A 6-1 defeat in the Capital One Cup quarter final to Liverpool, a 1-1 draw against bottom of the league Aston Villa, and a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace. It appears that Southampton’s annual Christmas slump is in full swing once again, but the December loss of form feels much more gloomy this year than in the past two seasons.
Saints are not sitting in the top seven like they were in 2013 and 2014; the season so far has been one of frustration. Whereas Saints were strong defensively last season, they have conceded 19 goals this term, just 14 less than in the whole of 2014/15.
One of the main factors has been losing Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweireld over the summer. Considering the trio left for a combined £48m in the last window, many fans would’ve been disappointed to see just £20.5m shelled out to replace three very important players.
Of course transfer fees aren’t the only cost of buying players, but even Les Reed admitted that Cedric was brought in to be a back-up for Clyne. Is any wonder that the team is not as good as before when even the hierarchy have admitted they’ve taken a mark down in quality?
It is not just the fans who are feeling frustrated with restrictive spending affecting quality; it is key figures. Both captain Jose Fonte and manager Ronald Koeman have aired their feelings at the lack of investment, too.
The quality levels have gone down from last summer, but it is not a surprise considering the prices of the players bought. Of the eight players brought in last summer, only Virgil van Dijk and Jordy Clasie cost more than £7.5m.
To put that into context, the 2014 summer window saw six arrive over that figure, plus Alderweireld who joined on loan, but cost £11m this summer. Transfer fees may not be the best indicator of quality but a £10m signing is more likely to perform better than a £5m signing, surely?
The transfer committee may have worried too much about the toll the Europa League would play on the squad, otherwise the signings of Juanmi, Oriol Romeu, Steven Caulker and Cuco Martina may have never happened. It shows why Saints were so keen to not just sign cover, as the signings haven’t improved the team much at all.
Koeman and the transfer committee may have instead chose to promote the likes of Jason McCarthy, Jack Stephens or Harrison Reed to fill the gaps, but then the quality of the academy conveyor belt is something Koeman seems irritated about.
With the January transfer window coming up, and the inflated prices that come with it, the Dutchman seemingly has his hands tied. He may say that he is content with the squad and no additions are needed as such, but, again, privately that may be another matter.
A striker is most likely to be top of the wish-list. Graziano Pellè has come to embody the Southampton of the last 18 months; recruited from abroad to replace a club hero, and when he plays well, Southampton play well. But when he loses form, Saints struggle massively. In a system where Koeman plays through him and relies on him for goals, Pellè being unfit or unconfident is the last thing the team needs.
With Jay Rodriguez injured and Shane Long more of a workhorse than a thoroughbred, another number nine would be really useful; one with pace would be really useful and would add another dimension to Southampton’s attack.
Buying a very good striker in January for a reasonable price is about as likely as Dani Osvaldo being on Jose Fonte’s Christmas card list, though. Koeman has ruled out many fans’ choice, Charlie Austin, for being too expensive, so that search is likely to go into the summer.
With new shirt sponsorship, kit supplier and astronomical TV deals all arriving next July, the club has no real reason to be as restrictive in their spending next summer, and instead give the squad the investment it is in need of.
As well as the aforementioned striker situation, a right-back would be useful. Cedric is decent enough but defensively questionable. With the club in need of more home-grown players for the quota, should Victor Wanyama go to Tottenham it would be a wise move to bring Kieran Trippier the other way.
For the sixth summer in a row, a centre-back could be in order, especially with Jose Fonte not getting any younger. With Wanyama and Sadio Mané likely to move on, a central midfielder and a forward are also more than likely to be sourced too.
But the fact that the next transfer window is likely to see tight purse strings again is likely to be to Koeman’s irritation. With rumours of disagreements and frustration, perhaps another head coach next summer is not as unlikely as it seemed even a few months ago.