Southampton's summer transfer window 2016: Reviewed
Southampton signed six players in the form of Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Jeremy Pied, Alex McCarthy, Stuart Taylor and Sofiane Boufal whilst six first team squad players left the club permanently. The departures were Maarten Stekelenburg, Kelvin Davis, Juanmi, Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle. Paulo Gazzaniga also left St. Marys on loan. Here we review Southampton`s business over the past couple of months.
First through the door was Nathan Redmond. The £11m signing from Norwich arrived when the club were without a manager suggesting he was either signed by Les Reed and the recruitment team after ticking all the requirements of the famous "black box", or Claude Puel`s appointment was just about done bar a few minor details at the time and he gave the green light for the England U21 winger to arrive. An inconsistent player for Norwich with undoubtable quality when he does find form, Redmond looks more of a replacement for Juanmi than Sadio Mane as many had suggested. In that respect he`s an upgrade on the Spaniard who struggled during his solitary year in the Premier League. Puel appears to favour him and has played him as a second striker alongside Shane Long or Charlie Austin in his preferred diamond formation. Puel rates Redmond highly and has even compared him to Thierry Henry who developed under his fellow Frenchman at Monaco before joining Arsenal. He scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Watford and had a second ruled out late on but did little in the defeat to Manchester United and the draw with Sunderland. If Redmond can perform at his best on a regular basis he could yet prove to be a very valuable asset and there aren`t many clubs better than Southampton for a promising young player to fulfil his potential. A risk to rely on him as a key striker throughout a whole Premier League season but one that could pay dividends if it works.
The second player to arrive came as a bit of a surprise considering the lack of rumours linking him with a move to St. Marys. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg`s move was revealed when the player`s agent commented on his future saying "Yes, I can confirm that Pierre will switch to Southampton." The following day, the deal was done. Whilst some may see him as Victor Wanyama`s replacement, many feel he is more of a Jordy Clasie improvement with Oriol Romeu stepping into the void left by the Kenyan. At £12.8m he became one of the club`s most expensive signings behind only Dani Osvaldo and later Sofiane Boufal. Already he is beginning to show why he is worth that and more. A late substitute against Watford before starting in the last two games, Hojbjerg has looked a solid addition to the midfield. He appears comfortable on the ball with good passing abilities and an eye for surging forward when given the opportunity as well as showing he can create opportunities for teammates. If he carries on the way he has started then he will surely be the next player linked with a big-money move away in the summer.
The third player to come to the red half of Hampshire this summer was goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. The signing from Crystal Palace replaces Stekelenburg as number two between the sticks behind Fraser Forster. Recently replacing his injured teammate in the England squad, McCarthy made his first appearance in the Checkatrade Trophy match against Charlton at the Valley. He kept a clean sheet in the match despite the home side rarely threatening him. Draws in that competition are decided on penalties with the side winning the shootout receiving two points to the loser`s one. This was the case after this 0-0 stalemate and McCarthy went on to miss the crucial penalty in a 5-4 shootout defeat. Fortunately though, he was signed for his goalkeeping ability rather than his spot kick skills. Perhaps Saints fans will get a greater chance to judge McCarthy`s ability as the season goes on, particularly with a minimum of 49 games to be played including those in what Saints fans will remember as the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy.
McCarthy was followed on the same day by a fourth new signing, French right-back Jeremy Pied. The former Nice player was available on a free and teamed up with Claude Puel for a third time in his career having been managed by him at both Nice and Lyon. He was signed as backup to Euro 2016 winner Cedric with Cuco Martina unfancied by the new manager and all set for a move to Everton. Pied performed well in a brief appearance against Watford where he replaced Cedric who had a short preseason following his Euro exploits. Unfortunately the worst possible scenario came true for the Frenchman after that. He damaged his ACL in training meaning he will not play again until the 2017/18 season. Because of this, Martina`s transfer was cancelled but it will be a long time before Saints fans get a real chance to judge Jeremy Pied.
The fifth signing was a surprise one but understandable considering three goalkeepers have departed this summer. Stuart Taylor who was released by Leeds last season was brought in on a free to provide cover should both Forster and McCarthy pick up injuries. With just 75 appearances in a 19-year career Taylor is used to playing as backup. He last played in the Premier League in 2013 with Reading.
The sixth and final player to arrive was a case of saving the best until last. Not many negatives can be associated with Saints in the seven years since Markus Liebherr came in, one that could be however was the fact the club`s record signing was a certain Pablo Daniel Osvaldo. That is no longer the case though with Sofiane Boufal joining from Lille for a new record of £16m. The Moroccan has been compared to Eden Hazard, mainly due to the fact the Chelsea star came from Lille back in 2012. Coincidently, Hazard made his professional debut under none other than Claude Puel. Boufal has been brought in as Sadio Mane`s replacement but may not be seen for a few weeks as he is currently recovering from an operation he had back in May. If Boufal lives up to the potential and the hype then he is certainly capable of improving on Mane. Whilst the Senegalese attacker was brilliant on his day, he never really found consistency during his two years on the South Coast. Saints fans will hope Boufal rectifies this problem and becomes the next player to make a name for himself at Southampton.
Many Saints fans will be frustrated by this summer despite some good signings. Graziano Pelle was never replaced leaving just Shane Long who isn`t known for being prolific and the duo of Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin who have been plagued with injury as the only natural strikers - although you could add Redmond to this list based on Puel`s belief in him as a frontman. Three other areas also look particularly weak. Having both Victor Wanyama and Oriol Romeu last season gave Saints a choice when it came to physical holding midfielders. With no like-for-like Wanyama replacement, the team could struggle if Romeu gets injured, something perfectly demonstrated when he limped off after 10 minutes in the defeat to Manchester United. Centre-back is another position which needed improvement. Despite the imperious Virgil Van Dijk and the ever-reliable Jose Fonte forming a solid partnership at the back, options beyond that are limited. Maya Yoshida is often criticised for making crucial errors whilst Florin Gardos has had a nightmare two years at St. Marys with most of it being spent in the physio room. Jack Stephens looks unlikely to break through to the first team and may well depart in January or next summer. The final position in need of strengthening was right-back. This was unfortunate due to Jeremy Pied`s injury coming right at the end of the window making it hard to find suitable replacements in time. However, Cuco Martina is not Claude Puel`s man and has found life hard in the Premier League when he`s played, something easily forgotten about when he`s best remembered for his stunning goal against Arsenal. Filling each of these positions would have placed Southampton as serious contenders for a top four finish. As it stands, another Europa League qualification and a good cup run or two is likely to be the best the club can hope for.