Sofiane Boufal – Where does he fit in at Southampton?

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Sofiane Boufal of Southampton (L) reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on March 19, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Sofiane Boufal of Southampton (L) reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on March 19, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) /

Boufal is Southampton’s record signing in the transfer market. In the summer of 2016, Claude Puel parted with a cool 16 million pounds to bring him in from Lille.

Life on England south coast hasn’t started particularly well for Sofiane Boufal, the young Moroccan arrived with a serious knee injury. This injury kept Boufal away from action for the first few months of the season.

When he did eventually make an outing in the red and white stripes of Southampton, there was heavy expectation on his shoulders. As you would expect from a clubs record signing.

It is more than fair to say that he has not won over all of the St Mary’s faithful and we are now 33 games into the season. Boufal has managed just 20 appearances this season as injuries have severely limited his game time.

Of these 20 appearances, Boufal has managed to complete 90 minutes only twice. Competition for places in the attacking midfield positions is not exactly high within the Southampton squad. Only Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic naturally play in these positions. So why is Boufal struggling?

A performance of two halves

Boufal started against Chelsea in Southampton’s recent 4-2 loss to the Premier League leaders. It was a perfect example for a neutral to see what Sofiane Boufal is all about.

In the first half, he was picking up the ball, running at defenders, pulling off flicks and tricks and generally looking dangerous. He had the Chelsea defenders on the back foot many a time, often beating a man or winning a free kick. The second half, he seemed to lose interest. Not getting on the ball, not beating a man and not tracking back. He even requested to be substituted when he lost possession.

There is no doubt that Boufal has incredible talent, he is sometimes a joy to watch and often the most frustrating. We have been spoiled by previous managers and players such as Koeman and Mane. These bought into the high press, all action style of football.

Claude Puel clearly doesn’t fancy this style of football, and Sofiane Boufal clearly doesn’t fancy this style of football. A man very reluctant to press a defender, even midfielder, when the opposition is on the ball, something we have become used to over the past few years, causes serious unrest amongst the St Mary’s faithful.

It beg’s the question, where does Sofiane Boufal fit in to this Southampton team? Or even, DOES Sofiane Boufal fit in to this Southampton team?

How can we fit Boufal into the team?

What Boufal is good at, is receiving the ball and running at players, forcing them back towards their own goal and creating things. With the ball at his feet he can create magic, he just does not produce the final ball enough.

More from Saints Marching

Boufal has played in all three of those attacking midfield positions, most of his good work comes when he has started in the central area. This role is currently occupied by Dusan Tadic. That being said, Tadic produces his best performances on the wing. So a small reshuffle can potentially solve the problem.

If Boufal was to play in the number 10 role, Puel needs to only look at how former Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino utilizes Dele Alli in this position for inspiration on how to get the best out of Boufal.

Alli is given free roam almost as a second striker, relinquishing him of defensive duties. This allows him to focus all his energy on scoring and assisting goals. This season alone, Alli has scored 16 Premier League goals.

It is a big risk letting a player have such freedom in the Premier League. A lot of attention is paid to being a solid unit defensively and keeping teams out.

A potential partnership between Boufal and Gabbiadini is almost mouth watering. Both technically gifted and with excellent movement. It is without doubt that next season is key for Boufal. If he can get over his injury problems and get some consistent game time, 2017/18 may be a fruitful season for him.

All this comes with a big ‘if’ hanging over it. Boufal needs to get his head down and work hard. Fan’s will appreciate his efforts and start to back him more. This season has been anything but spectacular for him, but the potential is clearly there.

Next: Charlie Austin and Matt Targett return to full Southampton training