Southampton topped the Premier League in November but are being sucked into a relegation battle after torrid run with a goal drought, injury crisis and some dodgy VAR calls… but could they REALLY go down?
- Southampton were briefly top of the Premier League at the start of November
- Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side had genuine aspirations to qualify for Europe back then
- But a dreadful run of three wins from 18 league games has seen them sink
- Fourteenth after the loss to Everton, they’re only seven points above drop zone
- Debilitating injury crisis, goal drought and bad VAR calls are partly to blame
- Worries are growing as Saints face run of crunch games they can’t afford to lose
‘Has a team ever been relegated after being top of the league in November? Asking for a friend.’
The tweet from Matt Le Tissier halfway through Southampton’s 1-0 loss to Everton on Monday night was tongue-in-cheek but neatly summed up that horrible nagging doubt felt by every Saints fan right now.
The feeling of euphoria when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team briefly topped the Premier League table after a Friday night win over Newcastle United in early November has been replaced by fear and foreboding.
Dan N’Lundulu rues a missed chance as Southampton went down 1-0 to Everton on Monday
It was an eighth loss from Southampton’s last nine Premier League games – a worrying slide
Club legend Matt Le Tissier reflected the fears of many fans with his tweet on Monday night
How low can Southampton go? A return of just three wins from 18 league games since that November high point, including eight losses from their last nine, sees them down in 14th.
Dreams of qualifying for the Champions League could soon be replaced by nightmares about dropping into the Championship if the tail-spin continues.
When Hasenhuttl remarked that ‘we should feel anything is possible with this team’ after that Newcastle win, being sucked into a relegation scrap presumably wasn’t what he meant.
The Saints are only seven points above 18th-placed Fulham and with confidence sapping away, a fixture list that sees Sheffield United, Manchester City, Brighton, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace up next doesn’t strike you as ideal.
Man City are striding imperiously to another title and look invincible. The others are all keeping Southampton company in the lower half of the table, all scrambling to get clear of the bottom three for good.
Monday night’s result sees Southampton 14th – just seven points above the relegation zone
It certainly marks a stark contrast to their situation in November when a 2-0 home win over Newcastle United saw them briefly move top of the Premier League
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side could do little wrong at that point and a top-six challenge was possible
‘Thirty points is not enough to stay in the league – we need points,’ Hasenhuttl said after a reverse at Goodison Park that at least saw a strong performance and good chances created in the second-half.
Yet Saints only mustered one shot on target all night – in the 90th minute – and therein lies one of several problems at the moment.
The goals have well and truly dried up, with a shocking return of just seven in their last 14 league games dating back to mid-December.
Their principal striker, Danny Ings, scored 25 times last season but finds himself on a barren run of just two goals in his last 13 league outings after what had been a positive start to the campaign.
Ings has suffered from a lack of service but others haven’t been able to pick up the slack. Che Adams was on target in that game with Newcastle but has scored only once since then.
Main striker Danny Ings finds himself on a run of two goals in his last 13 league appearances
Nathan Redmond wasn’t able to produce that creative spark for the Saints at Goodison Park
Jordan Pickford’s late save from Jannik Vestergaard was Southampton’s only shot on target
Saints’ torrid run
Since defeating Liverpool 1-0 on January 4, Southampton have lost eight of nine league matches
January 16 Leicester City (A) 0-2
January 26 Arsenal (H) 1-3
January 30 Aston Villa (H) 0-1
February 2 Manchester United (A) 0-9
February 6 Newcastle United (A) 2-3
February 14 Wolves (H) 1-2
February 20 Chelsea (H) 1-1
February 23 Leeds United (A) 0-3
March 1 Everton (A) 0-1
Their next fixtures
Premier League unless stated
Fixture dates subject to change
Saturday Sheffield United (A)
March 10 Manchester City (A)
March 14 Brighton (H)
March 20 Bournemouth (A)
FA Cup quarter-final
April 3 Burnley (H)
April 10 West Brom (A)
April 17 Crystal Palace (H)
May 1 Leicester (H)
Takumi Minamino, who joined on loan from Liverpool last month, has chipped in with a couple of goals, including one against Chelsea, but the likes of Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse have struggled.
Hasenhuttl acknowledged his team ‘weren’t making the best decisions’ in the final third on Monday night but there are quite a few mitigating factors as well.
Southampton have been struck by a spate of injuries as the intensity of the season catches up with them and drags them down.
Theo Walcott, likely to be sidelined for some time with a thigh injury, is the biggest loss when it comes to creativity.
Oriol Romeu will miss the remainder of the season and youngsters Michael Obafemi and Will Smallbone won’t be returning anytime soon.
Others out at the moment are Minamino, Kyle Walker-Peters and Ibrahima Diallo, meaning Southampton’s line-up at Everton featured a bench stuffed with academy graduates.
Takumi Minamino’s goal in the draw with Chelsea has been a rare bright point of late
The free-kicks of James Ward-Prowse remain a potent weapon for Southampton
Theo Walcott is one of several injury absentees at the moment, stretching the Saints squad
Good to see, of course, but not ideal when chasing the game and there’s nobody really for the manager to turn to.
The injury crisis has meant square pegs in round holes through necessity – Stuart Armstrong, typically a creative threat in wider positions, was forced to play a more central role at Goodison.
The run of defeats looks bad but if you take some of the games and performances in isolation, the case for extenuating circumstances can be made.
In the 1-0 home defeat by Aston Villa in late January, for example, Saints were victim to two appalling refereeing decisions.
Villa’s Matty Cash clearly handled the ball inside the area but, after a VAR check, no penalty was awarded. To add further insult, Ings was denied a last-gasp equaliser by the width of his shirt sleeve.
Aston Villa’s Matty Cash appeared to clearly handle in the box early at St Mary’s – but Southampton weren’t awarded a penalty
VAR official Mike Dean watched almost two minutes of replays before deciding no penalty
Southampton were left furious that Cash wasn’t penalised for what looked a clear handball
Southampton thought they’d equalised late-on against Aston Villa but Danny Ings was judged offside by one of the tightest offside calls yet
VAR replays showed that Ings’ sleeve, which is classed as a goalscoring part of the body, was fractionally beyond Matty Cash’s backside and therefore offside
In the 2-1 home defeat by Wolves, having played brilliantly in the first half, Saints fell victim to another contentious VAR decision when Ryan Bertrand was adjudged to have blocked Nelson Semedo’s cross with his arm.
They were then denied a penalty of their own by VAR when a cross appeared to strike the arm of Leander Dendoncker. ‘VAR is destroying the game,’ said an incensed Hasenhuttl.
Even the 9-0 thumping they took against Manchester United, equalling the heaviest Premier League defeat, came after Alexandre Jankewitz was sent off just two minutes in.
There could be no complaints about the referee’s decision but the early blow triggered an already depleted Saints side to completely collapse. The game plan went out the window and panic set in.
Wolves were awarded a penalty after Nelson Semedo’s strike hit Ryan Bertrand’s hand (above)
However, Leander Dendoncker was not penalised when the ball hit his arm in the box (above)
Curiously, Southampton’s shocking league form has coincided with good progress in the FA Cup. They have beaten Shrewsbury Town, Arsenal and Wolves to set up an intriguing south coast derby at Bournemouth in the quarter-finals.
It must mystify their manger how his team can produce such performances in knockout competition but fail to translate them to the league.
But the circumstances mentioned don’t fully explain the situation. In other games, Southampton have been truly risible.
They lost 3-2 to a Newcastle team last month who had won just once in 13 and navigated the final 18 minutes with nine men having played 23 minutes prior to that with 10 men.
Southampton’s 3-2 loss to Newcastle was arguably the most shocking display of the run
They also suffered the humiliation of a 9-0 thrashing by Man United after an early red card
Newcastle defended their goal with increasing desperation as the minutes ticked down but somehow succeeded in keeping Southampton at bay.
It seems to be either feast or famine for Saints under Hasenhuttl. Runs of poor results have been followed by impressive rebuilds but he will start to fear for his job if this current state of affairs continues much longer.
With effective six-pointers dominating the upcoming fixtures, he must find a way of stopping this worrying slide or the piece of unwanted history Le Tissier joked about might become an embarrassing reality.
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