Eye On The Opposition: Southampton vs Crystal Palace (5/4/2017)

Written by Jack Pierce

Agonisingly close to cup glory but defeated by an undeserving Manchester United side?

No, not us last May. This season that fate fell upon Southampton.

This season will forever be known by Saints fans as the year they ever so nearly added a a trophy to the club's record books. Their league campaign has done nothing to disguise from both the very impressive achievement of reaching Wembley and the heart crushing feeling that losing to a half arsed United side will have a provided; a feeling that we sadly only know too well.

On another day, they win that final and Claude Puel joins Lawrie McMenemy at the legend table and probably gets in line to have a hospitality lounge at St Mary's named after him. Not withstanding that final and the cup run, Puel's first season in England hasn't been a disaster. The Frenchman has exceeded some people's expectations and is, unlike a lot of managers in the past, likely to keep hold of his job for a second season. Currently 10th, a finish in and around there will be enough to suggest to the board that he's doing what's needed to keep up the good work of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman despite a potential lower league finish.

It's no secret that Southampton have had to rebuild and rebuild again after the selling of important first team players since their return to the top flight in 2012 but they've handled departures incredibly well and have, thus far, managed to stay away from relegation battles. The way they sell is very impressive but it's the manner in which they replace and move on that is even more noteworthy and they may well have to demonstrate that again in the coming months.

Dusan Tadic, Fraser Forster, Oriol Romeu and, most frequently, Virgil van Dijk have all been linked with moves away from the south coast in the summer and should the money be right for the club, Southampton's board have previously demonstrated, with the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Jose Fonte, they trust themselves to reinvest what they earn into the squad without losing a great deal of quality.

It may well be that that is the case when it comes to van Dijk. If one of the likes of Chelsea, City or Liverpool come knocking with an offer of around £40-50 million, you'd back Puel or whoever is trusted with the money, with the aid of the club's impressive scouting network, to find a replacement with change to spare.

One player bought to the club in the previous window was Italian striker, Manolo Gabbiadini, from Napoli. Linked with a move to Everton for what seems at least two seasons, Southampton secured the former Sampdoria man's services for around £16 million and of what we've seen of him already, it looks a shrewd investment. Evidently an excellent finisher in front of goal, he's been likened to Pippo Inzaghi, he of Juventus and Milan notoriety. Although Inzaghi spent a large amount of his playing career offside, he was as potent a goal threat as European football had at one stage. If Gabbiadini could replicate a fraction of the form Inzaghi often displayed on a regular basis, then Southampton have a real class act on their books and before too long, they'll be jokes about him joining Liverpool.

Fortunately for Palace, the Italian has already been ruled out of Wednesday night's match with an injury so we can expect Shane Long to feature instead. I'm sure he'll get a warm welcome from the away section, as ever.

Our league record since promotion at St Mary's isn't great. Defeats of 2-0, 1-0 and 4-1 have left Palace without return in their three visits since 2013.

Given Palace's superb win at Stamford Bridge and Southampton's rather lacklustre performance at home to Bournemouth on Saturday, our lot should be going into this one full of confidence. A defeat this time around and perhaps we'll just send them the points next season, should we avoid the drop.