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30 Nov 2018 by TSZ

Sold Player Stats Highlight Southampton's Struggles

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Image source: Pixabay.com

Southampton have completed the first third of the 2018-19 Premier League season with the fewest wins of any of the 20 sides in the English top-flight - just the one. Manager Mark Hughes - the man who arrived at St Mary's back in March and steered the south coast club to safety last season - is only eight months into his tenure, but under mounting pressure and a hot odds-on favourite in the sack race.

His team dropped into the Premier League's bottom three following a 3-2 away defeat to Fulham at Craven Cottage in Claudio Ranieri's first game in charge of the West London outfit. As of the end of November, Saints haven't won in 90 minutes since 1 September - a run of 11 games across all competitions. This is the seventh season since Premier League football returned to St Mary's in 2012, and Hughes is the sixth different permanent manager to pick the team in that time. The one common theme among a coaching roll-call that includes current Netherlands national boss Ronald Koeman and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, is the sale of key players.

Sale of players catching up with Saints

To a large extent, these Southampton struggles are self-perpetuating. In each of the last five years, you'll find a high-profile departure from St Mary's in either the summer or winter transfer window. Serbia attacking midfielder Dusan Tadic was the latest as he joined Dutch Eredivisie giants Ajax following the World Cup. At least, for once, he was a Saints star kept away from clutches of Premier League rivals and cannot come back to haunt Hughes domestically.

Despite their current plight and status as a selling club, after 13 Premier League games and as of 28 November, Betway have Southampton at 11/4 to lose their Premier League status in the relegation betting market. While the likes of Huddersfield Town, Fulham, Crystal Palace, Cardiff City and Burnley - who, like the Saints when Pochettino was at the helm, punched considerably above their weight last season - are candidates for the drop, too.

That price on Saints is very generous relative to the number of key players sold. Burnley boss Sean Dyche notably cashed in on Michael Keane during the summer of 2017, but the Clarets excelled in spite of their top defender's departure. The other clubs down in the dogfight have also tended to retain their best players.

Lovren, Van Dijk looking good at Liverpool

You only have to move from the banks of the Solent to Merseyside to see the centre-back pairing Southampton could have had. Although Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren haven't always been chosen together by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp for Premier League duty, they have kept seven clean sheets together since the Dutchman arrived at Anfield in January. Van Dijk has 15 shutouts in 27 league outings for the Reds to date - an impressive ratio of 55.5%. Croatia counterpart and World Cup finalist Lovren, meanwhile, has contributed to 43 in 112 Premier League appearances at Liverpool - a still impressive 38%.

Between the pair, on average a shade under half (47%) of all games Klopp has selected Van Dijk and/or Lovren in has seen the opposition prevented from scoring. With Southampton shipping virtually two goals per game (24 in 13) so far this season, they are clearly missing their erstwhile defensive duo. Liverpool, in contrast, have the joint-best rearguard in the Premier League during the first third of the season. They've conceded just five goals, almost five times less than Saints, and the same as pacesetters Manchester City.

No making up for Mane

Another big miss is Sadio Mane. The Senegal attacker cut his Premier League teeth at Southampton before following the well-trodden path from the Solent to Anfield in the summer of 2016. Mane's seven goals from a wide berth in all competitions at Liverpool this term are as many as the entire Saints strikeforce have between them at this stage of the campaign. Danny Ings, a rare loan mover in the opposition direction, leads the way with five - although two of his four Premier League strikes so far are penalties.

Last season's leading marksman was Charlie Austin with seven in the league, but he's just struck once for Southampton. Italy-capped forward Manolo Gabbiadini also has the sole goal to his name this term, while Republic of Ireland frontman Shane Long has made nine appearances without scoring. Perhaps the sale of Jay Rodriguez to West Bromwich Albion last summer was a little hasty. He's averaging a goal per game for the Baggies in the league with nine in 18 this term - albeit in the Championship.

There never seemed to be much confidence in Burnley native Rodriguez after his serious knee injury at Saints, yet they sold him and then came in for a player with a similar history in one-time Turf Moor teammate Ings. If he can't stay fit, Southampton may be bowing out of the Premier League.

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