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Midfield pair can boost Hughes' resurgence

Adrian Clarke 10 Aug 2018
Mark Hughes, Southampton

Adrian Clarke on how new signings and a direct approach can help Southampton keep improving under Mark Hughes

Adrian Clarke looks at where clubs can improve for the 2018/19 season.


If Southampton start the season as they ended the last, they can be much-improved in 2018/19.

Saints secured their Premier League status for the upcoming campaign with eight points from four matches prior to the final day.

Indeed, the only PL matches they lost after Mark Hughes's first match in the competition as manager in March were courtesy of late goals against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Room for improvement

But although he masterminded their escape from relegation Hughes has a number of issues to address in his first pre-season in charge.

In short, they made too many mistakes at the back, lacked creativity in midfield and were wasteful in front of goal.

From back to front the team needs to get better if they are to return to the top half of the table, where they had finished for the past four seasons in a row.

Headaches at home

Southampton’s home form has been a concern for two consecutive seasons.

In 2015/16 when Saints finished sixth, they got 36 of their 63 points at St Mary’s Stadium and scored 39 goals.  

That dipped to 24 points and only 17 goals the following campaign under Claude Puel.

During 2017/18 their record worsened.

While their home goal tally rose to 20 they collected only 19 points, the second-lowest home return behind relegated West Bromwich Albion.

But why?

Conversion rate down

It is down to a combination of factors but a lack of tempo and cutting edge is perhaps the main issue.

Southampton have been neat and tidy in their play between both penalty boxes but creating and converting chances proved problematic. Too many of their passes were sideways and ineffective.

Their 11 per cent chance conversion rate was the second-lowest in the Premier League last season.

Only two PL teams took more passes than Southampton to score at home. On average they made 454 passes for each goal at St Mary’s Stadium.

Home teams in 2017/18
Most passes/shot Most passes/goal
Man City 41.5 Huddersfield 504.1
Everton 39.1 Swansea 481.5
Huddersfield 38.8 Southampton 454.0
Man Utd 38.3 Burnley 445.8
Swansea 38.1 Chelsea 359.6
Southampton 36.2 Newcastle 341.3
Forward steps

Saints need to improve how they create and finish their chances.

Guido Carrillo, Shane Long, Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal scored five goals between them with an average conversion rate of 5.75 per cent.

In comparison, the regular Premier League starters with the best conversion rates were Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (41 per cent), Huddersfield Town's Laurent Depoitre (32 per cent) and Cenk Tosun of Everton (31 per cent).

They need help from players who offer speed, guile, and clinical finishing.

To this end Stuart Armstrong and Mohamed Elyounoussi might help.

'The next Mane'

By signing the two attacking midfielders this summer, Hughes has acquired positive players with drive and end product.

Armstrong suffered with injuries during 2017/18, but he showed what he is capable of with 17 goals for Celtic in the previous campaign.

Winger Elyounoussi, who can also play as a No 10, is quick and full of tricks. In some respects he is similar to former Saints and current Liverpool star Sadio Mane.

Both players will aid Saints creatively and make the team a more dangerous goal threat.

New Saints signings in 2017/18
  Armstrong Elyounoussi
Goals 3 11
Mins/goal 499.7 242.1
Assists 5 8
Mins/assist 332.8 299.8
Shots/90 3.2 3.4
Costly mistakes

Another issue that affected Southampton last term was individual errors. 

Eight different players were guilty of gifting at least one goal to opposition sides.

In 2016/17 Saints had been solid in this department, making only three individual slips that led to goals.

Defensive errors in 2017/18
  2016/17 2017/18
Errors leading to goals 3 13
PL rank 18 2
Players who made errors leading to goals 2 8
Work cut out

Hughes will look to improve all of the above ahead of his first full campaign as manager.

But if they can build up early momentum by performing with extra pace and taking the chances that fall their way, this could be a catalyst for happier times at St Mary's Stadium.

Also in this series

Part 1: Finishing touch can lift Crystal Palace
Part 2: Can Brighton deliver at set-pieces?
Part 3: Breaking down opponents the next step for Burnley
Part 4: Pogba and Sanchez key to United reaching top gear
Part 5: Huddersfield must aim high to progress
Part 6: Injection of pace could boost Watford's away form
Part 7: Ki to get Newcastle back in control
Part 8: Improving wing play the priority for Spurs
Part 10: Improvement in the air can lift Liverpool

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