Southampton have encountered several problems throughout the course of the season, but none have been more damaging and poignant than the failure to score enough goals.
Claude Puel started the season with three recognised strikers at his disposal in the form of Charlie Austin, Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long, with new signing Nathan Redmond also being regarded by the Frenchman as a more than capable central attacker.
Many believed that Saints needed a new striker before the end of the summer transfer window, but no fresh face came through the door and the aforementioned quartet were the ones that Puel relied on to put the ball in the back of the net for the club in his first season.
However, it became increasingly apparent even in different formations that there simply wasn’t enough firepower within the ranks and by the time January rolled around, it was clear to see that Puel and the men behind the scenes were to target a new striker.
Step forward, Manolo Gabbiadini.
The Italian international joined Saints for an initial fee of £14 million that could, and probably will, rise up to £17 million and he certainly hasn’t disappointed. He’s provided a clinical edge to the team and has shown that he is the man to spearhead the attack on a consistent basis.
However, this shouldn’t deflect from the fact that new reinforcements are still needed at the top end of the pitch and a shake-up of the striking options at St Mary’s should certainly be something that is considered.
The stats don’t lie about Saints’ goal scoring issues and they make for incredibly interesting, if frustrating, reading. Puel’s side have scored 37 goals in the Premier League so far this season and the four strikers have scored just 17 of them. Rodriguez has played 14 games more than Gabbiadini and has the same amount of goals. Long has played a staggering 1108 minutes of top flight football this season and has scored three goals. That’s less than James Ward-Prowse.
Austin has notched six goals this season from a total of 36 shots. Gabbiadini has scored four from just 17. Long, on the other hand, has scored three from 40 – that translates to a goal every 13 games. It’s simply not good enough.
Saints have the lowest shot conversion rate in the whole of the Premier League, with a quite pathetic 11%, below the likes of Middlesbrough and Sunderland. It’s clear to see that the creation of chances isn’t and hasn’t ever really been the issue, but the quality of striker has.
Now that Gabbiadini is in the ranks and Austin is continuing his recovery, Saints do have reasons to be optimistic regarding their attackers heading into next season. However, it’s hard to justify Long and Rodriguez’s places in the squad for the 2017/18 campaign, and it’s clear to see that some fresh blood could be useful up top.
Puel and the excellent Saints recruitment team then have a decision on their hands if they do rightly choose to move Long and Rodriguez on this summer. Do they look closer to home for new strikers or do they delve into the transfer market?
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The young forwards at the club are certainly offering Puel some interesting options. Sam Gallagher has been in great form for Blackburn Rovers this season, and a return of 12 goals in a struggling side at the age of just 21 is no mean feat. Perhaps he deserves the opportunity to impress and make his claim for first-team football at St Mary’s next season.
Then, you look towards the Under-23’s that have been in good form this season. Ryan Seager has marked his return from a long-term knee injury with a flurry of goals for the youngsters and is still clearly regarded as one of the club’s most exciting prospects. Then you can consider Olufela Olomola, who made his first-team debut in October this season, who has also been in a decent spell of goal scoring form.
However, if the club do decide to sell more than one forward this summer, it would be naive and somewhat ignorant to not recruit from elsewhere. They have to learn from last summer’s errors, and seek quality over quantity.
It’d be good to see a young player join Gabbiadini and Austin as the club’s preferred attacking options, along with perhaps another dynamic option. An attacking quartet of the two forwards mentioned, a new signing with a more dynamic, unpredictable edge to them and a striker of Gallagher’s power and aerial ability could make for the perfect strike force.
Saints are lucky now to have two top quality Premier League strikers, but they shouldn’t settle for average behind those.