Oh what a season it has already been. Just 13 matches into the Premier League campaign, Southampton find themselves sitting 18th place in the table and a total of two points away from safety. While manager Mark Hughes is likely on the way out following Saints’ recent 3-2 defeat away to Fulham, Southampton clearly have more than just managerial problems at the moment.
This includes a variety of issues with the Saints’ first team. Terrible and incredibly inconsistent defending, a lack of finishing up front and a consistent failure to see out matches from a winning position. While some of the team’s issues do come down to the failed management of Hughes, these other issues show that Southampton have some real problems on the players’ side as well.
Southampton’s First Team Problems
What a fall it has been for Southampton when it comes to defending. Just a few years ago, Southampton looked to have one of the strongest defensive backlines in the entire Premier League. Led by captain Jose Fonte, Southampton also started Virgil van Dijk along with two young and impressive full-backs named Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand.
Those days are now long forgotten. Over the last year and a half, that wall has come crumbling down. With five separate centre-backs starting at least one match this season, Saints have failed to find any quality or consistency at the centre of their backline. Adding to this are the struggles of both Cedric and Ryan Bertrand, who have both looked to be Championship level backups at times this season.
While goalkeeper Alex McCarthy continues to be one of the club’s lone bright spots, the issues in front of him will continue to plague the club going forward. Whether it be down to management or just the combined inconsistency of the first team’s defensive unit, Southampton are likely to continue in their struggles for the remainder of the campaign.
Attack Lacks Bite
Though Southampton have seen a boost in terms of their attack thanks to the arrival of Danny Ings, the club still have many issues to sort out when it comes to their attack. With Manolo Gabbiadini, Charlie Austin and Shane Long continuing to struggle in the goal scoring department, Southampton really do lack any real bite at the offensive end of the pitch.
Heck, the issues have become so bad that with both Ings and Long out of action, Southampton have given 18-year-old star of the future Michael Obafemi action in the last three straight Premier League affairs. While Obafemi is without a doubt an extremely talented player, the Ireland international still has a ways to go before he can be considered a true Premier League player.
Even worse, this continued lack of goalscoring comes following a renewed push to improve the midfield and wing play. Even with players like Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Stuart Armstrong behind them, the Saints attacking players cannot find the back of the net on a consistent basis. A troubling sign for more than a few years now, putting faith in yet another January transfer seems foolhardy at this stage.
Lack of Leadership. But Where?
Five times this season Southampton has had a lead during Premier League action. By the end of four of those matches, Southampton have either taken a draw or suffered a terrible defeat. This is not a new development either as this happened many times last season as well. Unfortunately, this either means Southampton are completely inept at hiring managers or lack the leadership on the pitch that’s needed to secure victories.
Either way, this is not good news for a club currently tied on points with the other clubs inside the relegation zone. On one hand, though, a simple fix could solve this issue. Replacing manager Mark Hughes could solve the issues and see Southampton become more confident when leading, no matter the team or the situation facing them.
However, failure to improve could also show Saints lack of leadership on the pitch. While Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg earned the captain’s armband last time out against Fulham, Saints are a club lacking a true leader at the moment. While Ryan Bertrand has his moments, more often than not, he seems completely uninterested.
Southampton’s lack of true leadership is a huge issue. A simple January transfer cannot solve this issue. Even a managerial change may not be able to fix it. The lack of leadership in this Saints side is not just concerning, but is quite simply, an issue that could see Southampton relegated all by itself.