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The Dugout: Can Claude Puel keep Southampton on the rise?

The 2016/17 Premier League season is less than a week away and a number of clubs will start the campaign with new managers. Fans will be expecting more from their team and here, ‘The Dugout‘ will assess whether Claude Puel can keep Southampton fighting at the top end of the Premier League in his first season in English football…

Southampton FC have gone from strength to strength since returning to the Premier League four years ago and are now preparing for life under new manager Claude Puel.

Between them, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman have turned the Saints into one of the Premier League’s most energetic and dynamic teams. As a team, they have succeeded with a strong defensive unit and a fluid, attacking setup over the past three seasons, despite losing several high-profile names each summer.

This summer has been no different. Sadio Mane has joined Liverpool, while Victor Wanyama has moved to Spurs, with Graziano Pelle heading off to ply his trade in China. Replacing those three first-team players would have been enough of a challenge by itself, but throw a new manager into the equation and the challenge becomes even greater.

The Saints finished 6th last season – their best top flight finish since 1984 – and will want to see their team kick on again after improving their league finish every year since returning to the Premier League. That is far from guaranteed though in what will be a hugely competitive campaign.

Claude Puel moves to the south coast after spending his entire career in France. The 54-year-old manager made over 600 appearances for AS Monaco over the course of a 17-year playing career before moving into management with the same club in 1999, winning the league title in his first season as a head coach.

Since then, he has managed Lille, Lyon and most recently Nice, all without winning any silverware. However, he has a reputation for building solid teams by placing emphasis on youth development and getting his sides to play attractive football.

So what can Southampton fans expect to see from their new head coach over the upcoming campaign?

A different tactical setup…

Southampton have thrived in a 4-2-3-1 formation over the past few seasons but may now be set to line up with a new-look system for the 2016/17 season. Claude Puel deployed a 4-3-2-1 system at Nice last season to good effect, as they finished fourth in Ligue 1, scoring the third-most goals in the division.

The Saints have gone unbeaten through preseason, with Puel using a 4-4-2 diamond formation as well as a 4-3-3 setup on a couple of occasions so it remains to be seen what the setup will be for their first league game of the season against Watford on Saturday. But the 4-2-3-1 that fans have been used to looks to be gone. New signing Nathan Redmond has been deployed as a striker alongside Shane Long during preseason and that will be a tactical decision to look out for.

Youth development to continue…

There is no doubt that one of the deciding factors in bringing Puel to St Mary’s was the fact that he has a proven track record of developing youngsters. The Saints academy is one of the best in the country and a whole host of young stars are constantly looking for first-team opportunities. Puel could be the man to keep the youth system thriving on the south coast.

He will need to ensure he does use the club’s homegrown talent to stay competitive without the financial muscle that their Premier League rivals possess.

Attractive style of play…

Saints fans will not want to see their style of play change too much despite a change of manager and that should not happen under the Frenchman. Puel is known for encouraging free-flowing, attacking football and so Southampton should continue to impress neutrals with their approach to games. The key will be finding the right personnel to fit Puel’s system.

The creative instincts of Dusan Tadic and James Ward-Prowse will need to be let loose, while Shane Long and Nathan Redmond will guarantee that the Saints have plenty of pace in the final third. Losing Pelle means the Saints will need to rely on Charlie Austin if they are to stick with an out-and-out target man this season. If not, Shane Long will have to unlock defences with his clever runs in behind, but fans shouldn’t notice too much change on the entertainment front at St Mary’s this year.

Will Claude Puel keep Southampton at the same level they have been at over the past couple of seasons? Will they remain in the top half of the Premier League?

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