Southampton Season Review 2020/21

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It was a bit of a golden period for Southampton in the Premier League between 2013 and 2017. For four straight seasons, they finished in the top eight. In fact, in 2015/16, a sixth-place finish saw them secure European qualification. Since then, however, it’s been anything but rosy.

Indeed, the inhabitants of St. Mary’s have been entrenched in the lower ends of the table, finishing between 15th and 17th in three of the last four seasons. The 9-0 losses every season haven’t helped the morale, either. This season has been particularly difficult. At one point, Southampton were top of the table. But by the end, they were 15th, a startling fall from grace for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side.

The German manager was given the benefit of doubt after the first 9-0 loss to Leicester City the season before. They recovered well, however, finishing 11th, capping a turnaround that included a 2-0 win over Leicester in the reverse fixture. But it’s all gone downhill in 2021 after what seemed like a fine season for the Saints.

Southampton Season Review

A Tale of Two Halves

A 1-1 draw against Arsenal on 16 December 2020 took Southampton to third in the table. After starting the season with losses to Crystal Palace and early pace-setters Tottenham Hotspur, they lost just one of the next 11 games. It culminated in a rise to third in the table. A loss to eventual champions Manchester City and consecutive draws against Fulham and West Ham meant they fell down a little, but a win over Liverpool took them back into the top six.

From that point onwards, it’s been a downward slide. Just three wins and two draws from 21 games; the others were all losses. Even those victories were against Sheffield United and Fulham, who both ended up relegated, and Burnley, who have also had a dismal season that saw them finish 17th. The faith in Ralph Hasenhüttl is certainly shaken. He has roused his troops before, but he may not be able to do it again. James Ward-Prowse has done well, but his form also dropped in the second half, so much so that he left out of England Euro 2020 squad after looking well-set. If Harry Kane leaves Tottenham, they will surely look at Danny Ings as a ready-made replacement. It won’t help Hasenhüttl if Southampton lose a player who has scored 41 Premier League goals across the last three seasons.

Top Performers and Disappointments

James Ward-Prowse, Kyle Walker-Peters and Danny Ings have by far been their best performers. Even in losses, they have stood out. As others’ form fell away around them, the de facto leaders of this Southampton kept giving more or less solid performances.

Che Adams, after a terrible start to his Southampton career, seemed back on track. He scored four times during Project Restart. He opened his Southampton and Premier League account against Manchester City, lobbing Ederson from about the halfway line after intercepting one of his signature long balls. Nine goals and five assists is not too bad a return. He often went missing at pivotal moments, however. His combination with Danny Ings seemed to work like a charm initially.

It is the defence where the biggest problems have been. Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster have made some impressive saves, but their overall play leaves a lot to be desired. Jannik Vestergaard was this season’s surprise package. The Danish international was a dominating presence in both boxes. His height was an important weapon to stop opposition crosses. At the other end, he was the biggest target for James Ward-Prowse at set-pieces. He scored three times, including a late equaliser in a madcap 3-3 draw against Chelsea. But in 2021, he has looked like a man short of confidence. He has been shaky at the back, and his threat from set-pieces is non-existence.

Beside Vestergaard, Jan Bednarek too has imploded. His performances have not been convincing at all. Ryan Bertrand, who is leaving at the end of his contract, has been often out with injury. In the closing stages, left-footed centre-back Mohammed Salisu has started at left-back. It’s been a curious case, that summer signings Salisu and Ibrahima Diallo have not been used as much as expected. Salisu only really came in at the business end. He played half of his games at left-back, half at right-back.

Inconsistent Wingers and Youth

Moussa Djenepo is extremely inconsistent. He has his flashes of brilliance, but they are too few and far between. The man on his opposite wing, Nathan Redmond, has been inconsistent for years. He had a good time in the FA Cup, but like the rest of the team, he fell flat in the semi-final loss to Leicester in front of fans.

Young Nathan Tella has been a lively find. He has made a fair few appearances, and he got a maiden goal and assist near the end of the season. Whatever happens with management or playing personnel at Southampton next season, he is certainly one to look forward to. He is the only youth player to have impressed other than Kyle Walker-Peters, who was signed permanently last summer from Tottenham after a successful loan. Forward Michael Obafemi and midfielder Will Smallbone spent a significant part of the season out injured.

Dan N’Lundulu has made a handful of appearances, with the promise of more to come. Alexandre Jankewitz, however, did not have a great time on his full debut. His first start was an exciting occasion, but it turned sour within two minutes, as he was sent off for a terrible tackle on Scott McTominay.

Player of the Season

James Ward-Prowse has a handful of fine free-kicks and a reputation for venomous set-piece delivery. Ings, meanwhile, has ended up as the top scorer for a third season running, although his 12 goals is a fall from the 22 he scored last season. They are the only realistic candidates for the Player of the Season award.

Ings gets the nod, however, over his fellow England international. Of course, neither will go to the Euros, Danny Ings also failing to make the provisional 33. Ings has too many players ahead of him. Kane is the undoubted first-choice, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and Mason Greenwood are next in line. Patrick Bamford and Tammy Abraham form the next line along with Ings.

England troubles aside, Ings has been crucial for Southampton. He is at the heart of the Saints’ attacking play, and he has the ability to score some stupendous goals. Southampton owe their early form to Ings and his ability to connect with his fellow attackers. He could have been better, but that’s for the next season now. If not for their early season form, their run of losses in 2021 might have gotten them relegated.

Goal of the Season

Every one from James Ward-Prowse is a thing of beauty. Danny Ings and Che Adams have scored some brilliant strikes, and Moussa Djenepo’s goal against West Bromwich Albion was really good. But it has to go to Danny Ings’ strike against former side Liverpool. It was a deft touch that looped over the keeper and won the game for Southampton.

Comeback of the Season

Timo Werner finally came of age with two fantastic strikes, but Southampton came back to draw level, aided by some terrible defending. Kai Havertz joined his fellow German among the goals to put Chelsea back ahead, but Vestergaard equalised late, in stoppage time.

Looking to 2021/22

Danny Ings will be high on Tottenham’s list if Kane leaves, so Southampton could find themselves looking for a replacement up front. In that case, someone like Blackburn’s Adam Armstrong may be a good option, although they are likely to face competition. Reports suggest they may go for Armstrong with or without Ings leaving.

The defence could do with an upgrade with Vestergaard and Bednarek not as good in the second half. Of course, Mohammed Salisu has been good and should begin the new season as first-choice. A left-back will have to be signed to replace the outgoing Bertrand. Salisu did alright there, but it is not his natural position and Southampton will benefit from having him at centre-back. Goalkeeper may be a position they will think about. Sam Johnstone should be top on their list. He was a shining star for relegated West Bromwich Albion and made England’s Euro squad after Nick Pope’s injury.

 

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