One of the most intriguing tactical features of Nice’s Ligue 1 campaign last season was the number of diminutive players selected in the attacking third of the pitch under freshly-appointed Southampton manager Claude Puel.
None of the front three of Alassane Plea, Hatem Ben Arfa or Valere Germain are any taller than 5ft 9ins, while the three-man midfield in the 4-3-3 setup were even smaller.
Nampalys Mendy, Jean Seri and Vincent Koziello are all shorter than 5ft 5ins.
Rather than rely on physical types, Puel preferred players who were both extremely mobile and technically proficient, with a focus towards quick transformations and keeping the ball on the floor.
Ben Arfa was the star of the attacking show in a formation where he occupied the central role in the front three, but was often deployed slightly deeper than his fellow forwards.
The former Newcastle man was tasked with the duty of being the team’s main string puller in the final third, although he still netted 17 goals in Ligue 1 as Nice finished fourth.
If Puel is considering a similar approach at Southampton, he does seem to have a ready-made Ben Arfa equivalent in Dusan Tadic, who is also primarily a left-footed playmaker.
Tadic possesses the touch, vision and creative capacity to flourish in what is almost a false-nine role, with the Serbian ending last season with eight goals and 12 assists in the Premier League.
Shane Long’s energy and eye for goal make him an obvious candidate for a start in the right-sided forward position, while Sadio Mane’s replacement Nathan Redmond could work well down the left.
In the central midfield positions, Puel can call upon Jordy Clasie, James Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis to replicate his Nice trident, although it would be no surprise to see the Saints raid the transfer market for one of Mendy, Seri or Koziello this summer.
Although the consensus is that Mendy is on the brink of joining Premier League champions Leicester.
The obvious omission in this setup is first-choice Italy striker at Euro 2016, Graziano Pelle, who may prove a plan-B option at best if retained at St Mary’s.
Nice had finished in 17th and 11th prior to their rapid ascent up the standings last season into the top-four. Southampton are 8/1 to secure a top-four finish of their own this term, having been knocking on the door in recent campaigns.
They got to within three points of fourth last season.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.