Suffering a defeat in their final pre-season match against Athletic Bilbao, Southampton ended on a down note. Add in the departure of Danny Ings to Aston Villa, and the mood around the club has been gloomy to say the least. However, despite this, hope springs eternal. This saying greatly describes the situation around the Southampton starting 11.
While the club have lost their star striker, the youth and talent that remains does deliver a form of hope. Led by captain James Ward-Prowse, Southampton are expected to deploy a combination of youth and experience in their starting lineups this season. However, just who will be included week in and week out is unknown.
It’s a difficult one to predict, but we, at LastWordonFootball, have attempted to predict Southampton’s starting 11.
Predicting the Early Season Southampton Starting 11
Goalkeeper: Consistency Wins the Day
First-Team Options: Fraser Forster, Alex McCarthy, Harry Lewis
One of the biggest battles this pre-season has been between goalkeeper’s Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster. Both possess a wealth of experience and some fine talent to boot. However, only one can of these two veterans can earn the spot between the posts. Despite their similarities, the form displayed by one goalkeeper has elevated himself above the other.
Earning the starting job for Southampton should be former England international Fraser Forster. Appearing in three of the Saints’ five pre-season friendlies, Forster allowed just one goal – a penalty against Fulham – and continued to show good consistency while in goal.
While Alex McCarthy does make more top quality saves compared to Forster, the knock against the 31-year-old has always been his decision making and lack of consistency from match to match. Combine this with his performance against Athletic Bilbao and it is clear that Forster is clearly the early season leader in this goalkeeping battle.
Starter: Fraser Forster
Fullback: Top Quality and a Lack of Depth
First-Team Options: Kyle Walker-Peters, Romain Perraud, Tino Livramento, Yan Valery
The first area of concern for Southampton isn’t the quality of their starting fullbacks. It’s the lack of depth at the position. While Kyle Walker-Peters and Romain Perraud are the definite first choice options at right and left-back respectfully, the question marks that exist behind each player is majorly concerning.
While the club does have touted prospect Tino Livramento available to backup Walker-Peters at right-back, the lack of Premier League experience gives pause to many. However, the situation at right-back is still infinite times better than the predicament the club currently has at left-back. After all, the only current left-back at the club is Romain Perraud.
The second choice option behind Perraud? Centre-back Mohamed Salisu and left winger Moussa Djenepo. Because of this, the pecking order at both fullback positions is clear. As long as both starters remain fit, the situation will remain on solid ground. Should one become injured or unavailable, worrying times will be had at Southampton.
Starters: Kyle Walker-Peters and Romain Perraud
Centre-Back: A Rotation of Options and Questions
First-Team Options: Mohamed Salisu, Jannik Vestergaard, Jan Bednarek, Jack Stephens
A key position group for any club, the centre-back place has been one of struggle for Southampton in recent campaigns. However, based on early returns in pre-season, that could be about to change this campaign. With the bright and young Mohamed Salisu developing into a star, Southampton only need to find the right partner for the Ghanaian international.
However, that choice of pairing could come down to just what happens with Jannik Vestergaard. In the final year of his contract with Southampton, Vestergaard has reportedly drawn interest from Leicester City and West Ham. If Vestergaard does stay with Southampton, his status as a first choice centre-back should remain intact.
Should the Danish international leave, the centre-back question becomes a bit more complicated. While Jan Bednarek has long been a favorite selection for manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Polish defender has struggled with his consistency as of late. However, with Jack Stephens remaining as the only other option, Bednarek clearly wins that contest.
Starters: Mohamed Salisu and Jannik Vestergaard
Central Midfield: Depth a Concern Behind Club Stars
First-Team Options: James Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu, Ibrahima Diallo
The strongest position in the Southampton first-team, there is no question that the central midfield contains two of the Saints’ biggest stars. Led by captain and free-kick wizard James Ward-Prowse, the midfield remains as the glue holding the rest of this Southampton squad together.
With Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu paired together, the midfield has become the heartbeat of this Southampton side. While Ward-Prowse helps to dictate the club’s forward movements, Romeu remains as a defensive stalwart to help protect the backline from dangerous attacks. Also joining the duo is young Frenchman Ibrahima Diallo.
While Diallo is definitely a capable starting option that can backup both Ward-Prowse and Romeu, their are major questions to be asked about the depth behind him. While players like Stuart Armstrong and Will Smallbone can fill in when needed, neither truly fit as a midfield player. Without added options, trouble could potentially strike later in the season. As things stand now however, the starters remains as the strongest current pairing.
Starters: James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu
Wingers: Top End Quality Backed up by Depth
First-Team Options: Stuart Armstrong, Nathan Redmond, Nathan Tella, Theo Walcott, Moussa Djenepo, Will Smallbone, Mohamed Elyounoussi
The deepest player group in the Saints first team, Ralph Hasenhuttl has his choice of wingers to choose from. At the top of that list, we find last season’s starting pair of Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond. Despite their status as two of the club’s top performers, the talent behind them will undoubtedly provide a challenge.
At the top of that challenging list will be both Nathan Tella and Theo Walcott. While the pair can and will moonlight as centre-forwards this season, both are natural wing players. Behind this duo comes super-sub Moussa Djenepo. While the Mali international has struggled with fitness as a starter, Djenepo’s pace and quickness make him a natural option when a second-half sub is needed.
Also making the first-team list will be academy product Will Smallbone and Mohamed Elyounoussi. While Smallbone will likely be used cautiously following the ACL injury he sustained last Januay, Elyounoussi is definitely more of a wildcard. A fine performer during his two-season loan spell at Celtic, Elyounoussi is attempting to regain a first-team spot at St.Mary’s.
With all of this depth, rotation is almost certain to occur at both wing positions. That said, look for both Armstrong and Redmond to feature a majority of the time in the Southampton starting 11.
Starters: Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong
Centre-Forwards: Filling a Danny Ings Sized Hole
First-Team Options: Che Adams, Adam Armstrong, Armando Broja, Shane Long, Michael Obafemi
Led over the past three seasons by Danny Ings, Southampton are now attempting to replace their former star striker. Selling Ings to Aston Villa for £30 million, they quickly reinvested those funds in finding that potential replacement. Completing the loan signing of Armando Broja from Chelsea, Southampton have also signed Blackburn Rovers star Adam Armstrong on a permanent deal.
Both players will be expected to play a major role alongside Scottish international Che Adams. While Adams is unlikely to match Ings’ output, his pairing with both Armstrong and Broja may provide just enough goals to keep Southampton competitive this season. However, the story doesn’t end with just these three players.
Behind the trio, veteran Shane Long and former academy player Michael Obafemi currently provide depth options for the Saints. Also likely to feature up top this season are wingers Theo Walcott and Nathan Tella. While not providing top of the line quality, these players do provide Ralph Hasenhuttl with options in the Southampton starting 11 should one of the main trio miss out due to injury or fitness concerns.
Starters: Che Adams and Adam Armstrong
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