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Season Preview: What should fans expect from Southampton?

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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?

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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.

Mourinho sneaks ahead of Hughes in “next PL manager sacked” odds

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Is Jose Mourinho really the best bet to be the next Premier League manager fired?

The combustible Manchester United boss leads the pack, according to a bookmaker-powered site called The Sack Race.

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A dollar will get you five if you wager than Mourinho is fired before any of his peers in the 2018-19 Premier League season, a slight edge over the 6:1 odds given Southampton’s Mark Hughes.

There’s a four-way tie for last on the list, as Arsenal new boy Unai Emery joins Man City’s Pep Guardiola, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp at 33:1.

It’s no surprise to see Leicester City’s Claude Puel on the list after a tough finish to 2017-18, or Watford’s Javi Gracia because the Hornets seem to enjoy changes managers. Rafa Benitez of Newcastle is up there mostly due to his bosses as well.

A surprise? Maybe Manuel Pellegrini at 16:1 given both his reputation and West Ham’s need to make this hiring work for the good of all parties.

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

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Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

“Mark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. “Now it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.”

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just eight matches to go. He lost three Premier League games in a row to start his tenure and only won two league matches with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.

Mark Hughes feels he’s being “airbrushed” from Stoke history

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Former Stoke City manager Mark Hughes understands why Stoke City went in a different direction this season as the club steered towards relegation, but is also a bit peeved how the fanbase turned on him so quickly.

Hughes, who guided Stoke City to its best-ever Premier League finish three times in a row finishing ninth in the table in 2014, 2015, and 2016, claims that while things ultimately came to an ugly end, those involved with the club shouldn’t have cut him loose with such vengeance.

“It was a difficult season,” said Hughes, now managing Southampton. “I’m a little bit disappointed maybe that the success we had in my four and a half years, it seems to me that part of their history certain people want to airbrush the success we had.”

Hughes was fired with the club in 16th position and one win in its past nine matches. Stoke City executives said they believed in retrospect they had been “too loyal” to Hughes, leading them to keep him longer than was healthy for the club. They also said the club had made “significant errors” in the transfer market which left the squad porous and thin. Even goalkeeper Jack Butland came out to say the club recruitment was “farcical.”

“It’s there for everyone to see I was their most successful Premier League manager. It didn’t end like I wanted it to, nobody wanted that, but every one of my staff and myself put our heart and soul into that job. I’m really sorry that unfortunately they’ve gone out of the league but it can happen to anybody if you take your eye off the ball.”

Hughes on hotel drama, win: Saints “delighted but still work to do”

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Southampton manager Mark Hughes‘ impish smile betrayed his steady post-match press conference after Saints nearly cemented their Premier League status with a 1-0 win at Swansea City on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Swans 0-1 Saints ]

Saints saw their Welsh hotel reservations canceled due to a virus before the match, sending them well outside Swansea for their stay.

A Welshman himself, Hughes couldn’t resist a comment.

“We suspected that maybe some of the dark arts at work but it didn’t let us affect us, in fact we used it as a motivating factor,” Hughes said. “That helped our focus and we won’t be staying in the vicinity of the hotel Marriott Swansea, I think we will stick to the Vale of Glamorgan.”

Saints will enter Championship Sunday with a 3-point lead on 18th place Swansea City and a nine-goal goal differential advantage. Also in play in 17th place Huddersfield Town, currently level with Southampton on points but with two matches remaining (Arsenal, Chelsea).

Saints currently have an 11-goal advantage in differential on Swans. A major loss to Man City isn’t out of the question, and Swans meet a porous Stoke defense which was hemorrhaging goals even before it was relegated this weekend.

“It is not mathematically certain,” Hughes said. “We had to come here and we had to win. If we had not won today it would have been very, very difficult for us. It is not done yet but tonight we have put ourselves in the position where we have a great chance to stay up.

“We will enjoy tonight, we got what we set out to get. A huge result, we are delighted but still got work to do.”