Puel insists mass rotation has been a necessity this season

Puel insists mass rotation has been a necessity this season

Despite being criticised for his constant chopping and changing, the Southampton manager has no regrets over his selection policy this season.

Kit Shepard

Southampton manager Claude Puel has maintained that his regular squad rotation, particularly in the first half of the season, was the right call.

It took until February for the Frenchman to name an unchanged side in his first campaign on the South Coast but, when the unenviable fixture congestion the Saints had to cope with is taken into account, Puel believes that he would do the same again.

Changes galore

From the moment that the summer transfer window of 2016 slammed shut in early September, it was clear that Southampton's squad was lacking in both quality and quantity.

The losses of Victor WanyamaSadio Mane and Graziano Pelle were all gargantuan blows and, while some shrewd purchases were made to partially fill the gaping holes left by the trio, it was very much a transfer window to forget around St Mary's.

The loss of Sadio Mane was one of three key player departures over the summer for the Saints over the summer. Photo: Getty.

As well as finding themselves with a weaker starting eleven following the summer, the Saints' squad as a whole was far too thin. After an outstanding sixth place finish the previous season, Puel's men would play Europa League football until at least Christmas, meaning midweek games would be the norm.

To solve the issue of playing twice a week with an insufficient roster, Puel predictably rotated his side constantly. In order to compete in the Premier League, European and cup competition, he made no less than an average of six changes to his team every game until the New Year. 

And while the almost eternal altercations may have been the only solution, it seriously hurt Southampton. With players unable to develop solid partnerships, the Saints under-achieved in the opening months of the campaign, as the regular movements prevented individuals from gelling and playing together consistently. 

Southampton struggled to cope with all the changes. Photo: Getty.

Eventually, Puel and Southampton paid the price for the continual modifications, as they somehow failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League. With the players struggling to forge a collective approach, several dismal performances led to them inexcusably limping out at the group stage.

No regrets

Even though Puel's tinker man tactics led to disaster, the Saints manager believes he made the right call at the time. He stated that the "crazy" fixture list meant that "it was important to rotate because we had a game every three days". This outlook did pay off belatedly, when Puel managed to guide Southampton to the EFL Cup final with a depleted squad.

With little time to recover between matches, Puel conceded that "It wasn’t possible to keep good result, intensity and consistency about our results". 

While it is undoubtedly very challenging to compete on multiple fronts, much of the Southampton faithful will surely point out that this necessary rotation could have been easily avoided, if the Saints had been just a little more proactive and forward-thinking back in the transfer window.

Every cloud...

Puel's selection policy has probably done more harm than good for Southampton this season but, undeniably, there have been a few positives from it.

His willingness to give some of the club's youngest players a chance to prove themselves in the first team has paid dividends, with the likes of Josh Sims and Jack Stephens showing that they have what it takes to play at the highest level. 

Youngster Jack Stephens is looking more and more like a top-class centre-back by the game. Photo: Getty.

As a club that prides themselves on their phenomenal record of youth development; Gareth BaleTheo Walcott and Adam Lallana are some of the biggest names to come out of the Southampton academy, the growth of the next generation under Puel has ensured that the Saints fans are relatively content with how things are going, as his inaugural season in English football nears its close.