Changes are needed at Southampton this summer. The Saints only just escaped relegation from the Premier League last season, finishing just three points above the bottom three. That served as a warning. Southampton had taken their place in the English top flight for granted. They got lazy in their recruitment and in the hiring of managers.
Now, they are taking action. Additions will be made before the start of the 2018/19 season, with the £7million signing of Stuart Armstrong from Celtic confirmed on Wednesday. The Scotland international had long been linked with a move to the St Mary’s Stadium and that made has finally come to pass.
The link between Southampton and Celtic is well established. The Saints have made a habit of plucking the best players from the Scottish champions, as demonstrated by their previous signings of Fraser Forster, Virgil van Dijk and Victor Wanyama. Two of those players have gone on to become stars in the Premier League, while Forster has only lost his way due to injury.
Armstrong isn’t of the same calibre as the aforementioned trio. At times, the 26-year-old was forced to fight for his place at Celtic, such is the competition for attacking spots in Brendan Rodgers’ team. Some Bhoys fans are pleased to see Armstrong leave, with the £7million fee representing very good business for a player with just one year left on his contract.
This isn’t to say that Armstrong won’t be a success at Southampton, though. Far from it. At 26, the midfielder is making this move at the right stage of his career. Armstrong has embraced every challenge he has been set up until now, making the step up to Celtic from Dundee United and then to international team. There’s no reason to believe he won’t thrive in the Premier League.
“Southampton seems a really good fit for me,” Armstrong explained to the Southampton website as his signing was announced. “Watching from afar, I really enjoy the attractive football that they play and I’m very happy to be here.
“Every season, I put demands on myself to create and score goals. I hope going forwards from here that it will be the same this term at St Mary’s. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and I’m very excited to get started. It’s a four-year contract; there will be a lot to learn and I want to hit the ground running.”
Tadić was a frustrating figure during his time in the Premier League. While he clearly has potential, capable of coming up with a moment of magic, the Serbian was never consistent enough to satisfy Southampton.
He only created 0.25 big chances per 90 minutes for the Saints last season, averaging just 26.61 successful passes per 90. By comparison, Armstrong averaged 53.52 successful passes for Celtic over the 2017/18 season. He involves himself in the play of his team more than Tadić does and from that Southampton will find it easier to establish a passing platform closer to goal.
Armstrong will offer Southampton a goal threat from midfield. The Scotland international averaged 2.58 shots on target per 90 minutes for the Hoops last season, also averaging 3.2 successful dribbles.
By comparison, Tadić only averaged 1.76 successful take-ons per 90 minutes for Southampton last season, registering an Expected Goal contribution of 0.33 per 90.
The valid point could be made that Tadić was playing at a higher level than Armstrong last season. Celtic are also the dominant side in the Scottish Premiership, meaning a player like Armstrong, an attacking midfielder, will naturally get more opportunities, more of a chance to create in the final third.
What’s more Tadić is a wide player. Nonetheless, Armstrong’s productivity in and around the opposition box will translate to the Premier League, even for a team of Southampton’s calibre.
Armstrong came close to leaving Celtic last season, signing a one-year contract extension to keep him in Scotland for another season. That deal was struck with the idea of making a move this summer and so Armstrong has the sort of ambition Southampton need from their players if they are to perform to a higher level in the Premier League this season.
On the face of things, replacing Tadić with Armstrong might be something of a gamble, but ultimately it might work out to be an upgrade.