Chelsea host Southampton in a few hours, which give us just enough time for this brief Q&A with Jake Hughes, proprietor of SB Nation’s St. Mary’s Musings. Be sure to check out the companion piece to this over on their site. Thanks, Jake!
WAGNH: Saints have ensured another mid-table finish after yet another summer of significant player turnover. How do you keep doing this?
SMM: It's purely down to Saints' set-up. The club is now in a position which sees player and manager turnover have little to no impact thanks to an extensive scouting program and a solid foundation of club ethos.
I would argue we have not been as good this season as the previous two under Ronald Koeman and we have benefitted from the Premier League standard being shoddier this year. But that's largely due to the club not bringing in players that are like-for-like replacements or better. Before, we bought better players than we lost--replacing Rickie Lambert with Graziano Pelle and replacing Adam Lallana with both Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic. I guess you can't expect to strike gold every time, but the club is bringing in much more money from transfers than they are spending.
Eighth is the highest position we can hope for this season. It's the highest position we finished under Mauricio Pochettino, but regression from the two seasons under Koeman, which saw us finish seventh then sixth--which I would argue is better than a mid-table finish... ;). We haven't been terrible this season, but this is the first time since promotion in League One where we haven't bettered our league position from the season previous.
WAGNH: Is there a potential path to sustained success that perhaps doesn't involve having to sell off players every year, or is that just the reality of modern football and the Premier League?
SMM: Success is relative--what Southampton fans see as success for our club is much different to what you Chelsea fans would expect. Given the summer turnover which saw Mane leave among others, most Saints fans wanted to consolidate a league position in the top half, as well as have fun in the Europa League (we did) and a decent cup run (we also did that, reaching the EFL Cup final). But, even with those realistic expectations from most, a sizable amount of Saints fans aren't happy with the board and especially our manager Claude Puel. Given our pre-season expectations, I would say our 2016/17 has been a moderate success, but it wouldn't necessarily sit well with the expectations of fans from other clubs, along with some of our own.
Unfortunately, Saints have positioned themselves as a selling club. This was a necessity, but with the increase in TV money, I don't see this approach being as appropriate as it once was. We are a middling-sized club, but we belong in the Premier League and should show some backbone and not sell our top stars as soon as they show signs of wanting to leave once a bigger club come sniffing. Still, we have sold our players for big money and the purported £50 million transfer fee for Virgil van Dijk this summer would test any club's resolve.
WAGNH: How long can you hang on to the current stars of the team, including the manager?
SMM: God knows. It's almost a certainty Virgil van Dijk will be leaving in the summer if he successfully recovers from injury in time to pass medicals during the transfer window. I think Puel will stay for the next few seasons and I also have a feeling we will only lose Van Dijk of our best players this time around.
WAGNH: When Oriol Romeu left Chelsea, he was but a naive, pass-happy "defensive" midfielder straight outta La Masia. What is he like now, as a crucial cog in Saints midfield?
SMM: He couldn't be further than that now. Romeu has become a cult hero at the club, thanks mainly to his defensive work and penchant for ridiculously rough tackling in the middle of the pitch. Saying that, he is no Victor Wanyama, who he has effectively replaced this season, and Romeu has his flaws. He cost us qualification from our Europa League group thanks to a poor pass out from the back leading to a goal, while he was also at fault for two of our goals in our 3-2 EFL Cup defeat to Manchester United. But that kind of talk and critique of Romeu will largely fall on deaf ears among Saints fans. To be fair to him, he has played well in the vast majority of Saints' games this season.
WAGNH: Can you sum up the season so far in one word?
WAGNH: What's the highlight of Saints' season? How about the lowlight? How unlucky were you guys in that League Cup final against Mourinho's Manchester United?
SMM: You hit the nail on the head. The highlight must be the journey reaching the EFL Cup final--including a 1-0 away win at Anfield in the semi-finals thanks to a last-minute Shane Long goal. I still have the scars on my calf from dragging it along one of the Anfield Road end seats in jubilation. The lowlight is definitely the cruel defeat to United in the final. Totally undeserved. Though, in my opinion, this season has plenty more highlights than lowlights despite our indifferent run in the league. An away game at the San Siro for our Europa League match against Inter Milan will live as a fond memory of mine forever despite an unlucky 1-0 defeat.
WAGNH: What are you looking forward to in these final few games of the season, and in the summer beyond? Any expectations for next season yet?
SMM: We have very little to play for, other than overtaking West Brom in the league to earn that eighth spot with our games in hand before the end of the season. As for beyond that, who knows? We could sell our whole team for all I know.
WAGNH: What are your expectations for Tuesday night's clash at the Bridge?
SMM: The importance of this game will be felt a hell of a lot more by Chelsea on Tuesday night. We may have won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last year, starting off the run which saw Jose Mourinho leave with his tail between his legs, but I can't see it being the similar procession this time round.
WAGNH: Care to offer a prediction?
SMM: 3-0 Chelsea win. I hate betting against Saints, but I honestly can't see how we get a result. Also, I don't want Pochettino's Spurs winning a title so I wouldn't be totally disheartened if I prove correct.