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Saints in need of more new blood ahead of Premier League season
PRE-SEASON is now complete, but Saints themselves are not.
Saturday night’s 4-0 friendly defeat to Udinese brought down the curtain on the summer preparations at St Mary’s.
But, with less than a week remaining until the opening day visit to Premier League champions Manchester City, manager Nigel Adkins once again confirmed that the club still has late work to do in the transfer market.
Time remains for the jigsaw to be completed and it should be noted that, no matter the quality or quantity of business that Saints conducted during this window, they would never be expected to get anything at the Etihad Stadium.
The real battle is perhaps more likely to begin after that.
But this season is such an enormous challenge that they do not want to slide into the trap of last-minute panic buying – or, even worse, missing out on strengthening vital areas altogether.
The basis of a good Premier League squad already appears to be in place, but further additions look necessary.
At times on Saturday, Saints’ movement and passing was at least the equivalent of an Udinese side that finished third in last season’s Serie A and qualified for this year’s Champions League.
Encouragingly, Adkins’ men have also notably acquitted themselves well in a 1-0 loss against Dutch giants Ajax this summer.
But Saturday night was a reminder of just how big the step up in quality is this season.
Judging too much on preseason performances is always a dangerous game, but for all of Saints’ ball retention, particularly in the first half, they struggled to seriously trouble the Italian side’s athletic and organised defence.
More worryingly, too much space was also afforded to their opponent’s most influential players, particularly Antonio Di Natale.
Defenders cannot afford to lose sight of such talent, or else they will be punished in clinical fashion.
Understandably, Saints still appear to be getting to grips with the new formation they are being asked to play.
The three central midfield players – one of which takes up a more defensive role – coupled with two widemen supporting a lone striker is a departure from the fluid 4-4-2 that served them so well the past two seasons.
It will take time to adapt, and it is clear Adkins believes he needs some new personnel for the system to truly work properly.
Note his pursuit of some pacy wingers.
But the manager has given it every chance of succeeding so far.
Like he did last Tuesday at Bristol City, Adkins fielded a side against Udinese that you suspect is largely his current first-choice XI.
Only perhaps Jason Puncheon and James Ward- Prowse, who both performed well, would be seriously looking over their shoulders right now.
The chance for that group to work together again against such technically proficient opposition should stand them in good stead, as should their physical conditioning and fitness, which once more appears to be at a very high level.
Some quality additions to the squad in the next two weeks or so could now provide a telling upgrade to their effectiveness.
Saints have sensibly played a wide variety of opponents and styles this summer.
The attack-minded wing backs they faced against Udinese, who also deployed a very fluid midfield, gave them a good glimpse of what they can expect this season.
Not many fans saw it, though.
Once again, the attendance was desperately low, with just 3,744 supporters inside St Mary’sy.
Even if you add up the entire crowds at all four of the club’s home friendlies this summer, you fall short of the stadium’s capacity.
It is hardly surprising, though.
In a period when fans are having to pay increased season ticket fees, while the club also try to tempt them with another two new kits, friendly matches are never going to be prioritised.
Add to that an unusual 7pm Saturday kick-off time for Udinese, which clashed with the highly-anticipated last night of track and field at the Olympics , as well as a £20 entry fee for adults, and the crowd is going to be small.
If Saints want to attract fans into the stadium for their pre-season games, perhaps they should consider scaling back the volume of home fixtures next summer.
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