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Season Preview Part 4 06/08/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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SOUTHAMPTON

INS: Jordie Clasie (Feyenoord, £8,000,000), Cédric Soares (Sporting Lisbon, Up to £4,700,000), Juanmi (Malaga, Undisclosed), Cuco Martina (Twente Enschede, Undisclosed), Steven Caulker (Queens Park Rangers, Season Loan), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, Season Loan)

OUTS: Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United, £25,000,000), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool, £10,000,000), Artur Boruc (AFC Bournemouth, Free), Cody Cropper (Franchise FC, Free), Jos Hooiveld, Chris Johns, Dani Osvaldo, Omar Rowe, Jake Sinclair, Sam Gallagher (Franchise FC, Season Loan), Jack Stephens (Middlesbrough, Season Loan), Jordan Turnbull (Swindon Town, Season Loan), Toby Alderweireld (Atlético Madrid, End of Loan), Filip Djuričić (Benfica, End of Loan), Eljero Elia (Werder Bremen, End of Loan)

OUR EX-SAINTS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Ross Wilson (Head of Recruitment)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two thumping defeats in Sean Dyche’s season that yielded seven goals for the Saints to none against, five of them for Rickie Lambert.  The second of these, on a cold but sunny February afternoon, featured Tamasz Kuszczak’s excitable debut and a silver lining in the form of Troy Deeney’s growing influence.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2011-12 0-3
2008-09 2-2 3-0
2007-08 3-2
2005-06 3-0 3-1
2004-05 5-2
2002-03 1-2
1999-00 3-2 0-2
1982-83 4-1
1980-81 7-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Forster
Cédric          Fonte        Yoshida     Bertrand
Wanyama      Clasie
Tadic                      Mané              Rodriguez
Pelle

VERDICT: If there’s a high water mark to aim at, surely this is it.  Southampton have more of a top flight pedigree than we do and the parallels between the two clubs only stretch so far… but the Saints, after seven years outside the top flight, have re-established themselves remarkably quickly and appear to be turning selling off their prize assets to Liverpool in particular into an art form.  After last summer’s dramatic exodus, followed implausibly by an improved Premier League showing that saw the Saints in the Champions’ League places, Saints have again sold on assets in the form of Clyne and Schneiderlin whilst losing another key man in Toby Alderweireld. The incoming Jordy Clasie seems to have gone down hugely well as Schneiderlin’s replacement, and with Jay Rodriguez returning – assuming he’s back to anything like his best – Southampton look well set again.

There are two factors that might hamper their progress.  Keeper Fraser Forster’s injury will keep him out for most of the season, and bringing in a back up keeper who needs to be relied on more than a back-up keeper might expect to be is always a challenging one.  Maarten Stekelenburg has the experience but his Fulham career has been hit by injury and poor form and he spent a year at Roma last season without playing.  Meanwhile there’s the increasingly poisoned chalice of the Europa League and its demands on the Saints’ squad which doesn’t look to have the cover in it to accommodate such trevails, even any wearying impact is unlikely to hamper Southampton early enough to give us an advantage at Vicarage Road at the end of August.  Southampton will do fine, but hard to see them matching last year.

STOKE CITY

INS: Joselu (Hannover 96, £5,750,000), Mona el Ouriachi (Barcelona, Undisclosed), Jakob Haugaard (FC Midtjylland, Undisclosed), Sergio Molina (Real Madrid, Undisclosed), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen, Undisclosed), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona, Free), Shay Given (Aston Villa, Free), Glen Johnson (Liverpool, Free), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea, Season Loan)

OUTS: Asmir Begović (Chelsea, £8,000,000), Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla, £7,000,000), Robert Huth (Leicester City, £3,000,000), Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United, Free), Wilson Palacios, Thomas Sorensen, Andy Wilkinson, Daniel Bachmann (Ross County, Six Month Loan), Victor Moses (Chelsea, End of Loan)

OUR EX-POTTERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Glyn Hodges (U21 Manager)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two goalless draws as Stoke went up and we laboured to the play-offs in 2007/08.  The second of these, at Vicarage Road in March, constituted arguably our final convincing display of the season and was scuppered by Rob Styles issuing a red card to John Eustace, a decision greeted with suitable disdain by home and away fans alike.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2007-08 0-0 0-0
2005-06 1-0 3-0
2004-05 0-1 1-0
2003-04 1-3 1-3
2001-02 1-2 2-1
1995-96 3-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Butland
Johnson     Shawcross      Muniesa       Pieters
van Ginkel          Whelan
Afellay                      Bojan                   Arnautovic
Diouf

VERDICT: Thinking about those games above in 2007/08, it would have seemed inconceivable back then that Stoke would not only go up but hang around and establish themselves as a mid-table side now, seven years on.  Our perspective is perhaps coloured by the memory of our own miserable end to that season, but my recollection is that a functional City side was promoted by default, the second best side in a very moderate division.  Since then… the brutal, direct caricature has waned a little bit, more’s the pity.  The Rory Delap, Big Mama Sidibe, Robert Huth side was a variation in the monochrome of the Premier League and annoyed people who, frankly, deserved to be annoyed.  I make this statement as someone who didn’t have to watch them play on a regular basis, admittedly, but Stoke were certainly a lot of fun from a distance.  Now, after consecutive top flight finishes they’re another template for us to follow.  Stoke is a bigger city than Watford, but the Potters spent a good twenty years outside the top flight and only occasionally strayed anywhere near it again and yet here they are, every inch a mid-table side.

There are challenges this season though.  In Begovic, N’Zonzi, Moses and to a lesser extent the veteran Huth City have lost key players;  messageboards seem comfortable enough with Jack Butland’s promotion after a couple of years’ of being loaned out, the responsibility seems a big one to me for a 22 year old.  N’Zonzi’s departure put a lot of weight on Whelan’s shoulders; N’Zonzi may be replaced but, like Butland, will be doing well if they match the contribution of the man he’s replacing.  Meanwhile for all that City have the squad strength befitting a side who’ve been in the top flight for a while there are key men – Shawcross, Pieters and, for the moment, Whelan upon whom City are reliant.  No danger of the drop, but may slip from the last two years’ high water mark.

SUNDERLAND

INS: Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev, £8,500,000), Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2,000,000), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool, Undisclosed), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, up to £9,000,000), El Hadji Ba (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), Anthony Reveillere, Jordan Pickford (Preston North End, Season Loan), Santiago Vergini (Getafe, Season Loan), Ricky Alvarez (Inter, End of Loan)

OUR EX-BLACK CATS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Danny Graham, Adam Johnson

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Turns out that we haven’t played Sunderland (Black Cats still doesn’t sound right) for ten years, since we got two points less than we deserved from a draw at Vicarage Road and salvaged respectability from 4-0 down to go down 4-2 at a freezing Stadium of Light as Ray Lewington’s Watford career edged towards an unforeseen end.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2004-05 1-1 2-4
2003-04 2-2 0-2
2002-03 1-0
1999-00 2-3 0-2
1998-99 2-1 1-4
1996-97 0-2 / 0-1
1995-96 3-3
1982-83 8-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Pantilimon
Matthews          Coates        O’Shea       Van Aanholt
Cattermole
Johnson             Larsson         Gomez           Lens
Defoe

VERDICT: I kind of like Sunderland.  Influenced I think by two trips up to Wearside, first as we both went up in 1999 and then a season later.  Not a lot of obvious rationale to that;  we lost both games, didn’t get any decisions in either and got to watch Kevin Phillips in his pomp in a side designed around him become the striker he always looked like he might be at Vicarage Road.  But both were evening kick-offs, long early-season hikes up the length of the country and the place was absolutely electric, on the crest of a wave.  I get quite defensive when Peter Reid’s Sunderland sides are dissed for their directness despite myself.

We’ve been there a few times since and found it altogether less chirpy; ten years on from our last encounter there’s a weary low ebb to the feel of the place.  “Sunderland aren’t even in the bottom three” was oft used as a damning indictment of the number of carcasses rolling listlessly over each other at the foot of the Prem last season but a side that could seemingly not be relied on to either score many goals nor keep a clean sheet for much of the campaign – that they only won seven games in all season is damning in itself – scraped enough points out of a decent May to stay up by three.  Now…  Dick Advocaat having been persuaded to stay on there’s a more chipper feel to Sunderland messageboards than I’d expected.  Advocaat’s compatriot Jeremain Lens looks like the marquee signing and adds some much needed pace to the attacking options but there aren’t a lot of goals in that forward line – Defoe is more significant than you’d want a 32 year-old nippy striker to be – and the options at centre back are the ageing duo of Wes Brown and John O’Shea, the injury-ravaged Younes Kaboul and Uruguayan Seb Coates with half-a-season’s decent form behind him.  Desperately short of creativity in the middle of the park, Sunderland will be one of those that we’re trying to tread down on our way up.

SWANSEA CITY

INS: Éder (Sporting Braga, Undisclosed), Oliver McBurnie (Bradford City, Undisclosed), Kristoffer Nordveldt (Heerenveen, Undisclosed), Franck Tabanou (Saint Etienne, Undisclosed), André Ayew (Marseille, Free)

OUTS: Jazz Richards (Fulham, Undisclosed), David Cornell (Oldham Athletic, Free), Rory Donnelly (Gillingham, Free), Alan Tate, Gerhard Tremmel, Adam King (Crewe Alexandra, Six Months Loan), Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur, End of Loan), Nelson Oliveira (Benfica, End of Loan)

OUR EX-SWANS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Jack Cork

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A dramatic 3-2 defeat in the September of Malky’s second season that saw us go three-down and then claw back to 3-2 having a late goal disallowed as we realised that the Swans didn’t really fancy a direct approach – this included Troy’s first League goal for the ‘orns.  Later in the campaign a creditable 1-1 draw at the Liberty Stadium secured by a Danny Graham equaliser – Graham was to move to Swansea a couple of months later.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2010-11 2-3
2009-10 0-1
2008-09 2-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Fabianski
Naughton     Fernandez        Williams     Tabanou     
Cork           Ki   
  Ayew                 Sigurdsson                Montero
Gomis   

VERDICT: Swansea are yet another lot who, whilst now all but part of the top flight’s establishment, were very much not a part of the elite for a very long time, and not so very long ago.  They’re a template in another way, in being long-term exponents of the 4-2-3-1 that QSF seems so keen on;  the consequence in terms of their squad is a surfeit of quick, clever blokes to fill the three spaces behind the striker.  The striker role itself seems to belong to Gomis, whose residence in South Wales has never felt terribly secure but who faces limited competition within the squad for that position, new signing Éder the likeliest stand-in.  Little wonder then that we begin to look at our own surfeit of strikers, at least two of whom linked to the Swans during this transfer window, and wonder how they’re going to fit – or that in Jurado and Berghuis we’ve bulked up a bit on quick, clever blokes ourselves.

As long as they continue to be well run and pick up the likes of André Ayew and Franck Tabanou relatively unfussily the Swans will continue to do just fine.  I wouldn’t say they’re invulnerable to a bad string of injuries mind, nor that Garry Monk has proven himself beyond all doubt despite his impressive first full season at the helm.  Four seasons of finishing between eighth and twelfth tells its own story though, and it would take a catastrophe for the Swans to struggle.

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