Southampton are on the precipice of relegation to the Championship after five years of struggle has finally caught up with the club. The odds are truly against the Saints, but there are offers available to back them to defy their doubters and pull off the great escape. However, there it will be no easy feat under Ruben Selles as the Saints appear to be joining a long list of clubs, who have got stuck in the mud in the top flight before falling back. Sunderland, Stoke and Swansea City are among the other sides in recent memory that enjoyed long stretches in the top flight before suffering relegation.
Following their promotion in 2013/14, the Saints were the model club that every team in the bottom half of the Premier League wanted to emulate. Southampton made savvy moves in the transfer market and appointed brilliant managers in the form of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman. Unfortunately for the Saints, they were picked apart by clubs in the upper echelons of the top flight. Liverpool came calling for almost every asset on the field, starting with Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, but eventually moved for Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk to strip the Saints of world-class players.
If the Saints had managed to keep Mane, Van Dijk along with a host of other key men on the field along with Pochettino or Koeman, Southampton may have been able to push towards the Champions League places. It was not unthinkable as the club finished in sixth place in 2015/16 season under Koeman before he was lured away by Everton. Even Claude Puel kept the club on the straight and narrow in eighth place before the collapse came with the appointment of Mauricio Pellegrino. Since 2017, Southampton have been in a desperate battle to keep their heads above water.
Ralph Hasenhuttl appeared to have stabilised matters on the field in the 2019/20 season, despite their infamous 9-0 hammering at the hands of Leicester City. Hasenhuttl was a solid manager that kept the Saints on track, although not quite to the standard of previous heights. However, Southampton sacked the Austrian after their 4-1 defeat to Newcastle and replaced him with Nathan Jones. The appointment of Jones could be the deciding factor of Southampton’s relegation. He lost seven of his eight Premier League games in charge before the club cut ties. The move was a disaster on and off the field for the Saints, as Jones hit the headlines for bizarre press conferences along with atrocious form in the Premier League that saw them plummet to the foot of the table.
Selles has picked up decent results since replacing Jones, but it might be too little too late for the Saints. In the past, clubs like Sunderland have managed to change their manager and survive by their skin of their teeth. But, as shown by their decline, it is only a sticking plaster. Southampton may need to take the step back to the Championship before they re-assess their approach to the top flight. The transfers made last summer were perhaps a signal for a new method of putting faith in young players rather than established veterans. It obviously has not born fruit in the short term, but it may have long-term rewards if they can bounce back should they take the drop into the second tier.
For all their plaudits in the early days of their Premier League tenure, their fall towards the bottom has shown you’re only a couple of bad decisions away from disaster. Southampton did everything the right way. They spent within their means and sold players at a premium, replacing the stars lost with new standouts. The constant turnover meant that the club were at the mercy of the replacements remaining at the same standard as their predecessors.
Unfortunately, the Premier League is a monster that gobbles up any errors made by clubs outside of the top six. For those teams in pursuit of the big teams, you’re only one bad decision away from relegation. Whether that is a good thing for the league is debatable, but it certainly is one rule for the six and another for the 14 other sides. Southampton might be the latest club to pay the price, but they must ensure it’s only a temporary glitch rather than one that casts them down for a lengthy spell in the second tier and beyond.