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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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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The Dugout: Can Ronald Koeman take Everton to the next level?

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 explore if Ronald Koeman can take Everton to the next level…

Everton fans will be hoping the appointment of Ronald Koeman can signal the beginning of a new era for the club as their Premier League season begins at home against Tottenham this weekend. It has been a tough two years to take for the Toffees as they have finished 11th with 47 points in consecutive campaigns and have looked a shadow of the side that finished 5th just three years ago.

The time seemed right for Everton to part ways with Roberto Martinez and they have done very well to lure Ronald Koeman away from Southampton after a successful season. Koeman guided the Saints to a sixth-place finish and Everton fans will be hoping he can repeat that feat or even better it this season.

Koeman has a great platform to start with at Everton, with a squad who have been underachievers in the last two campaigns. It will be interesting to see how he can develop the players and push the side back up the table.

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So how can Koeman take Everton to the next level?

Motivation:

It is no surprise that a team performs much better when they are highly motivated and Koeman can do just that. The Everton players looked in disarray for large parts of last season despite some great results against the top clubs. Koeman has the experience of being part of a setup that thrives on motivation from both his playing and managerial days.

The Dutchman has been working on his squad in the summer transfer window, releasing a number of long-term servants to the club with the likes of Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar all departing. He is clearly looking to freshen things up and bring forward a less predictable Everton for the coming season.

With Koeman’s ability to motivate players, Everton fans will be hoping top players will become more consistent. Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu are three players who came under some criticism last campaign for inconsistent performances. There is no doubt they are all capable of putting in world-class shifts and with Koeman directing the style of play, these three could massively benefit from his guidance.

While these three were in no way to blame for Everton’s below-par season last term, they are the types of players who are expected to provide. If Koeman can motivate the strong attacking trio to feed the striker – whoever that may be as uncertainty still looms over Romelu Lukaku’s future – the club should look more deadly in front of goal in the upcoming season.

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Premier League record:

Koeman has had a brilliant start to managerial life in the Premier League. He guided Southampton to a 7th place finish in his first season as manager and finished 6th in the last campaign, proof Koeman has the ability to improve a side in the world’s most competitive league.

Squad consistency:

Through their Premier League history, Everton have been a side who have boasted long-term squad players, something Koeman will relish the opportunity to work with. At Southampton Koeman perhaps didn’t – or wouldn’t – have had the opportunity to keep the same group of players for season upon season.

Koeman is already under pressure regarding the future of both John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. So far Everton have shown their resolve to keep their best players – a similar scenario to their continued rebuff of Chelsea’s efforts to tempt Stones away from the club this time last year.

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With this in mind Koeman has a great platform to build a squad with a strong core knowing that the club will be backing his every decision regarding the future of his players.

Koeman has a lot of work to do to take Everton to the next level but in joining the club he has the chance to do so. The Toffees appear to have a policy of giving players and staff every opportunity to reach their highest potential before stepping in and taking any action and he will be hoping to hit the ground running against Tottenham on Saturday.

Is Koeman the right man to lead Everton forward? Can he take them to the next level?