Hi everyone. This is part six of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this blog, I’ll be focusing on Swansea City and Southampton. Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
I think even the most ardent Swans fan wouldn’t have predicted them to finish in 8th place at the start of the league in August 2014. They didn’t have a huge amount of transfer activity, aside from the signing of Bafetimbi Gomis from Lyon on a free, who went on to have a good season for them, initially as the option off the bench until Wilfried Bony’s transfer to Manchester City for a rumoured 25 million Pounds.
A key sale was that of their starting goalkeeper Michel Vorm to Tottenham Hotspur’s bench and the procurement of Lukasz Fabianski from Arsenal on a free as Vorm’s replacement, soon after the F.A. Cup Final. Another outgoing player was Ben Davies, who also went to Tottenham Hotspur, after a good 2013-14 season deputising for the injured Neil Taylor, who had missed the whole season with a cruciate ligament injury.
Swansea’s key signing was the return of Gylfi Sigurdsson from Tottenham Hotspur – Sigurdsson has a pretty indifferent 2013-14 season at Spurs, due partially to being played out of position on the left side, but became one of Swansea’s key players this campaign with a number of assists and goals to keep Swansea competing in the top half of the table. The mid-season signings of Jack Cork from Southampton and Kyle Naughton from Tottenham Hotspur also aided the Swans in this regard.
Swansea went about their business on the pitch in an understated way, relying more on having good defensive and midfield units who were well-drilled and knew exactly what they should be doing at any given moment than out-and-out superstar game-changers in their team. Garry Monk managed to wrangle out good performances from his charges on a consistent basis, managing to balance defence and attack very well, ably aided by some good form from Fabianski, who had a number of good showings in goal for the Swans.
One of the changes in their style of play is that Swansea no longer seem reliant on the running of Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge on the wings to the same extent as in past Premier League seasons or on the passing of former West Ham player Leon Britton through the middle of the park – Britton, prior to this campaign, had some of the highest percentage of completed passes in the Premier League and was, in my opinion, a conduit for most of Swansea’s attacks in the past. Ki Sung-Yong, having returned from his loan at Sunderland, also looked impressive and seems to have gone under the radar of most pundits when, to me, he was one of the most consistent and impressive defensive midfield players in the Premier League, contributing well to both attack and defence, always being a nuisance from set pieces due to his height and appetite for getting stuck in and breaking up play. Ki’s job was made easier in the later part of the season by Jonjo Shelvey, who initially looked unimpressive after moving to Swansea from Liverpool but played himself into form as the season went on, often driving play forward from midfield while Ki could stay back to defend. It was this sort of team-work and the players’ knowledge of their own individual roles due to good player management from Monk that got Swansea to 8th place in the Premier League over some other teams.
Ashley Williams was also impressive again in central defence, playing very consistently and made few errors, despite having a number of different partners in the middle, playing alongside Argentina international Federico Fernandez (Williams’ most regular partner in the middle), Angel Rangel (more often seen as their right-back in the past but has deputised in central defence before), Jordi Amat and Kyle Bartley, none of whom looked out of their depth in the Premier League.
It’s difficult to say who Swansea’s worst player was but, for me, it was pretty close between Marvin Emnes and Nathan Dyer, who looked ineffectual at times. Emnes has made a number of league appearances since signing in July 2014 but not scored a goal, which is never a good thing for a player in an attacking position, while Dyer just seemed to lack some of the effervescence that he has shown in the recent past.
For Swansea to progress, like many clubs, they need another good goalscorer, particularly after the sale of Bony to Manchester City. Michu, who had been one of their more impressive players in the recent past, had an indifferent loan spell at Napoli this past season and the club have moved to sign Ghanaian international Andre Ayew from Marseille to bolster their attacking options. Ayew is more of a wide attacker than a centre-forward, though. The young Swedish-Gambian Mo Barrow, who made his debut vs. Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium, has since signed on to the club until 2018 and the club must be expecting him to step up soon – at 22, he has to start showing more quality soon for Swansea with the opportunities that he’ll be given. Garry Monk has already moved to shore up the left back position with Franck Tabanou, the former Toulouse and Saint Etienne full-back, who brings Europa League experience, a position the Swans have looked a little light in since the departure of Ben Davis last summer.
The Saints had a tumultuous off-season last season, so will be looking for some stability this time around. Mauricio Pochettino left to manage Tottenham Hotspur, key players Ricky Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren left for Liverpool for a combined 50 million Pounds and the young and highly rated left-back Luke Shaw was sold off to Manchester United for around 30 million Pounds, in addition to Calum Chambers moving to Arsenal for around 16 million Pounds (all fees including various bonuses). I will admit to being one of the many who thought that the Saints would struggle this season after letting so many players go, but they surprised everyone with how well the team gelled. However, Jack Cork departed for Swansea in the winter transfer window, probably due to a lack of first-team opportunities with the emergence of some excellent young players at the club.
The then-newly appointed manager, Ronald Koeman, formerly of Ajax, Feyenoord and Valencia, moved quickly to secure new players to fill the gaps as well as promote promising youngsters into the first team. Ryan Bertrand was signed from Chelsea on loan to replace Shaw and was one of Southampton’s best players this past season, showing good form as well as intelligence in both attacking and defending plays – Southampton signed Bertrand permanently on a 4 and a half season deal, probably based on his excellent performances and that the player was unlikely to get into Chelsea’s first team due to the presence of Azpilicueta.
Lambert was replaced by Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord (the club Koeman had previously managed) and Shane Long from Hull City, – Pelle did very well in the League up until January, when his goals dried up, but he contributed to matches with his intelligent hold-up play, while Long scored a number of good goals, thrashing Aston Villa in particular near the end of the season, his pace and aerial ability making him a problem for most defences.
Sadio Mane signed from Red Bull Salzburg and was always a tricky customer and gave a lot of teams difficulties – he also has the record for fastest Premier League hat-trick, breaking Robbie Fowler’s 20 year-old record, in his debut season, quite an achievement. Frazer Forster arrived from Celtic to take up the goalkeeping position and was one of the most impressive ‘keepers in the Premier League this season, making a number of good saves and keeping a lot of clean sheets and ultimately demoted the now-departed Artur Boruc to the bench (Boruc made a number of howlers last season which likely also contributed to his benching). Dusan Tadic was arguably their most important signing at the start of the season and ably filled the void left by Adam Lallana’s departure, chipping in with a few goals and a number of important assists.
Belgian international Toby Alderweireld arrived on loan and was also impressive in a number of matches, despite playing in different positions often – he was used as a full-back, centre-back and defensive midfield player, the latter in the absence of either Morgan Schneiderlin or Victor Wanyama, who themselves also had impressive campaigns. Nathaniel Clyne was also excellent at right full-back in many matches this season. Steven Davis and the young James Ward-Prowse were also solid in their midfield roles and the back line was ably led by long-time servant and now captain Jose Fonte, who has played in every tier that the club has found itself in.
The young players Matt Targett and Harrison Reed also made a number of appearances and looked quite comfortable in the Premier League. As such, it is very difficult to pick out one top player for the Saints. Their worst player though was likely Romanian international Florin Gardos in central defence – I can’t remember him having any stand-out performances, but this may be due to him only having arrived in the summer of 2014 and likely taking time to settle, so he will probably have a better grip on the speed and physicality of the Premier League next season. It should be noted that Southampton had one of the best defences this season in the Premier League and thus it was difficult to single out one player who was noticeably worse than the others.
Southampton aren’t really lacking in any departments on the pitch now aided due to the promotion of several Academy graduates over the course of the past 18 months or so. However, the Saints have moved to sign some new players already, including right-back Cedric Soares (probably in case the rumours about Nathaniel Clyne leaving are proven correct – he is strongly linked with Liverpool at the moment, possibly due to Glen Johnson’s exit) and the young Spanish forward Juanmi from Malaga. It also remains to be seen what will happen to Uruguay international Gaston Ramirez, who had a poor spell on loan at Hull City who, after their relegation, look unlikely to sign him – I think Ramirez may well end up back in Italy either on loan or a permanent deal to possibly Internazionale or Napoli.
Another player likely to leave will be Dani Osvaldo, on loan at Boca Juniors until the end of June, with Jay Rodriguez likely to complete his return from injury early next season – Rodriguez is likely to be straight back into the first team, most likely at the expense of the now-unwanted Osvaldo, who has had some disciplinary issues on his previous loan spell at Roma. Rodriguez was their top scorer last season with 17 goals and was a big miss for the Saints this season.
Also player likely to leave may be Emmanuel Mayuka – the striker has only made a handful of appearances since signing in 2012 (just 6 substitute appearances this season in the Premier League with no goals) and has 2 years remaining on his contract. However, the Saints are not likely to get a large fee for him, due to his lack of appearances and indifferent performances whilst on loan at Sochaux in France.
The rumours have been going on about Morgan Schneiderlin’s exit for some time now (at least 18 months) – it was blocked last summer by Koeman, due to the exit of too many key players that summer. Many journalists and fans alike think that he will end up at Arsenal, but I think Manchester United is a more likely destination – Arsenal already have too many in the middle, with Ramsey, Wilshere and Coquelin there as well as Santi Cazorla, with Tomas Rosicky as an additional option so, unless one or more of them leave (not likely for any bar Rosicky), I can’t see Arsene Wenger signing him. Manchester United’s midfield on the other hand is quite light in that area after the sale of Darren Fletcher to West Brom in the winter window – they only have Michael Carrick (getting on in years and nearing the end of his contract), Daley Blind and Ander Herrera as natural players for that position so I could see them signing someone else, especially with that Champions League qualifying match coming up – something all of us Gooners are familiar with!
The only position I could think of the Saints needing reinforcement would be at centre-back, with Alderweireld returning to Atletico Madrid, with only Maya Yoshida, Fonte and Gardos with experience playing that position and the young players Jack Stephens (untested in the Premier League) and Jason McCarthy (just one appearance in the Premier League) also available.
That’s it for this round-up. What do you think? Let me know!