After four consecutive top half finishes and Europa League football under Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman and Claude Puel, Southampton seem to have gone backwards in recent seasons.
The Saints struggled to hit those same heights during the ill-fated tenures of Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes, as they lacked any clear identity and appeared to be sliding closer and closer towards relegation from the top flight.
But there’s a sense that things are on the up again at St Mary’s Stadium. Current boss Ralph Hasenhüttl has brought his high-intensity pressing philosophy to the South Coast and after some bumps along the road (not least a 9-0 home defeat to Leicester City earlier this season), it’s beginning to pay dividends.
Southampton fans will be buoyed by the news that Hasenhüttl agreed a four-year contract extension with the club earlier this week, offering him a chance to implement the “SFC Playbook” he has been completing during lockdown – a guide that will ensure the Austrian’s footballing methodology is utilised from the academy right through to the first-team.
Exciting times could be ahead for the Saints once again, but there is still significant work to be done in the next transfer window if they are to avoid another relegation battle.
Cédric Soares is the only senior player out of contract this summer and is certain to leave the club, while on-loan centre-back Kevin Danso is likely to return to Augsburg after an underwhelming spell on the South Coast.
The bigger concern for Southampton is the number of players with deals that end in 2021 – Oriol Romeu, Sofiane Boufal, Ryan Bertrand, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Harrison Reed can all leave on a free transfer at the end of next season if they can’t agree new terms with the Saints.
There is a distinct chance that an agreement could be reached with the likes Romeu and Bertrand, but star midfielder Højbjerg may have to be sold this summer before his value declines. Tottenham Hotspur are the team who have been most strongly linked with a move for the Danish international and it’s feasible that Spurs right-back Kyle Walker-Peters (currently on loan at Southampton) could go the other way as part of that transfer.
A whole host of expensive flops and fringe players are currently out on loan. Hasenhüttl will be particularly keen to find buyers for Wesley Hoedt (on loan at Royal Antwerp), Mario Lemina (currently with Galatasaray), Guido Carrillo (on a season-long loan with Leganés), Fraser Forster and Mohamed Elyounoussi (both on loan at Celtic). Long-serving Japanese defender Maya Yoshida also looks set to move on when he completes a loan spell with Sampdoria.
The good news for Southampton fans is that they are unlikely to see many of Hasenhüttl’s core squad leave in the next window. Højbjerg may depart and the club would be willing to accept a reasonable offer for Jannik Vestergaard after some questionable performances, but other key players like Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond seem happy to stick around on the South Coast.
Key areas to strengthen
Defence will be Southampton’s biggest priority in the summer after conceding 1.66 goals per 90 so far this season – that’s the third-worst record in the Premier League.
The Saints are in desperate need of a top quality centre-back to partner Jan Bednarek, as well as a first choice right-back to ease the pressure on youngster Yan Valery. While Bertrand is nailed on as the club’s left-sided defender, they could do with some cover in this area too.
Another winger would be preferable but not essential and the centre of Southampton’s midfield would only need strengthening if Højbjerg moves elsewhere. Further forward, the squad lacks a focal point in attack so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a targetman brought in to increase Hasenhüttl’s striking options.
Southampton are believed to be looking at a number of right-backs, with VI claiming that FC Groningen’s 22-year-old Dutchman Deyovaisio Zeefuik is on the club’s radar – he would cost around €6million. Paris Saint-Germain’s out of contract youngster Thierno Balde is another name in the frame, as is €25million-rated Bologna defender Takahiro Tomiyasu.
Two centre-backs have also been linked with summer moves to Hampshire. Middlesbrough’s Dael Fry would reportedly set the Saints back around £20million, while 6ft 3in Gambian Omar Colley is another option from Sampdoria.
Calciomercato believe that Hasenhüttl could bolster his midfield options by recruiting 26-year-old Soualiho Meïté from Torino, but Celtic’s Olivier Ntcham is also rumoured to be on the club’s watchlist if they decide to shop closer to home this summer.