Manchester City v Southampton, 4pm

icon saintsprem19 August ~ Southampton's return to the Premier League after a seven-year absence is being greeted by supporters with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Three years on from the purchase of Rupert Lowe's moribund plc by the late and sadly missed Markus Liebherr, the club has recovered and is stronger than at any time since the formation of the Premier League. Demand for tickets will regularly outstrip the 32,000 capacity of St Mary's Stadium, they are debt-free and the training ground is undergoing an upgrade. The academy continues to prosper, as shown by the wide interest in many young Saints.

Chairman Nicola Cortese wants half of the first team, in time, to be made up of players developed via the academy. This is more than a "hands-off" warning to clubs offering wads of cash for potential Gareth Bales and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlains – it is a clever indication to the country's brightest prospects that, by joining Saints, they are likely to get opportunities to play as opposed to warming benches or getting farmed out on loan.
In the immediate term, the aim is to ensure that Premier League status is not surrendered. Promotion was achieved with largely the same team that had finished runners-up in League One – the question now is whether these same players can make a further step up.

Saints can draw encouragement from last season's promoted sides. Norwich showed that there is Premier League-standard talent to be found in the Championship and further down, while Swansea's fluid passing game was a key factor in their impressive showing.

Nigel Adkins has taken a leaf out of both of these clubs' books, bringing in highly rated youngsters Jay Rodriguez and Nathaniel Clyne from Burnley and Crystal Palace respectively, and favouring a style of play based on keeping the ball on the ground with quick, accurate passing and intelligent movement.

Concerns remain that the defence, particularly in the centre, could be Saints' downfall. Soft goals were conceded on several occasions last season and no new defensive signings appear to be in the offing, despite Adkins's assurances that there will be more arrivals during the current transfer window. A 4-0 defeat at home to Udinese in the final pre-season match has highlighted the deficiencies
Starting with a visit to the champions has its advantages – the players will be able to measure themselves against the strongest team, allowing the management to identify the main areas requiring attention. Even a resounding would not be a disaster, as long as the lessons were learned quickly. Tim Springett

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