What’s The Plan At Southampton? Why 2023 Is A HUGE Year For The Saints

In January 2022, Southampton were taken over by sports investment group Sports Republic. It was described as a ‘pivotal moment’ for the club by chief executive Martin Semmens however, a year on, and words like ‘struggle’, ‘inconsistency’ and ‘really rough ride’ have been used to describe the state of the club currently. So, what’s going on at the south coast club? Is it a case of an ambitious new owner sweeping out the cobwebs, or has the rot fully set in at St. Marys? Join us here at SinkorSwimSports as we run through what the plan is at Southampton, and why 2023 is set to be a HUGE year for the club. 

A Miserable 2022 

2022 was not a good year for Southampton on the pitch. Out of the 17 sides that were in the Premier League in 2022, the Saints picked up the fewest points (31), lost the most games (21), and had the worst goal difference (-32).

And yet, the year started off on almost the complete opposite footing. Under Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Saints only lost once in all competitions between 12 December 2021 and 5 March 2022 (13 games). This run included memorable wins over Spurs, West Ham, Brentford, and Everton, a draw against Man City, and progression to the FA Cup quarter-finals. 

But, on the back of a 4-0 demolishing at Villa Park on 5 March, Southampton’s season would implode and trigger the state the Saints find themselves in today. 

9th in the table with 35 points from 26 games soon turned to 40 from 38 with Southampton only picking up five more points over the remainder of the season. 

Following a run of one win in 13 games, Hasenhuttl was sacked and the club now find themselves with just four wins from their first 20 games in 2022/23. 

Ralph Hasenhuttl sacked
Ralph Hasenhuttl was sacked by Southampton in November 2022

Shrewd Investment? 

Southampton have spent the last few years being a club that hemorrhages talent. The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Dusan Tadic, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Danny Ings, and Oriel Romeu have all departed the club since 2018, joining experienced pros like Shane Long, Nathan Redmond, and Fraser Forster. 

It’s clear that there is a long-term vision in place at St Mary’s with the club investing heavily in upcoming youth prospects. The club spent over £70 million on undoubtedly exciting young players including Manchester City youngsters Romeo Lavia and Gavin Bazunu. And if there’s one club in the Premier League with a track record of fostering exciting prospects, it’s Southampton.  

But is it a case of too much movement in too short a time? Former Saints midfielder Jo Tessem certainly thinks so: 

“There is a long-term plan and they will get better. They are talented – Lavia is one of the top three best young players in the Premier League in my view. But, because they have sold so many good players, there is too much responsibility on the younger players.”

Ankersen, perhaps unsurprisingly, disagrees. He points to Romeu being the starting XI player the club have sold this season, and the arrivals of Joe Aribo and Duje Caleta-Car from Rangers and Marseille as examples of a pragmatic model still being in place. 

However, the recalling of Jan Bednarek from his loan at Aston Villa with head coach Nathan Jones claiming he needs more ‘experience’ is perhaps an indicator of this Saints side not being too versed in the grittier side of the game. 

Regardless of the long-term vision, it’s clear Southampton have holes across their team. Hasenhuttl was promised a striker in the summer transfer window that never arrived, and the woes in front of goal have been one of the club’s biggest problems over the past year. 

Only Wolves (12), Everton (15), and Nottingham Fores (16) have scored fewer than Southampton’s 17 goals in 2022/23, with James Ward-Prowse the Saints’ top-scorer with 5 goals. 

Inexperience At The Helm 

If Southampton can be criticized for having inexperience rife across their playing squad, the same criticism can almost certainly be thrown towards the man taking the reins from Hasenhuttl: Nathan Jones. 

Taking over right before the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the five weeks with the players didn’t seem to give Jones the instant honeymoon period most new managers receive from a side. The loss on Boxing Day to Roberto de Zerbi’s Brighton side had shades of a plucky underdog taking on a Premier League giant, and Jones has routinely cut a frustrated and irritated figure with the media. 

Even with impressive and potentially crucial wins against Man City and Crystal Palace under his belt, Jones still feels like he is constantly attempting to justify his position as a Premier League manager. It’s a tetchiness that could prove to be a risky strategy, especially with such a young squad under his influence. 

But Southampton have shown themselves to be one of the best clubs at keeping hold of managers, so there’s no need for Jones to worry about any knee-jerk decisions from those above him. 

Nathan Jones Southampton
Do you think Southampton will stay up this season?

Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain?

Relegation is the worst fate any Premier League club can succumb to. However, if there’s one club that the threat of relegation feels especially seismic for, it’s Southampton. Only three teams (West Brom 2005/06, Sunderland 2013/14, Leicester 2014/15) have managed to stay up after being bottom at Christmas, so the task ahead of Nathan Jones is certainly a big one. 

The impact of having a relegation against some of Southampton’s exciting prospects not only knocks their valuations down but also raises more risk than normal of their developments being stunted through a lack of confidence. 

Southampton do have a long-term plan and one that certainly has the potential of being remarkably successful if it is given a chance to play out. Preserving their Premier League status in 2022/23 is massive for the Saints, though the club are currently the third-favorites in our relegation odds at 4/6 (-150)

2022/23 Premier League Relegation Odds

Bournemouth

1/3

Everton

8/11

Southampton

4/6

Wolves

9/4

Nottingham Forest

11/4

Leicester

7/2