Among the many surprising stories that keep developing in the Premier League, Southampton’s ability to keep their level despite losing some of their best talent every summer, is quite a unique one. As I write this, they have just beaten Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium 3-1, after falling behind early in the first half. After 17 matches, they sit seventh in the league, still within reach of a top six spot.
However, this is not an article in the praise of their academy and how they keep churning out talented youngster after youngster, although that too merits a discussion. This however, is an analysis of how well have they managed to fill a key role that got vacated during the summer window – that of the goal scorers.
During summer, Liverpool made their annual raid at the St. Mary’s and took home Sadio Mane, who contributed to 18 (11 scored, 7 assisted) out of the Saints’ 59 goals (30%) last season. Graziano Pelle, who contributed 17 more goals (11 scored, 6 assists) also left for China during the summer. Southampton lost two players who contributed to 35 out of their 59 goals (59%).
So how did they expect to at least maintain their level? The new manager – Claude Puel – bought Nathan Redmond from Norwich City and Sofiane Boufal from Lille. He also bought Pierre-Emile Hojberg from Bayern Munich. All of them cost much lesser than what Liverpool and the Chinese club showered on Southampton and true to their philosophy, all of them are a bit younger, especially as compared to Pelle.
While the summer transfer business definitely left the Saints in the green, but did it also leave them a bit weaker in one of the most important area of the field – goal scoring? The stats seem to suggest so.
Hojberg is yet to score or assist even a single goal in his 13 appearances for the club so far. Boufal has scored just one in his 440 minutes for the team. Nathan Redmond has played the most among the three this season but even he has just scored three and assisted one. Clearly, the new arrivals have not fired as much as Puel would have liked. At the current rate, assuming that Boufal and Redmond have substantial game time in the remaining 21 games, they might combine to contribute only 10-12 goals more. That would truly be a disappointing return from the summer’s purchases.
Not that either player promised a lot when they arrived. Sofiane Boufal had managed one good season at Lille last season where he contributed to 15 goals (scored 11, assisted 4) and Nathan Redmond had scored six and assisted three at Norwich last season. So, between them, they managed to contribute only 24 goals last season. If Puel bought them for goals, he certainly expected a large improvement in their performances.
Even to achieve their respective contributions from last season, Boufal and Redmond need to improve significantly. To contribute to the level that Mane and Pelle did last season, these two need to suddenly turn in to very different players, which might not be possible, at least in the short span of half a season. Because, the fact that the club is sixth in the league despite scoring only 0.9 goals per game is nothing short of a defensive miracle. Players like Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte are the reason why they are performing as well as they are. But to sustain such a defensive performance over a season, might be extremely difficult and hence the Saints simply ought to improve in the attack. A total of 16 goals in 17 matches is not acceptable.
Southampton’s best hope lies in other players such as Jay Rodriguez stepping up and doing the scoring while Boufal and Redmond focus on providing. When they had Rodriguez leading the line, between them, Boufal and Redmond played 152 minutes against Bournemouth, during which they assisted 4 shots, one of which was a goal. So, while their roles in their previous teams were more about scoring goals and also assisting, I feel that Puel would want them to focus more on providing this season, especially if Rodriguez can stay fit and in form (scored 2 against Bournemouth) and if Charlie Austin can come back a bit sooner from his injury. Otherwise, Puel needs to dip into the transfer market in January, which might be a bit expensive for the board at Southampton.
On the other hand, it is almost a guarantee that his star defender is going to get some offers in the summer. Puel would do well to tie van Dijk in an expensive contract before Liverpool or Tottenham come knocking.