Football

Claude Puel: The Silent Assassin

Claude Puel returned to former club Southampton on Wednesday evening as he took current employers Leicester City to St Mary’s.

Exactly six months on since the former Monaco defender was replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino at the club, it could be fair to suggest that Saint’s fans were unmoved as the Frenchman turned up again on the South Coast. After all, after only witnessing six home league wins under Puel in his year at the club, it would not have been an unfair judgement.

The mild-mannered tactician though perused over an emphatic win for his new employers, as goals from Riyad Mahrez, Andy King, coupled with a brace from Shinji Okazaki, ensured the Foxes marched away with an eye-catching 4-1 victory. The big win over the Saints became their fourth consecutive under Puel.

There were criticisms of the Frenchman in his time in charge of Southampton that the style of football was turgid and boring. They did not manage to find the net on a single occasion in their final six home matches of the 2016/17 campaign. Foxes’ fans then would be forgiven to welcome Puel with an air of caution following his appointment at the King Power Stadium. Their, and indeed the Southampton’s fans’ opinions, surely must have been altered following Wednesday evening’s clash.

Netting 15 goals in the eight games that he has been in charge for, including seven in the last two matches, there has been no sort of suggestion that the Foxes have shared the rumoured style of play displayed by the Saints. Looking at the South Coast outfit’s output this season in comparison, there is evidence to suggest that it simply was not the fault of Puel; Southampton have only scored 17 goals in as many games, only one per match.

Despite the prolific form in the East Midlands, Puel has proved to be extremely tactically aware, an aspect that has gone inexplicably unnoticed. Utilising Riyad Mahrez as an attacking midfielder has seen the Algerian flourish and return to the form that saw him claim the 2015/16 PFA Player of the Year award. He has had a hand in eight goals in the last ten Premier League games, earning an additional six points in the process.

The likes of Demarai Gray and Shinji Okazaki, somewhat fringe players prior to the arrival of Puel, have really upped their game. This could be accredited to the players aiming to impress the new manager but either way, it is surely a positive for the 2015/16 Premier League champions.

Puel’s influence on the ball has also been eye-catching. The East-Midlanders have averaged almost 52% possession in the games that the Frenchman has been present in the dugout, quite a contrast to the 46% before his arrival. Vicente Iborra and Wilfred N’didi have combined to produce a formaidable midfield force. This aspect is assisting the Foxes in closing out those hard-fought clashes, the most obvious being the recent 3-2 win over Newcastle United at St James’ Park.

The team now sit in eight and only five points off of the Champions League places. Puel last season lead Southampton to the same position in the Premier League and also managed to lead the Saints to the Carabao Cup final. Whilst it would be unreasonable to expect the Foxes to reach the Champions League yet again, most supporters would be delighted for the Frenchman to repeat what he did at St Mary’s Stadium, despite the criticism from Southampton fans.

Based on the evidence seen so far, it looks to be a good bet. What looks to be the Saints’ loss looks to be the Foxes’ gain. Vive la revolution.

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