Southampton completed their fifth and final summer signing on Thursday night as they announced the signing of Danny Ings from Liverpool.
Ings joins on an initial season-long loan deal before his stay at St Mary’s is made permanent next summer, with Saints set to pay a fee believed to be worth either £16m or £18m and add-ons, based on conflicting reports. The 26-year-old will then pen a three-year deal at the club.
Southampton supporters have clamoured for the club to make a late signing of a striker and their wishes have been granted, with Ings poached uncharacteristically late by the Saints’ board.
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So, just who is Danny Ings, what’s the journey he’s been on and what can he offer to Mark Hughes’ side? I’ve taken an in-depth look into Southampton’s new striker.
Ings was born in Winchester and, like many budding footballers from down south, had aspirations and dreams of one day pulling on the Southampton shirt as a professional footballer.
When he was 10, the chance presented itself for Ings to establish himself in the club’s academy, furthering his opportunity to fulfil a childhood dream. However, he endured heartbreak as the club turned him down due to fears that he would not be able to compete at the highest level as a result of his size.
Ings persisted through his younger years, though, and was eventually eyed up by Bournemouth’s academy. After impressing during a trial period at the club, he was recruited by the Cherries and progressed through their youth teams.
His first-team debut for Bournemouth came when he was just 17-years-old and his potential was recognisable. Ings was sent out on a short-term loan deal to Dorchester Town and impressed. His instinctive qualities as a forward helped him to progress and continue his development as he caught the eye, albeit in the Conference South.
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Bournemouth proceeded to reward Ings with a new, short-term contract and he then began to enjoy a more involved role with the Cherries. He started to feature regularly in League One fixtures and continued to cement himself as one of Bournemouth’s most gifted young players.
After establishing himself as one of the Football League’s brightest prospects, Ings found himself coveted by several clubs in the Championship following his exploits at Dean Court. It was Burnley, though, who were able to complete the signing of Ings. After netting eight goals in 28 for the Cherries, Ings joined the Clarets for a fee believed to be worth approximately £1m in 2011.
In his opening spell at Burnley, Ings failed to truly convince. He made 15 Championship appearances in his debut season and 32 the next, scoring just six league goals across this time period, as he pushed to adjust to the demands of the second tier of English football.
However, this adjustment period paid dividends as Ings shone in Burnley’s 2013/14 campaign. This was the player’s true breakthrough season – he netted 21 goals and got seven assists in the Championship, landing him the league’s Player of the Season award.
Replacing a certain Charlie Austin would be no easy task for Ings, but he took the challenge in his stride and established himself as a talismanic figure for the Clarets. He also impressed as Burnley were defeated 4-3 by Saints in the FA Cup, scoring once. During this season, Ings also forced his way into contention for England’s Under-21 side.
Ings’ biggest test then came as he led Burnley into the Premier League, shouldering the responsibility of being the club’s greatest goal threat; a poacher capable of scoring in multiple fashions.
The young forward enjoyed a solid first season in the top-flight as he found the net on 11 occasions but was unable to keep Burnley afloat, as the Clarets were consigned to relegation straight back down to the Championship.
Burnley’s stay in the Premier League had come to a premature end but Ings was there to stay. After an impressive season at Turf Moor, in which he earned his first and only England cap to date, he was recruited by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.
Ings was signed as a rotational option who would compete with Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke for the striking spots in the Liverpool side but saw his chances dashed as a devastating injury blow ended Ings’ season in October 2015. A rupture to his left anterior cruciate ligament left the striker with no real chance of returning in what was his first season at Anfield.
The injury came in his first training session under new boss Jurgen Klopp; this came as a great shame, given Ings’ previously exceptional physical characteristics being a good suit to the German’s gegenpressing and footballing approach.
Ings continued to work his way back from the ligament damage but was dealt yet another cruel, cruel blow at a similar time in the following year. In his right knee, this time, significant cartilage damage was sustained and Ings’ hopes of pushing on in the 2016/17 season were crushed again.
He made his return in an EFL Cup clash against Leicester City in the early periods of last season but was forced to wait until December for his return to Premier League action. Ings played a sporadic role for Liverpool but was never in with a clear chance of regular first-team football given the superb form of the exceptional Roberto Firmino throughout.
The recently concluded summer transfer window came around and Ings sought pastures new. A fresh start elsewhere was on the player’s mind and at the eleventh hour, he completed a switch to Southampton as the club opted to take the plunge and bring Ings home.
Style of play
Ings is a striker who likes to keep defenders guessing. He tends to make runs in behind centre-backs in the central spaces, pulling opposition’s backlines out of position with his movement when his team are in or out of possession.
He has previously enjoyed his best seasons when he is accompanied by a more physical striker alongside him or at least a player who is capable of holding the ball up and bringing others into play. Ings flourished in a two-striker system at Burnley under Sean Dyche and works hard to find pockets of space in the area to get on the end of crosses.
Although Ings is not especially gifted with his back to goal, he tends to make small, intricate passes when his side are looking to shift the ball from back to front quickly.
Ings works hard to involve himself in pressing movements when his teams are out of possession and plays with energy, attempting to make a nuisance of himself by closing down passing lanes for opposition defenders.
Although his physical capabilities have depreciated as a consequence of prolonged periods out of action due to injuries, Ings still possesses a sharp turn of pace and can match the large bulk of Premier League defenders for speed.
In front of goal, Ings has always been a more than capable forward for his sides. He is a composed finisher and has proven this when afforded the opportunity to display his credentials. A cutting edge exists but it is simply yet to be rediscovered.
Ings is a technically-gifted striker who is capable of acting as a ball-carrier for his side. He thrives from working in open space and is a useful player to have on the front-foot during counter-attacking movements.
The 26-year-old is an intelligent player, who is capable of creating space in oppositions’ defences for both himself and for his teammates. This was particularly prevalent during his time at Burnley, with Ings and his alternating strike partners exploiting gaps in behind back-lines created by one another with relative ease.
As aforementioned, Ings remains a more than capable finisher in front of goal, and if Southampton can supply him with correct service, he shouldn’t have much of a worry with scoring goals for the club.
An underrated quality of Ings’ is also his capabilities in the air. Although he is of more use when running in behind defence or connecting with low crosses into the box, he is a more than competent header of the ball and proved this during his time at Burnley.
Another of Ings’ strengths is his ability to counter-press when his side have surrendered possession. A huge facet of Jurgen Klopp’s admiration for Ings is believed to be his unrelenting work ethic, coinciding with his ability to read defenders when they are on the ball. Ings could help Southampton in their quest to regain possession higher up the pitch this season.
Lastly, and importantly, Ings is good on both feet. Southampton’s current striking options aren’t especially gifted on their weaker foot but Ings is capable of using his left and right to a similar level, ensuring that he will be able to meet crosses and through balls at varying angles.
It goes without saying that Ings’ arrival at St Mary’s is a risk because of his track record of injuries. He’s played only a handful of Premier League games in the last three years – through no real fault of his own – and it may take him some time to adapt to the requirements of the top-flight again.
There would hardly be a surprise if Ings was sidelined on some occasions due to knocks, but this is a risk you take when you complete the signing of a player who has had two serious knee problems in the past.
Stylistically speaking, Ings isn’t especially gifted at using his body to shield the ball and bring others into play. However, this arguable deficiency in his game can easily be eradicated by simply avoiding leaving him isolated up front on his own.
Also, although he has provided his sides with an out-ball when clearing their lines, Ings doesn’t tend to flourish in backs-to-the-wall types of fixtures. Against top teams, he has struggled to influence proceedings and has struggled to replicate his efficient displays from against lesser sides. This can, of course, be put down to a shortage of service at times, but he has been marked out of games against higher-quality defenders on several occasions since arriving in the Premier League.
Ings is always keen to drop and contribute to link-up play in between the middle and attacking thirds but doesn’t tend to flourish when his teams attempt to retain and enjoy lengthy spells of possession. Although Ings works well in tight spaces, his passing is not especially impressive and he is similar to Charlie Austin in this regard. Ings, like Austin, thrives from crosses into the box and regularly provided balls across goal, as opposed to being heavily involved in patient build-up.
Where does he fit in?
Ings is likely to be managed carefully by Hughes given his sudden arrival at the club, but his natural fitness should be strong heading into the campaign given his solid pre-season displays at Liverpool.
Hughes appears to be intent on playing a 3-5-2 system for the season ahead and this could suit Ings well. His best displays have come in approaches that entail two strikers up front and if an appropriate partnership can be produced alongside Charlie Austin or Manolo Gabbiadini, Saints could pose a threat.
I personally feel Ings could work well alongside Gabbiadini at Saints. Despite the Italian forward being of a different build to the archetypal target man, a style of striker who Ings worked well alongside at Burnley, his hold-up play is underrated and he is capable of putting his intelligence to good use. Gabbiadini’s clever footballing brain and ability to create space coincided with Ings’ instinctive nature and willingness to make runs in behind could allow for a strong partnership.
Conversely, though, in a single-striker system Ings may struggle to convince. There is an added responsibility to contribute in build-up play from deeper areas of the pitch and Ings doesn’t specialise in playing with his back to goal. If Saints are to get the most from their new signing, history would suggest that he’ll thrive when operating alongside another forward.
Value for money?
Southampton are only recruiting Ings on a loan deal for now but, of course, will pay Liverpool a fee worth £16m along with add-ons come the following summer, as per the Daily Echo.
It is, without a doubt, a big gamble for Southampton. The eventual acquisition of Ings is a relatively pricey one for a player who has endured such cruel luck with injuries in previous seasons.
If Ings fails to produce when called upon or, in more extreme circumstances, endures similar injury woes, Southampton may have effectively wasted around £35 million on strikers in the 18 months, following the nonsensical decision to splash the cash on Guido Carrillo back in January.
Conversely, though, if Ings is able to put his injuries behind him and rejuvenate his career at St Mary’s, Southampton will be getting a striker of good quality for what will be considered a bargain in today’s extremely inflated market.
There’s certainly a romantic side to this deal. A player whose encounters with hardship have led him back to his footballing home in rather extraordinary circumstances. It could prove to be a match made in heaven, as a local boy achieves his ambitions with the club he once aspired to represent.
Southampton’s Premier League season ahead promises an uncertain fate. Given the shortage of quality attacking depth, the risk taken by the club to sign Ings simply outweighs the risk they’d have taken by heading into the campaign without fresh attacking blood.