If you had told me at the start of last season that Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida would be our starting centre backs for the last few months of the season, I would not have believed you but Fonte’s departure and Van Dijk injury has meant that we had no choice.
During April of 2011, Southampton picked up Stephens from Plymouth’s academy for just £150,000, which in today’s market is a complete bargain. I’m not sure if even Jack expected the amount of game time he would get this season. As many of you will know, our captain Jose Fonte left to join West Ham in January of this year. The Southampton board did not deal with this very well and failed to sign another central defender in the transfer window. Luckily enough we managed to sign Martin Caceres on a six-month loan deal. The Uruguayan hadn’t played professional football in almost a year and was very rusty. All Southampton fans were screaming for Caceres to start as Jack Stephens just isn’t experienced enough (on paper). Claude Puel kept faith in the Englishman and build quite a solid defence.
Stephens did immensely well to just slot into the team and get the job done. We will all remember Liverpool away in the EFL Cup semi final. One of his first starts for the club and he gained a clean sheet and pocketed what was deemed ‘the best attacking force in the league’.
In terms of our other defending options, Martin Caceres’ loan has now come to an end and he has left the club and after his injury Florin Gardos just isn’t the player we thought he was going to be. We currently have three fully fit central defenders and we need to sign a defender in the summer, it’s a must! It’s going to be interesting to see what Mauricio Pellegrino’s take on our defending situation is, because Puel was happy with Yoshida and Stephens but will Pellegrino share the same interest, only time will tell.
We are currently being heavily linked with Polish defender Jan Bednarek, we don’t know an awful lot about him and various Polish journalists are all but confirming his transfer to St Mary’s. There was a picture posted on Tuesday night of Bednarek and his agent on a plane, which got people thinking he could be the first signing under Pellegrino.
Fans have divided opinions on Stephens. I personally believe he has done extremely well over these past six months but if we want to be pushing for the Europa League he can’t be our starting centre back. I would be happy for Yoshida and Stephens to be our back ups but we need to sign a Fonte replacement who can partner Van Dijk for the foreseeable future