Leicester humiliated Southampton back in October. The 9-0 thrashing handed out at St Mary’s represented the Saints’ worst result in their 134-year existence and equalled the biggest thumping in Premier League history. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s future was understandably in the spotlight and the south coast club were right in the brown stuff.
Two further defeats followed and Southampton entered the November international break with only eight points from their opening 12 fixtures. Fast forward to 2020 and only runaway leaders Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City stand above Hasenhuttl’s revitalised Saints side in the Premier League form table (W6-D2-L2).
Even more remarkable is the improvements in the defensive third of the field. Southampton shipped 29 goals in their first 12 league encounters (2.42 goals per-game) – they’ve since conceded 10 goals in 10 matches, whilst only Liverpool and Leicester have leaked fewer goals since the annihilation at home to the Foxes 11 weeks ago.
Saints are now closer, in terms of points, to fifth than they are to the bottom three with Hasenhuttl’s charges playing out of their skin to move eight points clear of the Premier League relegation zone. And Southampton’s upsurge was typified by Saturday’s thrilling 2-1 success at Leicester with Danny Ings was once again playing a starring role.
Ings took his goal tally to 16 for the season, with 15 in his past 17 games – 40% of the 27-year-old’s Premier League goals have arrived this season and the striker could even have had a hat-trick at the KP. The one-cap England international hit the bar twice and forced Kasper Schmeichel into a couple of excellent saves as Saints swarmed forward.
However, this has been a team effort. Hasenhuttl’s troops generated an eye-catching 2.74 Expected Goals (xG) at the weekend and the head coaches decision to ‘reset’ his team during November’s international break has proven invaluable. Obviously a settled starting XI that’s clear of major injuries have also given Southampton a helping hand.
But a return to a flat back four – with Alex McCarthy, Cedric, Jack Stephens, Jan Bednarek and Ryan Bertrand protected by James Ward-Prowse and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – has helped Saints dramatically improve their defensive displays with Hasenhuttl’s preferred 4-2-2-2 also bringing the best out of Ings and back-in-form Nathan Redmond in offensive areas.
Saints’ high-energy counter-pressing approach has been sustained, whilst confidence and character has returned in droves. Season-long performance data metrics have the south coast side amongst the top 10 in the Premier League and with results now matching the team’s underlying process, 7/4 (William Hill) on a top-half finish deserves attention.
Steve Bruce says his Newcastle side overcame the worst injury crisis he has seen in 40 years to draw at Wolves and end the Toon’s three-game Premier League losing run. Miguel Almiron’s third goal in six games ensured a share of the spoils for the Magpies, who remain 13th in the table and five points above the dreaded drop zone.
On Friday, Bruce provided updates on the fitness of 14 players. And while six of those he namechecked were fit to play in the West Midlands, first-half injuries to Paul Dummett and Dwight Gayle undermined Newcastle’s bright start at Molineux.
The Toon rarely threatened after their early goal, which arrived from the side’s only on-target effort. In fact, Martin Dubravka was called in to recuse the Magpies on occasions as Wolves produced an xG output of 2.12. Post-match Bruce was understandably pleased with a point, piling praise on his team’s endeavour, fight and football intelligence.
The former Sunderland boss’ arrival on Tyneside was met with cynicism from many of the Newcastle faithful but if he leads the Magpies – who were 9/4 ante-post for the drop – to safety, those opinions may change. A disciplined back five and a sprinkling of individual flair, has helped the Toon to seven league triumphs this term but concerns remain.
Newcastle are producing a league-low 0.62 xG per-game from open play with the side’s ratio returns for shots, shots on-target, shots inside the box, xG and xG from open play all ranking the Toon rock bottom in the Premier League, whilst Expected Points (xP) figures suggest Bruce’s boys have earned 10 points more than their performances warranted.
With that in mind, plus the seemingly never-ending injury crisis on Tyneside, as well as a lack of major January investment, a prolonged period of poor results is anticipated between now and May. Therefore, 4/1 (Betway) quotes on the Magpies suffering a third relegation campaign during Mike Ashley’s controversial reign are bound to appeal.