Unsettled Southampton need improvement but tough tests loom


Southampton’s last outing resulted in defeat at Wolves
Photo: Premier League

Unsettled Southampton need improvement but tough tests loom

by Matthew Markstone

Wins: 1
Draws: 2
Losses: 5
Current Position: 16th

Southampton’s 2018/2019 campaign kicked off with little more than a thud as Mark Hughes’ side failed to score and managed only a point against Burnley at home to begin the year.

That was followed by losses to Everton and Leicester City before the first win of the campaign came against a Zaha-less Crystal Palace. Off the back of the first International break, Saints had Premier League football under the lights at St. Mary’s, where they gave away a two goal lead to draw with Brighton at home. And those are the highlights if you can call them that.

The five points Saints have gained through eight matches so far leave them in 16th place on goal difference, ahead of Fulham, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and Cardiff City. Not exactly the company the club would like to keep or have envisaged been keeping.

The season so far has to be considered a disappointment.

Fans would have hoped Saints could have built off of the rush of staying up late last season, or that the influx of new talent into the squad would have pushed them back towards the top half of the table.

After all, Saints recent history would lead you to believe they should be at least pushing for the top half of the table. However, while many fans are disappointed in the club in a number of areas, few who attend or watch on a weekly basis will be surprised at the results or the team’s current place in the standings.

it seems that Saints’ forays into Europe, and their threat to beat any team on any given day, are more the exception than the rule. Of course the main focus is on the current squad and manager, but the roots of Saints’ current struggles stretch back several years.

For a lot of its history Southampton played expansive, attacking football.

Even taking into account their most recent run in the Premier League, there was pressing and constant pressure under Pochettino, and a counter-attacking, more direct style under Ronald Koeman. Since Koeman’s departure, though, Saints have had three managers in as many seasons, and with those different managers, came drastically different styles of play than what came before.

Claude Puel’s possession based game changed the identity of Saints, and Pellegrino’s insistence on defence first further removed Saints from their long-time identity. Promising players like Nathan Redmond regressed, and as the threat of relegation became more of a reality, the youth saw fewer and fewer chances, moving Saints even further from what they had stood for for so much of their recent history. When Pellegrino was removed with just eight matches to go, Mark Hughes came in and was tasked with keeping the team in the Premier League, and he did. Barely.

But, there has been little to suggest Saints have truly progressed this season.

Hughes has lead his team to just five points from eight matches, scoring just six goals, including two wonder-strikes from outside the area, and getting a goal from the penalty spot.

Saints have also struggled to hold onto leads or protect their goal late in games, having allowed five goals in the 76th minute or later this season. For comparison, in what was considered a season full of defensive ineptitude during 2017/2018, Saints conceded just ten goals after the 76th minute. At their current rate, Saints will nearly double that this season, despite buying a veteran central defender and having two English international goalkeepers in the squad.

When you couple the defensive woes and the offensive struggles, add the lack of impact of new signings and the changing of formation, it’s no wonder Saints find themselves towards the bottom of the table eight games into the season.

The immediate future looks to be difficult as well. Between now and the next international break in mid-November, Saints travel to Bournemouth and Manchester City in the Premier League, and host Watford and Newcastle. That means three tough fixtures against top-10 opposition, and what could very well prove to be a six-pointer against a struggling and underfunded Newcastle.

As bad as it all sounds, most fans hold on to the idea that this squad of players is good enough to get out of the current situation. Guys like Danny Ings, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Jannik Vestergaard and Alex McCarthy are all talented and capable of taking hold of a game in their given position.

However, the key will be Mark Hughes’ ability to get the best out of the players, through formation, man management, tactics and motivation.

Southampton fans will be anxiously awaiting an upturn in form, and perhaps a long overdue home win, both of which could ease the pressure on the team and the manager, and let some steam out of St. Mary’s, which seems to get more and more hostile with each lackluster home performance.


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