Tre matcher, det är vad vi har kvar på säsongen och det är de matcherna som kommer att avgöra om vi tar oss till Champions League eller ej. I den första av de här tre matcherna ställs vi mot ett lag som tidigare under säsongen grusade vår chanser till en titel när de slog ut oss i semifinalspelet i ligacupen, nämligen Southampton. Under Claude Puel har laget gjort en stabil säsong och ser ut att ta en plats på den övre halvan, trots de senaste årens spelartapp. Allen Gunn(@a_gunzy) är en av skribenterna på Southampton-bloggen St Mary´s Musings och i veckans Q&A berättar han om säsongen som varit, hur framtiden ser ut och lämnar sina åsikter kring Virgil Van Dijk:
1. The season is about to end, how satisfied are you with your team’s performance?
Right now, it just appears the squad cannot wait for this season to be over and not much else can be said. The draw against Hull was the icing on the cake of a largely average 2016/17, which the bright moment was reaching the EFL Cup final. Yes, a top 10 finish should be celebrated, but the bottom half of the league is awful.
2. What has been the biggest talking points around your team this season?
The two current ones worth mentioning are whether or not we should sack Claude Puel and then the potential Chinese takeover.
Firstly, in the grand scheme of things, Puel has been okay. If he gets another crack at it to start next season then fine by me. If we get rid, also fine, then according to the papers we will target Hull’s Marco Silva.
The potential takeover has also hung around all year with no resolution forthcoming, despite a meeting with Katharina Liebherr, Lander Holdings and the Premier League set to take place. Not to sneak ahead, but if it is Southampton’s desire to challenge higher up in the table a takeover would ultimately be necessary from a player investment standpoint. That’s something that Liebherr cannot provide it has been stated.
3. What has Claude Puel brought to your team?
I think as fans we’re all still trying to figure that out — it’s May and we’re still trying to figure that out. Puel, however, has squeezed some top performances out of Maya Yoshida, who had been the proverbial punching bag since he arrived. That, or the light just came on for him.
Puel has made great use out of the Academy, despite it being out of necessity at times. It’s been fun to watch James Ward-Prowse grow in confidence and be rewarded with a senior call-up whilst Jack Stephens continues to keep his starting role following the departure of Jose Fonte.
4. There are a lot of rumours surrounding Virgil Van Dijk, how would you describe him as a player?
Liverpool should really be looking at Yoshida. Far more reliable, doesn’t make mistakes, always puts in that extra effort, which leaves you breathless, and is by far the best centre back at Southampton. A £20m bid we’ll consider. £25m would be peachy.
No… van Dijk has been a great centre back for Saints and I believe he is destined to leave this summer for bigger and better things. As a player, he’s a physical specimen and a threat from set pieces. He just makes the game look so easy and he’s not afraid to commit himself forward — a true modern day defender à la David Luiz, Sergio Ramos, etc. — but he also knows how to make a proper tackle.
Apparently he has agreements with both Chelsea and Liverpool, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I think he can, no offence, do better than either club and draw interest from the likes of Barcelona.
All I know is, let’s just hope we avoid another summer cliche.
5. What do you need to do to challenge higher up in the table next season?
Score goals. Last Saturday was the 15th time in all competitions we’ve not scored and sixth goalless draw, and it is frustrating to watch. I thought last year was our best chance at a high finish. Chelsea and Everton have obviously had successful seasons and Bournemouth has gotten stronger, so next year will be even tougher to break into the Europa League places. We’ve not beaten a team currently in the top six and we weren’t really expected to, but that’s how you compete for a better finish; steal a handful of points and win against those you should.
The papers have dangled Gylfi Sigurdsson in Southampton’s face again and that would be a great start towards strengthening the side.
6. Who would you say is your player of the year?
The general consensus would say Oriol Romeu has been the best player at Southampton, and he will likely win Fans’ Player of the Year. He’s been solid in the midfield, has put himself on the line to block shots and always gets stuck in, so can’t ask for much more.
Yoshida, however, has been a revelation. Sure he makes the occasional error, but he’s stepped into a larger role and thrived, finally. Without van Dijk and Jose Fonte, he’s been the most important player and one we couldn’t have afforded to lose. No one would’ve guessed that an injury to Yoshida would be a nightmare scenario.
7. What are your thoughts on Liverpool this season, do you think we will make top 4?
I’ll keep it simple. Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough is the run-in you would want if you want to secure a top 4 finish. But it is Liverpool and ‘Liverpool things’ could be afoot in the coming weeks.