Southampton are marching into their seventh consecutive Premier League season this afternoon, after narrowly avoiding the drop in the penultimate game of the 2017-18 season.
Such a campaign 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, there was no single issue that could front the blame for our poor season, with our squad falling short at both ends of the pitch.
Of our 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 division.
Southampton spent a grand total of £54.5M over this summer’s transfer window – the most they’ve ever spent as they attempt to steer clear of the relegation zone ahead of the forthcoming campaign.
Southampton secured the services of Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong, Basel winger Mohammed Elyounoussi, Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Jannik Vestergaard, Liverpool forward Danny Ings, and goalkeeper Angus Gunn from fellow Premier League outfit, Manchester City.
Meanwhile, the most notable departure is that of Dusan Tadic, who’s returned to the Eredivisie to join Ajax, after the creative midfielder’s late surge in form guided us away from the relegation zone.
So all in all, things could have gone far, far worse. We’ve restored some physicality back into the heart of our defence in Vestergaard, added some legs and class into our midfield through Armstrong, and attempted to directly replace Tadic’s creativity and output through Elyounoussi.
Gunn’s been drafted in to provide some much-needed competition for Alex McCarthy, and while fans are still concerned that our frontline will once again fall short, the deadline day signing of Ings has helped to recover some lost confidence. Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp believes that the former Burnley forward has never been in greater physical shape, so if he can find his role in the side early on and hit the ground running, we’re surely guaranteed 10+ goals over the course of a full Premier League season.
Elsewhere, club record signing Guido Carrillo has re-joined former Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino at Leganes on a season-long loan, while Sofiane Boufal’s lacklustre relationship with current boss Mark Hughes has seen him shipped out to Celta Vigo on loan. 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 were released by the club early in the window.
KEY PLAYER – STUART ARMSTRONG
Based off initial pre-season performances, Stuart Armstrong already looks to be a valuable member of our squad.
Arriving from Scottish giants Celtic for a respectable £7M, 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, recorded 21 assists and has won four Scottish Premiership titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups, earning six caps for 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 hold the ability to create the link between midfield and attack, he’s also capable of providing goals from the middle of the park – something Southampton lacked throughout the entirety of last season.
This one could prove to be an absolute bargain.
MANAGER – MARK HUGHES
Mark Hughes replaced 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 Premier League or not. And after achieving this goal and guiding the Saints to their second trip to Wembley in successive seasons, the board decided to back Hughes; rewarding him with a three-year contract for his efforts.
But this year is different. This time round he’s had a full pre-season with his squad, financial backing from the board and he now has the opportunity to carry out his vision over three seasons. Premier League safety alone won’t be enough if want to consider this season a success.
Hughes’ objectives over the forthcoming campaign won’t just be to steer us clear of relegation – it will also be about reinstalling confidence into our players, and encouraging a free-flowing attacking brand of football.
Our club has clearly neglected the values that they’ve publically prided themselves on in the past, so if Hughes is capable of turning a great deal of this fiction into fact, we’ll have made a promising start to life under the Welshman.
PREDICTION – 12TH
Southampton have made some impressive signings, but I feel as if they’re enduring too much of a transition period to currently consider challenging Leicester and Everton for a Europa League spot.
I strongly believe, however, that Mark Hughes has steadied and saved a sinking ship, and as a result, we must now focus on walking before trying to run.
Their dealings have been reassuring both on and off the pitch, and I feel that so long as Hughes has helped the squad to rediscover their confidence – and gained their trust in the process – there’s no threat of relegation.
We’ve got plenty enough quality to beat the drop, but as fans we need to be shown more over the course of this season before we can once again dream of European nights. Mid-table mediocrity would suit me just fine.