This article is part of Football FanCast’s One to Watch series, which focuses on those players we think are particularly worth keeping an eagle-eye on as the 2019/20 season unfolds.
Sofiane Boufal is Southampton’s one to watch this season as the Saints prepare for their first full season under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Boufal could be looking to rediscover his best form for Southampton and live up to the expectations that arose in tandem with his 2016 arrival.
The winger signed from Lille in 2016 for £16m after an impressive final campaign in Ligue 1 which saw him net 11 goals and grab four assists in 29 league games. Having played a key part in Lille’s 5th place finish, he earned his move to the Premier League.
His first season in England was relatively underwhelming. He made 24 Premier League appearances, 12 of which were starts, but he only contributed one goal in that time.
In his second season Boufal played 26 league games, scoring two goals and registering two assists, but one goal stood out in particular.
Against West Brom, the Moroccan winger picked up the ball inside his own half, turned past Allan Nyom and began running at the defence. He skipped past another 3 players en route to the 18-yard-box, leaving players so dumbfounded that they actually collided with one another, before curling a sumptuous effort into the bottom right corner.
It was a moment to remind all why exactly why Boufal was signed, and though we haven’t seen that level of flair regularly enough, there’s certainly evidence that there is a talent waiting to be fully unearthed.
The winger spent last season on loan at Celta Vigo, where he played 35 games, scoring three goals and assisting four in 25 La Liga starts.
It was hardly groundbreaking but there was enough end product to suggest that the change of leadership that has served a handful of Southampton players so well could ultimately benefit Boufal this season.
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The winger had failed to score or provide an assist before the new managerial appointment, but he finished the season on six goals and four assists in the league and managed a further three goals in the FA Cup as well.
With one winger already improved under the new boss, there’s reason to suggest Boufal could follow the same path.
Southampton have brought in Moussa Djenepo but they are hardly blessed with a surplus of options in wide positions, so the Moroccan may fancy his chances of playing his way back into the starting XI this season.
The Austrian, however, may yet decide to play with a back-three and wing-backs to provide the width, in which case he could be in direct competition with Redmond for a starting berth in a more central role.
Those outside the club may not be expecting much from Boufal this season but murmurs from those working closely alongside him have painted a different picture.
Jan Bednarek, who grew into the 2018/19 campaign and established himself as an important player, said on Boufal, per Daily Echo: “You need to be ready because he can do anything that he wants. You need to keep your legs shut so that you don’t get nutmegged.
“Sofiane is a very good player. I think it’s really difficult to defend against him and I think he could cause a lot of problems for Premier League defenders.”
Boufal needs to force his way into the starting XI this season.
This probably represents his last chance at proving himself on the south coast, and failure to do so could be terminal for his Premier League ambitions.
He should target (all competitions)