A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece of analysis looking to identify six players that Arsenal could bring in that would immediately improve their squad for the coming season. Each player in that piece fit a specific age profile which meant that they were about to enter the prime years of their career.
That said it was relatively easy to put that article together given that the club had just been removed from the Champions League following a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.
The next club that I wanted to look at in terms of strategic recruitment are an altogether more difficult task. Not because the squad has so many holes but because their recruitment is perhaps the strongest aspect of the club as a whole, Southampton.
The club from the South coast are a model club in terms of both youth development and with their intelligent recruitment, they often identify talent in markets that offer better value in terms of prices and sell on opportunities meaning the club is able to continually reinvest in to their infrastructure.
With that said they are an interesting case study for a recruitment focused article given the profiles of the players that they tend to look at and the needs that they face in the coming summer transfer window.
I will identify two key areas of the squad in which Southampton need to target and present three different options to fill each need. I have purposely identified targets that fit the markets that Southampton have already recruited from as well as a market in to which they need to consider moving in to in order to take the next step.
The first position that needs to be looked at is centre back. Whilst in Virgil Van Dijk Southampton have one of the best centre backs in European football there is a lack of quality and depth behind the Dutchman. I would expect to see the club continue to develop Jack Stephens but they should also look to make at least one quality addition to the squad.
Secondly we will look at the striker position. This was already somewhat addressed with the purchase in the winter transfer window of Manolo Gabbiadini although there is definitely scope to do more. The rest of the strikers are serviceable at this level but with Shane Long in his age 30 season and showing signs of losing his explosiveness they should look to move now.
Ruben Semedo is very much a defender in the modern image. Physically he is imposing at 6ft2 but he is also athletic displaying excellent speed whether over long or short distances. Indeed in many ways he is cut from the same mould as Van Dijk in terms of their physical stature.
Semedo is also comfortable enough in possession of the ball to both bring the ball out with his feet or to pass in to advanced areas when under pressure from opposition forwards. Indeed Semedo is confident enough in possession that he has at times been used in the midfield for Sporting and for the Portuguese youth sides.
In his age 22 season now we can argue that Semedo still has another two or three seasons to develop before he begins his prime years. In my experience this lack of full development in central defenders can be covered for when they have the pace to make up for any defensive errors that they make as they learn the position.
Semedo is also comfortable playing on the right or left side of the central area in a back four or as the central player in a back three. In other words his versatility is very much a bonus.
In this short clip we see the opposition trying to access the central area in their attacking movement. If the pass inside is successful then Sporting would quickly find themselves compromised with an attacking player coming on to the pass in space and the gaps between the Sporting defensive structure.
The pass however is read perfectly by Ruben Semedo and he is able to step out and win the ball comfortably.
In winning the ball he does not panic and looks instead to find one of his midfield colleagues in an advanced position.
In this example playing against Borussia Dortmund we again see the opposition trying to play in to the central areas of the field.
As the ball is played forward we again see Semedo step out to engage the man taking possession of the ball and once again he wins the ball cleanly.
His composure is evident with the way that he then carries the ball out of the defence entering the middle third of the pitch before choosing the best passing option and then dropping back in to his shape.
Jerry St. Juste
St. Juste profiles in a similar way to Semedo and in turn to Van Dijk. Again he is physically imposing at 6ft1. Again as with Semedo, St. Juste is more than capable of covering ground with his pace and is rarely beaten over short distances by attacking players.
St. Juste is capable of playing on the left or the right hand side and is comfortable in taking the ball out from the back and joining in the attacking phase. This ability for a central defender to come out with the ball at his feet in to the midfield is becoming key in modern football. The ability to provoke and pull the opposition out of their defensive shape can create space for your side in advanced positions.
This short clip gives us an idea both of the pace of St. Juste over short distances and his anticipation and understanding of danger.
As the opposition get in behind the Heerenveen defensive structure along the edge of the penalty area we can see that the striker has around 5 yards between him and St. Juste.
The ball across is a good one although it could perhaps be at a slightly more favourable angle ahead of the striker. We see St. Juste make up the space though getting back and clearing the ball.
I wanted to capture an example of St.Juste playing in front of the defensive line having stepped in to the defensive midfield strata.
As the opposition look to access space in the final third we see St. Juste step in to challenge the man looking to take possession of the ball in the half space. As he does so the opposition player fouls St. Juste but he gets play moving again straight away by finding the advanced player and starting the attacking transition.
This ability to read the play and to identify the correct time to engage the ball is key, especially in the English top flight.
Now we reach the player in a market that Southampton should be looking to move in to in order to progress to the next level and to challenge at the top four level, Germany. There is incredible value to be accessed in the German market with highly talented players available in a number of roles and positions.
One of these that I have been tracking for some time is the American international John Brooks at Hertha Berlin. In his age 24 season now Brooks is further on in his development than both St. Juste and Semedo. He is also a full international with Champions League experience.
As with the others on our list Brooks has the physical and athletic profile to excel in the Premier League.
Whilst Brooks is less competent with the ball at his feet than St. Juste and Semedo he is still able to pass the ball out of defence and he has excellent range with his passing, he runs with the ball at his feet less however. Brooks profiles as the perfect fit to fit to the right of Van Dijk in a back four.
Here we see Brooks pick the ball up in the attacking phase with little or no pressure from the opposition.
He is able to identify the weak point of the defensive structure and his accurate diagonal pass is effective in getting his side around the edges of the defensive structure.
Here we see Brooks in international action against Argentina. Although the match is already gone for his side we still get an idea of his composure and capacity to read the game.
As the ball is clipped in to the central area it initially looks as though Brooks will struggle out of position. Instead he takes the ball down with an excellent touch before playing in to the midfielder.
When the midfielder feels pressure he immediately bounces the ball back to Brooks who quickly shifts it out in to the wide areas.
We have already seen Southampton access the Italian markest successfully for forward players with the signing a couple of seasons back of Graziano Pelle (although signed from Feyenoord) and now the promising addition of Mannolo Gabbiadini.
Andrea Petagna is more a striker like Pelle who can use his physicality to disrupt defenders and pin the defensive line back. He would also be an ideal foil to the more mobile and quick Gabbiadini.
Petagna stands at 6ft2 and is deceptively quick and proficient with the ball at his feet. He is more than a rudimental target man or goalscorer and is capable of linking the play effectively whether in the central or the wide areas.
Here we see Petagna pick up possession on the corner of the penalty area following a reverse pass from Gomez. Instead of being selfish and heading straight for goal Petagna instead spins and attacks the wide area of the box pulling a defensive player with him.
Here we see his capacity to accellerate over short areas as the defensive player cannot get across to make the block.
The key thing however is the quality of the cross which is right across the face of goal giving his teammate a simple tap in at the back post.
Here we see Petagna scoring against Torino recently. As he collects the ball on his right foot he has his back to goal and a defender engaging him immediately.
First we see the strength that Petagna has in holding off the intentions of the defensive player. Then he shifts the ball quickly back in the direction that is has come looking to make space for the ball on his right foot.
Even when off balance with the ball getting away from him he shows that he can adapt and is still able to finish a difficult chance.
At 24 Plea is something of a late developer in his career. Having originally been part of the Lyon youth setup he spent time on loan at Auxerre before moving over to Nice in 2014.
As a player he profiles slightly differently to Petagna and is stylistically similar to Gabbiadini in that he is comfortable in the wide or the central areas.
He has the pace to stretch defences whether wide or centrally and is very strong when pressing or dropping back in the defensive phase. The addition of Plea to the squad would take some of the pressure off of Redmond as the two would interlink nicely.
Here we see Plea take possession of the ball in the wide area at halfway.
His control is excellent as he brings down a high ball on his chest and turns to face the opponents goal in one fluid movement. This control and mastery of the ball allows him to then thread the through ball between the centre back and the full back for the attacking player to run on to in space.
His ability to interplay whether in space or tight areas would be an ideal fit in the Southampton system.
Here we see Plea finish off a long ball in a crunch match against PSG.
As the ball travels in to the box he is isolated against two defensive players. His ability to manipulate the ball again comes in to play as he chests it down as the two defensive players become entangled.
This is the key moment, with the defenders of balance and the keeper rushing out Plea is then composed enough to finish calmly in to the net.
At 24 it feels as though Gerard has been around forever. After coming through the youth ranks at Villarreal he moved to Espanyol in 2015 and has gone on to become an integral part of their young side.
He would add value to this Southampton squad with his ability to link play in deep areas as well as playing in the tighter advanced areas of the pitch.
Gerard is a typically technical Spanish forward who would thrive in the spaces that would be afforded him by the movement of the more energetic Gabbiadini.
In this example Gerard picks the ball up in the central area in a relatively deep position. When he spins to face goal he has the vision to quickly identify the run being made in the half space by Reyes.
It is the pass that is interesting as Gerard plays a scooped through ball past the defensive structure and in to the path of his team mate. Unfortunately Reyes cannot finish.
Here you will see Gerard arrive late in the area as Espanyol attack down the right hand side of the pitch.
Watch for the movement as he reads the play on the far side. He identifies the space and checks back to ensure he is positioned to take possession of the ball from the cut back.
The finish is then excellent as he powers the ball past the goalkeeper high in to the net.
I have deliberately tried to stay away from mentioning the obvious names in this piece instead deciding to delve a little deeper in to the statistical and video evidence that these players have provided so far this season.
Each comes from a different market but with little in the way of risk in terms of continuity of performances.
The Southampton recruitment department of course does not need my assistance. I will be watching their moves closely over the summer though.