Leicester City boss Claude Puel shows stuttering Southampton exactly what they're missing

by Jack Kitson / 14 December 2017, 10:37

Southampton were left shell-shocked after the manager they sacked in the summer for his negative style of play, Claude Puel, returned to St Mary’s on Wednesday with new side Leicester City and then tore his former employers to shreds in a crushing 4-1 victory.

Leicester were ruthless, rampant, rapid on the break and above all a joy to watch - literally the complete opposite of the Saints last season, and the majority of this term. The demolition must have been extremely painful for the struggling Saints and their boss Mauricio Pellegrino who must now be feeling the heat following a disappointing start to his tenure.

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Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Puel has gone on to lead Leicester to five wins from eight games, winning the last four on the spin, while the only team he’s lost to is Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Man City.

What’s the story here?

Saints sacked Puel in June after a single season in charge, during which - from the outside at least - he did a decent job: leading the Hampshire club to an 8th-place finish, League Cup final at Wembley, and a memorable victory over Inter Milan.

However, the club suffered disappointing early exits in both the Europa League and FA Cup, while their league tally of 46 points was 17 points fewer than the previous campaign under Ronald Koeman.

At the time of Puel’s departure the majority of Saints supporters backed the decision due to the drab and dreary nature of the football on show. It didn’t help the Frenchman that the club finished the season poorly, winning only one of their final eight games, failing to score in six of those matches.

In fact a dearth of goals was a staple under Puel. 41 goals in 38 games is a meagre return - only two of the 17 clubs that remained in the top-flight last season scored fewer. Furthermore the St Mary’s faithful only witnessed 17 goals in 19 home games, and none in the final five.

Is Pellegrino the new old Puel?

So Puel was binned as the club sought to pluck out more high-tempo and attack-minded philosophy, which made the subsequent appointment of Mauricio Pellegrino bizarre. The Argentine pretty much echoed Puel last season, leading Spanish side Alaves to a cup final and 9th place finish, opting for a defensive approach to matches.

It may therefore not come as a huge surprise that the toothless Saints have endured a disappointing campaign to date, collecting just 18 points from 17 games, netting only 17 goals, and Wednesday’s hammering at home to Leicester means they are now without a win in four games.

Pellegrino is experiencing many of the same problems and dilemmas that hindered Puel last season. Pellegrino has unsurprisingly been compared to Puel on a number of occasions, but it’s now evident that that was the Puel of last season, not this term, with his predecessor loving life at Leicester.

What next for Puel and Pellegrino?

Puel now has three straight home games to look forward to, welcoming Crystal Palace and Man Utd in the league, with a tasty League Cup clash against City sandwiched in between. If he somehow bags three wins from those three games that will be seven successive victories - the club’s record is nine (December 2013 - February 2014).

Meanwhile, Pellegrino will be nervously looking over his shoulder in the next Premier League manager to leave market. The spotlight may be on the under-fire trio of Mark Hughes, Paul Clement and Rafa Benitez, but a quick look at Saints’ upcoming fixtures - trips to Chelsea, Spurs and Man Utd before the year is out - means he could be worth a punt at 14/1.

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