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Transfer Rater: Paco Alcacer to Southampton

Football Whispers
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 By Alex Crook

Koeman, Mane and Pelle departures leaves Claude Puel with work to do

Here's a look at Southampton's 2016-17. With Ronald Koeman, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane gone, it has been another difficult summer for Saints.

Claude Puel is the new man in charge but can he keep Southampton challenging following yet more departures?

At a glance

The summer has heralded a wind of change around Southampton, with yet more big-name departures and a new manager in the dugout in Frenchman Puel following Koeman's controversial defection to Everton.

Quick predictions

Premier League: ​12th
FA Cup: Fourth round
League Cup: Fifth round

Transfer business

Southampton have brought in significantly more transfer fees than they have outlaid and for the third summer in a row have lost several key players, with Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle all departing to Tottenham, Liverpool and China respectively. New manager Puel has taken a calculated risk by not replacing Pelle and is banking on Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez to stay fit and Shane Long to repeat last season's scoring heroics to make up for the loss of the Italian international.

Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has impressed in preseason following his £11million move from Bayern Munich and appears to have bags of potential while Nathan Redmond has also excited Southampton fans following his move from relegated Norwich. Puel's only other notable signings have been goalkeeper Alex McCarthy in a £2m deal from Crystal Palace and free signing Jeremy Pied, who will be cover for Euro 2016 winner Cedric Soares. The club board have been busy behind the scenes tying a number of important players including Fraser Forster and centre back Virgil van Dijk to new long-term contracts in a bid to stem the flow of departures.

Sadio Mane left St Mary's earlier this summer in a £30m deal to Liverpool.

Key questions

Can Puel buck the trend of disastrous French managerial appointments? You can count the number of successful managerial imports from across the Channel on one hand. Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier apart, the majority of French bosses have failed to make a successful transition with Remi Garde the most recent high-profile example after taking Aston Villa down last season.

Southampton only need to look a few miles along the south coast to when Portsmouth appointed flop Alain Perrin for evidence they have taken a big gamble, however Puel is renowned for his adaptability and ability to embrace change which should set him in good stead. A good start to the season is essential.

Where are the goals going to come from in the wake of the departure of Pelle and Mane? Between them, Pelle and Mane have been Southampton's most prolific scorers for the past two seasons and it is a surprise to a lot of supporters Puel has elected not to replace Pelle in particular. Long and Austin have both been among the goals in preseason and if they can keep that going, Puel may well be proved correct not to dive into the transfer market.

Elsewhere, will Puel unearth the next Gareth Bale? Part of his brief is to tap into Southampton's much heralded youth academy. The hierarchy were not happy with the way Koeman refused to promote young players into his first team and head of football development Les Reed believes Puel will help untapped gems like striker Ryan Seager and midfielder Harrison Reed fulfil their potential. The big question is whether Koeman was just being stubborn for its own sake or if the class of 2016 are simply not good enough to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bale and Theo Walcott.

Potential pitfalls

Last season their early season form was hampered by having to play European qualifying games in July and the club are thankful they won't have to think about Thursday night continental trips until September after being put straight into the Europa League group stage this time around.

Puel has also changed from Koeman's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation to a midfield diamond and there are concerns this will leave them vulnerable to quick counter attacks and may not play to the strengths of their front men.

Claude Puel
Claude Puel is the man responsible for moving Southampton forward after Ronald Koeman's departure.

One to watch 

Set piece specialist James Ward-Prowse has been threatening to do something special for a few seasons without being able to hold down a regular starting place. Puel's plan to utilise Southampton's homegrown players could see him become more established in the first team. It could also be a big season for Rodriguez if he can stay fit and get a prolonged run on games.

Alex Crook is ESPN FC's Southampton blogger. Follow him on Twitter @alex_crook

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