Southampton have just finished a fourth consecutive season inside the top eight of the Premier League, in a campaign where they reached a first major final in 14 years as well as taking part in the Europa League group stages for the first time in the club’s history.
It seems unfathomable, then, that manager Claude Puel, having taken the reins from Ronald Koeman last summer, is on the verge of losing his job at St. Mary’s.
The Frenchman oversaw 11 more games than his predecessor last season, had to deal with the losses of Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama last summer and was hit by long-term injuries to key men Virgil van Dijk and Charlie Austin, has faced criticism over his supposedly negative style of play.
It is true that the Saints failed to score in their last five home games of the season, an inexcusable record, however, throw in two missed penalties and a couple of fine goalkeeping displays and the blame cannot rest solely on the shoulders of Puel.
Boos and chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” greeted almost every decision made by the former Monaco man during their final day loss to Stoke City, a stark contrast to the celebrations in the stands a year earlier when a 4-1 final day win over Crystal Palace ensured Koeman’s side had secured European football for the second season in a row.
It is clear, then, that no number of excuses will appease the fans desperate to see a more attractive brand of football back at their home on the Solent, however, a managerial change may not be what’s needed.
In Puel’s 4-3-3 system, which has been adopted over the back-end of the season and in which James Ward-Prowse pushes forward from the middle to more of a No. 10 when on the ball but sits alongside Steven Davis and Oriol Romeu when without it, there is little creativity coming from behind the front three.
Whilst Ward-Prowse offers a wicked delivery from deep or over a set piece, those alongside him lack the tact to open a defence with a clever ball or quick exchange when on the front foot.
Step forward Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelandic playmaker has been keeping the Welsh side going in the top flight ever since his move to the Liberty in 2014, and is bound to take up plenty of column inches in the tabloids this summer.
Everton seem to be leading the way in any move for the former Tottenham man, whilst the Saints have been loosely linked with interest this season. Should Puel’s interest be genuine, it could well be the deal which saves his job.
Add the creative talent and vision of the 27-year-old into that midfielder three, at the expense of say Davis, and the problem of not being able to find the clever runs of Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond could almost vanish overnight.
It would undoubtedly take a club record bid from the Saints to secure the services of the ex-Reading man, who is valued at £17m by transfermarkt.com, however, if in doing so Puel can keep his job and improve on a solid first season on the south coast, it will have been worth every penny.