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Swansea City-Southampton Preview
The dawn of a new season always brings hope that great things can be accomplished, and Southampton will begin this Premier League campaign by welcoming Swansea City to St. Mary's Stadium on Saturday.
The south coast club are aiming to best last season's eighth place finish but will have to do so with a new manager in former Deportivo Alaves boss Mauricio Pellegrino.
Pellegrino takes over for Claude Puel, and will try to coax more consistent positive results from his boys this term. The Saints have finished in the top half of the table in each of the past four seasons, but Pellegrino's task will be to get the Saints to qualify for the Europa League.
It could be a big ask for a club that only a few seasons ago was battling financial administration, but the Saints look capable of achieving that goal.
It's been a relatively quiet summer on the transfer market for the Saints, who have spent the past few summers selling players to Liverpool. Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, and Dejan Lovren have all made the move to Anfield in recent seasons, and there could be another Merseyside defector on the horizon in centre back Virgil van Dijk.
Several other clubs, including Chelsea and Manchester City, have shown interest in the highly-rated defender, but reports claim van Dijk is keen on the move to Liverpool and has handed in a transfer request at Southampton to force a move.
Should the Saints lose yet another player to Liverpool, Pellegrino will need to find a way to replace the sturdy defender.
The club also lost long-time attacker Jay Rodriguez, who made the move to West Bromwich Albion for £12 million. On the positive side of the ledger, the Saints brought in central midfielder Mario Lemina from Juventus for a club-record fee of £15.6 million.
"I am really excited," Lemina said. "I have a lot of friends from France who are here and they have explained to me what it's like to play in the Premier League. I am really excited to be playing in stadiums in the Premier League this season. It is a different league and I hope that I adapt quickly to it because I know that it is a league where everything goes quickly. I know that the team will help me lots to get used to it."
Lemina emphasized that he was impressed with the club's high ambitions,
"The aims this year are the same as they were last season," he said. "We want to finish high up the table whether that be sixth, seventh or eighth place and why not challenge for the Europa League. I've seen that the club is very ambitious and we want to stay on this upward path."
Swansea City will hope they can come up with positive results on a more consistent basis now that manager Paul Clement will be in charge from the outset. The Welsh club finished the 2016-17 season in 15th place.
After struggling through the first half of the season, Clement was brought in on Jan. 3 and compiled an 8-2-9 record with Swansea. He's also had a full offseason to shape the squad to his liking.
To this point, however, it has been a quiet summer for Swansea, who have brought in goalkeeper Erwin Mulder on a free transfer from Eredivisie side Heerenveen, as well as striker Tammy Abraham on loan from Chelsea.Abraham has scored three goals during Swansea's run of preseason games, and his teammates are taking notice.
"You can see how good a player he is," midfielder Leroy Fer said. "He's got a lot of ability and you can see how dangerous he can be. He's still only 19, but he's a real talent. He's very quick and he can be a very important player for us. Hopefully, he can continue to score goals throughout the season."
Clement's club closed out their preseason preparations with a 4-0 thumping of Sampdoria, and head into the match against Southampton full of confidence.
"Four-nil on the last game of pre-season was a great way to finish," said Fer. "The gaffer told us before the game to finish in a positive way so that we are ready for Southampton.
"We finished off strong, and I think we are ready for next week now. We have another hard week of training before Southampton, so we will be ready."
Southampton have never won an opening day home fixture in the Premier League (0-5-4), while the Saints have won six of their last eight Premier League meetings with Swansea City (6-0-2).
Swansea's only Premier League win at St. Mary's Stadium came in February 2015, with Jonjo Shelvey scoring the winner. Swansea are unbeaten in their last three Premier League matches to start the season.
Updated August 10, 2017