A Season In Review: Southampton

In this series of 20 articles, we take a look back at the Premier League season, focusing on each team individually. We take a look at transfer window activity, managerial changes, and key points throughout the season.

Check out the previous edition, focusing on Nottingham Forest here!

Transfer Windows

Southampton’s outgoings this year were minimal. Nathan Tella made a loan move to Burnley, which proved very fruitful for the winger, Stephens also moved on loan to Bournemouth, and Bednarek joined Villa on another loan.

Forster and Nathan Redmond both left as free agents, and the only permanent move Southampton made, was the departure of Romeu, who left for Spanish side Girona.

Southampton made some very interesting signings in the transfer windows, to say the least. They delved into Man City’s U21 side multiple times, bringing in Bazunu, Lavia, Edozie and Juan Lario.

Maitland-Niles joined from Arsenal on loan, and James Bree arrived from Championship side Luton, as Southampton decided to look outside of the English leagues.

Southampton made exciting signings in defence, with Caleta-Car arriving from Marseille, and Bella-Kotchap from VFL Bochum. Joe Aribo made the move across the border after signing from Rangers, and Racing Club’s Carlos Alcaraz became the other midfielder to join The Saints.

In attack, Southampton heavily invested. Mislav Orsic joined from Zagreb to help Southampton out wide, as did Sulemana from Rennes. Southampton needs goals to stay in the division this season, and they brought two strikers in to help them with this. Sekou Mara arrived from Bordeaux, and Paul Onuachu joined from Genk, rounding off their transfer windows.

On paper, it was a very good set of transfer windows from Southampton. They only lost one player permanently and replaced their loanees with permanent signings. Most of the signings were exciting ones as well, with a lot of young players joining the club.

But the lack of experience was concerning. There was nobody coming in that really knew the Premier League, that had that bit of experience. Maybe they were looking more towards the future with these signings, but it did not work out for them.

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Managerial Changes

Southampton started the season with Ralph Hasenhuttl, and it did not start well for him. He only managed 14 games of the Premier League season before facing the sack on the 7th of November, following a 4-1 loss at home to Newcastle United.

The start of the season was not all doom and gloom. Despite losing their opening game 4-1 against Spurs, they drew against Leeds and beat Leicester and Chelsea in their first 5 games. They did also pick up a point against Arsenal and a win against Bournemouth.

It did not end well for Hasenhuttl, however, as in those 14 games, he suffered 8 defeats, leaving them just in the relegation zone, and two points off the bottom of the table. The board decided enough was enough and got rid.

3 days later, Southampton made a very controversial appointment. Despite two very successful spells at Luton, the appointment was met with great disappointment. The fans wanted someone with Premier League experience to come in and guide them to safety, and instead, they got a young manager with no Premier League experience.

Because the appointment was met with disappointment, the fans reacted badly to every negative result. Nathan Jones only managed 8 Premier League games, thanks to the Winter World Cup, and he only managed a win in one of these, a 2-1 win away against Everton.

The board fired Nathan Jones after a 2-1 defeat at home against Wolves, a game in which Southampton led up until the dying stages, leaving The Saints 4 points adrift. It took Southampton a while to appoint their next manager.

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Ruben Selles took interim charge for the second time this season and saw out an impressive 1-0 win over Chelsea. This prompted the board to offer him the full-time position, and on the 24th of February, Selles was announced as the new Southampton manager.

Selles did not entirely improve his sides chances of survival. Whilst he picked up draws against Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Man United, it was the games against the teams around them which let Southampton down.

Losing against Leeds, Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Bournemouth cemented their position at the bottom of the table. Looking back, an experienced manager could have come into the club and done things differently, but the club seemed destined to be relegated this season.

Key Games

As with Leeds and Leicester, it is very hard to pick a key game for a side that has been relegated, especially for one that only won 6 games all season. For me though, it had to be that slight early season form Southampton mustered under Hasenhuttl.

It is no secret that Chelsea was an underperforming side throughout the season, their position in the league table at the end of the season showed that, but for a side who finished bottom of the table, any win against a top 6 team is a great feat.

For me, their game against Wolves, after their win against Chelsea, was their key game. Had they won that game against Wolves, they could have gone on to have a great season, confidence at a high, knowing they can perform against the big teams.

Instead, they lost 1-0, conceded just before halftime, and all confidence was shot out of them. Confidence plays a big part in the form of a football team, especially when a side is full of young players. For me, this game was the start of Southampton’s demise.

Cup Competitions

Carabao Cup

Southampton entered the Carabao Cup with a second-round fixture away against League One side Cambridge United. A brace from Che Adams and a goal from Dom Ballard secured Southampton’s progression into the next round.

In the third round, they were drawn at home against another League One side, this time Sheffield Wednesday. Josh Windass gave the League One side the lead part way through the first half, but Ward-Prowse equalised with a penalty moments before half-time.

The game laboured on and eventually went to penalties. After a clean set from both sides, Dominic Iorfa missed for the visitors, sending Southampton through to the fourth round after winning 6-5 on pens.

Southampton came up against their third League One side, this time welcoming Lincoln. After a second-minute own goal from Bazunu, Southampton settled into the game, and another Che Adams brace allowed them to progress to the quarter-finals.

After being drawn at home against Man City, many football fans thought this was going to be a straightforward game for the away side. Southampton had other ideas. Midway through the first half, they scored twice within five minutes, with Mara and Djenepo giving Southampton a 2-0 lead. They held on despite City going on to dominate, and they progressed to the semi-finals.

They were drawn against Newcastle, and the first leg was to be played at St Mary’s, giving them home advantage in the first leg. They could not make that advantage pay, however, as a sole Joelinton goal with 17 minutes to go gave Newcastle a 1-0 lead going in the second leg.

The second leg did not go as planned either. Southampton’s game plan went out the window when Longstaff scored after 5 minutes, and it was essentially game over when he scored his second midway through the first half.

Southampton did pull one back moments later through Che Adams, but Newcastle remained resilient, knocking Southampton out with a 3-1 aggregate score line.

FA Cup

Southampton entered the FA Cup in the third round, with a game against fellow Premier League side Crystal Palace. Despite falling behind early on through Edouard, Southampton rallied, as James Ward-Prowse equalised before halftime.

In the second half, Adam Armstrong gave Southampton the lead, with around 20 minutes left to play. The away side held on, as they recorded yet another victory in a cup competition.

Their reward for knocking out Crystal Palace was a home game against struggling Championship side Blackpool. Southampton struggled in this game, as Blackpool were the better team on the day. Romain Perraud put Southampton in the lead against the run of play after 22 minutes.

Perraud then doubled that lead in the second half, giving Southampton a commanding but not entirely deserved lead. Arsenal loanee Charlie Patino got on the scoresheet moments later for Blackpool, as they finished the game strongly, but could not push Southampton to a replay.

Southampton were then drawn against League Two side Grimsby Town at home, which looked to be an easy way into the next round. Gavan Holohan had different ideas as he netted a penalty either side of halftime to give the away side a shock 2-0 lead.

Ćaleta-Car pulled one back with 25 minutes left to play, but Southampton could not find their way past the resilient Grimsby defence again, as they suffered a humiliating defeat.

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Season Overall

It is disappointing for any side to get relegated, but the way Southampton did it must have been abysmal for their supporters. Just 6 wins in the league all season, bottom of the table for 75% of the season, and 3 managers, all performing even worse than the last one.

A transfer window full of primarily unknown players with no experience, 4 signed from another team’s youth squad, and strikers coming into the club who nobody had heard of.

Their only positive of the season was the performance of James Ward-Prowse, who actually finished as their top scorer with 9 in the league. I would be very surprised if he dropped down into The Championship, he is far too good to be playing his football there.

Despite all the doom and gloom of the Premier League season, they did exceptionally well in the cup competitions. Making it to the fifth round in the FA Cup was a success, and it was a shame they got knocked out by a league-two side.

They did brilliantly to knock Man City out of the Carabao Cup, and were one step away from the final, as they lost to Newcastle over both legs. It is just a shame they could not bring these performances from the cups over to the Premier League.

Overall, it has been a very poor season for Southampton, and I do not believe they are strong enough to come straight back up next season, with the quality now in the Championship, but time will tell.

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