With the Premier League season coming to a close and Premier League status officially confirmed for 2013-14, the time has come to examine what Southampton need to do in the offseason to avoid being drawn into the relegation fight once again and push forward to a top-half finish.
One key bit of business was taken care of Friday when Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese and owner Katharina Liebherr came to an agreement on the future plans for the club, averting a possible departure of Cortese and Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino over the summer.
"We are now in a position to move forward with our ambitious plans for the Club and I would like to thank Katharina for the very helpful manner in which she approached our talks about long term strategy. I am pleased that this matter is now resolved," Cortese said on the club's website, per The Mirror.
With that backing, Cortese and Pochettino will likely bring in a few new faces to strengthen a squad that should return every player that made at least 20 starts this season.
To make room for the new signings, some players will have to leave the club. It will be bittersweet to officially say goodbye to players that helped Southampton earn back-to-back promotions to get to this level, but most will admit they just aren't Premier League quality.
Frazer Richardson, Danny Butterfield and Richard Chaplow are all out of contract and will move on to other clubs. Steve De Ridder, Billy Sharp and Tadanari Lee have all spent portions of the season out on loan and are unlikely to feature in Southampton's plans for next season.
There are five positions that Southampton could use a bit more depth at to provide cover or to challenge current first-team regulars. Some of these needs may be filled internally through Southampton's academy, but Cortese won't hesitate to splash some cash if needed.
Here are the positions in priority order:
1. Striker: Pochettino has shown more willingness to use a 4-4-2 formation as opposed to a 4-5-1 approach. Playing a 4-4-2 leaves Southampton without much depth at striker, as Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have proved to be the only effective goal-scoring threats up top.
Emmanuel Mayuka, brought in from Young Boys in Switzerland last summer, has been a disappointment so far. While there are several promising academy players like Sam Hoskins, Jake Sinclair and Ryan Seager in the wings, it's unlikely they will be ready to make a major impact in 2013-14.
While he is far from finished, it's hard to ignore Lambert's age (31) and his workload this season, as he has appeared in all 37 Premier League matches this season for Southampton, starting 34. An eventual replacement will need to be found, and the sooner, the better, as Lambert could use the occasional day off now and then.
2. Winger (Preferably Right Side): Jason Puncheon has filled the role fairly well this season, but doesn't seem to have the full confidence of Pochettino just yet.
Puncheon has only played a full 90 minutes once in the past three months, and has lately found himself starting on the bench behind Steven Davis, Guly do Prado or Adam Lallana switching over from the left side.
Frankly, behind Puncheon, there isn't much depth either. Lallana, do Prado and Davis can all play on the right, but are more suited to play in other positions. A natural right winger would seem to be an ideal area to shop for in the transfer window.
3. Outside Back (Preferably Right Side): At just 22, Nathaniel Clyne looks to be a fixture in the Southampton squad for many years to come.
However, with the likely departure of Frazer Richardson this summer, Southampton have no natural right back to cover for him. Jack Cork and Maya Yoshida can play the position in a pinch. Jack Stephens in the academy plays the position, but has no Premier League experience.
A veteran backup who has more experience in the position would be a welcome addition to the club.
4. Center Back: With Maya Yoshida, Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld at the club, Southampton have three center backs that are solid but not spectacular, and are prone to the occasional mistake.
Fonte and Hooiveld are both on the North side of 30 years of age, and will need to be replaced in the next couple of years. Vegard Forren has yet to play since making the move to the South Coast from Norwegian club Molde in the January window.
An additional center back would provide more depth and challenge the current cast to raise their games to remain in the squad.
5. Defensive Midfielder: With Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork consistent performers in the defensive midfield, this area falls into the "nice to have" category.
Schneiderlin has been arguably Southampton's best player this season, scoring five goals and causing havoc to opponents' attacks with a combined eight tackles and interceptions per match.
Cork hasn't had the impact of Schneiderlin offensively or defensively, but has been a steady and calming influence. That said, Cork isn't irreplaceable and if the right opportunity comes along to strengthen the position, Cortese and Pochettino should investigate it.
There is plenty of depth in the position as well, as James Ward-Prowse has played reasonably well for an 18-year-old in the position, Calum Chambers is waiting in the academy and Steven Davis can play the position as well.
Possible Transfer Targets
There will be dozens and dozen of names linked to a move to Southampton over the coming months, and most of the rumors will turn out to be rubbish. But there are a few names right now that continue to pop up again and again that make some sense.
Scott Sinclair, Manchester City: Sinclair would certainly solve the need for an extra winger, and as and added bonus, his brother Jake plays in Southampton's academy.
The price tag will likely be in the 6 million pound range, according to The Sun, which would be no problem for Southampton to pay.
Esteban Grenaro, Queens Park Rangers: The Mirror has made the connection between the Spanish midfielder and Southampton. Pochettino is familiar with Grenaro when the QPR midfielder played with Real Madrid and Getafe. He can play in the center of midfield in an attacking or defensive role, as well as out wide on the right.
Harry Redknapp will need to off-load some of his players, and Grenaro isn't too keen on playing in the Championship, so a move away from Loftus Road seems inevitable.
Victor Ruiz, Valencia: The Mirror have also linked Valencia defender Victor Ruiz to a move to the South Coast.
Ruiz once played for Pochettino at Espanyol and would certainly provide the needed quality at center back for years to come.
At 10 million pounds, the Kenyan would be the most expensive target on Southampton's radar. But Wanyama has proven himself for the Scottish champions in the SPL and Champions League and would likely bump Cork out of the starting 11.
Medji Traoui, Esperance Tunis: Perhaps the most exotic of rumors out there currently, Sky Sports reports that the Tunisian international has interest in coming to the Premier League after his contract expires this summer.
While Cortese isn't afraid to spend money, this move makes sense and would be similar to the Steven Davis signing last summer, getting an established versatile veteran for cheap that would add depth to the squad.