EPL Season Preview 2014-15: Southampton
You sit down at your computer, and fire up a new game with the giant worldwide database of all leagues and players at your disposal. As you take over your new club, you see that the former manager has been poached by one of the bigger clubs in the league – a convenient fiction that made space for your appointment.
Looking over the squad, there’s some real talent in the starting lineup, and you are pleased that you also have one of the best academies in England, meaning quality young players already abound up and down the ranks.
The goal for this season is merely to stay in the league. Cracking the European places will take time and patience, and your young players will need to develop into stars before you have a legitimate chance at that.
Fair enough, you think, this is a job I can handle.
That’s when the vultures descend.
The biggest club in the league steals away your 18-year-old left back for £30M or so. Fine – you’ve made nothing but profit on him, and you can buy literally any other young left back in the world and still have plenty of money left over.
Then another giant club comes in and buys your 32-year-old forward for £4M. This hurts a bit, but he was getting on in age and it gives a stalwart the chance to play in the Champions League before he retires. No problem.
The same club comes back for your star attacking midfielder. This one is a bit different, since he is valuable and important, but prolonged negotiations see him leave for £20M plus big add-ons. He’s also not that young anymore, so it might be the time to sell him. Right, time to shop.
But wait... there’s that club again. Now they want to buy your best center back from last season for £20M. All of this selling is getting annoying, but your club just bought said center back last year and you can make an £11M profit. Grinding your teeth, you agree to sell, but that’s it for Liverpool. No mas!
Then Arsenal come along and want to buy your second-string right back and potential long-term center half for £12M in a deal that could rise to £16M. Fiiiine.
Then Tottanham come knocking at your door and want to buy your star defensive midfielder and your remaining star forward for a doner kebab and a bunch of loans. Filled with rage, you tell them to fuck off.
Checking your pockets after a crazy morning of garage sale action, you realize you now have about £95M more than you had when you arrived at the job, but you need to replace five players and deal with the batshit crazy forward the club probably overpaid for last season. Oh, and you have a grumpy dressing room because everyone is worried about all the player sales, and the national media is bashing you because they view the club as having held a fire sale.
Welcome to Southampton!
Except as you know, this wasn’t a Football Manager game... this is what actually happened.
Here’s the thing though – it's not a big deal.
Ignore the stupid Betfair articles saying Southampton are a good bet to go down – those guys are donkeys. Southampton still have plenty of talent, a capable manager, and they have £65M they could still spend before the transfer window closes on new players (and could have as high as 105M if they wanted to engage Spurs on Schneiderlin and Rodriguez, but I doubt they do).
The primary goal is to stay up. Any other goal you hear is a nonsensical work of fiction. This is plenty doable. The secondary goal is to purchase young assets that have super talent so that you can continue developing them, potentially sell them for a huge chunk of money down the road when they mature, and keep getting one step closer to European football along the way.
In other words, Southampton are currently the perfect Football Manager football club in real life. It’s just that what they have done is so unusual in modern football, that traditional media have been completely broadsided by it and feel the need to condemn them.
Obviously there is a lot of talent here, but as noted above, I think they got fair value or better in every single case except maybe Chambers, and for him they a) already have one of the best right backs in the league in Nathaniel Clyne, and b) will get fair value depending on how easy the add-ons are to achieve. It’s hard to ask more of your Director of Football than that.
I like both of the outfield purchases based on need and price. Graziano Pelle played for Koeman last season, and while he’s a bit older than I would normally go with, Southampton didn’t overpay, and he not only understands the system, he excelled in it last season in the Eredivisie. It’s a solid buy with minimal risk.
The Dusan Tadic deal I love. Tadic has been one of the best creative midfielders in the Eredivisie for a number of years now. He doesn’t bring the defensive bite that Lallana had, but he is undeniably a better creator for his teammates, and he cost £14.5M less than Lallana. Within a season, he could easily end up being one of the best creative mids in England as well. This deal is a huge win.
The Bertrand loan I am indifferent toward, but even if he’s league average, that’s perfectly fine.
Here’s Taider’s radar.
The young player model loves Taider, so buying a potential superstar midfielder for a total £6.5M outlay seems like an awesome deal. If he doesn’t work out, you paid £790K for the privilege of renting his services to check him out, and it’s still fine.
Even with those incomings, Southampton still have some needs to fill, notably at left back, center back, and forward. I can’t really offer much advice on center backs, but we can definitely go shopping for a number of potential forwards to bolster their attack. (I'd do left backs, but shopping for them is like shoe shopping with your mom - hour after hour of tedium.)
Koeman comes from the Eredivisie, so you assume he has a very good understanding of who the best young attackers there are. For various reasons, this league also seems to produce undervalued stars, but the problem is that it’s a crap shoot as to whether those guys can perform at similar levels in the Premier League. For every Luis Suarez or Christian Eriksen, there are probably three or four Afonso Alves, Ryan Babels, Jozy Altidores, and Ricky van Wolfswinkels. That’s a terrifying rate of epic failures, and it’s priced into the market.
Spurs have alledgedly been sniffing around Memphis Depay, so I’m going to assume he will go there, but he would have been my first choice for Southampton. I would guess his price will be £15-18M, which would be a touch high versus Southampton’s normal budget, but Depay is special, and as noted above, they have made huge profits this year.
Barring Depay, the next guy I would check out would be Steven Berghuis. He’s so far under the radar, he barely has any YouTube clips. C'MON people, help a brotha out.
That’s a huge radar profile at age 22, and versatile as hell. This kid can do a bit of everything. He also kicked the season this weekend with a 4-shot, 3 shot on target, 1KP performance away to Heracles. His last transfer allegedly cost $440K. I would guess this time around that number would be closer to £5-8M. That’s a worthwhile gamble for his age and production. On the other hand, it’s impossible to tell what guys will actually sell for from that market.
Quincy Promes would have been a decent option, but he’s off to Moscow in a deal that sounded too expensive (£15M?), but Hakim Ziyech should be available. (In fact, late last night he was rumored to be available for as little as 4M euros.)
Ziyech’s only real weakness is his passing percentage, which makes me wonder how his team played as a whole. It’s something I would pay close attention to when scouting. Watching video, it's clear that he's aggressive getting the ball forward quickly so that his team can counter attack. Meanwhile, he has huge output for his age in goalscoring and assists, and shows an interest in working hard defensively. He’ll need to add a bit of bulk to stay healthy in the Premier League, but he has the talent and the vision to play in a bigger league.
Shopping a bit closer to home, Southampton would seem to be a natural resting place for Javier Hernandez, should he want to stay in the Premier League. He’s made his name as a super sub, and has a ridiculous scoring contribution when coming off the bench, but I think Hernandez offers a lot more than that for a midtable club. Pelle, Rodriguez (recovering from a knee injury), and Hernandez would give Southampton one of the better trios of center forwards outside of the Champions League teams.
The other thing I would do would be to look at potential attacking loans this year, especially from Chelsea. Piazon is unfortunately committed to Frankfurt now, but he would have been an excellent first choice. I’d now try to grab Patrick Bamford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Derby and did this from a wide position.
Those are big numbers for a young player, and I think he’d add another excellent option for Southampton in terms of creativity and output up front.
Koeman at Feyenoord
It doesn’t make much sense to me to profile Southampton based on last season’s results when they have lost a manager with a very specialized system and replaced him with someone new. So instead of simply telling you how Southampton did last year, let’s look at how Koeman’s last club Feyenoord fared.
Shots For: 16.2 (4th)
Shots on Target: 6.7 (2nd)
Shots Conceded: 11.2 (3rd)
Goal Difference: +36 (2nd)
Feyenoord have an excellent talent pipeline, and probably the best academy in the Netherlands right now. Finishing 2nd in the league was about equal with expectation. Here’s where the shots came from.
Taking 47% of shots from prime is a massive number, and a sign that Feyenoord were doing an awful lot of things correct in the chance creation department. Limiting opponents to only 31% from prime is also good, as is pushing them out to 42% from marginal positions. Basically, their shot differential wasn’t as good as Ajax (+5 vs +5.7), and they were a bit odd for an elite team in that they only had 53% possession and 80.6% passing completion, but it was enough to get them into the Champions League qualifier spot in the league.
I’m not sure Koeman will be able to replicate this at Southampton – they aren’t as talented versus league average as Feyenoord were. However, the underlying numbers also don’t throw up any red flags either. Feyenoord weren’t lucky in where they finished last season – they were good. Koeman at least has a clue as to what he’s doing.
Southampton aren’t done buying players.
While I was writing this, they signed Fraser Forster from Celtic for £10M, which seems like a big fee, but he fills a need and is one of the top 3 potential GKs in the English national team. I would guess that unless he completely falls apart against Premier League competition, they will turn a profit on him down the road.
Additionally, they have allegedly put in a bid for Javier Hernandez, who would immediately become one of their two starters up front, and again probably comes at a discount versus his statistical output.
The broader media and an awful lot of Twitter have shouted Southampton’s ownership down for blowing up a team that finished 8th last season with a goal differential of +8. And yet at basically every point, they sold those players at an inflated fee, and are replacing them players who are just as good at a much smaller price. If I’m a Southampton fan, this is exactly what I want my club to do.
Do it enough times, keep reinvesting the bulk of the money in fresh talent, and keep the academy pipeline going and Southampton will gradually turn into Everton, with regular European competition a real possibility.
I like what they have done this summer. I like the purchases they have made, and I think they will do just fine in the Premier League this season. For this club, this year, survival is the end game. Unless Koeman is a legitimately awful manager, and there are no real reasons to think he is, I don’t think they’ll even flirt with relegation.
Prediction: Comfortably midtable.