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Southampton has early red flags in this Premier League campaign

Southampton Premier League

After just one game, Southampton has the same concerns in this Premier League season. To be fair, it is one game, and the Saints faced a Tottenham side that finished third a season ago.

This summer, Southampton acquired a number of replacements. Many of those newcomers started against Tottenham in the eventual 4-1 loss.

Debutantes

Gavin Bazunu and Romeo Lavia both arrived for significant fees from Manchester City. Combined, Southampton cashed around $29 million for their services. Bazunu, an Irish goalkeeper, and Lavia, a midfielder with high potential, made their first Premier League starts at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Joe Aribo, who came over from Glasgow Rangers, carries experience at the top level. For instance, he scored in the Europa League Final against Eintracht Frankfurt. The Nigerian international started and played the full 90 minutes. Like the rest of the Southampton squad, he did not help the side maintain its early lead against Spurs.

Captain James Ward-Prowse got the goal to give Southampton the lead, but his side crumbled from there. Southampton showed its naivete with Spurs outclassing them across the pitch. Ralph Hassenhüttl likely has concerns about the ease for the opponents in controlling the game.

Southampton traditional Premier League plan

Southampton have a philosophy that the club follows. It buys young players and develops them to prosper at the highest level.

This can be a risky move for clubs in the case that signings do not pan out. But, in the wake of Tino Livramento’s success at St. Mary’s a season ago, Southampton has a knack for spotting top talent. Clearly, Southampton can make players into Premier League quality.

Development takes time, and that is not a luxury afforded to Hassenhüttl. The Austrian developed a very popular following among Southampton fans since taking over in December 2018. However, the club is not in the same spot it was some time ago.

After promotion back to the top flight in 2012, Southampton had a handful of seasons competing for European spots. In the time of Hassenhüttl’s tenure, Southampton has finishes of 16th, 11th, 15th and 15th, again. Fans enjoy the high-energy displays on the pitch. Yet, at the same time, the speed games can unravel can go against Southampton in dramatic ways. Unsurprisingly, this frustrates and angers supporters.

For example, in the last two seasons, Southampton has two 9-0 losses. Along with those memories, Hassenhüttl competes with well-liked managers in Southampton’s recent history.

Mauricio Pochettino led Southampton to a 14th-placed finish in the side’s first season back in the Premier League. He followed that up with eighth in the league. Then, Ronald Koeman replaced the Argentine and yielded a seventh-place finish in 2014/15. An even-better sixth-place came the season after that. The third manager of this stretch was Claude Puel. Even with an unpopular playstyle, Puel guided Southampton to eighth in the league and a League Cup Final, where the Saints lost to Manchester United.

Dip into dissatisfaction

Since those days, Southampton show flashes of their ability to compete. With the rise of other teams and a relative drop in talent, Southampton flirts with relegation. Part of that comes from the academy drying up. Previously, Southampton worked to produce talents like Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana and sold them for big money. Those finds are not as common.

Instead, it looks to bring in younger players from top sides’ academies. This, in turn, rebuilds the quality of production of Southampton’s own academy. The club’s U-18 side finished as Southern Champions last season. It lost to Manchester City in the national final, a sign that the academy is improving.

For now, Hassenhüttl needs to galvanize the players he has available, while still looking at bringing in some more quality. They are yet to replace Danny Ings properly, as Adam Armstrong struggled last season. Meanwhile, the side’s center of defense remains a work in progress. 

It will be interesting to see what business happens before the end of the transfer window, but for now Hassenhüttl has the backing of the board. 

Next up for the Saints is a home tie with Leeds United, after which they face Leicester City, Manchester United and Chelsea; not a particularly favourable set of fixtures to get the season started.

There are new faces on the field, but similar issues remain and Hassenhüttl needs to find a way for his side to push on from the same performances that have affected his side over his tenure to date.

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