I am gonna look into my crystal ball and make a bold claim.
Now that the likes of Newcastle, Bournemouth are safe and I think Crystal Palace will comfortably stay up. This is what I think will happen in terms of the relegation battle:
Brighton and/or Huddersfield won’t get another point for the rest of the season. Their respected fixtures are quite honestly, rock hard (old term, thought I would use it) so will be stranded on 35 points. (I repeat at least one of them. maybe both)
Southampton will manage to get themselves a couple of wins and a draw in the coming weeks, most likely against Leicester away, Bournemouth at home and Swansea away. This would also put them on 35 points heading into Man City at home on the final day.
Now, Swansea are on 33 at the moment with Man City away, Chelsea at home and Bournemouth away. At best I think they can get a point or two from these games but it’s also likely they won’t get anything.
Then they have that Southampton game and given my prediction above, they will only draw this game at best and will be somewhere around the 35 point mark themselves heading into their final day showdown with Stoke (who I think will be already gone)
So, going into the last game of the season, we could have a situation where all four of these teams are sat on 35 points and we could have a goal difference decider on who gets dumped into the Championship. With all that being said here is who I think it will be:
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.
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.
The defence will need strengthening massively in the summer as not only is captain Jose Fonte leaving right now to West Ham, there is no doubt star-man Virgil Van Dijk will be going to one of the top clubs in England albeit for a huge sum of money before the start of next season. The question is can Claude Puel be trusted with such funds to replace these players and build a team for next season? Given what I have seen so far, I would say absolutely not.
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.
“Hatem Ben Arfa is one of the most exciting players in Europe. He must play football to entertain the world. We want him back in the Premier League.”
I love Hatem Ben Arfa. He is a genius. An enigma. The ultimate maverick. We need him back in The Premier League as witnessing him sat on the bench at PSG every week is hurtful. A talent like HBA needs to be on the pitch to entertain the world.
OGC Nice are amazingly chasing the French League title this season as they fight the mega rich PSG and AS Monaco head on. This somewhat surprising challenge is based off the back of their previous campaign in 2015/16 where from absolutely no-where they were chasing the Champions League places despite only expected to be a mid table team at best. This was down to bringing in a player from the football scrapheap who didn’t have a club, who was unfit but did have amazing talent. That player was Newcastle and briefly Hull City outcast Hatem Ben Arfa.
Nice needed a player like Ben Arfa and Ben Arfa needed a team like Nice. A team with no expectations that would give him the platform to perform week in week out and potentially be their headline act if he got himself match fit. The enigmatic Frenchman did not disappoint as he tore through Ligue 1 almost from day one right through the whole season as the small French club were agonisingly close to qualifying for the Champions League. All of which was under the guidance of current Southampton boss Claude Puel.
Ben Arfa has been linked to joining the Saints when Puel left Nice to go to the South coast club, Ben Arfa was also leaving Nice on a free transfer. However, with likes of Barcelona looking into his signature the chances of him landing at St Mary’s were extremely thin. It was PSG who finally gave Ben Arfa a 2-year contract in hope to he could re-create his blistering form for the French champions. Unfortunately for HBA he has not been given a genuine chance by new boss Unai Emery to show his talent and is consistently left on the bench and given 10-minute cameos near the end of games or left out the matchday squad completely.
This is a sorry sight for Ben Arfa as his blatant talent is a crime to be wasted sat on the bench as he was arguably the best player in the whole of France last season, definitely the most exciting. If Claude Puel could rescue the skillful winger from his PSG slumber next season, or any other Premier League club, it would be a glorious site to see the lad in full flow again.
Ben Arfa had an amazing season in 2015/16 as he scored 18 goals in 34 games and had some of the best dribbling stats in Europe, he averaged 4 successful dribbles per game! Which is incredible. The French international would definitely add some quality to the Saints forward line as it has failed to ignite this season and got even worse when Charlie Austin was put out of action for four months. Ben Arfa ex-team mate Boufal has failed to live up to expectations, Redmond & Tadic have rare moments of quality, Rodriguez doesn’t seem up to full match speed and Shane Long hardly gets a kick.