Monday 04 August 2014
Manager: Ronald Koeman (June 2014)
Home ground: St Mary's Stadium
Players in: Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, Ryan Bertrand
First five BPL matches: Liverpool (A), West Bromwich Albion (H), West Ham United (A), Newcastle United (H), Swansea City (A)
An away victory at high-flying Liverpool was among the highlights in Southampton’s record-breaking 2013/14 Barclays Premier League campaign, and the South Coast club will be looking to emulate their success with an opening-weekend trip to Anfield in the 2014/15 season.
Southampton's 1-0 triumph against Brendan Rodgers' side was one of six wins in a great start as they climbed to third in November. Form dipped in the winter months, but they did not drop outside of the top nine for the rest of the campaign and secured eighth, their joint-highest Barclays Premier League finish, and a club-record haul of 56 points.
The campaign came five years after the Liebherr family, from Switzerland, took over the club in League One. Back-to-back promotions to the Barclays Premier League followed the takeover and they continued their rise with a 14th-place finish in the 2012/13 season.
Southampton will be looking to sustain their attacking brand of football under the guidance of new manager Ronald Koeman after a summer of transition at St Mary’s Stadium. Koeman, who enjoyed an illustrious playing career with Ajax, Barcelona and the Netherlands, took over after Pochettino became head coach at Tottenham Hotspur. The Dutchman had guided a young Feyenoord side to three successive third-place finishes in Eredivisie.
Koeman wasted no time in bringing prolific Feyenoord forward Graziano Pelle with him to Southampton, while Twente playmaker Dusan Tadic and Chelsea left-back Ryan Bertrand have also joined the club this summer.
The trio bolster the squad after the departures of academy products Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Adam Lallana, as well as striker Rickie Lambert and central defender Dejan Lovren. Lallana, Lambert and Lovren all joined Saints’ opening opponents Liverpool. England Under-21 midfielder James Ward-Prowse leads a host of graduates from the flourishing academy.
After a visit to Liverpool, Saints welcome West Bromwich Albion, whom they beat on the opening day last season, to St Mary's.
The 2014/15 campaign is Saints' 16th in the Barclays Premier League. The first 14 started from the competition's inception and were part of a 27-year stint in the top flight, which ended in 2005. They finished eighth on one other occasion, in 2002/03, while they pulled off a series of successful relegation battles, inspired by their all-time Barclays Premier League top-scorer Matt Le Tissier, in the 1990s.
|Best BPL finish
||8th (2002/03; 2013/14)
|Last five BPL finishes||8th||14th||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Seasons in the BPL
||15 (1992/93-2004/05; 2012/13-2013/14)
|Most BPL appearances||Jason Dodd (329)|
|Top BPL goalscorer||Matthew Le Tissier (100)|
Hopes for the new season.
In an ideal world the fans would love to replicate what they did last season when they tied their club-record best Premier League finish of eighth. Realistically, though, with the upheaval at the club this summer with Mauricio Pochettino and a few of the key players having gone, most people in and around the club would quite happily accept a bit less than that.
It's a season to try to stabilise. If they could comfortably avoid relegation, maybe finish mid-table, people at the end of the season would look at that and say that it was pretty successful given this summer. It gives them a good platform from which to try to build again this time next year.
What are the special qualities of Ronald Koeman?
The club are genuinely delighted to have got Koeman as manager. They see him as a perfect fit for a club like Southampton. He has got a great reputation as a player and a manager. He is somebody that straightaway commands a lot of respect from the players that he has but is also somebody players outside the club would be interested in coming to work for. It has been difficult summer but any time you speak to him he seems very much in control of everything and his calmness has been obvious.
He plays a very attractive attacking style of football, which is what Southampton were quite well known for last season so in terms of the philosophy of how the team play, not a huge amount should change from Pochettino to Koeman. At Feyenoord, Koeman had an outstanding reputation for bringing through young players from the academy. Southampton has been built on growing their own talent as well as bringing it in and they feel that with Koeman, they have got somebody who is going to commit to that side of things but also have the quality to nurture these players.
What have you made Southampton's new signings so far?
Dusan Tadic is somebody the club are excited about. He is seen as the best player in Eredivisie and to get him they feel is a bit of coup. Having lost Adam Lallana this summer they needed somebody to try to replace the creativity he brought to the team. In Tadic they feel they have got that. What we have seen of him in pre-season has been very encouraging.
Graziano Pelle has a fantastic goalscoring record over the last couple of seasons in the Dutch top flight. If he can get anywhere near to replicating that it will be a successful signing. Bertrand is a very, very astute signing. He has had great potential, has won a couple of England caps, has also started the Champions League final and has played at the highest level already. Their recruitment has been pretty good so far. Obviously they need to bring more players in but they are pretty happy with the ones they have got.
Last season everybody saw the high-intensity attractive, attacking football they played. They won a lot of plaudits for that. That is something that we will hopefully see this season, it's certainly something they are going to try to continue and if they can maintain that energy, it will be a huge strength. They have got some really talented, experienced heads plus they have still got plenty of outstanding young talent. A lot of the optimism and confidence that was there last season will hopefully carry on through to this season even with the loss of some key players.
What is the mood like among the fans?
The fans are probably more positive about Southampton than if you were to ask what other people around the country are thinking about the club this summer. They have replaced Pochettino with potentially an excellent manager who has got all the qualities they feel are fit for the club. Everybody is disappointed to have lost some of the key players but now the dust is settling a bit, since new players have been coming in and they analyse the talent that's left at St Mary's - there's still lots of really, really good players - there is a sense of optimism beginning to grow among the fan base.
What are the matches the fans always look forward to, and what are the ones they dread?
The first day of the season against Liverpool is the one that everybody is looking forward to here. With everything that happened this summer, the fans are really desperate for the team to go there and prove a point. That would probably be the sweetest result they have all season if they go to Anfield and do what they did last season and come away with all three points. There will be Tottenham Hotspur as well with Pochettino having gone there. Supporters will be looking forward to those ones to prove that the loss of these people, as influential as they were last season, is not going to set the club back.
Manchester United is one match the fans always get excited about. There's been such a rich history in the Premier League between the two clubs. There's so many incredible memories for Southampton fans particularly, with the 3-1 match and United's grey shirts, the 6-3 victory. They have had a couple of good results against them since then as well. It's always a really entertaining fixture and when the match is on, you feel an extra buzz around the city.
By the same measure, the matches the fans will dread will be the Liverpool and Spurs ones. The fans are so desperate for the team to do something special in those games but it would be pretty painful if they went there and got beaten soundly. We always dread Sunderland away because it is such a long trip and the record there is pretty poor.
Who is the best young talent BPL fans might see emerge this season?
This season will be a real breakthrough one for James Ward-Prowse. He has looked outstanding in pre-season and the loss of one or two players opens the door slightly more for him to come through and stake a claim for a regular starting berth. He is fantastically talented, is a great set-piece taker, his touch, his passing ability and he has got great vision. For a young lad he has had lots of experience already. Playing at this level is not new to him. They have always felt he has been able to handle the pressure of making the step up. He made his Premier League debut away to Man City on the first day of the season two seasons ago and looked like he had been playing there all his career.
There's also central midfielder Harrison Reed; the club have high hopes for him. He is seen as probably the brightest of the new emerging talents from the Academy. He has enjoyed a very strong pre-season and will be quite heavily involved with the first-team squad this time. He is very precise on the ball, is an excellent passer and has high energy. He looks quite a mature player and hasn't looked fazed having played in the first team during the summer. The club have been impressed with his mentality and feel he has all the tools to go on and make a name for himself in the Premier League.
Southampton in three words
Brand new era.
Gordon Simpson is a sports reporter for Southern Daily Echo. You can follow him on Twitter: @gordonsimpson.