1st September 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Although Mario Lemina is just two games into his Premier League adventure with Southampton, the early signs are promising that the versatile midfielder will be a fine asset for Mauricio Pellegrino's side.
After two seasons with Italian powerhouse, Juventus, Lemina arrived with the invaluable experience of having been a part of a wildly dominant team, who won two Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias during his time under the tactical genius of Massimiliano Allegri. Moreover, coming on as a second half substitute for the Bianconeri in their heartbreaking Champions League final loss to Real Madrid last term shows how highly rated he was by his former side.
Desperate to be an undisputed starter, Lemina knew making the tough choice to leave Juventus would be his best bet in order to achieve his aim. Moving to Southampton, where he'll relish working alongside another master strategist in the form of newly installed Saints manager, Pellegrino, gives him every chance of getting the valuable first-team minutes he craves.
A man in hot demand this summer, Lemina received offers from many clubs including Stoke City and Valencia, but saw Southampton as the most appealing destination on all fronts, however, explaining: "I am really happy to have signed for Southampton. I think that it was the project that attracted me the most and the one my family was really behind. I am really happy to be here."
Even though he's been eased into life in the Premier League by Pellegrino, he's already illustrated why he's such a super player and why the Saints were willing to break their transfer record and pay €17.6 million plus €2.2 million in add-ons to secure his services.
On the weekend in Southampton's draw with Huddersfield Town, the 23-year-old put in an especially highlight laden shift, where he showed so many of his multifaceted capabilities.
Starting the match in a right sided central midfield slot alongside Oriol Romeu, Lemina looked sharp, focused and dedicated from the off, as he contributed excellently in all phases of the game. On the attacking end, his tactical acuity and positional sense were huge benefits for his side, which, in combination with his concentration and intelligence, enabled him to prove vital in helping construct, assist and facilitate many of his team's offensive moves.
By regularly performing subtle rotations with his midfield partner, Romeu, and his right winger, Dusan Tadic, Lemina and his colleagues did an effective job of creating a moment of confusion in their opponent's mind, giving them the platform they needed to receive the ball with enough time and space to purposefully use the ball.
When not interchanging positions, his ventures into the right half space allowed him to inherit possession outside of the Huddersfield block to use his accomplished passing ability to animate the home side's moves. He'd notably push into the 10 spaces and combine nicely with his teammates in close proximity too, in an attempt to pull apart Southampton's defensive line and unleash a runner in behind. Indeed, in such instances, his close ball control, awareness of where the pressure was coming from, vision to pick a pass in confined areas and terrific mobility meant he acted as a very difficult man to dispossess for the Terriers.
Recognising how instrumental he could be in advanced areas, Pellegrino even moved him into the number 10 role in the second half, where he continued to show off the aforementioned attributes and his thoughtful decision making.
Defensively, his highlights came firstly when he'd crucially notice his closest centre-back, usually Jack Stephens, step out and challenge Steve Mounie in aerial duels, thus providing him with a cue to drop back and cover the space Stephens had just vacated to ensure the backline's structure remained strong. Moreover, by smartly picking up the marking duties of Tom Ince, Rajiv van La Parra and Aaron Mooy whenever they ventured into his designated area of operation limited their influence whenever they were in 1v1 situations. His physicality and athleticism also helped him excel in his defensive duties, for his strength and covering speed further increased his defensive worth.
Despite featuring for just 64 minutes, many felt Lemina was the best afield for Southampton, as his versatility, technique and intelligence shone brightly. Pellegrino's comments on his talented new signing summed up his quality aptly, saying: "For me he's a mixed midfield [player] who has the capability, to play as a defensive midfielder or a box-to-box midfielder. He has quality and strength. We didn't have his profile of player I think."
For the man who's come on leaps and bounds during his spells with Lorient, Marseille and Juventus, there's no reason to suggest why the well-rounded midfielder can't do the same at Southampton.
Under Pellegrino's stewardship and within a club that has a proven track record in player development, Lemina's certainly in the right place to take his game to the next level and maybe even become a star of the Premier League.
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Mario Lemina - Proving to be a fantastic investment by Southampton
1st September 2017. By Edward Stratmann.