to keep the Saints ship steady. The consensus from fans last season was that our players were better than their performances showed and so most of the blame for our poor season was laid at the feet of Mauricio Pellegrino. The burden of proof is now on those same players to show the truth of this view as MP is long gone and has been replaced with an experienced Premier League who 'doesn't do relegation'.


Our first match sees us take on Burnley at St Mary's. Many predicted before the start of last season that Burnley would likely struggle and go down but they were the surprise package of the season ending up qualifying for a Europa League spot. They have stability from the consistency of keeping Sean Dyche at the helm for almost 6 years. The team plays in a fairly set way and the players are well drilled in what is expected of them.


Their strength has largely been with a solid defence with the whole team working hard and manipulating the opposition's attackers to take long range shots or chase down blind alleys. However, last season with the addition of Chris Wood, they found a target man to support the work rates of Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes and provide them with a different attacking threat. Suddenly, they were not only hard to score against, but they were more of a goal threat at the other end.


So what about Burnley this season? Well, we can be sure of one thing. They are not going to radically change their style of football or their tactics defensively. They made three signings in the transfer window. Joe Hart as injury cover, Ben Gibson to add depth to the defence and Matej Vydra joined to bolster their attacking options. He top-scored in the Championship last season and is straining at the leash to have another crack at the Prem.


Their pre-season has been focused on their Europa League qualifiers. So far, they have managed to get past Aberdeen, though they required extra time to do so. Last night, they played Istanbul Basaksehir in Istanbul, drawing 0-0. They used something of an unfamiliar line-up as they have one or two injury niggles and were no doubt resting players as much as they could ahead of their game with us. So at this early stage, I wouldn't count on Burnley being fatigued by their first foray into Europe.


They do lack strength in depth and will need to decide whether to prioritise league or Europe as the season progresses, but at this stage, they have the added advantage of having played some competitive matches already and come through them unscathed. Saints will be coming up against a Burnley side raring to go. That said, with little change made to the squad, many pundits are anticipating a much tougher season for Burnley. Certainly, the teams around them have strengthened with new players and managers so a top 6 or 7 finish is likely to be out of reach. Will teams have uncovered a tactic to break Burnley down? Will they be successful in shutting out the giant Chris Wood or the dogged Ashley Barnes? Saints are the first Premier league team to try.


Last season, we lost 1-2 to Burnley at home in November and drew with them 1-1 away in February. The November result felt poor to many as Burnley's season was still taking shape at that stage, but the draw in February felt like a positive one in light of their high position in the league table. If both teams are aiming at least for the comfort of midtable this season, the game should be finely balanced and competitive. On paper, some would argue Saints have the better players, but its without question that Burnley are a much tighter team.


In light of those player's form last season, I'm sure fewer would argue now that Saints' players are much better. Vestergaard claims to be a physical player who likes a tussle and Woods will certainly give him one, so who will come out on top? At the moment, I feel Woods is stronger, so the answer is to cut off his supply. Deploying a 3-5-2 is likely to leave space in behind Bertrand and Cedric that could be exploited by wide players looking to cross the ball or otherwise demand more of them defensively and making us very narrow in attack. I'd therefore like to see us revert to a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2. MH claims he is flexible in his approach and will not stick to the same formation every game or even for all of the 90 minutes so it will be interesting to see how we approach this game.


If I'm honest, I'm nervous about this season opener. I would have preferred a softer opponent. The problem I have is that Burnley's performance levels are reliable and we know what we're going to get, but that's not true of Saints. Going forward, we've looked lively in pre-season, but defensively unstable. That is not a good combination as Burnley are so effective at quietening attackers and so far, I've seen nothing to suggest that in the matches this season when our attack is stifled, we can rely on our solid defence to stop the opposition scoring. If anything, I feel a little like this season will play out similarly to last season defensively and that is not a good feeling.


This is not simply down to the players but the displays in pre-season and MH being unable at this stage to address the issues that see us concede a lot of goals. Certainly, if we are to fare better, he must demonstrate that lessons have been learned from his last season at Stoke as well as the tail end of last season with us. I remain hopeful of getting something from the game and Saints must start this season positively. I'd happily take a draw.

Written by figodasilva August 10 2018 18:14:19


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