Premier League preview 2018/19 - Southampton: Home form key to pushing on under Mark Hughes

Richard Jolly is analysing all 20 teams competing in the Premier League and giving his verdict on how they will fare. Here he looks at if the Saints can kick on from escaping relegation last season

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01:  Stuart Armstrong of Southampton celebrates with Charlie Austin of Southampton after he scores his sides second goal during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Southampton and Celta Vigo at St Mary's Stadium on August 1, 2018 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Lowdown: Southampton almost completed a two-year decline from sixth to the second tier, from perhaps the best-run club in the division to one of the worst.

Their reputation was tarnished by the poor managerial appointments of Claude Puel and Mauricio Pellegrino and a series of bad buys.

Yet a late surge to safety has afforded the opportunity for renewal and resurgence.

Danish defender Jannik Vestergaard is the belated replacement for Virgil van Dijk, Norwegian winger Mohamed Elyounoussi offers the promise of goals from the wing, Scottish midfielder Stuart Armstrong could bring drive in the centre of the pitch and Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn should finish the error-prone Fraser Forster’s Saints career.

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Key player: Charlie Austin – In the last two seasons, Austin has scored 13 league goals. He has also only started 21 of Saints' 76 games.

That lack of fitness has been part of the problem; so, too, Puel and Pellegrino’s reluctance to pick the club’s best finisher, though results are better when he starts and scores.

Manager: Mark Hughes – Fortunate to be given the Southampton job after his role in a season that ended in relegation for Stoke City and, while he galvanised an underperforming Saints side, perhaps lucky to get a three-year deal. But Hughes does have a host of top-half finishes to his name. His challenge now is to get another.

Talking point: The home form. Saints only won four times at St Mary's last season. They finished the previous campaign without scoring in the last five.

A return of four victories and 20 goals in 24 home matches is lamentable.

It is notable that some of the attacking failures, in Sofiane Boufal and Guido Carrillo, have been exiled, but with the more creative Dusan Tadic also sold, others – the unproductive Shane Long and Nathan Redmond, the underused James Ward-Prowse and Manolo Gabbiadini, the untried (in England, anyway) newcomers Elyounoussi and Armstrong – have a responsibility to make them more potent on home soil to avert another season of struggle.

Prediction: 15th.