It may not have been for long but last November saw Southampton reach the summit of the Premier League table and, although talk of a subsequent title pursuit may have been wishful thinking, European qualification for next season certainly was not. However, on their current form Southampton will be looking over their shoulders rather than towards the higher echelons of the league.
During the unpredictable start to the current campaign, the Saints were certainly holding their own against more established names and it seemed like justification for keeping manager Ralph Hasenhüttl in gainful employment. After overseeing his team suffer a 9-0 thrashing at the hands of Leicester last season, it would have been incredibly easy for the Southampton board to show the Austrian the exit door but they have been rewarded for keeping the faith in the 53-year-old.
Hasenhüttl carried out plenty of soul searching and, after the nadir of the Leicester defeat, both manager and the Southampton players alike would find a new level of confidence and form in the second half of last season.
It spilled over into the first few months of this campaign as well and, if climbing to the highest rung of the league ladder can be considered the high-water mark of their efforts, the current form of Southampton is a long way away from such a measure.
Although the FA Cup has offered an element of respite, their woes in the league are clear for all to see and. Since getting the better of Liverpool at the start of January, they have lost their next six outings. It has been a wretched run of form and, if Southampton are to have any dreams of playing in Europe next season, they will probably need to put all their eggs in a Wembley sized basket between now and May.
Only three wins stand between them and a repeat of the club’s incredible 1976 success in the competition and, with such a short route to continental football, you would not blame an increased amount of focus on potential cup success.
However, when you consider their potential FA Cup foes and the extent to which their league form if stuttering at present, there is no guarantee that they will find a necessary catalyst.
So where has it all gone wrong recently? One argument is that Southampton’s form is a regression to the mean and their current performances are just a recalibration of how the season wa bouncd to pan out, given their lack of investment in transfers. Even if there is an element of truth to that, their progess under Hasenhüttl will only have raised expectations and, inevitably, with heightened expectation comes greater disappointment.
Based on their last half-dozen league outings, fingers will be pointed at Southampton’s defending who have conceded 20 goals in that period. Of course, it is a statistic that is heavily influenced by the fact that The Saints suffered a second 9-0 mauling of Hasenhüttl’s reign as Manchester United run riot at Old Trafford. Even removing that frak result though, The Saints have still conceded over two goals per game in the remaining five which is far too many.
Concededing an average of 2.2 goals to the opposition per game is the currency of relegation and although such a fate will not arrive this season, if only because there are far worse offerings at present, the slide will not have gone unnoticed.
Football is a results driven business and with Southampton currently in the midst of heavy financial constraints, the race for end of season prize money becomes all the more prevalent.
Ultimately, the higher their finishing position, the less the urgency to sell a crown jewel such as Danny Ings or James Ward-Prowse and therefore, Southampton are not a team who can simply rest on their laurels and allow this dip in form knowing that they are probably safe from the Premier League relegation battle.
Much has been made of Gao Jisheng’s desire to sell the club and although talks with American businessman Joseph DaGrosa entered a period of exclusivity, the owner of Bordeaux baulked at the asking price of £200m.
Viewed as too steep a figure in the current climate, it has left Southampton’s Chinese owner in something of a bind and the longer that the club stay in limbo both on and off the pitch, the greater danger of them eventually being left behind.
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