Author Archives: Sam Cox

Podcast: End of season review

The curtain fell on the 2018/19 Premier League with Southampton having another rollercoaster year.

Ralph Hasenhuttl was brought into St Mary’s to do the job of his predecessor Mark Hughes the season prior.

Saints had only nine points on the board when the Welshman was sacked following defeat to fellow strugglers Fulham and a 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

The Austrian breathed new life into Saints as the 30 points accumulated since his arrival sealed our place in the Premier League next season.

Join us on the EPL Round Table as we review Southampton’s season, talking:

>Player of the season

>Young Player of the season

>Transfers

>And much more

The curious case of Dusan Tadic

The narrative of Dusan Tadic being a Southampton misfit and reject is quickly becoming as tiresome and lazy as a starting XI composed of players who have left the club.

Without Tadic last season, there’s no doubt that we would have been playing Championship football this season, and throughout our disappointing campaign, Tadic finished as our second highest goal scorer and assist maker.

During our most important home match of the season against Bournemouth, Tadic stepped up and scored both goals to give Saints a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League.  

The three managerial appointments following Ronald Koeman’s tenure took the club from European nights to relegation fights whilst failing to develop and get the best from the squad; no player was a victim of this more than Tadic.

In the two seasons under Koeman, Tadic scored a combined 11 goals and registered 19 assists; whereas in the two seasons under Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes he scored a combined nine goals and registered eight assists.

Since joining Ajax in the summer for an estimated £10 million, the Dutch giants have seen the best from him. The Serbia international has scored 22 goals and registered 11 assists in the league alone this season whilst scoring six goals and registering three assists in the Champions League.

It is worth noting the notable lack of class in the Eredivise when compared to the Premier League but Tadic has always been a man for the big occasion so it’s no surprise to see him playing a key part in Ajax’s Champions League campaign.

As Ajax have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League no performance dazzled more than Tadic’s in the round-of-16 second leg against holders, Real Madrid. With the Dutch side trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Tadic scored once and created two assists as they overcame the odds to win 4-1 and progress to the quarter-finals.

Although Tadic was frustrating at times, we always saw glimpses if not substantial evidence of his quality as a playmaker. In terms of overall Premier League assists Tadic isn’t in bad company.

By registering a combined 27 assists in the Premier League for Southampton, he’s second only to Matt Le Tissier and above the likes of Marian Pahars and Adam Lallana in the overall standings.

Southampton’s recruitment has severely damaged the club in recent times and Tadic’s move away from the club has looked a bad piece of business due to his replacement, Mohamed Elyounoussi, struggling to find his feet in the Premier League.

You could argue that his transfer to Ajax in summer was in the interest of both Southampton and Tadic. We were able to receive an eight figure fee for the attacker whilst he was given the opportunity to play Champions League football and compete for domestic trophies.

Although we miss a player of Tadic’s quality, it’s unfair to criticise Southampton when seeing him thrive in the right system and under a genuine coach.

Complacency

Despite Southampton taking a giant step towards Premier League survival with victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, the season is far from over. 

At the time of Mark Hughes’s sacking, Southampton found themselves 18th in the Premier League following a 2-2 draw with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. 

The result at face value wouldn’t have be enough to see the Welshman lose his job, but after defeat to Fulham a week before and the fact Saints had led 2-0 against the Red Devils, the board felt it was necessary to relieve Hughes of his managerial duties

The club were arguably under a cloud of negativity after the past three managerial appointments had taken the club from European nights to relegation fights; the board knew this was their final roll of the dice.

Sacking a manager is only as effective as their replacement, so when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s name was circulating to replace Hughes, perhaps Saints had found an improvement to their previous employee. 

Hasenhuttl was appointed as Southampton’s new manager prior to the 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

In the Austrian’s first seven league games in charge, he had already matched Hughes’s three league wins as Saints boss whilst beating one of the top six; something his two predecessors couldn’t. 

The improvement is there for all to see under Hasenhuttl, from points tally to individual performances. Southampton have picked up 24 points since the Austrian took the reigns at St Mary’s and looking at a table comprised of results in 2019, we would sit fifth. 

When the Austrian first arrived, the negativity surrounding the club began to disappear as optimism grew. Picking up 13 points from Hasenhuttl’s first eight matches in charge led to fans looking up the table rather than over our shoulder. 

However, we were brought straight back down to earth when Saints only took two points from a possible nine against relegation rivals, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff City.

The home performances against Palace and Cardiff showed the holes in our squad as we were fortunate to gain a point against the Eagles and we threw away a point against the Bluebirds. 

Had we gained maximum points in the two matches against Neil Warnock’s side we would be sitting on 39 points whilst they would have 22; showing how valuable each point gained and lost is in the Premier League.  

Looking at the final seven games of the season, Saints have arguably the ‘nicest’ run-in when compared to Cardiff, Burnley and Brighton’s fixtures. We only face one of the top five whereas Cardiff play two of the top five, Burnley three and Brighton two. 

There’s still a lot to play for in the Premier League this season with each team trying to achieve their individual goals. Whether it be European qualification, trophies or survival, every game will effect the table until the final day meaning every team has something to play for.

This means games against Wolves, Watford, Newcastle, Bournemouth and West Ham will be much harder than they appear at face value. Wolves, West Ham and Watford are both competing for seventh place whilst Bournemouth will be desperate to beat us for the first time in six games.

In the reverse fixtures against these teams, Saints only picked up three points from a possible 15. Three more points may be enough to keep us up, but it would also lead to another nervy end to the season.

The saving grace could be the final day fixture against already relegated Huddersfield Town. However, the Terriers won’t roll over even though their fate is sealed.

Hasenhuttl has reconnected the fans with the players on the pitch by having a clear attacking strategy and showing passion on the sidelines. It may be a small thing, but having a manager that interacts with the fans post match makes all the difference; and shows he values our support.

With the positive atmosphere returning to St Mary’s we must take advantage of this and look to pull further away from the relegation zone. We as fans can’t get carried away or complacent as Hasenhuttl won’t let the players do the same. 

We have to be realistic and despite being close to Premier League survival; our expectations can’t outgrow the abilities of those on the pitch.  

Jannik Vestergaard; beginning to prove his worth?

After a shaky start to life at Southampton, Jannik Vestergaard is starting to show why the club brought him in to replace Virgil Van Dijk.

In January 2017, a Van Dijk shaped hole was left at the heart of our defence following the Dutchman’s £75 million departure to Liverpool. By not replacing in the same transfer window, Saints’ task of staying in the Premier League seemingly hardened.

The emergence of Jan Bednarek coinciding with Maya Yoshida’s leadership qualities kept Southampton in the division by the skin of our teeth; bringing in a centre back was imperative in the summer.

Southampton turned to Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Danish centre-back Vestergaard to strengthen an already fragile backline.

During the 2017/18 Bundesliga season, Vestergaard averaged just under two tackles and five clearances per game; scoring three goals in the process. This alongside his immense aerial presence saw him fit to fill the void left by Van Dijk.

Vestergaard made his Southampton debut in the uninspiring 0-0 opening day draw against Burnley where, for the most part, the Dane looked solid. From that point onwards, however, it appeared that it was going to take Vestergaard longer to adapt to the fast paced nature of the Premier League than we’d hoped.

Vestergaard was caught out on a number of occasions through a lack of pace and positional awareness after steaming into midfield areas creating space in-behind the back line. Despite his great height, we were yet to see the Denmark international take command in the air as Saints’ achilles heel of conceding from set plays hindered us consistently.

Playing under Mark Hughes may have also hindered his progress. The Welshman’s teams are renowned for shipping goals and during his last four full seasons in management, his sides have conceded 214 times collectively.

Hughes’s inconsistent tactics and formations caused major confusion for the entire squad, let alone a player trying to adapt to new surroundings.  

Throughout pre-season, Hughes worked on and implemented the 5-3-2 formation that kept us in the Premier League. However, after it proved ineffective during the first half performance against Burnley, the former Manchester United striker switched to a 4-4-2.

As results failed to pick up and Southampton slid towards the foot of the table, Hughes’s decisions looked more baffling by the day. In an attempt to save his job, the Welshman stuck by the defenders that kept Saints up and dropped Vestergaard to fourth in the pecking order behind Wesley Hoedt, Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida, .

Vestergaard was in danger of following the path of Juanmi, Gaston Ramirez, Dani Osvaldo and Emmanuel Mayuka as another failed transfer.

As Saints’ league position worsened, unsurprisingly, Hughes was dismissed and replaced by former RB Leipzig manager, Ralph Hasenhuttl.

The Austrian has breathed life into a dejected and depleted squad which has given us a real chance of staying in the Premier League.

Hasenhuttl has brought players such as Bednarek, James Ward-Prowse and Vestergaard in from the cold; and they haven’t let him down.

Saints have reverted back to a 5-3-2 under Hasenhuttl and the clear identity in tactics and formation is beginning to get the best out of Vestergaard and the whole squad.

Under Hughes’s guidance this season, Southampton conceded an average of 1.73 goals per game, whilst under Hasenhuttl, we’ve concede an average of 1.4 goals per game.

Bednarek and Vestergaard are beginning to form an impressive partnership as they continue to compliment each other’s weaknesses. Bednarek proves to be a more no-nonsense defender whilst the Denmark international looks comfortable on the ball and opts to pass his way out of trouble.     

Adding the Premier League experience of Yoshida into the mix, Southampton have started to look less fragile at the back.

Vestergaard still has a long way to go in order to fill the void left by Van Dijk and, perhaps, he never will. The Dutchman has shown the world the quality we saw week-in week-out since playing for Liverpool and any team would fail to replace him.

Although he may not be the leader our backline is still crying out for, under Hasenhuttl, Vestergaard will prove to be an asset rather than a hindrance.  

The return of ‘The Southampton Way’?

Ralph Hasenhuttl has been at the Southampton helm for over three months and the signs are suggesting ‘The Southampton Way’ is returning.

When you think of ‘The Southampton Way’ you see a strategy that consists of promoting youth team players and developing transfer window buys whilst producing an exciting brand of football. It’s safe to say Hasenhuttl has invested into this.

During and after Ronald Koeman’s time at the club, it appeared that the production line of hungry talented youngsters had stopped as the chances and trust in our academy players seemingly vanished.

Regardless of targets, whether it be European qualification or relegation survival, in recent times Southampton needed quick and immediate success and couldn’t afford the time it would take to develop our future stars.

However, since the Austrian replaced Mark Hughes at St Mary’s, we have seen first team debuts handed to Callum Slattery, Tyreke Johnson, Kayne Ramsay and Marcus Barnes; despite Saints being in a relegation battle.

This not only shows the faith Hasenhuttl has in his own ability; but the faith he has in the ability of our academy.

Not only have we seen academy prospects make their debuts, we’ve seen more established academy players play prominent roles in our upturn in form.

Through a combination of poor managerial appointments and a lack of opportunity, many thought James Ward-Prowse’s days were numbered at Southampton. However, since the Austrian’s arrival, Ward-Prowse has arguably been in the form of his career; scoring six goals in nine league games.

Eyebrows raised when Hasenhuttl allowed Cedric Soares to join Inter Milan on loan in January; leaving Southampton with the in-experienced Yan Valery and Kayne Ramsay as our options at right-back.

However, in the weeks that have followed, Valery has proven Hasenhuttl right with performances that have shown promise and ability. A goal-of-the-season contender against Manchester United and a crucial equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur has shown his growth in quality and confidence.

Time will tell if the decision not to buy any players in the January transfer window will prove to be a hindrance but the names we were linked with may suggest a shift in transfer policy from the club.

Saints were actively pursuing Birmingham City’s Che Adams who has scored 21 goals and registered three assists so far this season in the Championship. A deal never materialised on deadline day as Gary Monk kept hold of his star striker.

Alongside Adams, we were linked with Brentford pair Ollie Watkins and Chris Mepham and Genk’s Joakim Maelhe.

With Watkins being the oldest out of these players, 23, this suggests the club will actively pursue younger players from the UK; especially as the signings of Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong have proved to be more successful than the signings of Mohamed Elyounoussi and Sofiane Boufal.

Apart from Koeman’s successful appointment at the club, the appointments of Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes had taken us from sixth place in the Premier League to 17th. The board knew this was their last roll of the dice to keep us in the division and to reconnect and reignite fans’ interest.

By appointing a manager who only achieved fewer points than Bayern Munich across the past two Bundesliga seasons, it felt like a move the club would have made under the stewardship of former chairman, Nicola Cortese.

Despite question marks over Gao Jisheng’s ownership of the club, it finally feels like we’re moving in the right direction and instead of turning up at St Mary’s feeling uninterested, excitement is beginning to build.

The atmosphere inside the ground and around the club has changed significantly; with both fans and players sparking reactions from one another.

After seeing Mauricio Pochettino and Koeman depart St Mary’s following success at Southampton; we know Hasenhuttl won’t be here forever. But after seeing he foundations he’s beginning to lay already; I’m much more optimistic about our future.

Podcast: Talking Saints, Hughes and Hasenhuttl

With Southampton sitting 18th in the Premier League after only one win this season, Mark Hughes was relieved of managerial duties. 

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Defeat in a crucial match against Fulham was followed by Hughes’s side surrendering a 2-0 lead against Manchester United as time ran out for ‘Sparky’.

Former RB Leipzig manager Ralph Hasenhuttle is set to replace the Welshman at St Mary’s as Southampton look to pull away from the relegation zone.

Join us on the EPL Round Table where we discuss…

  • Mark Hughes’s appointment
  • The summer transfer window
  • Hughes’s shortcomings
  • And Hasenhuttl’s imminent appointment

Fulham: Hero and Villain

Just as you thought Southampton’s season couldn’t get any worse, Mark Hughes’ team surrendered three points to Fulham in a match we couldn’t afford to lose.

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The Welshman’s future at the club is now in serious jeopardy as Saints look like a relegation waiting to happen. Last season, we slept walked into a relegation scrap, but this year we’re hurtling towards the drop zone with an inability to turn our season around.

Hero

The only true positive to take from yesterday’s defeat was the performance by Stuart Armstrong. The Scotland international was at the heart of all that was good from Saints and he took both of his goals expertly.

His first opened the scoring as he calmly chested down an attempted clearance to slot past Sergio Rico; and his second was arguably the pick of the bunch. He latched onto a Cedric back heel to slam the ball into the top corner.

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Saints have been crying out for goals from midfield for the past two seasons and after an injury hit start to life at St Mary’s, bagging a brace at Craven Cottage will bring back some much needed confidence as Armstrong tries to cement his name on the team sheet.

Armstrong’s performance yesterday was the only positive to take from our defeat as Saints failed to maintain a lead and adapt to shifts in momentum.

Villain

Wesley Hoedt. The Dutchman, once again, proved more of a hinderance than help as his inability to deal with the pace and power of Premier League attackers was there for all to see.

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He was caught ball watching for Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first as the Serbia international was unchallenged to head past Alex McCarthy.

Mitrovic’s second and Fulham’s third was inexcusable from Hoedt’s point of view as he gifted possession away on the touchline. As a result, he found himself out of position as Mitrovic volleyed home the winner.

During his Southampton career, he hasn’t shown any signs of leadership and it’s still a mystery how he maintains his place in the side after consistent poor performances.

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Following Huddersfield’s 2-0 win away to Wolves, Southampton have slipped into the relegation zone whilst having the least amount of wins to our name.

The defeat yesterday has left us with more questions than answers and with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur up next, our winless run looks set to continue.

Is sacking Hughes the answer?

Southampton’s disappointing start to the season continued following the draw at home with Watford as the Saints failed to maintain a lead once again, but if our poor run continues away to Fulham, would sacking Mark Hughes be the answer?

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The Welshman took the reigns at St Mary’s with the club battling against relegation at the back end of last season. Hughes had only eight games to save the Saints and after a 1-0 win away to Swansea in a relegation shootout; he did.

His initial contract was only until the end of the 2017/18 season and after Southampton maintained their Premier League status, Hughes was the obvious choice to guide Saints into the 2018/19 season.

Much like last season, Saints’ opening fixtures to this campaign looked favourable on paper.

But as the Premier League season kicked off, the same problems that saw Saints sleepwalk into a relegation battle last campaign were apparent to see.

Saints have had an inability to put the ball in the back of the net whilst keeping it out of their own for the past three seasons. During Hughes’ 20 league games in charge, Southampton have scored 16 goals whilst conceding 33.

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A lack of confidence, especially when taking the lead in games, has cost Saints immensely. Against Leicester City, the second home match of the season, Saints were arguably the better side up until Ryan Bertrand gave Saints the lead.

However, it took the Foxes only four minutes after conceding to equalise as Demarai Gray slotted past Alex McCarthy.

Leicester had their tails up and were in the ascendency as Saints couldn’t handle the shift in momentum.

The defence held strong up until the second minute of injury time when Harry Maguire’s tame effort found its way into the back of the net.

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Since the Welshman has been at the helm, his side have dropped 18 points from winning positions from the end of last season and the beginning of this current campaign.

Neither Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino or Hughes could prevent a gradual slide down the table and fans began to direct their frustration to the hierarchy of the club.

After poor transfer dealings alongside uninspiring managerial appointments post Ronald Koeman, Vice-Chairman Les Reed and Technical Director Martin Hunter left the club by mutual consent.

Reed undoubtedly played a big part in the club’s rise to European football but he was ultimately responsible for the recent failings at the club.

Since Reed and Hunter’s departure Saints have been linked with Norwich City’s technical director Stuart Webber, Leicester’s head of recruitment Eduardo Macia and former Southampton head of recruitment and current RB Leipzig sporting director Paul Mitchell.

It’s unclear at the moment what affect this will have on the pitch, but it’s a change that was long overdue.

Saturday’s fixture against Fulham is a relegation six-pointer; there’s no two ways about it.

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Fulham currently sit bottom of the Premier League and on the back of six consecutive defeats, Slavisa Jokanovic was replaced by Claudio Ranieri at Craven Cottage.

The Italian returns to the Premier League after spells with Chelsea and most recently Leicester; where he masterminded arguably the greatest feat in English football history.

Ranieri lit up the Premier League whilst in charge of the Foxes due to his heart-warming, entertaining and honest press conferences and these factors reflect from his teams on the pitch.

Southampton have reached the stage in the season where they’ll take three points any way they’ll come. Ideally, the players will show they have the qualities to start climbing the table, but after the poor start to the season it’s about getting points on the board instead of glittering performances.

If Hughes is to keep his job, his team need to leave West London with three points; anything other than that could potentially see the fans lose patience with the Welshman entirely.

After working and implementing the 5-3-2 formation that kept Saints in the Premier League throughout pre-season, Hughes brought the players back to square one only 45 minutes into the new season.

During the first half of the campaign opener against Burnley the formation proved to be ineffective and, rightly, Hughes switched to a 4-4-2 which saw an improved second half performance.

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Despite matches against Liverpool and Chelsea, Saints have lined up in the 4-4-2 or most recently in a 4-3-3. This suggests that Hughes himself doesn’t know his best team or formation which potentially causes confusion amongst the players.

The dilemma Southampton face is that they run the risk of following clubs such as Aston Villa and Sunderland if they decide to change managers.

Looking at those available, Saints will only appoint another like for like manager as the club are reluctant to look at those already in jobs.

Going down the route of firing and hiring for short term success isn’t a sustainable model, but after the appointments of Puel and Pellegrino proved unsuccessful, the club may shy away from a ‘left-field’ appointment.

Results are everything in football and ultimately if Southampton don’t turn their season around the club will be left with no choice but to sack Hughes.

Hughes has arguably taken over the club in it’s weakest position since promotion to the Premier League and the current squad lacks the quality we had under Koeman and the momentum it had under Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino.

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At the moment it appears the dressing room is still behind the manager as a number of players have publicly backed him in interviews.

Last season the club showed that they will give the manager time to turn the situation around as Pellegrino maintained his job far longer than anyone expected he would.

With Hughes in charge, the club has someone with a vast amount of Premier League experience and appointing someone on the basis of bringing in top flight experience wouldn’t make sense.

The results against Fulham and Cardiff will ultimately decide Hughes fate as the club will reportedly review the managerial situation after Saturday’s match.

The season so far…

Seven games into the 2018/19 Premier League season, and the cracks from last season are already reappearing at Southampton.

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Apart from a trip to Anfield, many would argue that, on paper, Southampton’s opening games were favourable. But after picking up just five points in seven games, it’s looking to be another long season for Saints’ supporters.

In home matches against Burnley, Leicester City and Brighton and Hove Albion, the Saints picked up an underwhelming two points following draws against the Clarets and the Seagulls whilst surrendering a second-half lead against the Foxes in a 2-1 defeat.

Things haven’t been much better on the road, either. Our only win of the season came at Crystal Palace thanks to goals from Danny Ings and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg.

Other than the victory at Selhurst Park, Southampton have failed to gain any points in away fixtures against Everton, Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers – and despite two victories in the Carabao Cup, it’s the same issues that are costing Saints points in the league.

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Southampton’s Achilles heel last season was their inability to hold onto a lead, and this is haunting them yet again this season. 21 points were dropped from winning positions last campaign, and this season Saints have already dropped five points in games in which they’ve taken the lead.

Fingers will start to be pointed at Mark Hughes, but this has been an issue ever since Ronald Koeman left the club. Since then, Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino, and Hughes have all struggled to adapt their squads to shifts in momentum during games.

At home to Leicester, Southampton were rewarded for their control of the game as Ryan Bertrand fired in the opening goal on 52 minutes. However, as the Foxes turned their focus into getting back into the game, Saints looked like a different side and capitulated. Demarai Gray equalised four minutes later before Harry Maguire snatched all three points in injury time, leaving fans bewildered as to how the team threw the points away.

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Although the same issues have been holding Saints back across the past three seasons, Hughes isn’t entirely blameless for this season’s failings.

Throughout pre-season, the Welshman implemented and worked on the 5-3-2 formation that kept Saints in the Premier League last season. However, during the opening day fixture against Burnley the system failed to have its desired effect and Hughes adapted to a 4-4-2 which saw Saints improve in the second half.

Apart from the trip to Anfield, Hughes has opted to use the 4-4-2 since the draw against Burnley; scrapping the system worked on during pre-season. As a result, the players and management have had to go back to square one in terms of transferring the ideas from training ground into matches.

Hughes’ substitutions have also been questionable this season; in particular in the match against Brighton at home. With Southampton trying to maintain their lead after Shane Duffy pulled a goal back for the visitors, James Ward-Prowse and Manolo Gabbiadini were introduced for Mohammed Elyounoussi and Shane Long.

With six minutes remaining, Steven Davis replaced Danny Ings to try and add more defensive stability to the side. Not only did we have a similar player in Ward-Prowse on the pitch, it also prevented us trying to kill the game off. Brighton predictably claimed a late point, when Glenn Murray netted a 90th minute penalty and Saints once again let a lead slip.

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Although Southampton have continually struggled to score goals, our defence this season has been our weakest department. The centre back partnership of Wesley Hoedt and Jannick Vestergaard has given Southampton a fragile spine in defence.

Neither defenders have seemingly taken control of a backline lacking a commanding leader leaving Southampton vulnerable from set pieces and quality attacks. 13 Premier League goals have been conceded so far this season and it may be time for Hughes to experiment with the other defenders in his squad.

Individual errors alongside our inability to prevent soft goals have ultimately cost us so far this season. Hughes needs to stick to his guns, and create the identity he originally wanted to see from his team in order to keep his job.

There is potential in this squad, but if players and management continue to make the same mistakes, then we won’t be able to progress.

The early promise shown by Danny Ings

We may only be four games into the 2018/19 Premier League season, but the early signs suggest that Southampton Football Club and Danny Ings are meant to be.

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Cast your mind back to the summer transfer window. After the acquisition of Stuart Armstrong, Angus Gunn, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Jannick Vestergaard, Southampton had shown that they were willing to spend, and at least improve the squad that so nearly slipped down to the Championship last season. But while these signings provided depth and hope for the future, there was still one area on the pitch that desperately needed addressing.

Under Ronald Koeman, Southampton scored 120 Premier League goals across the two seasons that the Dutchman was in charge. And in the two seasons following his departure to Everton, Southampton have registered a measly 79 Premier League goals.

The departures of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle’ left Saints lacking firepower upfront, and ever since, the club have failed to re-discover the goalscoring touch that they once had. Injuries to Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin denied each striker a chance to build any goalscoring momentum, while our big money signings Guido Carillo and Sofiane Boufal failed to adapt to life in the Premier League.

So after an impressive start to his career on the south coast, Danny Ings has the Southampton fanbase questioning whether we’ve finally found our starting striker…

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During Saints’ opening match of the season against Burnley, the Clarets were unfortunate not to be leading at the break, with Mark Hughes’ 5-2-2-1 formation proving ineffective.

As a result the Welshman called for changes in the 56th minute, and handed both Elyounoussi and Ings their debuts, in addition to switching to a 4-4-2 formation.

The introduction of Ings instantly gave our frontline a new look, as well as raising the intensity of others around him. There was no denying it, Hughes’ men looked dangerous in the second 45.

Both of the goals that he’s scored this season have been typical of his former Burnley self, and it’s somewhat reminded the fans what we’ve so desperately been missing over the past two seasons.

His first came at Goodison Park, where he displayed intelligent positioning to find space inside a crowded penalty area to tap home Mario Lemina’s flick-on at the near post. And his second came at Selhurst Park, where his quick reactions, pace and mobility allowed him to latch onto a through ball by Cedric Soares, and slot calmly below Wayne Hennessy.

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Following an injury hit career at Liverpool, many believed that Ings was a busted flush as he failed to make his mark for the Reds. However, when you take a look at the statistics from his first four games for the Saints, they suggest that he’s still an incredibly dangerous attacking outlet.

Ings isn’t afraid to let fly when he gets sight of goal, having registered 3.5 shots per game. In comparison to Southampton’s other attacking outlets this is the highest out of the squad. Austin has registered 1.8, Long has registered 1.0, and Nathan Redmond has registered 2.3.

In comparison to the rest of the league, Ings also ranks fourth in xG (expected goals), with a figure of 0.74 per game.

During his first four appearances, Ings has even regained possession of the ball 2.16 times per game, showing that he’s not only effective on the ball, but off it too. This is no doubt some of Jurgen Klopp’s influence shining through – and this proactive mentality can only be positive for our squad.

What was particularly pleasing against Crystal Palace, however, was the way in which Ings combined with Long upfront. In truth, many believed Long’s days were numbered at Saints following the arrival of Ings, but if they continue to work in the same fashion that they did at Selhurst Park, Long may prove to be a useful asset once again.

He’s no goalscorer, granted, but if Ings, Redmond and Elyounoussi can deliver, then he’s got a number of particularly useful assets that he can offer to the side.

What worked so well against Crystal Palace was that Long provided effective hold up play, which in turn allowed Ings to make ground behind the defensive line. They also complimented each others strengths and weaknesses. Long’s capable of playing the more physical game and peeling off out wide, while Ings is the more technical player and the better finisher.

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The only question mark that looms over the Englishman now is his injury record. At Liverpool, two long-term injuries saw him on the treatment table for a combined 498 days, making him unavailable for selection in 85 fixtures. During the 2015/16 season, Ings ruptured his cruciate ligament – and only five months after returning to full fitness, he had an operation on his knee which saw him miss the entirety of 2016/17 season.

But above all else, at a time when football fans feel more distant from the players and club than ever before, it’s nice to see a player on the pitch that seemingly cares for the club as much as those in the stands.

I’ve got a funny feeling that Ings could prove to be a real fan favourite.