When Claude Puel was appointed the manager to replace the departed Ronald Koeman at Southampton during the summer it was somewhat of a surprise appointment at the St Mary’s certainly amongst the fans. The elegant Frenchman has had a steady start at the helm in his first job outside of France without being spectacular. At this stage of the season it would be safe to say that Southampton fans and perhaps Puel himself would be fairly satisfied at their current position of 10th in the Premier League. However when looking at the statistics of six wins six draws and eight losses from the opening twenty games of the season, this does show little encouragement. The Europa League exit looks to have hurt the team, and despite being in a fairly difficult group they should have emerged from the group to the next stage of the competition. The semi-finals of the EFL Cup will provide Puel and the club a fantastic opportunity to bring back some silverware to the Saints fans and with the double legged tie against Liverpool, Southampton should very much fancy their chances. When watching the team this season, they have looked well set-up, well drilled within the midfield, but that final third is where the team look at best average and in recent weeks defensively they have looked all over the place, with eleven goals conceded in the last four games. This January could really prove to be a massive month for Puel and his team and how the rest of the season plans out.
The transfer request from Jose Fonte has reportedly rocked the club; with the Portuguese international perhaps thinking he is prepared for a bigger challenge. Remembering that Fonte is now 33 years of age and when watching the central defender this season he has not exactly been at his prominent best. Losing Fonte might be a blow for Puel half way through his debut season in English football but the continuous talk of clubs monitoring the situation of their player of the season already Virgil Van Dijk will hurt the club massively. I wouldn’t expect to see the big Dutch international leave the St Marys this January but even the talk of this sale looks to be unsettling the team and the fans. Going into the January transfer market I would have said Puel needed to find a partner for Van Dijk even before the transfer request from Jose Fonte, Maya Yoshida has been partnering Van Dijk in recent weeks and the Japanese central defender has never quite looked good enough for a starting role in the Premier League.
Liverpool outcast Mamadou Sakho looks the player most linked with a potential move to Southampton this window with compatriot Puel, if the club can get a loan deal with the option to sign this could perhaps be one of the best deals of the January transfer window. Whether the Southampton board would risk paying out a hefty fee would could possibly rise to 20million for the Liverpool defender would be considered perhaps too much of a risk. The possible destination of Jose Fonte could open up potential moves for Puel to perhaps try and bring in a replacement, if Fonte potentially makes an unlikely move to Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho could Puel possibly try and lure England international Chris Smalling to the club? Smalling does not look to have the full support of Mourinho and the opportunity to play regular first team football to keep his place in the national team would certainly be an attractive prospect for Smalling. Whether Mourinho would let the player go would be another question.
Potentially if Fonte reunites with former manager Ronal Koeman at Everton, Puel might look at the possibility of trying to lure the Argentine Funes Mori to the St Marys. The Argentina international looks to be down the pecking order at Goodison Park and a possible loan move looks the most likely prospect right now for his situation, but Pule could try his hand and look for a permanent transfer. The other option at this stage that looks likely is that Puel might turn his attention back to the League he knows so well for potential incomings, and Toulouse central defender Christopher Jullien is a name who is being linked with clubs across Europe. At the age of 23 Jullien has commanded a starting berth this season for Toulouse and is considered amongst one of the best performing central defenders in Ligue 1 this season, his towering performance in the 3 nil victory over PSG is the game that brought Jullien into the reckoning for perhaps a move to a bigger club. The fee again would not come cheap for Southampton but a central defender looks a must for the club this January.
As stated this season in the final third Southampton has looked rather unconvincing at times. The continual injury problems that record signing Sofiane Boufal has endured in his first months at the club has been unfortunate for the team, more importantly though the injury to Charlie Austin has been a massive setback for the team. Jay Rodriguez still looks far from the player that looked to be breaking into the England squad and Shane Long despite the qualities he has, does not possess the consistent goal threat he perhaps should. From the speculation it does look like this is an area that Puel has identified and would look to strengthen this month. The amount of clubs within the division who will be looking for potential new strikers or attacking threats will be at a premium so the club might just have to be prepared to bid a few extra million or perhaps take one or two chances.
So who could Puel potentially look towards this January to improve on his frontline? Well one player who is constantly in the news these last few transfer windows is West Brom frontman Saido Berahino. The English striker is at risk of being one of the players to never fulfil his potential and at the age of 23 a move now looks like it has be made to give him every chance.
Puel is known to take chances on players, he done this at Nice last season with Hatem Ben Arfa and was able to resurrect his career, could Puel do the same for Berahino? Mark Uth is a name perhaps not too familiar with the fans but one that the club is reportedly monitoring. The Hoffenheim striker is enjoying a good season at Hoffenhem, with five goals in ten games the German was on the outskirts of a call up to the National team before unfortunately getting injured. The German is being linked with some other clubs Tottenham, Leverkusen and Roma, to enhance his reputation further.
A potential deal to get Moussa Dembele from Celtic looks perhaps an unlikely move but one that Southampton could and really should consider. The young Frenchman made a shock move north of the border to Celtic during the summer of 2016 in a move that almost certainly would be short term and for a massive profit for the club. The talent the 20 year old possesses is evident to see, and perhaps Celtic might hold out for a massive fee, but in the long term this could also provide Southampton with a potential profitable deal. A host of clubs are rumoured to be chasing the signature of Dembele, perhaps bigger than Southampton, but Southampton would be in a position to offer the player first team football.
Manolo Gabbiadini is a name been linked with a host of Premier League clubs since the summer, and now with the current position Southampton are in, they are the latest name being linked with the Italian forward. The Napoli player is technically superb and has fantastic link up play, perhaps his best role would actually be playing off a frontman but play him off a Shane Long, Jay Rodriguez or even Nathan Redmond and the potential for goals would be far more prominent than what we have seen during the first half of the season. Napoli have quite a pricey valuation of Gabbiadini thought to be in the region of between 17-20 million, but he is certainly a player that if I had to trade places with Puel would certainly be looking to St Mary’s.
Two players is all it might take for Puel and Southampton to enjoy a relatively solid first season the English Premier League, no investment however could potentially de-rail there push up the table and stall in the improvement of the team.