Cliché it may be, but Southampton’s 2-0 win over their South Coast neighbours Bournemouth really was a game of two halves.
The first half may have all been Southampton, where their two goal lead at half-time was almost lucky on the visitors, but the second half was much more of a backs-to-the-wall performance, especially when Victor Wanyama was sent off for two yellow cards.
The fact that the Cherries could not overcome the two-goal deficit like Leicester had two weeks earlier from the same position was perhaps down to the fact that Bournemouth don’t have a striker in the same form as Jamie Vardy, but Saints defended resolutely.
New-boy Virgil Van Dijk has been really impressive, and the former Celtic man has replaced Toby Alderweireld almost faultlessly, yet an equally but more understated part of the new-look backline is Nathaniel Clyne’s own replacement, Cédric Soares.
Cédric is the perfect example of how the club operates in the transfer market. Having seen Clyne depart for Liverpool for £12.5m with just a year on his contract, the Portuguese joined Saints in a similar situation, but for a measly £3.5m.
Yet the fee, which wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship anymore, doesn’t truly reflect on the defender. Considering he is a regular for Portugal’s national team and has experience at the top of the Portuguese top flight and in the Europa League with Sporting Lisbon, £3.5m is a real bargain.
His transition to the Premier League has picked up speed. Slowly getting used to the pace and power of the English top-flight by Ronald Koeman, who dovetailed him with Yoshida, he has looked great going forward and has provided targetman Graziano Pellè with plenty of ammunition from the right flank.
The former Sporting man did struggle early on, coming off at half-time at Newcastle because he was booked, despite setting up Pellè’s opener, and Romelu Lukaku gave him real trouble too.
But having been dropped against Manchester United for Yoshida to play at right-back, a decision that came into more scrutiny after the Japanese’s crazy back-pass for Antony Martial’s second, Cédric has proved to Koeman that he should’ve played even more, by putting in two top quality performances away at Chelsea and Liverpool.
What is impressive about him is the fact that every challenge that he has come up against, he has adapted well. Some full-backs may have struggled when Koeman changed from four at the back to five, moving the former Sporting man to wing-back, but Cédric simply got on with it and was one of the better performers in the dire 0-0 away at Watford.
Some may feel the south coast side will struggle to get goals in their new system, however, if you fancy the likes of Cedric and Ryan Bertrand, on the other flank, to keep flying forward and put assists on a plate for those up top, bet against the doubters with a Matchbook bonus code.
Whilst the Portuguese is a remarkable talent going forward, he is not lacking when it comes to defensive duties. When he gets into a challenge, he doesn’t often lose it either. Not many wingers have got the better of the right back – he has a record of winning 36 of his 37 attempted tackles – and the 24-year-old has made Clyne a fond but distant memory.
Arguably, that is the best compliment you could pay Cédric, because Clyne was a superb defender. Pacey but raw when he joined from Crystal Palace, he developed into one of the best right-backs in the league, only second best to Pablo Zabaleta in the first half of last season.
But having made it clear he did not want to stay, with his performances really taking a huge slump in the second half of 2014/15, Saints set about looking for his replacement, and the fact that Clyne hasn’t been missed shows how well the transfer committee did in that particular challenge over the summer.
For a club like Southampton, being able to pick up players like Cédric for small fees, improve them and maybe sell them on for a profit in two or three years later is a huge part of how the club manages to punch above their weight.
Plenty question how sustainable it is to keep on selling your best players and replacing them with cheaper options but, arguably, the only player who would get in to the Southampton side who has left in the past two summers would be Morgan Schneiderlin.
Having Jose Fonte, his international team-mate, around has helped the settling in, but Cédric has been just as good as Clyne or Calum Chambers so far, and they both left for £10m more than what the Portugal international was purchased for.
It’s ironic that Clyne would join a club who have had more than their fair share of transfer nightmares in the recent past, from a club who are at the other end of the scale in that respect.
It is not as if the transfer committee at St Mary’s need more praise for their work, but if they needed to brag about their successes, replacing Clyne with Cédric and £9m change would be pretty high on that list. For Saints fans, wheeling and dealing like that whilst keeping the team competitive is praise enough.