The Premier League season is upon us, marking the beginning of Southampton’s 2019-20 footballing campaign.
Later this afternoon, Saints will be taking on Burnley in their Premier League opener.
For the first time in years, Southampton fans are seemingly optimistic. Not hard, given the dross us Saints supporters have had to endure over the past two seasons.
But that’s not to play down the fantastic work put in by Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl so far. Yes, the play visibly improved under the Austrian, and he did keep us from relegation last season, but he has also helped foster a feeling of togetherness and community which has sorely lacked since Ronald Koeman’s departure in 2016.
Long may that continue.
Here are five things we would like to see from Southampton in the season ahead.
Southampton starting a run of continuous improvement again
From League One up, Saints continuously improved on their performances and league position each season from 2009/10 until 2015/16:
2009-10: 7th in League One.
2010-11: 2nd in League One (promotion)
2011-12: 2nd in Championship (promotion)
2012-13: 14th in Premier League
2013-14: 8th in Premier League
2014-15: 7th in Premier League (Europa League qualification)
2015-16: 6th in Premier League (Europa League group stages)
After barely escaping relegation in 2017-18 under Mark Hughes, finishing 17th, and ending up 16th last season after a similar battle against the drop, Southampton fans will want to see Saints to gain some momentum and better last year’s result.
16th isn’t a hard league position to better for a competent Premier League side.
With a full summer pre-season under Hasenhuttl, the Saints faithful will hope we have an in-shape team which can play the football our manager wants from his players.
Which brings us to...
A Southampton Premier League table finish around 9th - 14th
It’s important to be realistic with our expectations of the season ahead.
Yes, Southampton fans are optimistic for a change, but it’s important to remember that’s largely due to how bad it’s been in the last two seasons.
At the recent Saints fan forum, BBC broadcaster Adam Blackmore raised the possibility of the club finishing between 9th and 14th.
The vast majority of fans in attendance were all for a finish within that range, as was Hasenhuttl.
If we can finish anywhere between 9th and 14th, that would be a fantastic - yet realistic - sign of the Saints progression we should all be clamouring for.
There could be times Southampton go through a dry patch of wins or string together a number of poor performances this season. Don’t forget we had awful runs during Koeman’s seasons and we still finished in the top six/seven.
Even so, it’s important to remember the full picture and as long as we’re staying well clear of a relegation dogfight this season, that is a marked improvement on the last couple of campaigns.
Continue bringing through Southampton academy products
Ralph Hasenhuttl has already achieved what Ronald Koeman couldn’t - trust the Southampton academy and the players it’s currently producing by giving them first team minutes.
Yes, Koeman didn’t believe in the famed school of football that produced the likes of Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, and more in recent years.
Former Saints boss Claude Puel occasionally dipped into the pool of youth players - particularly for Europa League and domestic cup games - seeing players such as Sam McQueen, Jake Hesketh and Josh Sims pick up some minutes for the first team.
After that, the disaster that was Mauricio Pellegrino didn’t bother with Saints’ youngsters and you’d be a fool to ever expect Mark Hughes to take a chance on playing Southampton academy players.
One of Hasenhuttl’s first steps as Saints boss was to play Yan Valery and bin off Cedric to Inter Milan on loan. Valery was pretty much a revelation at right-back and is now expected to be Southampton’s regular starter in the position even with Cedric back in the squad.
After introducing Valery, Hasenhuttl recalled the aforementioned Sims from a disastrous loan spell at Reading and brought him back into the fold.
Callum Slattery featured for the first team, Michael Obafemi was given a chance to lead the Southampton line of attack, Kane Ramsay was given a shot.
And while not a player brought up in the Saints academy, Hasenhuttl entrusted young goalkeeper Angus Gunn with tending to the Southampton net despite the team’s relegation worries worsening.
Hasenhuttl is happy to give young Southampton players the chance to shine and we hope to see the above names get more playing time this season - even if Sims gets his at New York Red Bull in MLS instead.
The Austrian gaffer already used Saints’ pre-season trip to China as a chance to ingratiate a whole load more academy players in the past month. Long may it continue.
A Southampton cup run
This solely depends on how good Southampton is doing in the league.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has stressed the importance of trimming down his squad and hopefully Southampton do exactly that with further departures expected in the coming weeks before the transfer window closes across Europe.
To do well in both the league and the cups, you tend to need a bloated squad with strength in depth. But if we’re doing well in the league by our reasonable standards, the club should really give it their all to get Southampton fans dreaming again with a fairytale cup run.
For Saints, we have actually fared pretty well in the cups in recent seasons.
Who could forget Southampton’s League Cup run which saw them beat Liverpool over two legs in the semi-final? Seeing Shane Long rifle in that last-gasp goal at Anfield will be forever etched into my memory (I am actually in the above photo pulling a face that makes anyone cringe).
That was before Saints put up the biggest fight against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in the final at Wembley, only to unluckily lose. That was Southampton under Claude Puel, remember?
The season after, the Mauricio Pellegrino - Mark Hughes tandem saw Saints play at Wembley once again - this time in the FA Cup semi-final. Unfortunately, that turned into a largely forgettable affair where Southampton got thumped by Chelsea in a game which served merely as a distraction from Saints’ intensifying relegation battle at the time.
No one needs reminding that we have only won one top-class piece of silverware (no, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy doesn’t count). Hasenhuttl hasn’t won a cup either, though he did win the 2. Bundesliga title with Ingolstadt as he led the team to their first ever spell in the German top-flight.
We want a trophy, the players and manager certainly do. Let’s give it a f**king good go (as long as we’re comfortable in the league).
VAR to not be rubbish in the Premier League
Basically, we don’t want VAR technology to be a monumental waste of time in all senses.
Obviously, this isn’t something Southampton has any power over, but we have been stung by some awful refereeing in the Premier League over the recent seasons.
It goes without say, but there’s a clear bias towards bigger clubs within the Premier League.
Hopefully, the introduction of VAR this season can address the balance of refereeing decisions which would provide a fairer Premier League for all - no matter the club’s size.
Also, it would be fantastic if VAR wasn’t overused and if it does come into play, it doesn’t take too long in holding up the game.
I’m yet to experience VAR in a stadium yet. The thought of having to wait for a goal to be confirmed after that initial high does seem to be a bit of a downer, but let’s hope Premier League’s VAR system already has plenty of kinks ironed out for the new Premier League season.
Though, as I write this, it appears a VAR-related issue is holding up the game between Liverpool and Norwich City. Not a smooth start to VAR’s life in the Premier League.
I won’t be holding my breath, then.
That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this stream of consciousness written on a Friday night while I suffer from debilitating cubital tunnel syndrome.
I am really excited for the season ahead. Maybe it’s because that means I can begin watching football again, but I really feel like there are some tangible signs of Southampton improvement under Hasenhuttl. I’m warily optimistic at the very least.
Agree, disagree, or have something else you want to see from Saints this season which is within the realms of possibility? Let us know!