Opposition view – Southampton

We catch up with Saints blogger George Galpin ahead of the Swans trip to St Mary’s this weekend…

During the summer Claude Puel departed and has been replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino. How does the fans feel about the departure and the new appointment? 

Puel’s departure was nowhere as near a shock to Southampton fans as it was perhaps to outsiders. As much as he came across a good honest man who wanted it to work, his persona was a bit dull and his football was duller. I know the players had trouble with his communication through snippets, and the body language was not good. Put it this way, you can’t count on just two hands how many players had rumoured fallings out with him.

The general feeling amongst fans is we finished 8th as the least bad, rather than the best of the rest. He deserves praise for the cup run but there’s a suspicion it was in spite of not because of him.

Pellegrino seems a completely different kettle of fish, even if his CV isn’t anywhere near as strong as his predecessor. He comes across as intelligent but with the typical Latin American passion towards football, and through what he has said you can tell he is keen to rebuild that bridge between players, staff and the fans. His preference for high pressing football compared to Puel’s style has won him favours too.

You seem to be in a similar position to us with Virgil Van Dijk as we are with Gylfi Sigurdsson. How much of a distraction has it been and how do you see things playing out? 

If everything was plain sailing for the manager, it wouldn’t be Saints! It’s the big obstacle Pellegrino has; he’s calmed the fans down and got them excited, he’s got a more palatable playing style and most of the players who were keen to move have been turned round somewhat… except for the elephant in the room!

It’s a big problem and as big a distraction as it will be for Paul Clement; Gylfi is more important for Swansea than Van Dijk to Saints as he was the difference in terms of staying in the league, but make no mistake he is an incredibly important player.

But it’s turned very ugly, what with the tapping up allegations, the refusing to play and the transfer request. His relationship with the fans is on the floor and it is a headache the new manager simply did not need.

In some respects it’s harder for Saints than Swans as Sigurdsson hasn’t seemed to be so far gone in his attempts to get out and his bigger importance, and it creates a big dilemma.

Do they sell after having a stance of “not for sale” but rake in a massive fee and get accused as buckling to player power?

Or do they stick to their guns and risk him not changing his stance even when the window is shut? That’s before you even get to whether the fans would forgive him, which would make him staying even more of a dilemma.

My gut feeling is the bridges have burned and he will go on two conditions; it’s for above £70m, and it’s to anyone but Liverpool. I think most Saints fans would accept that.

You’ve been largely quiet in the transfer market thus far, tell us about your new arrivals and what positions still need strengthening? 

Before this week it was only young Jan Bednarek who I hadn’t a clue about before he signed, who is seen as a nod to the future.

But Mario Lemina has come in from Juventus and seems to be the box-to-box midfielder we have desperately lacked and adds a dimension we’ve not had since Morgan Schneiderlin in some respects.

I still think we will end up needing a Van Dijk replacement, a back up goalkeeper and perhaps another forward option, to play out wide or central.

What are your hopes and expectations for this season? 

Same as the last few years really; anywhere between 8th and 12th, with a cup run. I desperately want us to win a trophy as we’ve not won one for 40-odd years and it’ll put us in Europe again; I loved the change compared to the bread and butter of the league.

Who do you see as being key to your success this term? 

If he wasn’t being a problem I’d have said Van Dijk, but I’ll go for his likely replacement as captain, Oriol Romeu. He was superb in the middle last season.

What do you make of Swansea and which players if any do you fear?

They’re a club with a similar approach to us and are pretty admirable in how they do things, compared to the slash and burn approach a lot of other PL clubs seem to take.

Your two biggest threats are injured or otherwise unable to play, so I’ll go for Tammy Abraham. Knowing Saints, it’s his debut so he’s nailed on to score!

Predict the score and where both teams will finish 

Tricky one. I think Saints have enough to come out on top so I’ll go for a nice 3-1 win to start the season off well.

I’m gonna go for Saints to finish best of the rest in 8th with no Europe to contend with, and Swansea in a comfortable 14th.