Premier League season previews: Southampton

Michael Steele

Southampton made a surprising and heavily criticized midseason managerial change that eventually led to them comfortably surviving the drop. This season, Mauricio Pochettino's boys have their sights set on the top half.

Southampton came up to the Premier League with a solid and entertaining squad, but a manager who lacked top flight experience in Nigel Adkins. With the Saints struggling to stay afloat, they sacked the popular boss in January. Mauricio Pochettino replaced him and guided the team to safety in impressive fashion, keeping them nowhere near the drop by the end of the season as they somehow managed to move up the table while playing some of the most entertaining football in England.

Owner Katharina Liebherr hasn't been shy about spending -- albeit fairly responsibly -- good chunks of her family's fortune to improve the Southampton squad. With the serious backing of the ownership, Pochettino looks set to guide his side to the top half.

Last year: 14th

Key player: Rickie Lambert

Rickie Lambert scored with his first touch of the ball in international football on Wednesday, but how Lambert went from prolific League Two ace to Premier League star and England goal-scorer in seven years is anyone's guess. The 31-year-old has the size and finishing instincts people have come to expect from England strikers, but a bit more skill than the usual fringe England striker. His versatility is what allows Southampton to play with the ball on the ground in a stylish, but fast -- and occasionally direct -- manner.

Potential breakout star: James Ward-Prowse

The 18-year-old product of Southampton's academy finally got a bit of first team action last season, making 19 total appearances for the Saints. Ward-Prowse is one of many talented and modern central midfielders coming out of English academies that don't fit any particular mold because he's very technically skilled and a great passer, but he's closer to being a box-to-box player than a trequarista or a deep-lying playmaker. He won't start the year as a first-choice player for Pochettino, but expect him to get more and more playing time as the season rolls on. By the end of the year, he could be one of the Premier League's most revered youngsters of any nationality.

Additions: Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama

These additions are about as expensive and high-profile as anyone can ever reasonably expect from a bottom-half team. The Southampton defense was a bit shaky last season, but it should be vastly improved by the addition of central defender Lovren and defensive midfielder Wanyama. Both have extensive Champions League experience and both are young enough that they could stick with Southampton for quite a while (or make them a profit when they demand to leave for a bigger club).

Departures: Danny Butterfield, Aaron Martin, Tadanari Lee, Richard Chaplow, Vegard Forren, Ben Reeves

With no disrespect intended to any of the above players, call this addition by subtraction for Southampton. They got the wages of six players who aren't good enough to play regularly in the Premier League off of their books and didn't lose any important players at all. It's been a very successful summer for them thus far.

Could still leave: Emmanuel Mayuka, Danny Fox

Danny Fox has been linked to Bolton and it's not likely that others follow him out the door. Emmanuel Mayuka has been the subject of some links after a disappointing first season at St. Mary's, but the Saints don't need to ship him off.

Southampton are currently well under the Premier League squad limit. A few of their promising young players who are currently in the senior squad could leave on loan deals if playing time looks unlikely, but their senior players look safe. Things could change in the next couple of weeks, but at the moment, Southampton have no reason to sell anyone. They have merely average depth and can sign a few more players without coming up against the squad limit.

Rumoured transfer targets: Pablo Osvaldo, Leandro Damiao and soon other big name strikers!

The Leandro Damiao talk has cooled and Pablo Osvaldo has reportedly told Southampton he is not interested in joining the Saints. Inevitably, the Saints will turn their interest to a fairly big-name striker. The media has been laser-focused on those two rumors for a while and will probably have to go digging for something a bit different shortly. Also, Southampton could use another defender, but the rumor mill isn't churning much out because defender rumors just aren't sexy.

Projected opening weekend starting XI: Artur Boruc, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Maya Yoshida, Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana, Gaston Ramirez, Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert

Southampton will be hoping that both Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne, who picked up injuries in preseason, can go in the first game of the year. Center of midfield is Southampton's strength after Wanyama joined the team and it wouldn't be surprising to see Pochettino work in a bit of 4-3-3 this season. Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Gaston Ramirez can all play in multiple positions, so this XI could take a few different shapes.

Season prediction: 9th

Only the continuity of the Everton and Swansea squads keeps Southampton from finishing higher than this. They might have more talent than the two teams above them, but those two squads have been together for a while. The combination of more spending from the Saints in the last two weeks of the window and Everton selling off their biggest stars, however, could lead to Southampton finishing even higher than this.

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