Southampton turned things around last campaign | Pool/Getty Images
The majority of Southampton fans had already left St Mary’s by the time Jamie Vardy smashed home from the spot to make the score 9-0 to Leicester in October.
It was a truly astonishing defeat. Saints were utterly humiliated. Sat in 18th place, they quickly became everyone’s relegation favourites. At most clubs, manager Ralph Hasenhüttl would have been politely but very promptly asked to pack his bags, inevitably replaced by a survival specialist.
In a remarkable show of faith, Saints stuck with the Austrian, and that decision paid off. Fast forward a few months and the south coast side were flying as one of the in-form teams in the league, leaving their relegation fears long behind.
Victories over Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham as well as redemption against Leicester made for an unforgettable season for Southampton, as they clawed their way back from the brink to finish 11th.
While their fans will be happy with the final result, they’d probably appreciate less of a rollercoaster season next time around.
In Danny Ings and James Ward-Prowse, Southampton have a dynamic duo capable of starting for the majority of teams in the Premier League. Ings was prolific last season as he reminded everyone of just how good a player he can be when unhampered by injury.
While Ings’ goals earned him most of the plaudits, Ward-Prowse was equally instrumental. The Saints captain started every game of the season, dictating the tempo and providing much-needed steel in the centre of the park. Their exploits have been rewarded by England manager Gareth Southgate, with both players called up to the current Nations League squad.
If Saints want to improve on last season’s standings, they will be looking for the pair to lead the way once again.
A first #ThreeLions start for @Prowsey16! ? pic.twitter.com/cuTGxEyWbr
— England (@England) September 5, 2020
While Ward-Prowse and Ings are instrumental on the pitch, their manager deserves serious recognition for his role in Southampton’s turnaround. Lesser managers may have crumbled after that devastating defeat but Hasenhüttl was unwavering.
He changed his system and found a way to get the most out of his players. It hasn’t been the smoothest of rides so far for the Austrian but he is slowly showing why he is thought of so highly in footballing circles – Southampton are reaping the rewards of sticking with him.
Hasenhüttl managed to tighten things up in the latter half of the season, but Saints’ leaky defence remains a concern.
They conceded 60 times last season – only five teams shipped more – and let in three or more goals on seven separate occasions in the league.
Walker Peters signs following a loan spell at St Marys | Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohammed Salisu have already been added to the squad to help steady things up at the back, but both are young and inexperienced.
Neither Jack Stephens nor Jannik Vestergaard have been particularly convincing – though Jan Bednarek has impressed in spells – so unless the Saints add some more experienced quality, they might be vulnerable at the back again this term.
With 22 goals, Ings was a revelation in the 2019/20 season.
Finally having a spell uninterrupted by injury, the former Liverpool man is in the form of his life, outscoring Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to finish the joint-second top goalscorer in the Premier League last season.
Ings scored goals for fun last season | Pool/Getty Images
He’s far from just a deadly finisher however, and is capable of playing with his back to goal, holding the ball up and linking play with his teammates.
While he’ll be hoping someone else chips in with a few more to ease his burden – no other player scored more than five – another injury-free campaign of Ings at his best will be integral to Saints’ success next time around.
Hasenhüttl has got his side playing some brilliant, confident football, and if they can pick up where they left off last campaign they can break into the top ten.
With Che Adams looking bright at the back end of last season and Moussa Djenepo back from injury, they’ll be hoping to ease their reliance on talisman Ings. The defence remains a concern, but if they can steady it up at the back and continue their efficiency in front of goal, Saints could be one to watch next time around.
Saints welcome back the Mail international | Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
Breaking into the top ten is no mean feat, but Saints showed they were capable of keeping up with the big boys in the second half of the last campaign. Providing they don’t start as disastrously as last time around, expect them to sneak into the top half – just.