Analyzing Southampton’s transfer window so far

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Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Southampton have been drooling for some fresh faces the past few seasons, and this summer looks set to be the one where they finally get their wish and make their much anticipated moves. With six signings already confirmed and two 16 year-olds also on the way from North London, you’d think Southampton were about done for this window. However, with the arrival of a new sporting director and head of recruitment in the form of Rasmus Ankersen and Joe Shields respectively, the Saints could be in for an exhilarating ride before the clock strikes 11pm on September 1st. Here is our analysis of Southampton’s summer window so far, ahead of the 2022-23 Premier League season.

PRIORITIZATION OF YOUNGSTERS

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Southampton recruited smartly last summer, signing Tino Livramento and Armando Broja (on loan) from Chelsea. Both youngsters proved instrumental to Southampton’s Premier League safety in 2021-22, so it’s no surprise that they’ve again gone for youth with their latest arrivals. Hassenhüttl’s gegenpressing 4-2-2-2 requires constant work rate and energy, which most young players have in abundance. They can also be more likely to adapt to the needs of a high-pressing system, having not been influenced by other managers at the professional level to fulfill different styles of play. Bringing in youngsters like Roméo Lavia and Joe Aribo should help to iron out Southampton’s creases, and Gavin Bazunu could be set to have a Jose Sa-esque rise should he secure the number 1 position in goal.

Gavin Bazunu & Mateusz Lis

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Gavin Bazunu was the first new signing of the summer, arriving from Manchester City’s youth academy. With Joe Shields leaving City for a more influential role at St. Mary’s, the Saints now have a greater poll in the market in securing academy products from top sides like City, and that could prove crucial in their quest to prioritize youth. But rather than actually playing for City’s youth academy last year, the 20-year-old keeper spent last season on loan at Portsmouth, Southampton’s arch-rivals.

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During his second stint in League One, the 6’2″ keeper made considerable progress, improving his save percentage from 61.2% at Rochdale to 73.4% (stats via FBref). Illustrating enough leadership and command of a player much older, Bazunu began to garner the attention of several Premier League sides, and an imperative role in Portsmouth’s 2021-22 season. He featured in 44 of their 46 league games, leading to first-team appearances with the Republic of Ireland, where he performed to an astonishing standard in a narrow 2-1 defeat to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Throughout his games as Ireland’s no.1, Bazunu has showcased his impressive reach, stunning quickness of the feet to swoop down for low saves, and his strong arm that guided him to the sixth best save percentage in UEFA’s World Cup Qualifiers – 85.7% over seven games.

Having lost Fraser Forster this summer to Tottenham, the Saints were also in search of another back-up to Bazunu, and found one in the form of 6’3 Mateusz Lis. The 25-year-old Polish keeper came across the pond from Turkish side Altay SK, where he saved 74.1% of his shots, stopped two penalties, and kept 7 clean sheets. He also managed the second most saves in the league, making him another premium example of a ‘Shot-Stopper’, even if he can be eccentric off his line. Lis offers much in the way of pedigree to challenge Bazunu for top dog in between the posts, and could easily have a positive first season in England even if he starts on the bench.

Armel Bella-Kotchap

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A year of Bundesliga experience under his belt, 20 year-old Armel Bella-Kotchap can be expected to play as a rotation player (at the minimum) in Southampton’s back line this season. The defender played 21 games last season as a centre-back, fulfilling responsibilities in both a back-three and a back-four. He fulfils much of his defensive work by stepping up and aggressively pressuring his opponent (such as a ‘Stopper’), while his strength and determination allows him to retrieve the ball effectively. Not being afraid to dive in will suit the aggressive nature of Hasenhüttl’s press, although playing him in centre-back partnership with Salisu could cause stumbling blocks when defending due to the similarities in their play.

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Even though the German commonly dives into tackles, he is more than capable of standing up his opponent. His tall frame of 6’3″ makes him an imposing figure at the back that forwards desperately try to avoid. His pressure success of 35% for the season suggests he’s reasonably successful when getting tight to opponents, and he also placed 18th in the Bundesliga for tackle success – with 59.1%. For a 20 year-old, this is a stunning statistic, with Piero Hincapié the only under-20 player to outdo him on tackle success. As if those exploits weren’t already impressive enough, the Bochum defender ranked 13th for interceptions per 90 (3.27), highlighting his clever anticipation and awareness.

At Southampton, he will now need to transform the positive defensive aspects of his game to include more of a well-rounded approach to life in the Prem. He ranked in the bottom 15% of centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues on progressive passing, progressive carries, passes attempted, pass completion and dribbles last season, showcasing several weaknesses to his game – that were only exacerbated by Bochum’s low possession. Bella Kotchap is however young and hungry, and could undoubtedly improve his passing and possession in 2022-23 to great effect. Even without it, Saints look to have signed a very determined young centre-back, who could be key in garnering greater defensive stability.

Roméo Lavia

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Another rising star coming out of Manchester City’s youth academy, the Joe Shields effect has come into play once more in the securement of Roméo Lavia’s signature. With only one senior appearance under his belt, a £10.5 million fee (plus add on’s) may seem like a peculiar move. Lavia is yet to have his nineteenth birthday, and remains an unknown quantity when it comes to Premier League stardom and brilliance. However, if he can break into the Southampton team right away, the Saints may have even found their way to a bargain. Many youngsters have come out of City’s youth academy to great effect in recent years, most notably Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho. Lavia will be hoping to emulate their early career form, and get off to a flying start at St. Mary’s.

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As of now, Lavia may be most suited to a deeper-central role in a midfield three, and holds his position very well, constantly making himself available for his teammates. At St. Mary’s, the likelihood is that he’ll be requested to play in a midfield two in Hasenhüttl’s 4-2-2-2, operating as a possession-based ‘number six’ who can also excel in defensive phases. Nevertheless there could be times where he acts as a central pivot in the team’s lesser utilized 3-5-2. If given the opportunity, Lavia should work to compliment James Ward-Prowse nicely, in any system of play.

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Similarly to Ward-Prowse, Lavia is an efficient long range passer and can play extensive, accurate diagonals to the wings or fizz the ball in low to an attacking midfielder. The 18-year-old can play quick one-touch football and slow the game down in possession, offering a range of qualities required to excel at Premier League level. But he will also be a more defensively minded player to operate alongside Ward-Prowse, allowing Oriol Romeu to have greater competition for his place in the side.

Sékou Mara

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Averaging a goal every 150 minutes in his second season in Ligue 1, Sékou Mara looks destined for a future at the top of the game. The Frenchman’s shooting numbers stand out, finishing 11th for goals per 90 (of players with 900+ mins.) and managing to keep 44% of his shots on target. The 19-year-old only played a full ninety minutes once for Bordeaux, but in the 905 minutes total, he proved how much of an asset he can be. He ranked within the top 5% of players in Europe’s top five leagues on shots on target per 90 (1.59), and in the top 4% on pressures (22.97). A skillful player who loves a nutmeg, Mara excellently shifts wide to receive the ball, and should have the necessary versatility to operate nicely in Southampton’s 4-2-2-2. 6 goals in 26 appearances last season was a promising start for the youngster’s career, and now both he and Southampton will be hoping for more in 2022-23.

Joe Aribo

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The statement signing of this new era at St. Mary’s, Joe Aribo provided Rangers with 21 goals and 18 assists in his three-year spell at Ibrox. The 26-year-old is an incredibly versatile talent, having played as a ‘6’, ‘8’, ’10’, on the right wing or even as a striker for Rangers last season. They found different uses for him throughout the season, but importantly, they always found a use for him. For his new boss, the likelihood is that he’ll fit in as a right attacking-midfielder, or as an added body if the team change shape to incorporate a three-man-midfield.

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Last season, Aribo made himself a defensive work-horse, completing 34.4% of his pressures, and 20.36 per 90. Even then, he may need to adapt to the demands of Southampton’s shape and structure, but this boasts well for his ability to immediately fit Hassenhüttl’s style of play.

Perhaps even more imperatively for the Saints, the Nigerian midfielder is a deadly attacker, constantly working to free himself up and make clever runs in behind the last line of defence. He’s self-assured enough to take on the keeper in a 1v1 situation, and confident cutting onto either foot, as showcased by his low 79% left-footed dominance last season. Given that the 26-year-old ranked fourth in the Scottish Premiership for chances created (1.9 per game) and ninth for goals + assists (13 in 31 appearances), Aribo could be set to help drastically improve Hassenhüttl’s attacking fluidity. But his contributions won’t end at goals and assists.

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Primarily, the former Rangers man breezes past players when on the ball. The excessive power in his stride and his unquestionable flair on the ball allows him to turn round players with ease. He completed nearly 60% of his dribbles in Europe last campaign, an impressive feat for a man coming up against many top quality midfielders in the Europa League. Aribo’s first touch is also excellent, making him a perfect target for long balls into the channels or over the defensive line. He understands where and when to take the ball into space, and has a shrewd aerial ability to make him a useful target for progressive passes. Overall, the signing of Aribo just adds heat to the flame of Southampton’s growing repertoire, as the most exciting player to come through the door thus far.

Concluding thoughts

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A long-awaited rebuild is underway at St. Mary’s, and Ralph Hasenhüttl will feel privileged to finally have some ambition within the boardroom. Bringing in Brentford success Rasmus Ankersen looks set to be a sensational piece of business, and arguably, the most important move they’ve made this summer. Joe Shields also seems to have become an immediate asset, drawing the attention of the likes of Lavia and Bazunu to enter the door. But in terms of players, Joe Aribo stands out as the most exciting buy. The importance of adding Bazunu to the mix of goalkeepers mustn’t be overlooked, but Aribo offers an array of qualities that could be useful in raising the standard of play for the Saints. Off the back of their impressive summer, it could be a positive season for the Saints, as they chase an improvement from last season’s meek 15th-place finish.


So there it is! An analysis of Southampton’s transfer window so far, by Charlie Ellis. Be sure to check out more of our Premier League analyses, Transfer Market pieces, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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