Premier League Preview: Southampton

Southampton are marching into their seventh consecutive Premier League season after they narrowly avoided the drop in the penultimate game of the 2017-18 season, after defeating fellow relegation candidates Swansea 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium. The game consequently proved the safety of Southampton whereas the Swans would occupy the final relegation spot. This came as a shock for all Saints fans who, prior to last season, had seen their team finish in the top eight for four successive seasons since their return to the big time in 2012. In a largely dismal campaign for everyone involved at the club, it was the simple cliché of being poor at both ends of the pitch. Of their 450 shots across the season, just 37 found the net. This gives a conversion rate of 8.2%; level with West Brom and above only Huddersfield on 7.7%. This resulted in a mere seven league wins from a possible 38, which was the team’s lowest total since the 2004/05 season; notably when the Saints were last relegated from England’s top-flight.


SUMMER BUSINESS

Southampton have spent £54.5 million in this summer’s transfer window; the most they’ve ever spent as they bid to stay well clear of the relegation zone ahead of the forthcoming campaign. With many like-for-like signings relating to faces that have departed St Mary’s in recent times, Southampton have secured the services of Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong, Basel winger Mohammed Elyounoussi, Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Jannik Vestergaard and goalkeeper Angus Gunn from fellow Premier League counterparts Manchester City, all of which possess enormous potential to succeed in England. The most notable departure is that of Dusan Tadic, who has returned to the Eredivisie to join Ajax, after the creative midfielder’s late surge in form aided in the Saints’ survival in what proved to be his last season with the club. Club record signing Guido Carrillo re-joins former Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino at Leganes on a season-long loan after the former Monaco “target man” proved dismal whenever given the run out in the Premier League. Sofiane Boufal’s lacklustre relationship with current boss Mark Hughes has seen him shipped out to Celta Vigo on loan and first team outcasts Jordy Clasie, Stuart Taylor and Florin Gardos have all moved on from St Mary’s too. Clasie has re-joined Feyenoord on loan whilst Taylor and Gardos have ended their association with the club entirely, having been released early in the window.


KEY PLAYER – STUART ARMSTRONG

All of Southampton’s summer swoops have the potential to shine after a good tenure of spending for the club but after last season’s inability to put the ball in the net, the exit of Dusan Tadic and based off initial pre-season performances, Stuart Armstrong already looks as if he could aid in erasing any relegation woes for Southampton.
Arriving from Scottish giants Celtic for a respectable £7 million, Armstrong was often at the forefront of Celtic’s success under Brendan Rodgers. During his three-year stint at Celtic Park, Armstrong scored 28 goals, conjured up 21 assists and has won four Scottish Premiership titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups, earning six caps for his native Scotland in the process.
Armstrong is currently in and around his prime years as a footballer and the Premier League could prove the perfect next step for him in his career. Not only does he behold the ability to create that intertwining link between midfield and attack, but he also brings goals from the middle of the park, something in which Southampton lacked all season – he’s got an almightily fine chant too. This one could prove to be an absolute bargain.


MANAGER – MARK HUGHES

Mark Hughes replaced managerial flop Mauricio Pellegrino in March 2018 on an initial deal until the end of the season, with his future being based on whether he could keep his new side in the league or not. After achieving this goal and guiding the Saints to their second trip to Wembley in successive seasons, the board backed Welshman Hughes; rewarding him with a three-year contract for his efforts.
With a pedigree of experience on and off the pitch in the Premier League, Hughes escorted former employers Stoke City to three consecutive ninth placed finishes between the 2013-14 season and 2015-16 campaign, this was then accompanied by a 13th placed finish in what turned out to be his last full season in charge of the Potters.
Ahead of the start of the Mark Hughes era at Southampton, Hughes said after his sides final pre-season match against Borussia Monchengladbach that the competitive nature of Premier League will get the best out of his players:

“We need to get up to speed. We’ve only got a week to go and there’s lots to work on, but I think everybody understands this time next week we’ll be ready to go. The mentality you need to go into key Premier League games will be there. We’ve probably had enough of friendlies and we need to get into the real stuff.”


PREDICTION – 12TH

Southampton have made some impressive signings, but I feel as if they are enduring too much of a transition period to consider challenging the league’s big guns for a European spot this time round. I feel Mark Hughes has most certainly steadied the ship in what was a shock to the system for everyone involved at the football club and need to essentially start again, walking before they can once again run.
Their business has been reassuring on and off the pitch and I feel there is no threat of relegation in sight for a side that have an incredibly likeable reputation amongst footballing neutrals across the country. Mark Hughes will bring the results back to St Mary’s, giving the south coast side some form of identity again. Ultimately no one can be sure until the season is well and truly underway. The Saints will finish in that little league that normally forms between eighth and 12th, a comfortable league finish to say the least.


PROBABLE LINE-UP

Southampton 3-4-1-2 football formation

Sub-edited by Ciaran Wiseman

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