Many Southampton fans are unhappy with how the 2016-17 season turned out, but should they be? There were many clubs that performed below par last season, and none more so than the former Champions Leicester City. Other teams like Manchester City, Stoke City and West Ham will all be looking for a big improvement on last term too.
Southampton manager Claude Puel has come under criticism, but it’s kind of weird how a successful season comes back to haunt a club. Southampton came 6th in the league in the 2015-16 season and finished on 63pts. In the major football betting markets last season, the betting firms were clearly not fancying the Saints to repeat that. The problem that Claude Puel faced was twofold.
Had the Saints Peaked?
The fact is that Southampton are not a “top six” club despite coming 6th in the 2015-16 season. Their financial resources are far behind the traditional big six in England, so it was always going to be difficult for the Saints to replicate their previous form. Secondly (and something that went largely unnoticed) every single team in the top six finished last season with more points than the previous season.
This acted like a syphon on the rest of the division and led to many clubs being compressed in terms of points totals. An absolutely staggering 94pts more were earned by the top six clubs in the 2016-17 season, than in the previous year. This is a factor that must be taken into consideration when we look to assess Puel’s first season in the top flight of English football.
Many Saints fans were unhappy at how they finished the campaign, but they were not the only club to tail off towards the end. Southampton finished the season winning only two form their final nine, and it’s safe to say that such form is worrying for onlooking fans. However, there are a number of key factors that would have no doubt played their part in this poor run.
The shoulder injury to Charlie Austin was a big loss to the Saints, having fired in six goals in just thirteen appearances wearing the red and white stripes. A big negative for the Southampton fans over the 2016/17 season was their lack of goals overall, and this is an area that Puel (if he stays beyond this season) needs to correct.
Austin finished the season as the clubs highest scorer, and that is staggering considering he spent five months out injured. It’s clear that the Southampton fans expect greater contributions from players such as Shane Long, Jay Rodriguez and even Manolo Gabbiadini to some extent.
Long is a hit and miss striker and his stats are there back that up. Just 18 goals from 89 appearances won’t give opposing defenders sleepless nights before a game. As for Rodriguez, there are glimpses of his former self as games go by, but to tell the truth, he’s never been the same since that injury in 2014.
Gabbiadini arrived in the January transfer window from Napoli, where he scored 15 goals from 56 games, and a grand total of 42 goals during the entirety of his time in Italy. He kicked off life on South coast in immense form, scoring six from his first four appearances, but then ended the season on that same tally.
Do the Saints have the quality they need?
The fact is that Southampton clearly cannot go out and buy the top quality strikers like other clubs can. They need to stumble on a new “wonder kid” or another gem using their black box method to recruitment, and whilst the jury is still very much out on just how good Gabbiadini is, fans will want to see a greater involvement from the Italian come next season.
This makes Charlie Austin key to their chances of a successful year in the 2017-18 season. Austin has scored 93 goals in 183 games for Burnley, QPR and Southampton, and that goal every other game strike rate is exactly what the Saints need. They can’t just go into next season relying on Austin though, and they need better back up beyond Gabbiadini. Is it time for both Long and Rodriguez to move on?
Free-flowing attacking football has been engraved into the DNA of Southampton Football Club in recent years, and in order for fans to look back on the 2016-17 season as a strong building block, that needs to be corrected; I’m certain that Charlie Austin will play a vital role in doing so.