Southampton Football Club are in a desperately worrying predicament at the moment.
Saints sit in 13th place on the Premier League table after just 11 games, with new manager Mauricio Pellegrino flattering to deceive so far, and already becoming the subject of much criticism from the St Mary’s faithful.
Today, the club succumbed to yet another underwhelming result, a 1-0 defeat at home to Sean Dyche’s Burnley side. Sam Vokes came off the bench to score a relatively unchallenged header late on, to pile yet more misery on the Saints.
A result like that should be a shock, truth be told. Southampton should not be losing home games to teams who are inferior in terms of quality, let alone on a consistent basis.
However, it was all too predictable. You could see it was going to happen. Saints play in a pattern. We start strongly, create a few decent chances here and there, have the vast majority of possession but lack penetration.
It was the same last season. However, Claude Puel could organise a defence. Pellegrino is failing to convince at either end of the pitch at the moment.
Saints have played just one of the “big six” so far this season. They were narrowly beaten by Manchester United and dominated the possession. Surprise surprise, though, very few chances were fashioned, and the opponents never looked particularly uncomfortable.
The other 10 games have all been winnable. Saints have played and drew against all three of the newly promoted sides. Every team they have faced, bar United, finished lower than them last season.
Saints’ only wins this season have been through good fortune, truth be told, as well. Firstly against West Ham, despite a promising opening half an hour, it took two penalties and indiscipline from the Hammers to seal a narrow 3-2 win for Saints.
Secondly, against Crystal Palace away from home, anything less than a win would have been embarrassing. The Eagles had been getting annihilated week-in, week-out prior to the fixture against us. So, with the help of a goal from Steven Davis and two glaring misses from Palace, we came away with another narrow win.
Thirdly, Saints hammered West Brom 1-0. Pellegrino’s side were pretty poor against one of the worst teams I’ve seen at St Mary’s since we’ve come back up, and it took a moment of magic from Sofiane Boufal to bail him out.
Oh, and not to mention that Saints were embarrassingly outplayed by Wolves’ second string side in the League Cup second round.
We were promised upon Pellegrino’s arrival high pressing, high intensity, attractive, exciting football. However, we’re bored. We’re a boring team to watch. We have no personality, no identity, we don’t take risks and we look awful.
Pellegrino’s tactical approach has been nothing short of abysmal since his arrival. There were no expectations at Alaves, and he performed extremely well there.
It’s different at Saints though. Our aspiration should not be to remain in the Premier League, it should be to qualify for Europa League football. We look a million miles away from that though.
With Everton’s stuttering start, Southampton should have used the presentable opening quarter of the season to catapult themselves into contention for a top seven finish. Instead, they sit in 13th place and in real danger of struggling this season.
Pellegrino’s approach is seemingly making the players nervous, as well. He’s demanding a cautious approach not only off the ball but on it as well. There’s no element of risk involved, and in this league, this kind of paranoia and apprehension can only lead to negative football.
His team selections, along with in-game management, have been pretty awful as well. The fact that Manolo Gabbiadini, the only player in our team capable of producing goals, was benched for three games in place of Shane Long, currently without a goal in 28 games for both club and country, is nothing short of unfathomable.
I feel sorry for Gabbiadini. He must be wondering if every striker in the Premier League has the same kind of diabolical service that we provide him with week-in, week out. He deserves better.
Pellegrino may be sticking with Gabbiadini now, but other decisions are questionable, to say the least. Fraser Forster’s continuous inclusions are pretty remarkable, too. He’s been in totally awful form for over a season now and was somehow rewarded with a five-year deal in the summer. Good job, guys.
Alex McCarthy must be pretty terrible in training if he’s unable to get a look-in ahead of Forster, who is probably the most out of form goalkeeper in the league at the moment.
His substitutions have been questionable as well. For example, the West Brom game was crying out for Boufal, yet it took him until around the 80th minute to bring him on. Pellegrino was lucky that he had such an instant impact.
Most recently, Pellegrino’s substitutions against Burnley were confusing too. Gabbiadini was taken off while we were chasing a goal, only for us to then concede. We then had to look for an equaliser without our only proper goal threat.
His call to start Maya Yoshida ahead of Wesley Hoedt was laughable, too, and a totally illogical call. The Japan international has been great for Saints in the last season and a bit, but was not at all suited to the game against Burnley and it showed.
Sean Dyche plays with physical strikers. He picked Chris Wood to start and then brought on Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes. So, Pellegrino leaves Hoedt, a 6’4″ centre-back renowned for his success rate in aerial duels, on the bench.
Who gets beaten to the decisive header? Yoshida. I’m not blaming him for his lack of physicality, I’m blaming Pellegrino for his total incompetence regarding the team selection. It’s not even a case of doing your research before the game – it’s common sense.
Of course, Pellegrino isn’t totally to blame for this season’s disaster so far. The board were naive to put the blame on Puel for our goal-scoring woes and were quite simply ridiculous in their call to not sign another attacking player.
They are also responsible for taking too long to sack Puel, leading to us missing out on managers like Marco Silva. You get the impression that Pellegrino was the club’s fourth, or fifth choice.
Even then, how could Les Reed and the Saints board be so sure that Pellegrino, a man whose tactical approach at Alaves made Puel look attacking, would provide us with the attractive football we crave? There was no concrete evidence of his capacity to coach this expansive style.
Saints now head into a nightmare period of fixtures. After the international break, free-scoring Liverpool await, before Everton visit St Mary’s. Then we go to Manchester City to try and avoid embarrassment. December doesn’t look much kinder either.
The management and hierarchy at the club are mostly responsible for this – and it’s not an overstatement to describe the situation in this way – crisis. However, the players simply have to start standing up and being counted.
Forster may be low on confidence, but he has to improve. He’s a liability at the moment and is costing Saints points with every game that passes.
Ryan Bertrand, one of the country’s best left-backs, has looked ordinary this season. His body language has been appalling, and his work rate has hardly inspired.
Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic, too, have been poor. They are painfully inconsistent as it is but have just been consistently underwhelming this season. It’s not for the want of trying, but they have to start stepping up.
Les Reed and the board need to have a long, hard think about what direction they want the club to go in over the international break. A penny for Gao Jisheng, who has just invested £210m into the club, and his thoughts, also.
Southampton have to act fast and turn this around, otherwise, there’s only one direction this club is heading in.