Mark Hughes’ Southampton narrowly escaped the drop last time out after a underwhelming campaign that saw the club finish just three points clear of relegation.
Ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, we caught up with fan site Talk Saints to get the low-down on progress made on and off the pitch…
What do you make of your club’s pre-season preparations, both on and off the pitch?
It has been quite promising. The players, staff and management clearly want to have a better season than last year.
It was a shock to most that we were in a relegation fight last year and everyone involved with the club is trying to put in the extra miles just to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
We are looking relatively sharp. We just had a win against Celta Vigo at St. Mary’s, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2, during which our new signings shone.
From what I’ve seen so far, the only disappointing performance came during a 3-0 defeat to Derby, but in all the other games there have been glimpses of good football.
Which of your club’s summer signing has you most excited about the new campaign?
Jannik Vestergaard has probably impressed me the most. While most Saints fans would respond Mohammed Elyounoussi, Vestergaard is probably the player we needed the most.
We shipped far too many goals last season, especially from set pieces. The fact that he is a 6 ft 7 in means he is perfectly equipped to prevent the same problems this time around.
From what I’ve seen live, Stuart Armstrong has been the most influential and perhaps influential signing. He looks an absolute bargain.
Against Celta Vigo, he played more through balls and forward passes than I have ever seen Dusan Tadic contribute in a game. If he is the Serbian’s replacement then I think we are in for a treat.
Who’s your club’s young-player-who-could-make-a-breakthrough this season?
There are a couple. Josh Sims is now at a point in which he has been in the team for two seasons. Although he has been in and out of the squad, he could definitely be involved.
Personally, I would like to see Sam Gallagher more involved. He has been on loan the last two campaigns with Championship clubs, teams that have been in relegation struggles.
He played for Blackburn, who were relegated to League One, and then Birmingham who found themselves in a survival dog fight last term.
I would like to see him around the first team more. He is a strong, tall, physical striker who could definitely pose an aerial threat and he can finish.
Right now he could definitely be above Shane Long in the pecking order as the club’s third-choice striker.
What will be your club’s biggest factor behind achieving its targets this season?
It will be finding that perfect balance between being able to score goals and making sure they are not conceding too many.
Lots of fans want to see goals. If you asked a Southampton fan, ‘would you rather see your team win 3-2 or 1-0?’, they would definitely say 3-2.
This is mainly because there has been a huge lack of excitement around the club in the last two seasons with brands of football that do not encourage attacking play.
If we are to succeed we need to find the goal scoring factor without shipping too many at the back.
What will be your club’s biggest barrier to achieving its targets this season?
Probably the business and success of other teams around them. In the Premier League we almost now have three mini-leagues between the 20 teams competing.
Outside the top six there are around 5/6 teams that are all around a similar level, all fighting for that seventh spot for Europa League football.
Right now I could see West Ham, Everton, potentially Southampton, Leicester, Wolves and perhaps even Fulham, challenging for that spot.
West Ham have recruited very well, as have Fulham and Wolves, the latter already having a very strong team having won promotion from the Championship.
It will be the quality of the teams around Southampton that will pose the club’s biggest problem.
Which club outside yours do you think has done the best business this summer?
West Ham, without a doubt. The fact that they are one of the top spenders across Europe, let alone the Premier League, speaks volumes.
Obviously spending money doesn’t always get you places – you look at Everton last summer – and you could see a slow start with all of the new players getting used to each other.
However, it’s not only the quality of players the club have brought in, but also the manager. Manuel Pellegrini has huge pedigree and an impressive winning mentality,
I’m not going to lie in saying I’m not jealous of the manager and some of the players they have brought in. They are showing real intent.
If you had to pick a six-a-side team from your club’s current squad, who would be in it?
Finally, how do you think your team will have done come the end of the 2018/19 season?
I think we will break into the top half of the table. The squad definitely has enough quality and its not a position we are not used to.
Mark Hughes doesn’t get given enough credit. He is a manager who is experienced in getting teams into the top 10, having done so with Blackburn, Stoke and Manchester City.
If we finish 10th I think the supporters will be happy, given what the club went through last year.