Claude Puel has taken Southampton backwards this season and wasted any feel good factor the club had over the past couple of years.
Many were surprised to see Puel chosen as the man to replace Ronald Koeman after the Dutchman walked out to join Everton. A relatively unknown coach over here and not the big name many Southampton fans were hoping for to build on their impressive 6th place finish in 2015/16. Not many managers inherit a football club on such a high, given that most walk into a dressing room void of any confidence, half way through a season, as the club has just sacked the previous man in charge.
The Frenchman had a whole pre-season to bring in the players he wanted, to either develop a new style of play or to continue playing in the successful continental manner Southampton have enjoyed since Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins in 2013.
Looking at the performances so far this season he hasn’t really done one or the other. Any changes he has made have been small and detrimental to the team and players. For e.g. the first month or so he insisted on playing a natural wide player, like Nathan Redmond or Dusan Tadic, as the central striker of a front three with natural centre-forwards mainly played in the wide positions. It just didn’t make sense and now the players are suffering from it.
— Saints Marching (@SaintsMarching_) April 14, 2017
His insistence on rotating players not just from the start but DURING games has resulted in ruining some key players confidence. Shane Long, who started off the season as arguably Southampton’s best striker, has had a shocker of a campaign so far. He has just one Premier League goal to his name after going the first 3 months without registering on the score sheet at all. Being played wide on the right, then left, then given 10 mins through the middle, to then be substituted and brought off, to be then left out of the team completely in the next game has affected his confidence massively.
“In total the St Mary’s chief has made a whopping 179 changes to his starting 11, during just 31 games in charge this season.
That is six changes in every single outing, with the manager never naming an identical side in consecutive matches.”
Source: Southern Daily Echo
Nathan Redmond started off the season ok as he was asked to be a prominent figure in attack, and he was used as the central striker. However, after continuous occasions where he would waste the great opportunities presented to him, given his lack of natural striking instincts, the Saints crowd couldn’t help but show their frustrations openly and his confidence has also taken a massive hit. It’s got to the point where he doesn’t know what to do at times in case he makes a mistake.
As for Puel’s business in the transfer market thus far, on the whole, he has been a failure. The signings he has made are not only nowhere near as good as the players that departed like Sadio Mane for eg but aren’t even as good as the players already at the club. Record signing Sofiane Boufal has his moments of great skill but has mainly been a great waste of money. He isn’t a first choice starter and when he has played he continues to frustrate, as he doesn’t know when to stop getting the tricks out and do something much more constructive by playing in a teammate or whipping in a first-time cross.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg gets lots of starts but is he better than Steven Davis or James Ward-Prowse? No chance. In fact, those two midfielders are better than the Danish International and mixed with the fact Jordy Clasie is on the books, Hojbjerg hasn’t improved the midfield area if anything it goes down a notch whenever he takes up a starting place. The lad is only 20 so he will improve in the future but to be keeping out Ward-Prowse for a lot of this season hasn’t been healthy for the team.
Southampton were unlucky to not win the EFL Cup but they failed to get through a straight forward Europa League group and are sitting in mid-table mediocrity rather than near the top 6. This season has been a poor one given what was achieved over the past 2 years.