Southampton’s continued struggles in front of goal against Huddersfield , as a lot of things are these days, was summed up best on Twitter.
We all knew we couldn't score goals last season. So how do we rectify it. By signing two Centre Backs and a defensive midfielder #saintsfc— Ryan (@sfcryana) August 26, 2017
Southampton’s transfer window has been good all things considered, the additions of Mario Lemina and Wesley Hoedt adding genuine quality for reasonable prices whilst keeping all of the first team squad bar letting Jay Rodriguez leave. But it cannot be denied that the fundamental problem from last season has not yet been rectified.
The Saints hierarchy made the decision to change Claude Puel for Mauricio Pellegrino in the hope it would encourage a change of fortunes in front of goal but out of four games so far this season only once has the final score not read “Southampton Nil”, and that was against a dysfunctional West Ham side with a defence all at sea and a manager on the brink of the sack.
No disrespect to the opponents Saints have faced so far but from two home games against Swansea and Wolves plus the trip to Huddersfield, the defences faced will not be the sternest the team will come up against this season. Big chances came in each match at important times, yet they were not finished off. A two-goal lead against ten-man West Ham was chucked away too, only to be bailed out by a last minute penalty with a hint of fortune attached to it.
It has been suggested that it has been Pellegrino setting up with the same boring tactics as Puel, but the common denominator has been the attacking options. Add in an uncomfortable situation with his captain Virgil Van Dijk and the new Saints manager has been given the same poor hand as his predecessor.
Pellegrino’s team have been playing in a much more positive manner than Puel’s counterparts, especially in the two home games in the league, but the problems in finishing off chances remains the same because the attacking options are the same. Manolo Gabbiadini is the outstanding option in the front four, yet remains starved of service with the three behind him not supporting him in scoring goals or fashioning regular chances.
Nathan Redmond is a case in point. His seven goals last season is a respectable return from a winger, yet the fact the tally made him Saints’ top scorer in the league shows the problem; he should not be the headline act, but a very good support act.
It is Dušan Tadic who provides the biggest headache, however. Deployed on the left wing under Ronald Koeman, the Serbian was a delight to watch and regularly notched up assists either by sliding in Sadio Mané or finding the head of Graziano Pellè, and has been in unbelievable form for his country by scoring four from six World Cup qualifiers so far.
Yet Tadic’s form for Saints has been poor for some time, especially since his rant about being substituted in games last season. Since then he continues to play for 90 minutes but does not contribute enough to warrant that game time over Sofiane Boufal who impressed in preseason, and often goes missing in the central role he has played in under both Puel and Pellegrino.
Aside from goals scored the stats are impressive, sitting 5th in the league for average possession (60%) and sixth for most passes (1589) and most shots (49) according to Opta. But the level of dominance shown so far only highlights the problem further; if chances had been finished off, Saints could be going into the international break with nine points and still in the League Cup.
To score one goal from open play from 49 shots is simply not good enough for any side looking to stay up, never mind qualify for Europe. Only a few days remain in the window, but a forward to play in the wide positions or centrally who can add 10-15 goals really would not go amiss. Sadio Mané joined on deadline day in 2014 virtually out of the blue, and a move like that could pay dividends once more.
Players like that will come at a premium with time on the short side, but with a defender who would almost certainly attract suitors at around the £60m mark not willing to play and a replacement potentially at the club already in Hoedt, is it worth buying a star man to go straight into the team and cutting loose a disruptive influence?
It would cause a stir on Twitter, that is for sure.