Fraser Forster

Getty Images

Comparing this Leicester City squad to the title-winning team

1 Comment

Leicester City sits second place in the Premier League table in mid-November, eight points back of a historic Liverpool position.

Since winning the title, Leicester City has finished 12th, 9th, and 9th and suddenly are challenging for a Champions League place yet again. The simple fact that the Foxes have managed to sustain considerable top-flight success over the course of the last six seasons might be even more impressive than their lightning-in-a-bottle title run.

While there are a few holdovers from the title-winning campaign, like goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Jamie Vardy who stand out among the crowd, there has understandably been considerable turnover from that title team. Midfielders N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater were sold for significant sums of money, as was winger Riyad Mahrez. Both members of the center-back partnership Wes Morgan and Robert Huth put together are 35 years old (Morgan is still with the club but has logged just 28 Premier League minutes thus far).

In now are rising stars like Wilfred Ndidi, Ricardo Pereira, Ben Chilwell, and Youri Tielemans, looking to write their own place into Foxes history.

So, naturally, we thought it fitting to compare the two sides. In another universe where Liverpool doesn’t dominate the Premier League landscape in record-breaking fashion, could this current Leicester challenge for a title? The only way to find out is to pit them against the squad that did. Here we go.


GOALKEEPER – Kasper Schmeichel (15/16) vs. Kasper Schmeichel (19/20)

Now 33 years old, Kasper Schmeichel has become one of the faces of Leicester City. Fans adore his leadership and calming presence, and respect his dedication to the club. But how does he stack up now against the likes of his younger self? With five clean sheets in 12 appearances under Brendan Rodgers this season, Schmeichel is up to his old tricks. Among qualifying goalkeepers, Schmeichel ranks second in the league in overall score according to SofaScore’s rating system, and has has managed to do so without facing a ton of shots – Leicester City has conceded the fourth-fewest xGA according to UnderStat.com.

So how does that stack up to the legendary title-winning season of 2015/16? That year, Schmeichel recorded 15 clean sheets in 38 league appearances, one behind Petr Cech‘s 16 for the league lead. He had the fourth-highest saves per goal conceded total in the league at 2.8, behind just Cech and a pair of goalkeepers with higher volume in Vito Mannone and Fraser Forster.

VERDICT: DRAW – Schmeichel is up to his old tricks, and has kept his level of play high through the years. Leicester City still has a rock between the sticks.

CENTER-BACK – Wes Morgan/Robert Huth (15/16) vs. Caglar Soyuncu/Jonny Evans (19/20)

Wes Morgan and Robert Huth built an unlikely center-back partnership at Leicester City. A former Chelsea youth product, Huth was on his fourth club after spending six years at Stoke City toiling in the middle of the Premier League table. Morgan, meanwhile, had been a career Championship player, with the previous campaign his first in the top flight. Together, they logged a massive 6,570 Premier League minutes en route to a defensive performance that saw them concede just 36 goals in 38 games, one off the league’s stingiest defensive output. By April, the two led the top-four defenders in blocks, and both appeared in the WhoScored’s top 15 for center-back ratings at season’s end.

Today, an equally unlikely circumstance has led Leicester City to the league’s best defense. 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu has developed into one of the best young center-back prospects in the league next to experienced former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. Thanks to that pair, Leicester City is one of just two teams to have conceded a single-digit goal total through 12 matches alongside Sheffield United. Soyuncu ranks 3rd in WhoScored rating among CB’s with at least 7 appearances, while Evans is 11th, and the former is a beast in the air and pressures with accuracy. Also, he can dribble?

VERDICT: SOYUNCU/EVANS – While Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will live in club lore, the longevity potential for Soyuncu/Evans and their underlying statistics prove they are far more than a one-hit-wonder and can be a massive asset for this club moving forward.

FULL-BACK – Christian Fuchs/Danny Simpson (15/16) vs. Ricardo Pereira/Ben Chilwell (19/20)

One of the more under-heralded fan favorites of the 2015/16 title team, Christian Fuchs is another that will live on in club lore. He was energetic and a lively presence in the dressing room. Along with his full-back partner Danny Simpson, both players were seemingly on the decline before coming to Leicester – Fuchs had made 16 and 25 league appearances in his final two season at Schalke before being shipped out, while Simpson had lost his starting place at Newcastle two years prior and spent a season in the Championship with QPR before Leicester City gave him another shot at the Premier League. Somehow, things clicked under Claudio Ranieri and the two took off, providing both defensive cover and overlapping contributions moving forward.

With Fuchs a bit-part player and Simpson off at Huddersfield Town, they have been replaced by two of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Ricardo Pereira was the second-best right-back in the league behind Trent Alexander-Arnold last season according to WhoScored, while Ben Chilwell has earned a regular spot on the England national team.

VERDICT: Pereira/Chilwell – Fuchs is an absolute fan-favorite and Simpson’s revival was stunning to behold, but like the current center-back pairing Pereira and Chilwell have the longevity to serve the club for years or become valuable assets, and the two have already earned personal accolades the previous duo would not have achieved.

DEFENSIVE MID – N’Golo Kante (15/16) vs. Wilfred Ndidi (19/20)

This is one of the most fascinating player comparisons in recent soccer memory. N’Golo Kante’s rise to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, earning PFA Player of the Year in 2016/17 and finishing 8th on the Ballon d’Or list for 2017. Kante was the most important player on the title-winning squad – quite simply, Leicester City doesn’t win the title without Kante leading the league in tackles per 90 (4.7) and interceptions per 90 (4.2). His ability to halt opponent counters in their tracks was mind-numbing.

And yet, Leicester City’s only gone and produced his clone.

Wilfred Ndidi leads the league in interceptions per 90 minutes and is second in tackles behind tackle machine Aaron Wan-Bissaka. At just 23 years old, the Foxes are staring another N’Golo Kante in the face, a player who many believed – rightly so – was a once-in-a-generation type midfield product.

VERDICT: N’Golo Kante – while Ndidi is a massively promising player who is producing another season like Kante’s in 15/16, it will be hard to top one of the most legendary performances of the past decade, one backed up by Kante’s rise to stardom over the past few years.

CENTER MID – Danny Drinkwater (15/16) vs. Youri Tielemans (19/20)

Danny Drinkwater has flopped since his move to Chelsea, but don’t let that cloud your memory of his performance as N’Golo Kante’s midfield partner. Drinkwater was massively important to Leicester City during the title run, scoring two goals in 35 league appearances and assisting seven more, providing a dynamic presence in midfield to both calmly hold possession and provide dangerous moves forward. Still, admittedly being next to Kante made Drinkwater look better, and that proved true through the rest of his career.

Tielemans, on the other hand, is putting up numbers of his own that prove he’s his own player outside of any lift he gets from being slotted next to Ndidi and James Maddison. His passing percentage is way up from his days at Anderlecht and Monaco, and while he still struggles with turning the ball over on occasion, his heavy volume (55 passes per 90, 13th among non-defenders) and key passes (1.8 per 90, 17th in the league) suggest Tielemans has settled into an important role with the club.

VERDICT: Tielemans – While Danny Drinkwater was important to Leicester City’s run, his peripherals suggested Chelsea probably should have been more careful with its money. Tielemans has made significant strides since his disastrous time at Monaco and has become an important cog in midfield.

ATTACKING MID/WINGER – Riyad Mahrez/Marc Albrighton vs. James Maddison/Ayoze Perez (19/20)

Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton offered vastly different skill sets that mixed well under Claudio Ranieri. (Getty Images)

Riyad Mahrez’s road to becoming Leicester City’s record sale was at times a bumpy tale, but there were no higher highs than he had in the 2015/16 title run. The Algerian international became a Premier League sensation with his 17 goals and 10 assists, doing it all for the Leicester City attack. He produced an xG of 11.88 for himself, with a silly goal conversion rate on top of that. In addition, he set his teammates up for a nearly equal 11.45 xA total, picking up 20 big chances created and dribbling successfully at a rate of 3.5 per 90 minutes. By contrast, Mahrez’s wing partner Marc Albrighton is a mostly forgettable player for casual fans, but he was massively important in other ways. Playing in every single Premier League match that season, Albrighton helped keep the shape and offered a more rigid foil to Mahrez’s marauding, with Fuchs overlapping on the left.

This season, James Maddison is the standout attacking player for the Foxes, with the 22-year-old developing into a key contributor up front. The youngster is eighth in the league in key passes per 90 minutes, and he himself is ripping off over three shots a game, with four league goals already to his name. Still, Maddison could be creating more – with 23 shot assists on the season so far, only two have qualified as “big chances” according to SofaScore. Ayoze Perez has not quite brought the explosiveness we saw in his Newcastle days over to the King Power Stadium, but his three-goal haul is also proving important early on.

VERDICT: Mahrez/Albrighton – while this duo was sorely one-sided, the season Riyad Mahrez had for Leicester City that title-winning campaign was an attacking display for the ages. Maddison is an extremely solid future asset contributing at a high level for such a young age, but he still has distance to cover to reach the heights of Mahrez that fateful year, who finished as the highest rated player in the entire league according to WhoScored.com.

STRIKER – Jamie Vardy (15/16) vs. Jamie Vardy (19/20)

Alongside Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy is the face of Leicester City. His out-of-nothing story makes him special to Leicester City fans, and his goalscoring prowess has been critical to the club ever since they were promoted to the Premier League. Vardy has made a career of scoring out of nothing – his top-flight career has seen him score 91 goals, a massive +11.5 differential over his 79.5 career xG.

Yet, a closer look provides a fascinating underscore of the evolution of the 32-year-old’s career. This season, in just 12 matches, Vardy has bagged 11 goals on an xG of just 5.19, meaning nearly 6 of that +11 career differential has come just this campaign. The Foxes striker is taking just two shots per 90 minutes, and yet has scored on nearly half of them – absolutely astronomical conversion numbers that are surely unsustainable, even if Vardy’s career has been built on exceptional finishing.

While those numbers are surely inflated by the relatively small sample size of 12 matches this year, they aren’t all that different from the title-winning season. That campaign, Vardy took 115 shots – 3.28 per game – and scored on 24 of them, and his 0.19 xG per shot is quite close to the 0.21 he is putting up this season. Most interesting, he scored 18 of those 24 goals with his right foot, a variance which has evened out this season as Vardy becomes more competent with his off side – four goals with his right, four with his left, and two with his head.

VERDICT: 15/16 Vardy – This season’s Jamie Vardy just isn’t shooting at the volume you’d expect from a striker of his finishing caliber, and he needs to find a higher volume if he wants to keep up the ridiculous goal conversion rate that will surely regress towards the mean.

BENCH – Leonard Ulloa/Shinji Okazaki/Andy King (15/16) vs. Demari Gray/Harvey Barnes/Hamza Choudhury (19/20)

It is impossible to discuss the epic season Leicester City had in 2015/16 without talking about Leonard Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki, who combined came off the bench 30 times in league play and were often called upon to rescue points. Andy King became a club icon as a Leicester City youth product who fans took a liking to, brought off the bench 16 times himself to close a game down.

Brendan Rodgers has Demari Gray and Harvey Barnes at his disposal to inject life into a game, while Hamza Choudhury is a talented young player who has shown flashes of being able to do the job himself should anything happen to Ndidi. Still, Grey – who was a member of that title-winning squad – has not become the star many thought he would a few years ago and Barnes is still showing his age at 21 years old. The group has yet to become true super-subs and Rodgers has been somewhat forced to run with his main group – five players have played every minute of this Premier League campaign so far (Schmeichel, Soyuncu, Evans, Vardy, Pereira) while another (Tielemans) is has seen just seven minutes of rest.

VERDICT: 2015/16 – It felt like every time Ranieri called upon the cavalry, they would deliver in the given situation. Gray has yet to develop into the player many believed he would years ago, and Barnes is still a raw product.

What’s going wrong at Saints? How do they recover?

Leave a comment

The good news for Southampton is that they’ve hit rock bottom. The bad news is that they are likely to stay there for some time.

From top to bottom, Southampton are a sinking ship.

Given the manner of their 9-0 thumping at home by Leicester City on Friday, the issues which have been brewing behind-the-scenes for months, if not years, came to the fore. The way the players chucked the towel in at St Mary’s pointed to much bigger problems than a bit of bad luck, going down to 10-men early and Leicester being clinical.

Southampton are a rudderless ship. They have been since Gao Jisheng purchased a majority 80 percent stake in the club in August 2017. Just a couple of public statements from Gao over the past two years have left Saints’ fans, and some of those working at the club, bewildered. Nobody knows what the plan is and they have no vision other than just trying to keep their heads above water.

Gao said this summer that Southampton are ‘not a pig to be fattened’ and that they must be sustainable.

Unless he changes that model and adds key additions, especially defensively, in the January transfer window, Gao will lose huge sums with Saints no longer in the Premier League. Southampton almost went out of business in 2008, so the club will be hesitant to gamble by spending big, but if they don’t then relegation seems certain.

Relegation is highly likely unless something drastic changes, as they are one of the lowest net spending clubs in the PL over the past decade. Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic have all left to make the club huge profits.

But with the likes of Guido Carrillo, Wesley Hoedt, Mario Lemina, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Fraser Forster all out on loan, some horrific transfer buys have hamstrung Saints’ model of profitable player trading as the replacements haven’t been good enough.

That is why over the past two seasons they’ve just battled off relegation twice, they’ve sold all of their best players, again, and the players who remain are not performing, are expensive mistakes out on loan or are on huge contracts and seem to have no desire to prove themselves week in, week out.

Above manager Ralph Hasenhuttl there has been an almighty clear out in recent months. Director of Football Les Reed was fired 12 months ago. Chairman Ralph Krueger was fired in April. His replacement and former Head of Recruitment, Ross Wilson, left for Glasgow Rangers last week.

Add in that Hasenhutt’s trusted assistant Danny Rohl left in preseason to go to Bayern Munich and it is a case of last-man standing for their Austrian coach.

It seems like Hasenhuttl’s position is under threat given the clear unrest among the playing squad, as there have been murmurs of discontent for some time. He’s made strange tactical decisions all season long and has no idea what his best team is. Even dating back to last season some within the club felt Hasenhuttl had got lucky due to Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff City being that bad and getting relegated instead of Saints.

The constant intensity of Hasenhuttl’s training sessions, and his personality, are wearing his players down. He has managed to send plenty of players out on loan and sell others to try and rip apart the decay at the center of this squad. But he’s not an easy man to please and plenty of Saints’ current starting lineup have felt his wrath over the past 10 months.

Officials, players and supporters of Southampton are in a state of shock after this defeat.

They should be, but there should also be a realization that this hefty loss has been a long time coming and that it will take even longer to get themselves out of the mess they’ve created for themselves.

Hopefully, at least for their sake, it is a huge wake-up call that sparks them into changes across the club. For so long their recruitment policy and academy has been the envy of others. It still can be, but they’ve been treading water for the past three years since Ronald Koeman departed in 2016 and they’ve shown a severe lack of ambition since.

Focusing on the here and now, Hasenhuttl has a huge job on his hands to galvanize this squad which was totally humiliated on the global stage.

For years to come when you mention Southampton people will laugh and say “they were smashed 9-0!”

Just ask Ipswich Town fans. They’ve had to deal with that since they were thumped by that same record scoreline at Manchester United back in 1995.

Of course, the scoreline reverberates around the world and it is the worst defeat in Saints’ 134-year history. It was also the biggest-ever away win in the top-flight since the English Football League was founded in 1888. Think about that.

But aside from the mammoth hiding they took at the hands of a ruthless Leicester side, the manner in which Saints lost was utterly shocking.

The players let themselves down, the club down and their manager down.

Hasenhuttl may not pay the ultimate price in the coming days, and he should be given the chance to prove this thumping was a freak result and one which they can bounce back from and be stronger. Hasenhuttl did well to keep Saints up last season but since that initial impact he had has faltered and he is now part of the bigger problem and doesn’t seem to have help from his board and his thinking is muddled.

But it will take some doing for Saints to not only recover in the coming weeks but also stay in the Premier League this season. They need to bring through young players once again, and they have some promising youngsters coming through. Too many players in their current squad have had chance after chance and are clearly not good enough.

What is clear is that neglecting to add to the squad and having no direction from Gao over the past two years has hit Southampton hard.

The performance on the pitch against Leicester City was appalling and embarrassing, and that tone has been set by the total lack of competence at the top of the club.

Hasenhuttl mentioned the Titanic in his opening press conference as Saints boss last December. The doomed ocean liner left the Port of Southampton on its ill-fated maiden voyage, and Hasenhuttl jokingly said that he hoped his team didn’t hit an iceberg in their battle against relegation.

Southampton have, and now they are in a huge battle to stay afloat.

West Ham smash Saints (video)

Leave a comment
  • Arnautovic scores twice
  • Back-to-back wins for West Ham
  • 4 games without a win for Saints

West Ham eased by Southampton 3-0 at the London Stadium on Saturday, as the Hammers continued to end the season with a flourish.

Marko Arnautovic struck in each half to put West Ham in control, and Ryan Fredericks added another late on to seal the win. Southampton were better in the second half, but were second best for large spells of this game.

With the win West Ham are in 11th on 49 points, while Saints remain in 16th on 38 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on Saints had plenty of the play and Stuart Armstrong fired over after a good ball from Ings.

But West Ham took the lead after a horrible mistake from Yan Valery. The young defender passed the ball inside to Mark Noble who set up Arnautovic to slot home and made it 1-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Buoyed by that early goal, West Ham pinned Saints back and forced Fraser Forster (making his first appearance since December 2017) into a smart stop.

Forster then denied Michail Antonio from distance as the Hammers dominated the first half and deservedly led.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Nathan Redmond came on at half time and was in right away but his shot was blocked. And Redmond’s effort from a corner was then blocked as Saints pushed hard for an equalizer.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Lukasz Fabianski then tipped Redmond’s shot over the bar but then West Ham sealed the win. Arthur Masuaku‘s cross was punched out by Forster but the ball rebounded back to Arnautovic who nodded into an empty net to score his and West Ham’s second.

The Hammers took care of the Saints with minimum fuss as Jack Wilshere, on as a sub, flicked the ball into Ryan Fredericks’ path and the right back finished to make it 3-0.

Arnautovic almost wrapped up his hat trick late on but curled just wide, as West Ham eased to victory and Southampton showed how much work Ralph Hasenhuttl has to do over the summer after they survived relegation.

Hasenhuttl masterminds Saints’ survival: Now it gets tough

Leave a comment

Southampton had one win on the board and nine points from their opening 15 games of the season.

They looked certain for relegation. Years of poor decisions in the transfer market had cost them dear. Fans took aim at the new owners and Director of Football Les Reed and Chairman Ralph Krueger (both of whom have left the club this season) for hiring and firing three managers in just over 12 months.

Then Ralph Hasenhuttl arrived for his first taste of English soccer and everything changed. Fans love his enthusiasm on the sidelines and his honesty in interviews created a Jurgen Klopp-esque bond. His first press conference set the tone perfectly. 

The talented but previously unenthused players have ran themselves into the ground and beat the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolves and Everton at home, results which were unthinkable earlier in the campaign.

Hasenhuttl’s clear vision led to gritty displays which saw Saints secure their status as a Premier League side on Saturday after their 3-3 draw with Bournemouth.

Now the really, really hard work starts if Saints are to return to being contenders for a top 10 finish rather than what they’ve now become, perennial relegation strugglers.

The former RB Leipzig head coach knows it.

“We will have a few players leaving. In every position we will try to get better next year,” Hasenhuttl said. “We had a very interesting last transfer period – no signings, just giving players away. This summer we will rebuild. We can start planning for next year tomorrow. A bit less stress would be nice [next season], sitting relaxed outside and taking the points we need. The target is to get 40 points earlier than this year.”

That planning for next season should start right now at Southampton.

The Austrian coach didn’t spend any money in the January transfer window, his only window since arriving at the club, and it is unlikely he will be able to spend that much this summer.

Saints are hamstrung by having expensive signings on long-term contracts who they can’t get rid of.

Similar to the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland before them, who kept their heads just above water season after season before finally being relegated, Saints are stuck with a bloated squad who haven’t proved their worth.

Wesley Hoedt, Sofiane Boufal, Cedric and Guido Carrillo are all out on loan right now and are unlikely to return. Manolo Gabbiadini was sold to Sampdoria in January. Fraser Forster is one of their highest earners but hasn’t played since December 2017. Mohamed Elyounoussi has barely featured. The list goes on and on.

Quite simply, Hasenhuttl will have to live with the legacy of Saints getting it wrong in several transfer windows since Ronald Koeman left in the summer of 2016. Since that summer they’ve spent over $200 million in transfer fees alone, and although the sale of Virgil Van Dijk and others negate those fees, players are on very large wages for a club of Southampton’s size which is run to be sustainable. They should be in that group of teams just outside the top six, not battling against the drop.

Something drastic has to change, and Hasenhuttl is now the right man to lead these decisions as he’s rejuvenated many members of the current squad in just five months.

The best thing Saints can now do is let Hasenhuttl have the huge clear out they need. Deadwood needs to be chopped.

Whatever it costs, they need to take the financial hit and let players leave on loan or for good, and let Hasenhuttl start the 2019-20 campaign with a fresh, hungry squad. The way he has brought out the best in Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and James Ward-Prowse among others proves his skill in inspiring players he inherited.

Imagine if he could actually add a handful of players he wants…

This season has to be the wake-up call that Saints should have had last season when they survived relegation with one game to go. And that was largely down to Swansea’s slump rather than a good run of their own.

Saints’ academy is one of the best in the league and that is where a lot of their fresh talent can come from. Hasenhuttl has put faith in youth his entire managerial career and that hasn’t changed since he arrived in the Premier League, with Yan Valery, Michael Obafemi, Josh Sims and Ward-Prowse all becoming regulars under him. There are others waiting to break through too.

Hasenhuttl has been brave by cutting out more experienced players and he and Southampton have been rewarded for that.

Now Southampton, who don’t have a chairman or anyone in charge of the football side of the club long-term since Krueger left, must back Hasenhuttl. Krueger brought Hasenhuttl in, but the Austrian is happy to remain at the club and continue to push on, with a new leader or sporting director needed to get things right behind-the-scenes.

Saints can now start to focus on next season and they have Hasenhuttl to thank for that.

“We had to take a lot of points [after taking over in December]. If you told me after our first game against Cardiff, when we were five points behind them [that Southampton would stay up], it’s amazing,” Hasenhuttl said. “We deserve this. We invested a lot in this time and learned a lot. We showed how beautiful we can play. The next step must be to get more clinical in some situations. Two games before the end to be clear is fantastic for us.”

Season Preview: What should fans expect from Southampton?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Southampton at a glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 0 (best finish: 2nd, 1983/84)

FA Cups: 1 (last: 1975/76)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up twice, last 2016/17)

FA Community Shield: 0 (runners-up 1976/77)

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  


It is very difficult to gauge what an acceptable season would be this year at Southampton. The Saints finished 8th, 7th, 6th, and 8th four consecutive Premier League seasons before last year’s shock to the system, avoiding relegation by just one place and three points.

So what is the goal this season? Should they target the top 10? Is it simply to stay up? Or can it be both, with the team shooting for a top-half slot but satisfied with safety if they fall short of the former?

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

Much of this will take shape as the season trudges along. The squad theoretically has the depth needed to compete at this level, and while this summer’s haul hasn’t exactly jumped off the pages, it’s been enough to plug some big holes. With Mark Hughes at the helm, there are plenty of unknowns headed into 2018-19 with the Premier League’s most mysterious enigma.


Southampton will finish top 10 because…the squad depth is enough to secure results. Every team deals with injuries over the course of a long league season, and Southampton is well-equipped to handle it. With five natural center-backs on the roster and four natural strikers, the team is deep from top to bottom.

Southampton will struggle through a relegation battle because…the squad doesn’t have the star power necessary to make noise. Gone are the days of Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk, Graziano Pelle, Jose Fonte, and the rest of the players who have filtered out after finding steps up. Even Dusan Tadic departed this summer after struggling to maintain his form last year. Hughes will need to figure out his best eleven players soon, or too much tinkering will bring the team down. Hughes’ biggest test will come at the back…three center-backs played over 2,300 minutes last season across all competitions, and the team brought in another in Vestergaard for a high price. Someone will need to step up and earn the right to be deemed a star, or the team may find itself rudderless.

Best possible XI:

—— McCarthy—

Hoedt——Vestergaard——Yoshida——

Soares – Hojbjerg – Romeu – Armstrong – Bertrand

—————Gabbiadini——Austin——————

Transfers In: Jannik Vestergaard ($28.9 million, Borussia Monchengladbach), Mohamed Elyounoussi ($20.8 million, FC Basel), Angus Gunn ($13 million, Manchester City), Stuart Armstrong ($9.2 million, Celtic).

Transfers Out: Dusan Tadic ($13.3 million, Ajax), Florin Gardos (Free, CS Universitatea Craiova), Sofiane Boufal (Loan, Celta Vigo), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord, Loan).

Ranking their offseason: B-

Bringing in Vestergaard is a solid move, but strengthened a position of strength for Southampton. Elyounoussi hasn’t been great in preseason, so he has work to do to crack the starting lineup. The acquisition of Gunn was a quality move with Fraser Forster likely to leave. The biggest problem with Southampton’s offseason was the sale of Dusan Tadic at the lowest his value’s been maybe in his entire career. The electric playmaker had raided Premier League full-backs for years, but struggled last season. Now, at age 29, Southampton bailed after one bad season. They not only dumped Tadic, but failed to adequately replace him, at least until Elyounoussi proves he can compete on this stage. Still, the Southampton squad didn’t have a ton of holes to fill, and their summer has been at least promising. Saints transfer policy hasn’t been strong in recent years, with the acquisitions of Clasie and Boufal not panning out, with both loaned out this summer.

Star player: This is tough. There’s no true superstar on this roster, and nobody stands out among the rest. That is a positive from the standpoint that no one injury could take down this team, but from a negative, obviously the club will want someone to fill that role. At this point, Ryan Bertrand is probably the closest thing this team has to a star. The likely captain terrorizes opponents down the left flank, and has improved his defensive capabilities. Still, he’s nowhere close to a true “star” and Hughes will need him to step into that role this season.

Coach’s Corner: Nobody more embodies where Southampton stands right now than Mark Hughes. While it’s impossible to figure out just where this Southampton squad fits in the Premier League, so too is it impossible to truly judge how good or bad Mark Hughes is as a manager. He had mixed success in charge of Manchester City, was critical to Fulham’s success before abruptly resigning, failed miserably at QPR, led Stoke City to its best Premier League years ever before inexplicably becoming completely inept, and saved Southampton from relegation. It’s difficult to get a bead on just where Hughes stands in relation to his Premier League compatriots, but this season will be a true test of his abilities.

PST Predicts: This is one of the toughest calls of the entire 2018-19 table. Who knows what Southampton will show up this season? It’s hard to imagine they reach top 10 unless a true star emerges. On that note, a 12-13 finish seems appropriate for a team with few weaknesses but also few strengths. Much depends on how well Mark Hughes does in his first full season at St. Mary’s.