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.
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…
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.
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.
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.