After a wretched first few months of 2021, Southampton have stumbled to maintaining their Premier League status for another season. A season that started so well, with the Saints briefly topping the table in November, has fizzled out to a disappointing end. With three games remaining of the 2020/21 season, the highest Southampton can finish is 13th. While it may seem that there is nothing to play for, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has stressed the importance of the increased prize money associated with each place they can climb in the table, particularly with all clubs’ finances being struck by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the key reasons that can be attributed to Southampton’s downturn in fortunes in the second half of the season is injuries. With the rigours and demands of Hasenhuttl’s aggressive pressing style, combined with fixture congestion and being unable to use much of the club’s recovery equipment due to Covid restrictions, Southampton’s lack of squad depth was frightfully obvious. Injuries to key players such as Danny Ings, Oriol Romeu, Kyle Walker-Peters, Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard, to name a few, proved to seriously damage the team’s ability to collect points and it seemed that they were becoming increasingly likely to be dragged into a relegation battle. Fortunately for the Saints, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United have been relegated with something of a whimper with games remaining, and didn’t have the tenacity or quality to bring other teams into the mix.
Now that the majority of players are available to Hasenhuttl, he will be hoping for a strong climax to the season to set the club up for next season. The manager has bemoaned the club’s lack of January signings and has already highlighted depth, as well as quality, as the key in this summer’s transfer window. The Austrian understands the club’s financial situation and, at least publicly, accepts that this makes it hard to get players in without selling first. A number of players are playing for their Southampton futures in the run in to the end of the season. While it is, of course, important to bring in quality players who will improve the team, at times this season the Saints have struggled purely through their inability to rotate rest players when needed due to the limited size of their squad. This has been hugely detrimental to the chances of the club kicking on under Hasenhuttl, and they have been unable to play consistently to a high level for a whole season under him. For Southampton to be successful next season, and to avoid being drawn into another relegation battle, they must have a squad overhaul this summer. Whether they will be able to is a different story, however.
Players Must Leave for Signings to Come In
Like almost all clubs, Southampton’s finances have taken a huge hit in the last year. Chief Executive, Martin Semmens, said in a recent fans forum that the club have made losses of over £70 million in the last year. However, he sought to put fans at ease by suggesting it shouldn’t affect the summer transfer budget. Albeit, this does not necessarily mean that there is much of a summer transfer budget to work with. Southampton have grown used to being a club that have to sell in order to buy, and the current situation is no different. The problem they have lies in the fact that the players that the club will look to move on have little to no value.
The club are hoping talisman Danny Ings will sign a new contract in the coming weeks and are braced for transfer offers this summer. Towering Danish defender Jannik Vestergaard is also expected to receive a lot of interest. However, the club will fight hard to keep their best attacker and best defender. The only players that the club will offer around that are likely to command any sort of valuable fee are Mario Lemina, who has spent the season on loan at Fulham, and Mohamed Elyounoussi, who has impressed on loan at Celtic. It is thought that Hasenhuttl may give the latter a chance to revive his Southampton career in pre-season and, if he were to impress, he could save the club some money in the transfer window. On the other hand, the club may be able to sell him and spend the money in an area that they need improvement in.
Many players contracted to the club have failed to impress in loan spells elsehwere. In the recent fan forum, Hasenhuttl commented on the difficulty of players coming back into the first team fold at Southampton if they have failed to get game time on loan at Championship and League One clubs. This was a pretty damning statement for the likes of Yan Valery, Jake Vokins and Shane Long, while Jake Hesketh and Josh Sims are both out of contract in the summer with little chance of renewal.
The club will no doubt listen to offers for all their players, as they usually do, but are unlikely to sell any of the club’s main assets. This means that they will not receive a substantial amount of money to reinvest. However, terminating contracts of players who will never play for the club and selling, even for minimal fees, some of the deadwood will allow the club to build for the future.
For a club with a reputation of an impressive youth academy, the club are currently on something of a baron run in that department. The ‘B’ team and the Under 18’s have both finished bottom of their leagues this season and their is a lack of quality coming through. Nathan Tella is the only recent youth player that has made any real impact on the first team this season, and he actually came through Arsenal’s youth system before making the move. Alex Jankewitz is a young player with growing hype surrounding him, especially after dominating England Under 21’s in March, but hasn’t gained the trust of Hasenhuttl. Not surprising seeing as he requested a transfer in January and then was sent off in the opening minutes of his full Premier League debut in the 9-0 defeat to Manchester United. This means the club cannot rely on youth to bulk up a small squad and must seek alternatives elsewhere.
Players Likely To Be Moved On
So, on the topic of players likely to be moved on, the following list sets out the players that are highly likely to be pushed out the exit door. This could be on loan or permanently.
- Mohamed Elyounoussi
- Angus Gunn
- Yan Valery
- Jake Vokins
- Wesley Hoedt
- Shane Long
- Josh Sims
- Jake Hesketh
- Kayne Ramsey
To add to this list, there are a handful of players that the club would likely take into next season, but if they are offered a suitable sum could be tempted to sell. Moussa Djenepo could fall into this category, with his flair all too often compounded by a lack of end product. Nathan Redmond could also be placed in this discussion, with the winger struggling to maintain any consistency over a number of seasons at the club. Michael Obafemi appears fitter than ever after his injury lay-off and is rumoured to have improved his focus, which may kickstart his career, but could also be a player the club listen to offers for. Dan Nlundulu may also benefit from a loan elsewhere if the club can sign a central striker this summer. In Jack Stephens Southampton have a defender that is willing to play anywhere for the team, as evidenced in his left back role recently, but is always susceptible to make a mistake and could well be tempted by the prospect of regular playing time elsewhere.
Fullback a Problem Area
The position where Southampton have really struggled when injuries have hit is the fullback areas. This problem has been exacerbated further with the news this week that left back Ryan Bertrand will be leaving the club upon the expiry of his contract this summer after seven years at the club. Assuming Valery and Vokins are moved on, this leaves the club with one first team fullback in Kyle Walker-Peters. Walker-Peters has missed parts of the current season due to injury and his absence was felt very sorely, with the team losing their balance in defence and attack. One of Southampton’s favourite attacking plays is a long diagonal pass from Vestergaard to play Walker-Peters in behind high on the right hand side and without a natural right back to replace him, this element of Southampton’s game has suffered.
Hasenhuttl spoke following the January transfer window about his disappointment about not recruiting any cover at fullback, and it is likely to be a key area to strengthen this summer. Realistically the club need a right back and two left backs. Long-term target Brandon Williams could make the move from Manchester United, and his ability to cover both positions make the 20-year old very desirable. Rico Henry of Brentford is also a potential target for the Saints at left back, and this could well hinge on Brentford’s play-off fate. It is thought that if the club manage to secure promotion that Henry will look to stay at the club, but could be tempted to make the move up a division if not.
With Angus Gunn out on loan to Stoke City this season, Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster have shared the number 1 jersey in recent months. It may be that Hasenhuttl is trying to use the end of this season to decide who should be his first choice goalkeeper next season and would therefore be open to moving the other on. McCarthy and Forster are at a similar level, while Gunn is deemed behind both. Stoke have the option of another season-long loan for Gunn next season and may well take up that option. Southampton could be in market for an improvement in between the sticks but it is unlikely to be a priority. The club are likely to cast their eye over players from the teams relegated from the Premier League this season, as well as current Championship players. Names that could crop up are relegated duo Aaron Ramsdale and Sam Johnstone.
As mentioned previously, the club have no choice but to purchase fullbacks. Williams and Henry are expected to be targets, but Southampton won’t be the only clubs pursuing their signatures. Darnell Furlong of West Brom could also provide good cover for Walker-Peters at right back. The club are likely to be satisfied heading into the new season with Jan Bednarek, Jannik Vestergaard, Mohammed Salisu and Jack Stephens as centre back options. After taking a long time to come into the fold, Salisu has shown improvement in recent weeks and improves the balance of the team as a left-footed centre back. Hasenhuttl has recently said that next season is likely to “be the year of Salisu”. If Vestergaard or Stephens were to move on, or if the club consider their centre back options to require improvement, Marc Guehi, who has spent the season impressing on loan at Swansea City from Chelsea is likely to be of interest.
A central midfielder is needed, with the current trio of James Ward-Prowse, Ibrahima Diallo and the injured Oriol Romeu the players usually battling for the two holding midfield positions. Recently, Stuart Armstrong has deputised very well in the deep midfield role but his influence higher up the pitch has been missed, and the club need to add some depth to that area. Southampton pursued Ainsley Maitland-Niles on deadline day in January and could revive their interest, while Hamza Choudhury of Leicester City will surely be looking to play more regularly and could provide some steel in midfield when Romeu is absent.
Further up the pitch, it is expected that the club will make Theo Walcott’s loan spell permanent, while Takumi Minamino is not expected to return. The club have been linked with Bournemouth winger Arnaut Groeneveld, who has scored 15 goals and provided seven assists in the Championship this season. Another option could be Rangers’ Ryan Kent, although he is frequently linked with Leeds United. Ademola Lookman has been one of few bright sparks for Fulham this season, his failed Panenka penalty aside, and could be another option for Southampton to explore.
In terms of strikers, Southampton need at least one signing of real quality to improve their front line, regardless of whether Ings stays or goes. Ings struggles with injuries and Southampton struggle enormously in his absence, only winning one of the nine games he has missed in the league this season. Che Adams works tremendously hard and always offers a good option for the team, but his goals are sporadic and tend to come in bursts rather than over a sustained period.
Tammy Abraham is likely to look for a move away from Chelsea this summer but is likely to command a price above Southampton’s budget. Elsewhere, Adam Armstrong has had another impressive season in the Championship, scoring 28 goals and providing five assists in an average Blackburn Rovers side. At 24, he has served his time in the lower divisions and looks ready to take on the Premier League. Another option is Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard. Like most of his Celtic teammates, the French striker has not been at his best this season, but has still managed 18 league goals. Leicester have been linked with Edouard for a number of transfer windows, owed much to Brendan Rodgers’ spell in charge of the striker at Celtic. However, the emergence of Kelechi Iheanacho could see the club cool their interest; although if they qualify for the Champions League they could still pursue his services for depth.
So, it is clear to see that Southampton should have a busy summer ahead. An emphasis on getting rid of the deadwood is likely, with signings heavily reliant on the success of this. If the club are to sustain their spells of impressive performances for the duration of a season and look forward rather than over their shoulder then an improvement to their squad depth is key. A full pre-season should also help matters, after the condensed pre-season of last season, for Hasenhuttl to further implement his philosophy and get any new players playing the way he wants. A good transfer window and Southampton could have a very strong 2021/22 season, but if the areas that require improvement are not addressed it could well be another long season for the threadbare squad.