Southampton stuck with Pellegrino too long
There's finally sweet relief on the South Coast. Mauricio Pellegrino was dismissed from Southampton after nine torturous months on the job. The decision had been expected. The club's patience with the Argentine had not. The Saints have had one victory in 17 games. Only Alan Pardew is on a worse run.
After Claude Puel failed to woo fans with a dour orthodox style that nonetheless produced results, Pellegrino was sold to supporters as the Messiah. He was portrayed as an exciting manager who would reinvigorate St Mary’s with a brand of front-foot football. To them, he was everything Puel wasn't. Charismatic, tactically brave, exciting. As it turns out, he also wasn't a winner. Last year's eighth-place finish is looking much better than the cliff-edge 17th So'ton currently occupy.
Indeed, Pellegrino's inflated reputation suggested he could marry flair with substance. At Alaves, he achieved the club's highest finish in a decade on a shoestring budget while reaching the Copa del Rey final. The Babazorros played beautiful attacking football, taking games to opponents with high-intensity. Irrespective of the opponent, Pellegrino stayed true to his philosophy.
Something was lost in translation when he moved to England. Perhaps the original Pellegrino stayed put in Vitoria-Gasteiz, assigning a clone to the Premier League. Maybe the Argentine disregarded all he knew as soon he arrived the Premier League. Under the 46-year-old, the Saints have been far more turgid than they were under his predecessor. Utterly cautious, rigid, unadventurous.
Optimism around St Mary's gradually evaporated after one win in Pellegrino’s opening five matches. The subsequent five games produced just three points. As early as Christmas, the Saints were already soaking in relegation waters. At this stage last season, however, they were mid-table, having just played an EFL Cup final at Wembley.
Pellegrino couldn't turn the ship in the new year either. A heavy Boxing Day defeat at Tottenham Hotspur was followed by a boring stalemate against Manchester United, then a shocking home loss to Crystal Palace. Two wins in the next six matches were all Pellegrino could pluck. Saturday's 3-0 defeat to Newcastle proved the last straw for an exasperated boardroom.
Despite obvious talent, the Saints have lacked direction, focus, and drive. They don't recover from poor starts and are easily out-manoeuvred by smarter opponents. Under previous managers, Southampton had an identity. They had a clear pattern each time they played. Even the much-maligned Puel knew his strongest XI. That wasn't the case with Pellegrino, whose selections appeared confused and muddled.
Instability in team selection obviously took its toll on player productivity. Only Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu have looked like Premier Leaguers. If a good performance doesn't force the manager to keep you in the lineup, where is the motivation?
Up front, Pellegrino alternated between Shane Long, Manolo Gabbiadini, and Guido Carrillo in Charlie Austin's absence. Only young midfielder Jake Hesketh and defender Jan Bednarek have not been rotated.
Southampton aren't effective in any area. They aren't scoring, with just 27 goals in 30 matches. Austin, who has not played since before Christmas could finish as the team’s top scorer with six league goals. Defensively, three Saints are in the top 20 for errors leading directly to goals. Only Bournemouth, Stoke, and Crystal Palace have fewer clean sheets.
Pellegrino departs Southampton one point adrift of safety. But the Saints may ultimately pay the price for holding onto the Argentine too long. We'll know in eight games.