Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
Southampton make the short trip across to the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth this weekend, looking for their first points and crucially, their first goals in four Premier League matches.
Finding a successful route to goal has been a crippling problem for the Saints over the last year, in fact, their lack of cutting edge almost had a terminal effect last season, with Southampton escaping relegation to the Championship by the skin of their teeth.
Southampton scored one goal or less in twenty nine of their thirty-eight Premier League matches in 2018/19. That’s a staggering 76.3% of their games where they failed to plunder more than a single goal in ninety minutes of action.
With just six goals in eight league matches so far this season, it looks as though old habits are proving hard to shake, and Southampton are fast becoming the patron Saints of banjos and barndoors.
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Southampton have company in the goalscoring doldrums, though only three clubs have scored fewer goals than Southampton this season. Like the Saints, Newcastle have hit the net six times in eight games, Crystal Palace have scored five, while Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City have registered four each.
But while that quintet of clubs have comparable outputs, Southampton are streets ahead in another attacking metric. Curiously, the Saints rank 3rd in the Premier League for average shots per game with 14.6, behind unbeaten Chelsea (17.8) and Manchester City (21.8).
That suggests that Southampton’s biggest problems lie in chance conversion rather than chance creation. The 2018/19 Premier League average shots on target per game statistics certainly add substance to that train of thought.
Despite sitting 3rd for average shots per game, the Saints slip to 12th for average shots on target, directing just 4.5 of their 14.6 efforts per game inside the width of the posts. Opportunities are being created but lines are being fluffed.
Those statistical patterns will be frustratingly familiar to Mark Hughes. Last season, only six teams scored less often in the Premier League than Southampton – three of those teams were relegated. However, the Saints ranked 10th for average shots per game and 11th for shots on target.
It looks as though the players at the business end of Southampton’s play have a long-term aversion to conversion.
It’s also worth noting that Southampton rank 3rd in the Premier League for shots taken from outside the box per game on average. 44.4% of the Saints total efforts on goal this season have been hit from outside the penalty area.
Southampton’s service providers
The players tasked with providing service and creativity from deep positions for Southampton are doing plenty of things right – wide men Mohamed Elyounoussi and Nathan Redmond have played an average of 1.8 and 1.4 key passes per game this season respectively, while Danish central midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s corresponding figure stands at 1.2.
Comparatively, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva has played 1.9 key passes per game on average this season, as has Leicester City’s imaginative youngster James Maddison, while Liverpool’s assist machine James Milner has played 1.5, the same number as Manchester United’s main chance manufacturer Paul Pogba.
However, Elyounoussi, Redmond and Højbjerg have yet to add a Premier League assist to their tallies for the season, while Silva, Maddison, Milner and Pogba have seven between them.
The difference of course is the huge gap in quality between the players on the end of the chances being created. Turning passes into goals should fall within the remit of any team’s striking department, though it looks as though Southampton’s staff have been permanently out for lunch.
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Strikers who never score
When you assess Southampton’s attacking options on an individual level, the team’s confusing inability to hit the net becomes less puzzling and more self-evident.
Centre forwards who never score goals are the most perplexing of creatures. They are footballers who are unable to meet the most basic requirement of their position. It’s akin to having a goalkeeper who can’t make saves or a defender who can’t tackle.
Southampton have collected a number of players that fit that description, though their most archetypal prince of profligacy is 31-year old Republic of Ireland international Shane Long.
Long went an incredible 325 days without scoring between the 11th February 2017 and January 3rd of this year and the Tipperary born striker has added just one more goal since ending that barren run. Long has featured in six of Southampton’s eight Premier League matches so far this season with nothing to show for it but kilometres on the clock.
In terms of effort and work rate, Long has never been lacking, but if Southampton want an enthusiastic nuisance to run into channels and nip at defenders’ ankles, then a Border collie would be just as effective and considerably cheaper.
Long’s colleagues, the blacksmith and the tailor, Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini, have scored once and twice each in the league in 2018 respectively, completing a hattrick of high paid strikers who aren’t fit for purpose.
Danny Ings has at least provided a spark of positivity for Southampton. Ings has scored four times in seven starts for the Saints since moving on loan from Liverpool, making a mockery of the critics that balked at the £20m fee agreed between the clubs for the attacker’s permanent transfer next summer. The 26-year old can’t do it on his own however.
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Adding more goals
It’s not all doom and gloom for Southampton. The statistics show that the Saints’ approach play has been productive and a sharpening of their spearhead could have a transformative effect on the team’s results.
The January transfer window is over two months away, though Southampton have already been linked with moves for Sunderland’s young forward Josh Maja and Red Star Belgrade hitman Richmond Boakye-Yiadom.
Recent reports linking Southampton with a move for Roma’s Edin Dzeko seem far-fetched, though its clear that options are being weighed up and regenerative plans laid.
While signing a striker should be the Saints priority, acquiring another pacey wide midfielder who can chip in with a goal or two should also be high on their list. Unearthing another player in the mould of Sadio Mané would certainly help Southampton convert a higher percentage of their 14.6 shots per game into goals.
There are twelve Premier League matches between now and the opening of the transfer window on January 1st however, and for the for the time being at least, Southampton’s attacking machine will have to make do with sub-standard parts.
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