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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.