Southampton's Possible Starting 11 for 2013-14
Unless Wigan catch an amazing run of form in their final four games, Southampton's Premier League status for next season has been confirmed.
There isn't much reason to expect a radically different starting 11 from Southampton next season. Only Liverpool, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Newcastle United have younger squads than the Saints' average age of 26.4 years old. Every player that has played in at least 10 matches is signed for next season.
But if you stand pat in the Premier League, you are probably falling behind. Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese hasn't been shy about splashing cash around to strengthen the squad, as he brought in eight players on transfers this season. No reason to expect that kind of spending spree this season, but certainly a couple of new faces will find their way to the South Coast.
Here's what the starting 11 for Southampton could look like next season.
Goalkeeper: Artur Boruc
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Artur Boruc didn't have the easiest time securing his spot in the Southampton squad, but the Polish international has locked up the spot between the posts since the start of the new year.
Boruc has played 18 matches this season for Southampton and recently signed a new two-year deal to extend his stay until 2015.
There will still be plenty of competition for Boruc's starting spot, as Kelvin Davis and Paulo Gazzaniga—who have both started matches this season—as well as American U-20 international Cody Cropper, will likely still be at the club.
Center Back: Maya Yoshida
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Since joining Southampton from VVV-Venlo at the transfer deadline, Maya Yoshida as been a stabilizing force in the Saints back line.
The Japanese international has played in 32 matches, starting 31 in a row. In the four matches Yoshida didn't start, Southampton conceded 14 goals. In the 31 he has started, the Saints have given up a much more respectable 43.
Yoshida has managed to do his job without drawing the ire of the referee. The 24-year-old commits less than a foul per game and has only received two yellow cards this season.
Yoshida is also versatile enough to play on the outside of the defense. He has started two matches at right-back and one at left-back due to injuries of others.
Center Back: Lamine Sane
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With Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld both approaching 30 and Vegard Forren yet to make any impact after his January transfer, Southampton will be very tempted to bring in another center back in the summer.
One rumor making the rounds is that Southampton are interested in Bordeaux's Lamine Sane (via the Mirror).
Sane is a versatile player who can also play in defensive midfield as well as center back. The Senegalese international has played 43 matches for Bordeaux this season, including nine matches in the Europa League as the French side reached the round of 16.
At 6'4", Sane would bring some needed size to the Saints back line, as Hooiveld is the only current player who can match the stature Sane would bring.
Left-Back: Luke Shaw
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Those who kept tabs on Southampton's preseason friendlies would have suspected Luke Shaw might make some appearances for the Saints this season. But few would have expected the 17-year-old to become the first choice at left-back.
While Shaw has struggled with minor injuries that have kept him out of the lineup at times, the Southampton Academy graduate has made 22 appearances and has been the primary starter at left-back since November.
Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea are among the clubs rumored to be interested in Shaw (via Metro). But Shaw, who still isn't old enough to sign a senior contract, has committed his future to Southampton by stating on the official club website that he will sign a five-year deal with the club this summer when he turns 18.
Despite his age and lack of experience, Shaw has been a major contributor on defense. He ranks in the top five for Southampton in tackles, interceptions and clearances for the Saints according to WhoScored.com.
Right-Back: Nathaniel Clyne
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Comparably ancient compared to his left-back counterpart, 22-year-old Nathaniel Clyne has impressed in his first season at Southampton since coming over from Crystal Palace.
Clyne has stared 31 matches so far for the Saints and made his presence known immediately in the Premier League when he tracked down Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and managed an inch-perfect sliding tackle in the Premier League opener.
Clyne hasn't been shy to get involved in the attack from his right-back position. The England Under-21 international has scored one goal and ranks in Southampton's top five with three assists.
Defensive Midfielder: Morgan Schneiderlin
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One of the pleasant surprises of the season for Southampton is just how effective Morgan Schneiderlin has been in the midfield.
Schneiderlin has been a terror in breaking up opposition attacks. The Frenchman leads the Premier League with 3.9 interceptions per game and is second only to Liverpool's Lucas Leiva in tackles per game with 4.2 according to WhoScored.com.
The 23-year-old hasn't disappointed on the offensive end either. Schneiderlin has scored five goals for the Saints, which ranks only behind strikers Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.
As a result of his performances, Schneiderlin has drawn the attention of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The Gunners are looking to make a £10 million bid for the Frenchman according to The Sun. However, Schneiderlin signed a new contract in February, so a move away from St. Mary's seems unlikely.
Defensive Midfielder: Jack Cork
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While Schneiderlin is the flashier of the two defensive midfielders Southampton often employ, Jack Cork's contributions can't be ignored.
Cork may not break up attacks like Schneiderlin, as Cork makes a combined 4.3 tackles and interceptions compared to Schneiderlin's 8.1 according to WhoScored.com.
The English player who represented Team GB in the London Olympics is a key player in building attacks for the Saints. Cork leads the team in passes per match with 51.9, and most of the time those passes find their target, as the 23-year-old completes 83.5 percent of the time.
Central Midfielder/Trequartista: Gaston Ramirez
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Southampton's record signing hasn't had the greatest of seasons in his Premier League debut.
Various fitness issues have kept Ramirez out of the lineup at times, as the Uruguayan has only made 26 appearances so far this season. In his 26 matches, Ramirez has scored five goals and has three assists to his credit.
Ramirez was the first Southampton player to receive a red card this season in last week's match versus West Bromwich Albion, a possible sign of frustration with the way his season has gone.
Rumors of a move back to Italy or a move to Arsenal have popped up over the past few months (via talkSPORT), but Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino says the 22-year-old is going nowhere and that he believes the Uruguayan will come good once he's fully settled.
“The first season for any player is tough. I want to think it is just (Ramirez) struggling to adapt to a new country and language. I’m sure it has nothing to do with his price,” Pochettino said according to SkySports.
Left Winger: Adam Lallana
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Southampton fans have a chant that claims Adam Lallana makes Lionel Messi look inferior, to paraphrase the chant. While that's not even close to being true, the Saints captain has had a solid season despite battling injuries.
The 24-year-old earned an England call-up earlier in the season. While Lallana didn't actually play, his performances earned the former Southampton Academy product a new five-year contract through 2018.
Lallana is one of three players, along with Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, to lead Southampton with five assists. Despite the knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks, the England native has made 27 appearances for the Saints this season, in which he has also scored three goals.
Right Winger: Scott Sinclair
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The move for Sinclair would make sense, as his younger brother, Jake, is a member of the Southampton academy and has a bright future of his own.
At just 23, Sinclair still has plenty of time to jump-start his Premier League career, as he has only made two appearances for Manchester City this season. Sinclair also played on Team GB with Jack Cork and would fit right in with Southampton's core of young up-and-coming players.
Competition would be tough for the final spot in the midfield, as Steven Davis, Jay Rodriguez and Jason Puncheon have all seen plenty of time in the squad this season.
Striker: Rickie Lambert
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Rickie Lambert waited long enough for his chance to play in the Premier League, and the 31-year-old is certainly making the most of it.
Lambert has played in every single Premier League match for the Saints this season and leads the team in goals with 14 and assists with five. In fact, Lambert is the leading English goalscorer in the Premier League this season (sixth overall), outscoring the likes of Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe.
"Southampton's Goal Machine" has signed a contract extension through 2016 in March and said he wants to end his career at the club (via the Southampton website). Lambert's displays have made it nearly impossible for other Southampton strikers like Emmanuel Mayuka and Guly Do Prado to get on the pitch.
Despite being the leading English goalscorer, Lambert has yet to catch the eye of Roy Hodgson for an England call-up. While it was an April Fool's prank, maybe Lambert should seriously check to see if he has any ancestry from New Zealand, who would likely be more than happy to include him in their side.