Florin Gardos

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Season Preview: What should fans expect from Southampton?

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Southampton at a glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 0 (best finish: 2nd, 1983/84)

FA Cups: 1 (last: 1975/76)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up twice, last 2016/17)

FA Community Shield: 0 (runners-up 1976/77)

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  


It is very difficult to gauge what an acceptable season would be this year at Southampton. The Saints finished 8th, 7th, 6th, and 8th four consecutive Premier League seasons before last year’s shock to the system, avoiding relegation by just one place and three points.

So what is the goal this season? Should they target the top 10? Is it simply to stay up? Or can it be both, with the team shooting for a top-half slot but satisfied with safety if they fall short of the former?

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Much of this will take shape as the season trudges along. The squad theoretically has the depth needed to compete at this level, and while this summer’s haul hasn’t exactly jumped off the pages, it’s been enough to plug some big holes. With Mark Hughes at the helm, there are plenty of unknowns headed into 2018-19 with the Premier League’s most mysterious enigma.


Southampton will finish top 10 because…the squad depth is enough to secure results. Every team deals with injuries over the course of a long league season, and Southampton is well-equipped to handle it. With five natural center-backs on the roster and four natural strikers, the team is deep from top to bottom.

Southampton will struggle through a relegation battle because…the squad doesn’t have the star power necessary to make noise. Gone are the days of Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Graziano Pelle, Jose Fonte, and the rest of the players who have filtered out after finding steps up. Even Dusan Tadic departed this summer after struggling to maintain his form last year. Hughes will need to figure out his best eleven players soon, or too much tinkering will bring the team down. Hughes’ biggest test will come at the back…three center-backs played over 2,300 minutes last season across all competitions, and the team brought in another in Vestergaard for a high price. Someone will need to step up and earn the right to be deemed a star, or the team may find itself rudderless.

Best possible XI:

—— McCarthy—

Hoedt——Vestergaard——Yoshida——

Soares – Hojbjerg – Romeu – Armstrong – Bertrand

—————Gabbiadini——Austin——————

Transfers In: Jannik Vestergaard ($28.9 million, Borussia Monchengladbach), Mohamed Elyounoussi ($20.8 million, FC Basel), Angus Gunn ($13 million, Manchester City), Stuart Armstrong ($9.2 million, Celtic).

Transfers Out: Dusan Tadic ($13.3 million, Ajax), Florin Gardos (Free, CS Universitatea Craiova), Sofiane Boufal (Loan, Celta Vigo), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord, Loan).

Ranking their offseason: B-

Bringing in Vestergaard is a solid move, but strengthened a position of strength for Southampton. Elyounoussi hasn’t been great in preseason, so he has work to do to crack the starting lineup. The acquisition of Gunn was a quality move with Fraser Forster likely to leave. The biggest problem with Southampton’s offseason was the sale of Dusan Tadic at the lowest his value’s been maybe in his entire career. The electric playmaker had raided Premier League full-backs for years, but struggled last season. Now, at age 29, Southampton bailed after one bad season. They not only dumped Tadic, but failed to adequately replace him, at least until Elyounoussi proves he can compete on this stage. Still, the Southampton squad didn’t have a ton of holes to fill, and their summer has been at least promising. Saints transfer policy hasn’t been strong in recent years, with the acquisitions of Clasie and Boufal not panning out, with both loaned out this summer.

Star player: This is tough. There’s no true superstar on this roster, and nobody stands out among the rest. That is a positive from the standpoint that no one injury could take down this team, but from a negative, obviously the club will want someone to fill that role. At this point, Ryan Bertrand is probably the closest thing this team has to a star. The likely captain terrorizes opponents down the left flank, and has improved his defensive capabilities. Still, he’s nowhere close to a true “star” and Hughes will need him to step into that role this season.

Coach’s Corner: Nobody more embodies where Southampton stands right now than Mark Hughes. While it’s impossible to figure out just where this Southampton squad fits in the Premier League, so too is it impossible to truly judge how good or bad Mark Hughes is as a manager. He had mixed success in charge of Manchester City, was critical to Fulham’s success before abruptly resigning, failed miserably at QPR, led Stoke City to its best Premier League years ever before inexplicably becoming completely inept, and saved Southampton from relegation. It’s difficult to get a bead on just where Hughes stands in relation to his Premier League compatriots, but this season will be a true test of his abilities.

PST Predicts: This is one of the toughest calls of the entire 2018-19 table. Who knows what Southampton will show up this season? It’s hard to imagine they reach top 10 unless a true star emerges. On that note, a 12-13 finish seems appropriate for a team with few weaknesses but also few strengths. Much depends on how well Mark Hughes does in his first full season at St. Mary’s.

Southampton lands $19 million Dutch CB Hoedt

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Southampton’s added another defender who checks all the boxes, and used its press release to cement its status on the future of want-away center back Virgil Van Dijk.

Saints added Lazio center back Wesley Hoedt on Tuesday, with the reported fee in the neighborhood of $19 million for the 4-times capped Dutch international.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch scores for Sunderland ]

The 6-foot-4 defender is 23 years old, and played 23 matches for i Biancocelesti last season.

Here’s Saints vice chairman Les Reed:

“Finding a naturally left-footed player is even more difficult. We have been tracking central defenders on our target list for the past 12 months and Wesley has always been at the top of that list, so it was important to act when the opportunity came.”

As our own Joe Prince-Wright pointed out, Saints aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Van Dijk’s departure.

Saints also have Maya Yoshida — who won a penalty for Saints this weekend — Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Florin Gardos in their corps.

Will Van Dijk stay? Betting sites have him at 5:6 odds to stay at Southampton, but somehow 1:1 to join Liverpool and 7:1 to head to Chelsea (Man City gets 24:1 odds).

At this point, we’d love to see Van Dijk stay and buck the summer’s (actually much longer than that) gossip as Saints fight for a Top Six place.

Report: Free agent Martin Caceres heading to Southampton

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Out of contract center back Martin Caceres is reportedly on his way to Southampton to have a medical.

[ MORE: What’s wrong with Leicester? ]

Caceres, 29, last played for Juventus in Serie A during the 2015-16 campaign but after suffering plenty of injury issues over the years he has been without a club since the summer.

He trained with Crystal Palace last week but after they signed Mamadou Sakho they passed on him, while a move to AC Milan has also fallen through.

With the transfer window shut but Caceres available to sign for whoever due to being out of contract, Premier League duo Southampton and Sunderland have now both been linked with a move for the defender who can play as a center back and at either full back positions.

The former Barcelona, Sevilla and Juventus defender has plenty of pedigree at the top level, winning five Serie A titles with Juve and a La Liga and UEFA Champions League double with Barca in 2009 as well as representing Uruguay at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

When it comes to Caceres’ next possible destination, Saints appear to have moved to the front of the queue which makes sense given their desperate need for a new center back. They sold Jose Fonte to West Ham United in the January window and then lost influential defender Virgil Van Dijk for up to three months with an ankle injury.

Japanese international Maya Yoshida has looked steady after stepping in and becoming a starter, but youngster Jack Stephens has been up and down in recent games and Romanian international Florin Gardos has spent over 18 months on the sidelines and is very rusty despite recently returning to full fitness.

That means Saints have just three center backs to choose from heading into their EFL Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley on Feb. 26, plus they aren’t exactly clear of being sucked into the Premier League relegation battle either.

Following their 3-1 defeat to West Ham United on Saturday, their fifth defeat in their last six PL games, Southampton are just seven points above the drop zone.

Puel needs to plug the gaps in defense which have seen them transition from a solid unit who are tough to break down to a side which has conceded 10 goals in their last three games in all competitions.

Caceres may well be the short-term answer. Surely he’s worth a punt on a six-month contract?

Virgil van Dijk ruled out for “two to three months” with injury

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Virgil Van Dijk may not play again for Southampton this season.

[ MORE: Frank Lampard retires ]

Van Dijk, 25, has been Saints’ standout player at center back and the Dutch international will now miss the EFL Cup final on Feb. 26 at Wembley and most of Southampton’s remaining 15 Premier League games.

Manager Claude Puel confirmed on Thursday that van Dijk will be out for “around two to three months” and he also stated that Southampton came close to buying a new center back in the January transfer window but couldn’t bring someone in.

“We studied a lot of solutions for a new defender, but we could not find a good opportunity,” Puel said.

On van Dijk, he suffered the ankle injury in the 3-0 win against Leicester City on Jan. 22. after he cleared the ball and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy clattered into him with a studs up challenge on his ankle.

This is a massive blow for Southampton as VVD, their reigning player of the season, was named their team captain recently after Jose Fonte departed for West Ham. Fonte’s departure along with van Dijk’s injury has now left Southampton without their top two center backs.

Japanese international Maya Yoshida has stood in admirably when called upon this season and 22-year-old Jack Stephens performed well in the EFL Cup semifinal second leg win at Anfield against Liverpool last week but struggled in the heavy FA Cup defeat against Arsenal. The other options Saints have is Ryan Bertrand who can shift from left back to center back, while Romanian international center back Florin Gardos has just returned from long-term injury.

Saints losing their star man and central defender will be a big boost for Manchester United, their opponents in the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium in just over three weeks time.

Time will tell if the fact that Saints didn’t buy another center back in the transfer window to replace Fonte will come back to bite them. They should be fine without van Dijk to secure a midtable finish and have a good go at winning their first domestic trophy since 1976, but with VVD they’d be feeling a lot more comfortable and confident.

Watch Live: Southampton vs Manchester United (Lineups and Live Stream)

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Manchester United has made a number of changes ahead of their visit to St. Mary’s to take on Southampton live on NBCSN at 11:00 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra. The game pits countrymates and former coaching partners Louis Van Gaal against Ronald Koeman once again, with their falling out always a storyline when they meet.

Young Anthony Martial makes his first Premier League start up front, supported by Wayne Rooney, Memphis Depay, and Juan Mata. Much was made of the 19-year-old’s debut appearance against Liverpool, when he came on late and grabbed a goal while looking electric in the attack.

With Luke Shaw‘s awful broken leg likely to keep him out for the season, a defensive change was also needed as Marco Rojo comes into the middle and the versatile Daley Blind shifts over to the left. Finally, Morgan Schneiderlin returns to the starting lineup, rotating 31-year-old Bastian Schweinsteiger to the bench.

WATCH LIVE: Southampton vs Manchester United live online at NBC Sports Live Extra

Southampton has returned Sadio Mane to the starting lineup after being used as a super-sub in the 0-0 draw with West Brom last weekend.

The Saints are struggling with a few injuries early in the season, with Ryan Bertrand, Gaston Ramirez, Jordy Clasie and Florin Gardos all out, along with the long-term absence of goalkeeper Fraser Forster. While the squad turnover seemed to affect them early in the season, Southampton have four points in their last two matches and look to be on the rise.

LINEUPS

Southampton: Stekelenburg, Yoshida, Fonte, van Dijk, Targett, Wanyama, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Tadić, Mané, Pellè.
Subs: 
K. Davis, Cédric, Long, S. Davis, Rodriguez, Martina, Juanmi.

Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Rojo, Blind, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Memphis, Rooney, Martial.
Subs: Romero, McNair, Valencia, Herrera, Schweinsteiger, Young, Fellaini.