Southampton: How the Saints Should Approach Their Last 12 Games

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Southampton: How the Saints Should Approach Their Last 12 Games
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With Southampton out of the FA Cup and solidly mid-table, Adam Lallana and the Saints don't have much to play for this season.

After being eliminated from the FA Cup last weekend by Sunderland, Southampton face the prospect of playing the final 12 games of their season without much to play for.

The Saints currently sit in eighth place with 39 points, but are fairly isolated from the rest of the Premier League. Southampton may as well be in a three-team league with Manchester United and Newcastle United, who have 42 and 37 points respectively. The odds of finishing higher than seventh or lower than ninth are remote.

With not much to gain or lose in the standings, there are a few things Mauricio Pochettino should look to accomplish in the remaining 12 fixtures.

 

Play for Seventh

While there may not be much chance for the Saints to finish higher than seventh, that doesn't mean Southampton shouldn't try to maximize their finishing position.

First, there is an outside chance that seventh place may earn a spot in the Europa League next year. If Manchester City win the Capital One Cup and both FA Cup finalists have already qualified for European competition, the seventh-place Premier League team would earn a Europa League spot.

Granted, Pochettino has made his views on the Europa League well known. So the Argentine boss may try to avoid finishing seventh all together. 

There is also the matter of prize money to be discussed. Each place a club finishes higher in the table is worth approximately £755,000 according to figures from The Daily Mail last season. That amount should increase almost 40 percent according to The Telegraph this season with the increase in television money. It's not a huge amount with all the money thrown around in football these days, but it's nothing to sneeze at.

 

Evaluate the Youngsters

Southampton currently have several youth players from their vaunted academy that have received a handful of minutes in cup games or as substitutes in Premier League matches. 

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Sam Gallagher and other Saints youngsters should get plenty of opportunities in the last 12 fixtures.

Players like Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed, Lloyd Isgrove, Sam McQueen and Paulo Gazzaniga have all had turns in the first team at some point this season. Meanwhile, Jack Stephens, Jordan Turnbull, Jake Flannigan, Jake Sinclair, Omar Rowe and Matt Targett have all had several appearances in the U21s. 

With not much on the line, the final 12 games provide a great opportunity to mix in some of these players and see if they can really perform on the big stage and can be counted on to be part of the squad for next season. 

 

Plan for Next Year's Transfers

In a similar vein to evaluating the youngsters, Pochettino should give some more playing time to the fringe players in the senior squad to determine if they are good enough to contribute to the club going forward.

Players like Maya Yoshida, Jos Hooiveld, Kelvin Davis and Guly Do Prado have all played in less than 10 Premier League games this season.

Southampton only have one player in the first team that is not under contract for 2014-15, that being Do Prado. Do Prado has seen a rather limited role since the Saints joined the Premier League last season, and it would be a shock if his time at St. Mary's was extended. 

Scott Heppell/Associated Press
Jos Hooiveld will be keen to prove his worth to Mauricio Pochettino.

But both Yoshida and Hooiveld, along with Jack Cork, Artur Boruc and Jose Fonte, have their contracts expire after the 2014-15 season, according to transfermarkt.co.uk. Pochettino must decide whether these players are worth long-term contract extensions or figure out how he will replace them. 

With all of the players that are keen to impress Pochettino for next season, preseason training for the 2014-15 campaign really does start Saturday at West Ham United. While Pochettino usually starts a fairly consistent starting 11, expect to see a number of unfamiliar faces rotated into the squad over the next 12 games.

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