It seems like an age since Southampton finished sixth in the Premier League and nobody batted an eyelid over it.
That was just three years ago.
Four consecutive top eight finished gave way to a pair of turgid relegation battles as one too many key names departed St Mary’s – namely Virgil van Dijk.
Southampton no longer have a stable of world class talents-to-be, but they do have a boss whose radical vision for the club could become a reality in the coming season.
Ralph Hasenhuttl will demand more than survival this time around – but can he transform the Saints’ fortunes and restore them to the top half battle?
RadioTimes.com has rounded up everything you need to know about Southampton ahead of the 2019/20 season.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) July 28, 2019
Where did Southampton finish last season?
16th. There’s a reason Mark Hughes hasn’t had a job in football since leaving the Saints.
Mauricio Pellegrino inherited Claude Puel’s squad which reached the giddy heights of eighth and a cup final, and quickly doused them into a relegation battle. [Enter Hughes]
The Welshman took over in March 2018, did just about enough to secure survival, then came 2018/19…
Surely nobody could start a season as miserably as Pellegrino’s side did? Hughes’ ‘hold my beer’ moment arrived.
He guided the Saints to one victory in the opening 14 games before being relieved of his duties.
Former RB Leipzig boss Hasenhuttl was drafted in, a risky ‘project’ appointment in a time when the club simply needed a firefighter to limp toward the finish line, and he did the business.
Nothing too remarkable, but Hasenhuttl simply got his players playing and picked up a healthy balance of wins, draws and losses to secure the Saints’ place in the top flight.
Who is Southampton’s key player?
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The captain is the main cog in Southampton’s midfield machine.
He’s a relentless runner, perfectly suited to the Saints’ high-pressing style, with top technical ability.
Hojbjerg is a slick passer – both short, quick, recycled passes and long, thread-the-needle through balls – and even chips in with a handful of goals.
At 23 years old, he will only improve and mature, but he’s already the player Southampton need him to be.
Who is Southampton’s biggest summer signing?
Danny Ings (£20m). Southampton’s know exactly what they’re getting from their biggest summer purchase Ings.
The 27-year-old scored seven goals in 24 games for the Saints last season on loan from Liverpool, enough for the south coast side to convert the deal into a permanent one.
It’s a crucial season for Ings, the first in which he can expect to start every game since leaving Burnley in 2015.
Injuries have blighted his career over the past few seasons, including at Southampton, but they have still deemed him worthy of a hefty transfer fee.
His appeal is relatively straight-forward. Ings makes darting runs between centre-backs, playing off the shoulder of defenders all game, and injuries have not entirely dampened his pace off the mark.
He is a top finisher, but will benefit from a full pre-season and long stint in the side to shake off the rust.
Who is Southampton’s manager? Meet Ralph Hasenhuttl
Hasenhuttl (“it’s a small hut for rabbits, if you want,” said the man himself during his introductory press conference) is not in the Premier League for a simple pay cheque.
The 51-year-old has a vision of how he expects football to be played and fans can expect an even heavier reliance on his philosophy following a full intensive pre-season regime.
The German boss enjoyed drifting between spells of 5-2-2-1 and 5-3-2 with Yan Valery and Ryan Bertrand bursting down either flank as wing-backs.
Nathan Redmond benefitted after being slotted into a striker role alongside Ings while the immovable midfield trio of James Ward-Prowse, Oriel Romeu and Hojbjerg provided a solid, creative base to build on.
Che Adams’ arrival at the club may see the style shift again following his terrific pre-season campaign so far, but whatever the personnel, trusting Hasenhuttl’s methods will be crucial to success in 2019/20.
Southampton fixtures – The start
10th August: Burnley (A)
17th August: Liverpool (H)
24th August: Brighton (A)
Southampton fixtures – The run-in
2nd May: Brighton (H)
9th May: Bournemouth (A)
17th May: Sheffield United (H)
The fans say…
SAINTSFCVIEWS ON TWITTER
What is the mood like among fans going into 2019/20?
Compared to the last couple of seasons, there is a real sense of optimism going into the new season. Hasenhuttl has been a breath of fresh air after two disastrous appointments in Pellegrino and Hughes.
The second half of the season last year under Ralph has given the fans enough to be confident that Southampton, with a few new signings can go back to fighting for the ‘best of the rest title’.
There are a lot of areas we need to work on going into the new season, but Hasenhuttl has an incredible record in turning teams around in the Bundesliga, so fingers crossed he can bring that success to Southampton.
Who will be your key player this season?
Pierre Emile Højbjerg – the captain! Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich protegé has flourished in recent years and has quickly become the spine of the side after getting the captaincy last year.
He’s a driving force in our team, and can change a game in second with a key pass or crucial interceptions. If he can chip in with a few more goals this season, he will only go from strength to strength.
Any young talents to look out for?
Southampton are known for producing some of the best players in England and across Europe. However in more recent times, Director of Football Operations Ross Wilson has been given the green light by owners to invest in the acquisition of young elite talent from over Europe and from our usual southern footprint.
Yan Valery is a great example of how effective that recruitment can be. He was brought in from Stade Rennais, and since Hasenhuttl’s arrival, the 20 year old has been a crucial players for the first team. Recent youth additions such as Enzo Robsie, Allan Tchaptchet, Will Ferry and most recently the highly rated youngster from Birmingham, Ramello Mitchell, are players that could also breakthrough into the first team this or next season and be pivotal squad players.
But for me, two exciting players to look out for this season are Micheal Obafemi, who scored his first Premier League goal last year, and Dan N’Lundulu, who signed for Southampton from Chelsea.
From the outside, Ralph Hasenhuttl hasn’t particularly turned too many heads, how do you feel about him? Is he the right man for the Saints?
You only have to look at the statistics from when Ralph joined to see how impressive he has been since arriving. When Hasenhuttl arrived Mark Hughes had picked up nine points from 15 matches.
Having finished on 36 points and picked up wins against Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham he single-handedly saved us. Having arguably picked up more points if it wasn’t for mistakes at the back we could have been looking at a mid-table finish last year. For the first time in a couple of years, I have an incredible amount of optimism that providing the board continues to back him in the transfer window, Southampton will be back in the top half of the season next year under Hasenhuttl.
Southampton’s recent history has been littered with huge money sales – mainly to Liverpool – is there anyone in the current squad you’re worried about losing?
Southampton are well known for selling their best players for eye-watering fees. However any football fan will understand that this model has allowed the club to become self-sustainable and profitable.
As a smaller club, we are extremely vulnerable to loosing our best players to European giants such as Liverpool when they come knocking, promising to offer our players £100,000k p/w plus Champions League football. Unless a wealthy business man is prepared to take us on and turn us into the next Manchester City/PSG then we will always be a selling club.
As it stands, I am not too worried about losing any of our current players, as they have all underperformed in recent years, and don’t warrant a move away. I know Hojbjerg and Redmond have been subject to summer interest, but I am more worried about losing Hasenhuttl when he turns that club around in the next few years. Trust me in saying he will be at a top 10 European club in the next few years.
Where will you finish in the Premier League?
A top 12 finish this year is achievable if Hasenhuttl is backed in the transfer market.
Where will Southampton finish? RadioTimes.com says…
Southampton have a competent, capable squad though its does perhaps lack a dash of reliability up front and at the back.
Ings can blow hot and cold depending on his fitness while the backline is yet to fully convince.
As mentioned, Adams looks set to ease the goalscoring pressure on Ings while Redmond massively benefitted from Hasenhuttl’s arrival and will hope for a consistent full season.
Southampton could turn into a ‘score one more than you’ team if their defence can’t improve in tandem with their attack, but the relegation zone should quickly drift out of their thoughts this season.