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4 players Southampton must build future around

 • by Sam McGuire
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Southampton narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League this season, finishing just three points clear of both Swansea City and Stoke City and five clear of bottom placed West Bromwich Albion. Their win at the Liberty Stadium in the penultimate game of the season was enough to ensure top flight football.

It’s been a long time coming for the Saints. Constant upheaval left them in a state of perpetual transition. It’s difficult to build when the foundations are constantly moving.

Southampton have done well to keep their head above water but this season will no doubt have been something of a wake up call for those in charge.

Consistency is needed. It’s tricky, though. The club can’t keep losing key individuals but, at the same time, if a player wants to leave it’s detrimental to keep them around only to lose them in January – see Virgil van Dijk for details. There needs to be a balance and a line drawn in the sand.

It would go a long way if the owners and the manager identified integral players they felt the squad needed to be shaped around and made it clear to them that they had a vital role in the future of the club.

With this in mind, we’ve picked out four players we feel Southampton should build the 2018/19 season around.

Mario Lemina

The 24-year-old signed for Southampton last summer in a deal worth £18million and his powerhouse performances immediately attracted attention.

The former Juventus man looked to be yet another shrewd addition to the squad at St Mary’s Stadium. He was a complete midfielder who patrolled the middle third and the stats help showcase this.

The persona radar above, exclusive to Football Whispers, looks at the style of players. It shows that Lemina and Naby Keïta, Liverpool’s newest signings, aren’t too dissimilar. And the RB Leipzig is tipped to come in and dominate the midfield.

As part of a solid side there’s no reason the Southampton No.18 couldn’t.

His stats paint a picture of an all-rounder. The Saints man makes 2.03 interceptions and 2.87 tackles per 90 minutes and completes 2.9 dribbles as well as maintaining an 88 per cent pass success rate. Make him a key component in the midfield and watch him thrive.

Nathan Redmond

Redmond hasn’t been able to match his 2016/17 output this time around but the talent is still there, it’s just waiting to be unleashed. The former Birmingham City youngster was involved in eight goals last term, scoring seven and assisting one.

This time he’s managed just four goal involvements with three of those being assists.

One reason for this will undoubtedly be because he appeared in close to 1,000 minutes fewer in the Premier League. Yet despite his lack of game time, he’s still been dangerous. His expected goals assisted per 90 number of 0.20 puts him in the top three for the Saints this term. He’s created 0.27 big chances per 90 minutes, too.

The flying winger completed 2.54 successful dribbles – the 15th most in the top flight – and played 1.47 open play key passes. He’s direct, aggressive and the sort to make something out of nothing. Exactly the kind of player that Premier League defenders dread coming up against.

Wind him up and watch him go, that’s all Mark Hughes needs to do.

Wesley Hoedt

The Saints lost van Dijk but acquired another Dutch centre-back in Hoedt. The £15million signing didn’t have the most memorable of debut campaigns in the Premier League but context needs to be taken into account.

He was performing in a new division alongside a different partner for large parts and then things changed when Hughes replaced Mauricio Pellegrino. However, the 24-year-old still impressed from time to time. If Southampton want to start playing football again then he’s going to be key to that.

He averaged a 79 per cent pass success rate this season with 46 per cent of his 48 passes per 90 going forward. He’s an incisive, ball-playing centre-back capable of turning defence into attack with one pass.

James Ward-Prowse

The Southampton academy graduate is now 23 years old. He’s featured in over 200 Premier League games but, despite this, not many know where his best position is.

Occasionally he’s started in a deeper role, at times he’s played as part of an attacking three. There are arguments to be made as to why he could start in either position but if the 2018/19 season is to be his his coming of age one then he needs a set place in the starting XI.

If Southampton use him as a playmaker in a more central role then they have someone who can pull the strings. He created 0.42 big chances this term, played 0.68 open play key passes per 90 and 1.05 set play key passes per 90 – the third highest in the Premier League this term.

Southampton must give him the responsibility and opportunity to fulfil his potential. It’s the only way that it’s going to happen. And the goal-shy Saints need a supply to their forward line next year. Let Ward-Prowse be the ammunition man.

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