Will The Saints Go Marching On?

Everyone loves a stat don’t they? I know I do, and that is why I was chuffed when the guys from kickoff.co.uk offered to put together a season preview for me using their expertise. So dear reader, settle back and prepare to be dazzled by the numbers and enjoy!

Will the Saints go marching on?

‘Second season syndrome’ is a phrase regularly bandied around at Premier League level, with the perception being that promoted clubs are more vulnerable to relegation after their opponents have had a year to get used to facing them.

Southampton find themselves in that position ahead of the new campaign, so I thought I’d take a look back at their 2012/13 season and highlight both what they did well and any areas in which I feel they can improve.

POSITIVES

The Saints finished 14th in the final table, yet they were the tenth highest scorers in the division with 49 goals from their 38 matches. Rickie Lambert was responsible for 15 of these strikes, benefitting from being the focal point at the top of their attacking formation.

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Nigel Adkins before him encouraged a positive brand of football, with this being reflected by the fact that Southampton found the net in 29 (76%) of their top-flight fixtures. This achievement is furnished with additional kudos when you consider that this represented the best record outside of the top-seven.

Furthermore, the men from the South Coast scored in all eight of their meetings with the eventual Champions League qualifiers:

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As the chart above also shows, home wins were achieved against two of the top-three, whilst only late brilliance from Robin van Persie handed Manchester United victory at St. Mary’s.

This shows that Southampton can mix it with the big boys, on their own patch at least, but they also managed to remain unbeaten against teams finishing in their quarter of the final table:

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Although six of these games ended all-square, it is certainly worth noting that only Fulham picked up more points (13) from meetings between members of this quintet.

The Saints were similarly strong in matches in which they opened the scoring, winning eight, drawing six and losing four of these encounters. When you consider that half of these defeats came against the eventual champions, then that record starts to look even better.

NEGATIVES

Draws were undoubtedly a problem, with only Everton and Stoke managing more than the 14 picked up by Southampton. Although the team shone offensively, there was a lack of support for Lambert in the scoring stakes; no other player contributed in excess of six league goals.

Another major issue would have to be the defensive frailty displayed by the South Coast outfit. Just seven clean sheets were kept in 38 games, with four of these coming against the six sides that finished below them in the table.

Winning at the top clubs is never easy, but five draws and eight defeats from 13 trips to those that finished above them hints at fundamental flaws in the Saints’ approach to away matches. Could this be the result of some kind of mental block or is it the end product of an overly-positive tactical approach on the road?

Whatever the reason, it is hard to offer up anything other than complacency as an excuse for Southampton losing at home to three of the bottom-four last season:

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Alarm bells also start to ring when we take a look at results from games in which the men from Hampshire conceded first. Eleven of these 17 fixtures ended in defeat, with the 4-1 hammering of Aston Villa representing the only success achieved on the back of going 1-0 down.

Perhaps the most damning statistic of all, however, is just how easy opponents found it to convert their chances against the Saints:

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As you can see, nearly one in five of the shots that Southampton allowed resulted in a goal being scored against them. Only relegated Wigan fared worse in this category, and that by the narrowest of margins, whilst Newcastle were the nearest club in the other direction.

TRANSFERS

The incomings at St. Mary’s this summer should certainly provide the supporters with plenty of encouragement. Croatian international centre-back Dejan Lovren arrives from Lyon, whilst Victor Wanyama has won rave reviews for his performances at Celtic.

Although I have only seen Lovren in action once, in the Europa League at White Hart Lane last season, he comes highly-rated and has already won close to 20 caps for his country.

Young Wanyama has been far more on my radar, however, producing a string of top-class performances both domestically and on the Champions League stage from his natural position in the middle of the park.

These additions, along with the continued development of Luke Shaw, should help to address some of the aforementioned defensive issues, though the squad as a whole is an extremely young one:

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This perfectly feasible starting XI, for example, would boast an average age of just 24 years and nine months come the start of the season.

One more signing in a forward area could be made with a view to easing the burden on Rickie Lambert, but I don’t actually believe this to be necessary. Jay Rodriguez started to blossom when given a run in the team, albeit not in his preferred position, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka is a real talent. I would be interested to hear what Southampton supporters have made of the Zambian in his fleeting cameos, because he has impressed me greatly on the international stage.

FUTURE

If the previous campaign is anything to go by, then a difficult start awaits:

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If we exclude home games with the newly-promoted duo of Crystal Palace and Hull, then it becomes apparent that the Saints failed to win any of the equivalent 11 fixtures during 2012/13.

I must admit that I have my doubts about Pochettino and his high-pressing style, but I have a lot of faith in the group of players that has been assembled at St. Mary’s. This is a squad capable of pushing for a place in the top-ten, but whether or not they achieve that is open to debate.’

Thanks to Charles and Rob from kickoff.co.uk for compiling this!

Chris

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