Is Southampton destined for relegation under Mark Hughes?
Image: Solent, cc-by-2.0.
When club chairman Ralph Krueger described Mark Hughes as the “perfect fit” for Southampton in May, he didn't envisage a repeat of the club's struggles under Mauricio Pellegrino. That is exactly where the club finds itself. With just a single win in 11 games this season, the Saints sit 16th in the Premier League table, geared up for a second successive relegation fight.
Hughes promised things would be much better this time around when awarded a three-year extension for pulling off last term's rescue mission. But you really can't give what you don't have, can you? Although Stoke City was not as financially buoyant as Southampton, Sparky had an opportunity to do big things with Manchester City at the beginning of their revolution but failed to impress.
He led Blackburn to a sixth-place finish in 2006. His biggest achievement as a manager, it's insufficient to earn him top-manager status. Hughes' time at Queen Park Rangers and Stoke confirm that verdict. More damning evidence? The Welshman had time to reshape his squad at the St. Mary’s Stadium before the season began.
It can be argued the team grossly underperformed under Pellegrino and needed a manager who could put them in the top half of the table where they belonged. There is too much quality in this side to consistently struggle through matches. The club parades some of the Premier League's most talented players.
Hughes reinforced a strong lineup this summer, bringing in 23-year-old Norway forward, Mohamed Elyounousi from Swiss club Basel for £16 million. Liverpool striker, Danny Ings also joined on loan. That's in addition to four quality forwards already at the club. Charlie Austin, Shane Long, Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini are all fighting for a place up front.
Dane Jannik Vestergaard was also brought in from Borussia Monchengladbach to shore up the defence following Virgil van Dijk's departure.
Nevertheless, the team has continued to suffer. Seven goals scored in 11 league games is nothing to write home about. Six came in the first five. The team has scored just a single goal in the last six. Two weekends past, Southampton could not breach a Newcastle defence that had kept only two clean sheets in nine league games and was yet to win. That puts the Saints in the same category with the struggling relegation candidates. A 6-1 drubbing at Manchester City's hands exposed a porous defence.
Faith, not evidence is the only argument against Southampton's relegation. In the next 10 games, the side will face Watford, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea. They will also face Pep Guardiola's City again. Imagine where they could be after 21 matches. It won't be a joyous holiday season on the South Coast.
If Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City and Newcastle United's miseries continue, So'ton might survive. But then both Newcastle and Huddersfield ended their winless starts to the campaign in the past week. Slavisa Jokanovic's Fulham is in a death spiral, too, Huddersfield's win coming at the listless Cottager's expense. It's possible Southampton will survive through their relegation rivals' collective ineptitude. If so, another Premier League season will be there in 2019/20. Except Mark Hughes promised it would be different this time.