On 6th November 2020 a comfortable 2-0 win against Newcastle United sent Southampton to the Premier League summit for the first time in the club’s history. Just 4 months later and the Saints now sit in 14th place having accumulated just four points from their last 10 games. Will Brookland analyses how the Saints find themselves in this position after what could have been such a promising year for the South Coast side.
Confidence hit by second 9-0 loss in 2 seasons:
What better way to start than the 9-0 loss at the hands of Manchester United on 2nd February. The unfortunate result has stripped the Saints of any confidence, defensive stability, and enthusiasm that was apparent in their play earlier in the season. Prior to the weekend, they had failed to win a league game since, and still are playing like a club with the weight of that result firmly on their shoulders.
A 9-0 loss, which equals the worst defeat of any Premier League side in history, is embarrassing for any side. But what makes matters worse for the Saints is that they are all too familiar with this scoreline. Just last season, a strong Leicester side travelled to St Mary’s on a Friday night in October and dismantled Southampton in similar fashion. Remarkably, after such a result, the board stuck by Ralph Hassenhuttl – and reaped the rewards. The Saints sparked a remarkable turnaround and managed to go on a run of results which saw them avoid what had seemed an ominous relegation to the Championship. However, this season’s 9-0 loss has seen the opposite response and the Saints could yet again be facing a relegation battle.
Issues at both ends of the pitch:
The Saints are merely a shadow of the free-flowing, creative and energetic side that their fans were used to watching, albeit on their televisions, for the first few months of the season. Playing in a classic 4-4-2 system, the midfielders are struggling to provide adequate service to the attackers which has led to goals drying up recently. The usually prolific Danny Ings has now scored just 2 goals in his last 13 games, and now faces another injury spell. This has been of huge detriment to a Southampton side who are so reliant on goals from their star-man. His usual strike partner Che Adams has, despite putting in good performances, never been prolific in front of goal since joining the Saints from Birmingham City last season. This has seen Hasenhuttl give opportunities to youngsters Nathan Tella and Dan N’Lundulu but neither are proven Premier League goalscorers. This area will be of huge concern to the club, especially with the rumors of Danny Ings leaving this summer.
To make matters worse, the Saints defense looks as fragile as ever. It was the ever-present centre-back partnership of Jan Bednerak and Jannik Vestergaard that were so defensively solid in the first few months of the season. Since then however, the latter faced a lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury and the former has played most of his football out of position, at right-back, filling in for the injured Kyle Walker-Peters. Injuries have certainly played a role in the frailties we have seen in the Southampton back-line but this is not a justified excuse for such a rapid demise in quality from a Premier League club. It will be of huge concern that only West Brom have conceded more goals this season than Southampton.
With the current run of poor results, accompanied with the two 9-0 defeats in successive seasons, some Saints fans are calling for Hasenhuttl’s head. I’m not one of those. Since joining Southampton in December 2018 from RB Leipzig, Hasenhuttl has done a remarkable job in embedding his philosophy onto this football club. This is what the passionate Austrian, who has now registered 100 games in charge of the club, was being praised for just months ago when Southampton were looking like serious contenders for a European spot. All too often in the Premier League we see managers being sacked after only months in charge. I respect that the Southampton board seems to recognise that a spell of bad form, although concerning, shouldn’t be the end of such a respected manager’s reign.
FA Cup hope:
Not to mention Hasenhuttl and Southampton are still in the running to win a trophy this year. They face fellow South Coast side Bournemouth in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Saturday 20th March. The Saints have looked strong in the FA Cup this season, knocking out Arsenal and Wolves in the last two rounds without conceding. If Southampton were to go all the way to a cup final then I’m sure any worries over the current league form will quickly become a distant memory.
This summer’s transfer window will be a big one for the club. The current injury list has exposed that Southampton don’t have the squad depth that is necessary for the Premier League. It’s clear that bringing in cover at right-back and central midfield should be prioritized. But, perhaps most concerning, is the prospect of Danny Ings being snapped up by one of the top sides in the league who have registered interest. If this is the case, then the Saints will certainly need to buy a replacement. In January, Hasenhuttl was very close to signing Josh King from Bournemouth but was beaten to it by Everton. King would’ve been the perfect man. If Hasnehuttl can bring in a similar player this summer then the Saints will be much better off for it going into next season.
It’s clear that this Southampton side are on a long spell of bad form and low confidence. It’s important that the Saints need to start picking up points in the league and fast. The last thing they want is to be dragged into another relegation battle that they should be no part of. I’m confident that Hasenhuttl will be able to get the professional, energetic and high-pressing side that have beaten the likes of reigning champions Liverpool this season, back to their best. It’s just a matter of time. If the Saints pick up form and go all the way in the FA Cup, then this may just go down as one of the most successful seasons the club has had in recent history after all.