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Saints Squad In Better Shape Than This Time Last Year
Monday, 1st Aug 2022 11:00

Over the summer Southampton have quietly gone about their business in the transfer market and although there have been no breath taking signings, the squad is in better shape than a year ago.

When the new owners arrived back in January it was made quite clear very quickly that this was no Manchester City or Newcastle situation where vast sums would be made available for transfer fees, but a case of building on the foundations already in place.

No boasts were made about challenging for the Champions League or other such targets, all that was said was that the arrival of Sport Republic would mean that money would be available to enable to do what we do best a lot quicker.

At the time I took that to mean that we would be able to buy players before we had sold others and that seems to have been the case this summer.

Business was done early in the signings of Gavin Bazunu, Mateusz Lis & Armel Bella Kotchap and they were followed in July by Romeo Lavia, Joe Aribo & Sekou Mara.

This has seen around £50 million spent so far and so far the only major outgoings of regular first team players have been Fraser Forster & Shane Long on free transfers at the end of their contracts and Armando Broja who returned to Chelsea after their loan spell.

So if we discount goalkeeper Mateusz Lis who is likely to be loaned out after being signed on a free transfer it is a case of 5 in and 3 out, a net gain of two to the squad.

Now that doesn't sound a lot, but for a club the size of Southampton that is a significant improvement both in terms of quantity but also quality.

In the goalkeeping department we have lost Fraser Forster, he had a good season last year, but age was catching up on him and he was never the most mobile keeper, Gavin Bazunu looks far better suited to the way we are looking to play.

In defence we have added Armel Bella-Kotchap who looks a decent player from what I have seen from him, so from this point of view however he turns out he is one more player in contention in this department and that has to be good, although i still think we need an experienced leader in the centre.

In midfield we have added two central players, Romeo Lavia a defensive lynchpin and Joe Aribo a more attacking option who can also play up front if needed and also out wide.

Up front Sekou Mara has arrived, in many respects comparisons can be drawn with Armando Broja, Mara is almost exactly the same age as Broja was when he arrived ie just about to turn 20 although they seem to be different sorts of players, Broja a more bustling traditional type of centre forward whereas Mara seem to be more of player who relies more on speed and guile than pure strength from the little I have seen of him.

So overall whilst the squad is not quite yet complete and if Ralph Hasenhuttl is to be believed there is still another acquisition to be made, I would contest that at this stage ie a week before the season we have a more all round squad than a year ago.

Of course whether that turns out to be the case we will soon find out, many think the main issue is goals although I am not convinced, if we take Brighton as benchmark , last season they were 9th we were 15th, they scored 42 goals, that was one less than our 43, the difference was how many they let in, they conceded only 42 whereas we let in a whopping 67, we were the 13th top scoring side in the Premier League, but the 17th worst defence.

We need to bridge the gap between Brighton's -2 goal difference and our own -24, I would suggest that with a good organiser at the back we could have prevented 15 goals last year, I think we may find it hard to increase our fire power by that amount, if we want to improve we have to build at the back first.

Up front last season our 4 strikers scored 16 goals between them, with Broja's 6 goals and Shane Long's 1 now off the books, it means we are looking for the 3 strikers currently here to bridge that gap.

So is it a lot to ask for at least another 7 goals between that trio, I would say not, if Broja had scored 12 goals last season and we finished 17th I would be worried, but he only hit 6, I would say that Mara has the capabilities of getting that number, I would say that Adam Armstrong could also hit 6 and if he does then we only need to get Che to repeat his total and suddenly we have increased our scoring capabilities.

Joe Aribo has also shown he is a midfielder who can score, one problem last season was how few goals were scored from midfield, James Ward Prowse got 10, most from free kicks or penalties, but other than that all the other midfielders underperformed, Moi Elyounoussi scored 4, but you have to say that Oriol Rmoeu's 2 goals were a couple short of what you would hope for, likewise Stuart Armstrong's brace, but the real issue was the failure of the wide players used to notch, in the past Nathan Redmond would be good for 5-7 goals, but he hit just the one, Theo Walcott, Nathan Tella & Moussa Djenepo did not get one between them and truthfully that is underperformance, even two goals from each would have improved our lot greatly.

So I am hopeful for the next season, over the past two years we have finished 15th, if we are realistic that is just about where we should be, there are now 12 clubs with greater resources than us, we are battling for the middle ground with Palace, Brighton & Wolves, if all goes to form & resources then we finish between 12th and 16th, of course this isn't an exact science, in most years two clubs from that 12 will have an awful season and two from our middle four will step up a little.

But make no bones with football in the state it is at the moment and cash being king, pushing higher than 9th will be very difficult.

Some will disagree but I feel that in terms of the make up of the squad we are stronger than a year ago, even if we don't make another signing, some will point to Armando Broja as being a big difference, but a year ago he was a youngster who had scored a few goals on loan in Holland, whether Sekou Mara turns out to be better or worse is yet to be seen, but let's be blunt 6 goals is not a massive total for him to get.

Crucial for us will be for some of those players who had awful seasons to step up to the plate a little, both Armstrong's Stuart & Adam can do much better, if the wide players throw in a few goals then we can start to improve.

I am still worried about the back line, we lack real leadership and that is a big problem.

But in both of the last two seasons there have been causes for optimism, yes we have died in the final third of both those seasons, but in the middle part we have overperformed, many who point to the end of both seasons as a barometer also fail to use those mid season placings including our only top spot in 30 odd years as a similar measure.

If we can push into the top 10 as we did it is not quality that is lacking it is consistency and that comes from the back, until whether we keep a clean sheet or not depends not on slices of luck from slices of the ball from opposition players, but on well organised defending we will always have seasons that are like a rollercoaster.

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Kenm added 11:23 - Aug 1
we will have to wait ?, the team has to start scoring ?, stop falling asleep when they go in front, (we have the worst record for losing from a winning position), if we don't start winning then Ralph and premier league goodbye !

wrathoftazz added 11:47 - Aug 1
McCarthy is the MAIN ISSUE in the back and if Ralph starts him in any game next season, he needs to go.

pwithers123 added 12:09 - Aug 1
good summary. Only comment I would add that is critical is that the coaching staff in support of Ralph does seem to have been substantially improved. If the model is to improve players - then better coaching at 1st team level and entrance into 1st team is important. Ralph looked on his own previously - once he lost the coach he brought with him.

A1079 added 12:11 - Aug 1
I am sure Nick you have made the statement at the start of the last few years that the squad is better than the season before. Time will tell!

Goals, results, no massive embarrassing defeats, no prolonged periods of collapse will be the test. I think this is the last chance saloon for Ralph. He has to get it right this season. No more excuses or blaming it on this or that. I want him to get it right, I want him and the team to do well but I don't think any Saints fan based on the last 2 or 3 seasons will dare to be confident unless at the end of the season we can say "that went well".

Block8 added 12:20 - Aug 1
Bottom line is goals Nick, we created so many opportunities last season but took to few of them. That needs to change and if we can cut out the defensive errors, or even half them it's a big bonus.
My biggest concern at the moment is, we start against Tottenham on Saturday and I'm pretty certain Ralph doesn't know his best eleven, for this particular game and it should be different tactics for Leeds.

Monksway added 13:35 - Aug 1
I think you are right about the squad being improved but not the first team. KWP, JWP, Romeu and Stu Armstrong are the only players that definitely warrant their place. The change in formation is key to being more solid defensively but I'm not sure it plays to the balance of the current squad.

saintmark1976 added 13:55 - Aug 1
We finished last season with a set of forwards who proved consistently and regularly that between them they couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo. Unless I’ve been asleep for the whole of the close season, we still have the same forwards minus Shane Long.

Not forgetting of course that our best goalkeeper was allowed to leave on a free transfer.

Add in the fact that we still don’t have a recognised experienced quality centre half and Nick’s now annual comment about the squad looking better than last season, appears at best extremely optimistic and at worst laughable.Only time will tell I suppose.

zonehead added 14:32 - Aug 1
The experienced CB is not going to happen it hasn’t for three seasons, I believe it’s due to Ralph’s ego a bit like when Branfoot got rid of Jimmy Case he wants to be the “voice” in changing rooms.

wessexman added 15:41 - Aug 1
We are heading into a new season blind....yet again. We could easily finish comfortably mid table or rooted to the bottom. The bottom line is we still have not ironed out our obvious frailties. Goal keeper, concentration, lack of goals and Ralph's lie ups and game management and of course, our centre half issues. I think the Leeds game is a must win game already if only to break last season's dreadful losing streak. Ralph really has a tough couple of months ahead.

halftimeorange added 15:59 - Aug 1
The best we can hope for is a Brentford-type season where we play entertaining football and keep clear of real trouble. The fact is Brentford's no star players side played together for a couple of seasons in the Championship and largely stayed together for their first foray in the EPL. Saints, however, played dire football for the last part of last season in the EPL and only stayed away from the drop by early points earned and have added mainly youngsters to an inadequate bloated group of players. This one hell of a gamble. No doubt about it, we look flimsy at best up front and at the centre back. Whether the investment in coaching staff will bring about stronger showings in the league remains to be seen but, it's a big ask.

GeordieSaint added 17:18 - Aug 1
The thing with broja was that he maybe only scored 6 goals but there were goals that got points in tight games if I remember rightly. I feel pretty optimistic about the signings though, at least there is a clear strategy of trying to buy up the best kids.

davidargyll added 19:21 - Aug 1
It is key that our defence improves. As I have said before if we could have kept just one goal more out at only our home games last season, we’d have had 17 more points and would have finished 9th, above Brighton.
Goals for are very important, but goals against, especially at home, decide whether you are staying up or…

Ali_Diarea added 22:57 - Aug 1
I think expectations need to be realistic, and reset where necessary. It seems that some fans seem to think that one transfer windows for the new owners and suddenly we should be challenging for Europe.
I never thought we would spend £50m on new players, and especially not without selling players of a higher value and making a profit first, so I’m pleasantly surprised.
I’m quietly optimistic about next season but only because I think 14th or above is success for a team the size of SFC.
It’s obvious to all of us true supporters that we ship in too many goals because we lack a quality CB, and don’t score enough because we lack a decent CF, but hand on heart we all also know that we can’t afford them. All we can do is hope that we can turn a few rough stones into diamonds, and get the most out of them, whatever that looks like.
I think Ralph has always wanted to play 3-5-2 but has not previously had the squad to do so. He’s tried a few times in the past but the CBs he inherited weren’t up to the task. He also now has some coaches to help him polish the rough stones into diamonds. But whatever happens, the best w can hope for us to finish 14th or higher and perhaps sell some of those youngsters at a decent profit.
Finish below 15th and it will be a disappointing season.

stmichael added 10:21 - Aug 2
There is every chance we will go into the new season with a back 3 of Bednarek Salisu and Bella Kotchap with McCarthy behind them and Moussa as left wing back.
If we do Spurs will get 6.
Villarreal played possession football on Saturday and only attacked on a couple
Of occasions both of which they rinsed us.
Spurs will be relentless and I gaurantee that line up will not cope.
I’ll tell you how bad it is - I’d start with Valery as a centre back 🤷‍♂️

GRIM added 15:40 - Aug 2
I agree with Zonehead.
The major problem with Saints is Ralph's EGO.
I think that's why he never communicated with his previous bunch of coaches, he didn't value their opinions & believes he knows it all.
Someone should tell him to get off his EGO & accept help / advice from others.
Ever since he was called the Austrian Klopp he's kidded himself that he is a top manager. He even tries to look like Klopp by wearing a cap & growing some stubble.
Also the annoying habit he has by referring to players with nicknames (ie. Redders / Stuey/ Prowsy etc).
That just doesn't work, he needs to be the players boss & their best mate.
Ralph needs managing & not be managing others.
I think his EGO will be shot by Xmas when he's looking for a new job.

ExiledSupporter added 16:54 - Aug 2

I agree about the need for an experienced capable centre back (hopefully worldly enough to be a leader and captain on the field), but clearly THEY (those who decide on transfer targets and player budgets etc) don't!

If they did they would have done the very sensible thing ie. sign either Tarkovski or Mee who were available on free transfers, but Everton and Brentford had more sense and moved quickly while we collected promising but some way from fully accomplished youngsters, by and large.

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