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Southampton: What next for relegated Saints?

Southampton's 2-0 home defeat to Fulham on Saturday sealed their relegation from the Premier League after an 11-season spell in the top flight.

Saints started the 2022/23 campaign under Austrian coach Ralph Hasenhuttl but neither his successor Nathan Jones nor Ruben Selles, who took over in February, could stop the rot and the south-coast club must now start planning for Championship football next term. 

Next weekend, the Saints face a daunting trip to European hopefuls Brighton, who are 1/4 to beat 10/1 Southampton, before they host top-four chasing Liverpool on the final day of the season.

WhatBrighton v Southampton, Premier League
WhereAmex Stadium, Brighton
When14:00, Sunday 21st May
OddsBrighton 1/4, Draw 5/1, Southampton 10/1

Southampton struggled to replace departing stars

Fulham's win at St Mary's on Saturday sealed the fate of a Southampton side who have picked up just 24 points from 36 Premier League matches this season and sign off their time in the top flight with two tough assignments. 

Saints are 10/1 to win at Brighton next weekend before their home clash with in-form top-four contenders Liverpool so it is hard to see them ending a miserable campaign on a high. 

Southampton have sailed close to the wind in terms of relegation for the past few years, finishing 17th, 16th, 11th, 15th and 15th in the last five seasons, and there were concerns about the depth and quality of their squad at the start of the season. 

After returning to the Premier League for 2012/13, Southampton built up a reputation for recruiting smartly and selling on their stars to big clubs. 

Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Dejan Lovren were all snapped up by Liverpool while Luke Shaw went to Manchester United for a hefty fee and Saints also cashed in on the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Calum Chambers, Danny Ings and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. 

That approach requires a steady stream of talented replacements for the players sold and that has been the problem for Southampton recently. 

Skipper James Ward-Prowse, whose midfield performances have earned him 11 senior caps for England, admitted after Saturday's defeat that "the standards of the football club have slipped" and none of this season's three Southampton managers have been able to get a tune out of the squad. 

Hasenhuttl, who arrived in December 2018, took 12 points from the first 14 matches this season, the same number as Saints amassed in their 22 subsequent fixtures under Jones and Selles.

Lack of a home fortress left Saints vulnerable

Poor home form and a shortage of goals have been the major problems for Saints this season. 

They have won just twice in 18 games at St Mary's and will be a big price to make that three against Liverpool on the final day, while they are the lowest scorers in the division with 31 goals in 36 matches. 

Crucially, while survival rivals such as Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Everton have discovered their scoring touch to pick up crucial wins, Southampton's leading league scorer is ace free-kick and penalty-taker Ward-Prowse. 

Forward Che Adams is next on the list with five goals from 28 appearances although January signing Carlos Alcaraz has injected some energy into the frontline with four goals in 11 outings, including the first-minute opener at Arsenal. 

Saints led 3-1 with three minutes of normal time remaining at the Emirates Stadium last month but still ended up defending desperately for a point and that soft underbelly has been an issue all season long.

Major squad overhaul required for Championship challenge

Southampton require a reset in the Championship next season but they cannot afford a repeat of their experiences after their last Premier League relegation in 2004/05. 

In four subsequent Championship campaigns, Saints finished 12th, sixth, 20th and 23rd, dropping into League One for two seasons before starting their rise back to the top flight. 

Their first objective is to sharpen up their recruitment, both of players and managers, and make sure they start next season with a deep, experienced squad capable of standing firm in a competitive division. 

That looks like a big job for new director of football Jason Wilcox, who is moving to St Mary's after a decade working in various roles at Manchester City. 

This season Burnley bounced straight back from Premier League relegation after the inspirational appointment of manager Vincent Kompany but Watford and Norwich, the other two teams to come down in 2021/22, finished 11th and 13th. 

Southampton can expect plenty of interest from other clubs in stalwart skipper Ward-Prowse as well as exciting youngsters such as Romeo Lavia, Armel Bella-Kotchap and Tino Livramento, whose 2022/23 campaign was ruined by injury. 

Adams and fellow forward Adam Armstrong have had success at Championship level but there is no guarantee that such a young squad – Theo Walcott and Stuart Armstrong are the only outfield players over the age of 29 – will fare better in the second tier than they did in the Premier League. 

Southampton can have few complaints about being relegated after a season featuring three managers, too many ineffectual signings and defensive errors, poor game management and a lack of cutting edge up front. 

The arrival of Wilcox and the challenge of the Championship offers them a fresh start but there are plenty of issues to address at St Mary's.

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