Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Harry Maguire. Picking the bones from a recently relegated club can provide a very fruitful transfer strategy. So, as part of our Relegated Transfer Targets series, we analyse three players from Southampton who should be targeted by current Premier League sides.
They say the best ability is availability. And no player better encapsulates that than the bullet-proof James Ward-Prowse.
Southampton’s skipper started every single game for Saints this season, playing 98.6% of all available minutes. The season before that, he missed just two games. And in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, Ward-Prowse played every single minute of Southampton’s Premier League campaign. If you need him, you can sit back and lock yourself in for 3,000+ minutes of Ward-Prowse action. The man can just go and go.
Clearly, though, the biggest lure about signing Ward-Prowse is his proficiency from dead-ball situations.
Ward-Prowse has scored 17 free-kicks in the Premier League, and the next one he whips in will take him level with David Beckham for the most free-kick goals scored in Premier League history. His level of consistency is remarkable really, having scored at least two free-kicks in each of his last five Premier League campaigns.
Ever since he took his first direct shot in the Premier League (2 November 2013), he has the best free-kick conversion rate of any player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Beyond that, Ward-Prowse’s ability from dead balls creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates. Only three players delivered more crosses than Ward-Prowse’s 241 in the 2022-23 season and in total the midfielder created 1.9 chances per 90 minutes. That tally was only behind a handful of other central midfielders last campaign, and is all the more impressive given he was playing for the team that finished bottom of the league.
He was basically a one-man creative machine for Saints last season, creating 50 more chances than any other teammate. In fact, he was responsible for 25.4% of all the chances Southampton created in 2022-23.
In open play, Ward-Prowse is tidy in possession without being particularly penetrative with his passing, and he’s not the greatest ball carrier in the world. It’s difficult to truly showcase your on-ball potential in a side that averaged 44.5% possession and was clearly one of the worst sides in the division last term, but his 2.5 progressive passes per 90 ranked 50th of all Premier League midfielders, while his carrying statistics are among the lowest in his own squad let alone in the rest of the league.
But that’s not what you’re getting with Ward-Prowse. You’re getting the best set-piece taker in the league, who is consistently available and able to play in multiple central positions.
With Ward-Prowse reportedly on £100k a week, and clearly capable of playing in the top flight, it’s not a surprise that Southampton are listening to offers or that teams will be interested in his signature.
Great fit for: Brentford
While the likes of Newcastle, Wolves, West Ham and Aston Villa are reportedly in the hunt for Ward-Prowse, can you imagine him at Brentford? The best set-piece taker in the league on set-piece duty for a side who absolutely love to optimise for set pieces. Come on, man, this is a match made in heaven.
Despite only joining Southampton last summer from Manchester City, Lavia quickly established himself a first-team regular on the south coast this season.
A product of the Anderlecht academy, the Belgian is still only 19 years of age, but that didn’t prevent any of Southampton’s managers throwing him into the team.
Lavia played 2,231 minutes in 2022-23, a figure that only four other teenagers across Europe’s top five leagues bettered, including the likes of Jude Bellingham and Gavi. He started more games than any other teenager in the Premier League.
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Lavia is a dynamic and aggressive ball-winner. The teenager won possession 7.5 times per 90 minutes in 2022-23, which was the highest rate of all Southampton players and a mark that only 14 other Premier League midfielders could better.
The Belgian buzzes around the central third and demonstrates a great ability to read the game to break up opposition attacks. Of those 7.5 possession regains, 4.6 came in the middle third of the pitch, which was the eighth highest of any Premier League midfielder last term.
While he did most of his most noticeable work off the ball, Lavia also shows potential as a passer in a more possession-based outfit. He has cited Sergio Busquets as his inspiration in the past, and while we’re not necessarily saying Lavia will become the next Busquets, he is very comfortable in possession, even when being pressured.
He was pressured more often than any Southampton player last season (18.8 pressures per 90) but demonstrated the technical prowess to withstanding that press. Lavia completed 86.2% of his passes for Southampton – the most of any player – but what’s more impressive is that accuracy rate fell to only 79% when he was pressured by an opponent. That figure puts him on par with players like Thiago at Liverpool or former Southampton man Pierre-Emile Hojberg, at Tottenham.
Lavia’s composure to retain possession in the chaos of midfield shows a maturity and technical skillset that goes beyond his years.
Manchester City do have a buy-back option on the midfielder, but it doesn’t activate until 2024. And at £40m it’s not exactly cheap. As a result, there’s a small window in which another club might want to snap him up.
Great fit for: Liverpool
The great midfield rebuild is on at Liverpool. While they need plenty more reinforcements, Lavia would represent an energetic, young and talented addition to the squad.
Jürgen Klopp’s side suffered from a lack of depth and energy in midfield at times this season, and Lavia could genuinely immediately compete for a first-team place as the likes Jordan Henderson, Thiago and Fabinho age out.
Mohammed Salisu is last on our shopping list and might be the bargain of the lot. The Ghanian international has just one year left on his contract at Southampton and the club might be forced be forced to sell him for a slashed price to avoid losing him for free next year.
Salisu played just once in the last 17 games for Southampton in all competitions, suffering from a recurring hip injury that kept him out of action. Although whether all those absences were purely injury-related is questionable. The centre-back was reportedly left out of recent Southampton matchday squads due to doubts over his commitment.
Prior to that injury, though, Salisu had started 21 of Southampton’s first 22 league games of the campaign and continued to showcase his impressive array of talents.
He is aggressive and combative off the ball, winning possession 7.2 times per 90 minutes played, and leading all Southampton defenders for aerials won per 90 last season. Just three central defenders in the entire league (Cristian Romero, Pascal Struijk and Felipe) attempted more tackles than his 2.4 per game. His statistical profile paints a picture of a front-foot defender, who’s strong in the challenge and frequently looks to contest loose balls.
But in possession there is also a more cultured side to Salisu’s game. For starters, he gets on the ball a lot for Southampton. Last season, he averaged more touches per game than any other Saints player.
And with the ball at his feet, he’s one of Southampton’s most progressive passers. Salisu completed 2.9 progressive passes per 90 last season; the only player to play any meaningful minutes for the club to better that rate was Stuart Armstrong (4.1 per 90).
Overall, 8% of all Salisu’s completed passes were progressive – the fifth-highest rate of any centre-back in the league – which demonstrates not only an ability, but an intent, to break opposition lines.
His assist for Romain Perraud’s consolation goal against Newcastle, while ultimately meaningless in the grander picture of Southampton’s season, showcased his skill as a passer, and the benefit of having a left-footed central defender.
His through-ball split Newcastle’s middle and defensive lines, cutting out three players in the process.
Great fit for: Everton
Salisu is an aerially dominant, physical, and front-foot defender. All the fundamentals are there.
A move to Everton under Sean Dyche would make a lot of sense. The Toffees are reportedly interested in the Ghanian and Salisu would offer them an immediate partner for James Tarkowski in the centre of defence. Yerry Mina has struggled to stay fit, while Conor Coady probably isn’t a long-term solution. Plus, Salisu’s left-footedness offers something that Everton’s other first-choice centre-halves do not.