Southampton are currently a club in crisis.
After twelve games the Saints sit on eight points and have won just once and despite Alex McCarthy keeping four clean sheets in the Premier League. Three of those have come in goalless draws where Southampton simply failed to threaten and create any meaningful chances. When you consider that the viral video of Charlie Austin’s post-match reaction to his wrongly disallowed goal against Watford on Saturday is the most memorable moment of any of the club’s attacking players this season, then you start to realise just how average they have been in the final third.
Mark Hughes’ side have scored only eight goals and sit in 17th place in the league; only 19th placed Huddersfield Town have scored fewer goals than the Saints this season (six). Four of the eight goals Southampton have scored in the Premier League this season have been scored by Danny Ings, a player who prior to his move to the South Coast in the summer, had started just three Premier League games since October 2015. Add in his one assist and the former Liverpool man has been involved in 62.5% of all of the club’s Premier League goals this season.
Sure, players have missed clear chances this season (18 in total), however, the problem of scoring goals cannot just be put down to the finishing. For some reason, the players Hughes has been selecting are not linking up well in the final third. Nathan Redmond, a player who has missed just eighteen minutes of Prem football this season, has created just two big chances. He leads the way in that department, with Ings and Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg also creating two apiece. Forwards Austin and Manolo Gabiadinni and summer signings Mohamed Elyounoussi and Stuart Armstrong have played a combined total of 1,663 minutes but have not created one big chance between them.
In terms of assists, no player has more than one, with Ings the only attacking player to register this season. Mario Lemina and full-backs Cedric and Matt Targett also have one each; this is despite Targett only playing 72 minutes of Premier League football this season. The club total of four assists is the joint worst in the division this season with Huddersfield also registering four.
The main issue for Hughes seems to be figuring out his strongest starting XI. Ings and Redmond seem to be the only two attacking players who have secured their place in the starting eleven. With Lemina and Hojbjerg sitting in the heart of midfield, the other two positions in front of them are seemingly up for grabs. Both Austin and Long have started five games each with former England U21 captain James Ward-Prowse, Gabbiadini and Armstrong all starting just two. Mark Hughes originally showed more patience with £16.2m man Elyounoussi since his arrival from Basel this summer (six games started) however he has been left out of the starting eleven for the last two games.
The club have recently given Hughes their backing moving forward, however it is not yet clear whether they will truly back him if he asks for funds in the January transfer window. Whether he is given money or not, the task of bridging the gap between Ings and the impressive pairing of Lemina and Hojbjerg needs to be addressed, and certainly sooner rather than later.