Can Claude Puel continue the Saints march?
Ronald Koeman was the man tasked with succeeding Mauricio Pochettino as Southampton manager in June 2014, and what a job he achieved. After taking the Saints to a seventh place finish in his first season, he went one better last term and led the club to a record breaking sixth place and Europa League qualification, racking up the highest Premier League points tally in the clubs history in the process, 63. This summer however Everton came calling and Koeman went walking, leaving Southampton after two years in charge and with three Manager of the Month awards under his arm.
Claude Puel is the guy the board have put their faith in to continue Southampton’s recent rise up the leagues. The 54-year-old Frenchman replaces Koeman off the back of a successful season at Nice, where they finished a very impressive fourth. With his style of play being primarily based on keeping the ball and making the most out of possession (similar to Koeman), Saints fans will be hoping that his lack of knowledge for the English game is not a stumbling block. If he can hit the ground running, a repeat of last year and a top 6 finish looks decent value at 5/1 (as short as 3/1 with some bookies).
There have been a few departures from St Mary’s this summer with Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane leaving for Spurs and Liverpool respectively, and Graziano Pelle heading overseas to China for reasons I can only believe to be football related. Therefore Claude Puel’s dealings in the transfer market could prove pivotal to where Southampton finish this season. He has recently signed Jeremy Pied who played under him at Nice along with goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. These signings follow the more high profile signings of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Bayern Munich and Nathan Redmond from Norwich. Fans will hope Højbjerg can fill the hole Wanyama has left and likewise Redmond for Mane.
A lot of the focus this year could be around Charlie Austin. The striker joined the Saints in January, but had his season hampered by a hamstring injury. His last full season in the Premier League returned 18 league goals for a relegated QPR side. He was unquestionably the star man that year scoring an extremely high portion of their goals and will be hopeful of achieving a similar feat if given the chance for Southampton. Austin is a best price 66/1 for the Golden Boot, and if he remains injury free, with the likes of Redmond and Tadic behind him, this could prove to be too long a price.
After a successful pre-season to date, Puel will be hoping his players can take their good form into the opening games of the campaign. They open up with what should be two relatively comfortable home games against Watford and Sunderland, with an away game at Old Trafford squeezed in between. Southampton are worst price 16/1 to win these three games, but if you’re a value hunter like myself, you can take 20/1 at Betfair for the Saints to be sitting pretty on 9 points after 3 games.