Sofiane Boufal signed for Southampton in the summer of 2016 from Lille for an undisclosed fee and was dubbed as the latest big talent around Europe prior to his move.
Boufal has endured a frustrating start to life at Southampton. His chances have largely been limited. He has been forced to mainly settle for places on the bench since joining the club with Nathan Redmond being the preferred option.
So, just why is he an integral player for the Saints? I’ve taken a look.
He needs a run of games
It is clear for all to see that the Saints have got themselves a real quality player in Boufal. But it’s now time for him to get a real run of games in a side which has really lacked goals this season. Ever since joining the club, Boufal has never started more than three matches in succession, and this is something which has to change as the side look a much better outfit with the Moroccan in it.
Every player needs to play regular football in order to be successful and Boufal is the same. He is the kind of player who, when on top form, is tough to compete against. He has started the previous two matches following on from his incredible solo effort which saw the Saints claim a narrow 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. However, he needs to be given at least six or seven more matches, as the performances in these games have been at a high level and he has been one of the better options in the side despite their recent shortcomings.
The sky’s the limit for Boufal
Boufal’s talent is undoubted and you can see from the three goals he has scored for the Saints. They have all been world-class efforts, which underlies that the talent is really there. He can make a mockery of defenders and is so comfortable on the ball. He can create a number of chances for his teammates, which can only bode well for the future.
Boufal is a confidence player and if he can get back to the form he found at Lille, then he can make people stand up and start to take notice. In just a single season at Lille, he netted 14 goals which, for his position, was mighty impressive. This was all at the age of just 22, so there is real potential for him to take his game to the next level if he can find a level of consistency in his game, which has been lacking after just occasional appearances since joining the club.
Consistency is key
Whilst his performances of late have been overall pretty good, there is a sense amongst many Saints fans that he needs to start stepping up in every game and playing at the high level that everybody knows he is capable of. Consistency will, of course, come with game time but Saints have only so far seen a couple of moments of what Boufal is capable of.
Many of Saints’ attacking players haven’t been performing well this season, along with at the end of last season, so he has a real opportunity to make a starting position his own. He has improved of late and seems to have improved the defensive side of his game. He appears to have even bulked up a little, and it’s all these little things which can help towards his levels of consistency in the attacking third of the pitch.
Boufal can, on occasions, be frustrating to many Saints fans, with him often trying that one trick too many after getting past a couple of players, which has become infuriating for supporters. The 24-year-old has a low centre of gravity and needs to know when to pass, as he has the capability to be able to take on and get past any defender in the league. However, it does seem as though he is too confident in trying to take on every single player. This may come off on the odd occasion but it isn’t something which should be attempted too often, in my opinion.
Footballers need to be confident, of course, but some of the different things that Boufal attempts on the pitch are very audacious. With the Premier League being a lot more physical than the French league, this is something which the Moroccan needs to become more accustomed to.
He needs to also realise that he doesn’t always have as much time on the ball as he thinks, which can be counter-productive for his side.
However, it goes without saying that Boufal is a hugely important player for Saints going forward.