Southampton

This is our fix up look sharp series, which will look to profile a selection of Premier League teams for their FPL potential. We’ll give some key info on the players, talk about their first five fixtures and pick out five key individuals from that side, then offer a verdict on them at the end.

The main writer of this article is our friend from the FFS forums “prokoptas”, or Ed in real life. He’s a Saints fan! We worked with him on the creation and production of the post, as well as co-writing some sections.

Having recently announced the hiring of Mauricio Pellegrino, Southampton enter the season with their fourth new manager in five years. To help keep track of the situation, here’s the lowdown on the team’s prospects heading into 2017/18:

The squad

  • Southampton’s offensive struggles were the source of much frustration for the FPL community last year. Barring a tidy November run from Charlie Austin (which ended in his contractually-obligated season-ending injury) and Manolo Gabbiadini briefly channelling the spirit of Puskás from Gameweeks 24-27, no Saints attacker proved consistently capable of stringing together returns. The reason for this seems obvious: in terms of total goals, only Burnley, Hull, Watford, Middlesborough and Sunderland scored fewer than Southampton’s 41. This problem was particularly bad at home – with a mere 17 home goals all season at St Mary’s, only Sunderland (16) scored fewer.
  • However, there is reason to believe that could improve heading into 2017/18. In terms of time spent in possession, Southampton ranked seventh at 54%, immediately behind the PL’s big six teams (Opta stats). In terms of goals produced, these top sides ranked 1st-5th and 8th, suggesting that the Saints may have been unlucky not to turn that possession into an end product. This wasn’t simply a product of ball control in defence, either – in terms of possession in the opponents half, Southampton tied for 7th place (alongside Bournemouth), behind the aforementioned big six.
  • What about chance creation? One typical narrative would be to assert that the Saints simply struggled to convert that possession into any meaningful chances. However, the numbers suggest otherwise: Southampton produced an attacking chance every 6.6 minutes, a comparable rate to Arsenal (6.4) or Chelsea (6.2) and better than any of the non- top six sides.

So what’s the reason for them struggling to score?

Goal conversion rate. The average PL side converted approximately 10.7% of their chances into goals (that number even includes Middlesbrough – whose fans must be unaccustomed to seeing their name alongside words such as ‘average PL side’ and ‘goals’). Southampton, though, tied with Sunderland in having the lowest goal conversion rate in the league – just 7.5%.

The next big question, therefore, is to look at how strongly chance conversion rate carries over from one season to the next. To test this, I looked at the 17 sides who remained in the PL from 2015/16 to 2016/17 using statistical software. I found that chance conversion rate in 2015 versus 2016 was totally uncorrelated (R2=0.0022). Indeed, the previous year Southampton tied for fifth in chance conversion rate at 11.4%. Interestingly, this number also goes some way to explaining the overperformance of Leicester (who led the league at 13%) in 2015/16: regression to the mean this past year led to a drastic dip in their goal output, and ultimately saw the departure of everybody’s favourite Tinkerman.

It seems that Southampton were unable to hit the target under Claude Puel anywhere near as much as they were under Ronald Koeman, with, I’m assuming, Gabbiadini owners nodding knowingly at this point. On that note…

Case Study: Manolo Gabbiadini

He’s just checked how TCing himself went

One player in whom much interest will be specifically targeted is Gabbiadini. Hailed by many as the next Messiah following an explosive introduction to English football (in which the Italian notched an impressive 4 goals and 25 fantasy points across his first three starts), Gabbiadini served as the centrepiece for many wildcard teams heading into the late-season double gameweeks. However, this show of faith proved to be ill-deserved – across four matches in Gameweeks 36 and 37, Gabbiadini produced a shocking four points, leaving many hopeful teams in tatters and the bond of trust forever frayed.

Looking ahead to 2017/18, a competition between Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin for the number nine role seems on the cards, though Pellegrino may prefer to bring in new blood to compete for the role. The underlying numbers between the two proved similar last season, though it would appear that the Englishmen held a slight edge in certain important predictors of performance:

Based on that, I think we’ll need to look to Saints’ forward line to see who is playing but it could be that Chaz is the more dangerous.

Conclusion

Careful attention will need to be paid during pre-season in order to recognise the pecking order at the tip of Southampton’s attacking front – yet regardless of the victor, fantasy players must surely be rooting for a single consistent option to emerge, in order to clarify the depth chart and minimise the risk of rotation at the position.

The bottom line: Southampton’s attack drastically underperformed last year, and there are reasons to believe that number should improve. Even without reinforcements to the squad, we would naturally expect Southampton’s attacking numbers to rebound towards the middle of the pack for 2017/18. Should the Saints’ attacking assets drop in price due to last year’s underperformance, we could even see some interesting bargains across the attacking four positions going into next season.

On the flipside, Southampton’s defence proved once again to be among the most reliable in the Premier League. The Saints produced a total of 14 clean sheets, trailing only Spurs and Manchester United (17) and Chelsea (16). Doubling-up on defenders during home fixtures also proved a sensible strategy; the team produced 8 clean sheets at St Mary’s, ranking fifth in the division.

Over the past four seasons, Southampton’s defence has been an admirably stout unit – finishing 6th in terms of fewest goals conceded in 2013/14, 2nd in 2014/15, 5th in 2015/16, and 8th in 2016/17. These achievements appear all the more impressive in light of the defensive players that have left this system over those seasons: Nathaniel Clyne, Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte and Luke Shaw in defence, and the midfield screening of Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin.

The underlying numbers are encouraging, too. The Saints conceded the fifth-fewest shots inside the box, and the fifth-lowest number of big chances. Meanwhile, only Manchester United and Leicester commited fewer defensive errors than Southampton’s 13.

The case for the defence: Mauricio Pellegrino

Not Pellegrini

The arrival of new manager Mauricio Pellegrino from Deportivo Alavés should do nothing to dampen this defensive potential heading into 2017/18. A reliable centre-back during his own playing days, Pellegrino guided Alavés to a mid-table finish in La Liga on the back of an impressive defensive unit which conceded just 43 goals, tied for fifth in the division.

The Alavés attack, however, proved less bountiful. No single player racked up double digit in goals or assists within the squad last year. As a result, the side produced a measly 41 goals in 38 games. By comparison, Southampton’s goal-shy attackers combined for….41 goals in 38 games. Consistency.

Alavés typically lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation under Pellegrino, a system designed to give the two fullbacks (Femenia and Hernandez) space up the flanks. The implementation of a similar system at Southampton would certainly augur well for the potential of Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares – though in the case of the latter, the return of Jérémy Pied from injury requires monitoring. Expected to arrive with prices of 5.5 and 5.0 respectively, these full-backs could represent popular routes into the Saints back four, combining attacking potential with a strong defensive track record.

At centre back, the starting XI remains less clear. The saga surrounding Dutch international Virgil van Dijk rages on, with the Saints steadfastedly holding out for a club-record incoming fee to relinquish his services. Though van Dijk produced only a single goal last year in the 21 games which preceded his injury, his average of four goals per season over the three previous years suggests that he may well prove worth the expected additional outlay. Alongside him, a competition seems likely between the ever-reliable Maya Yoshida, new signing Jan Bednarek, and newly-resigned England under-21 international Jack Stephens. Despite the promising potential of Stephens, who provided excellent value for many last season during van Dijk’s injury lay-off, it is Yoshida who boasted the superior attacking statistics last time out: averaging 0.7 goal attempts per game to the Englishman’s 0.2; alongside 1.2 penalty area touches per match (compared with 0.9 for Stephens).

The first five fixtures

Southampton have perhaps the strongest opening fixtures of any side in the Premier League. Thanks to the rescheduling Gods, they even begin with three of the first four at home:

SWA, WHM, hud, WAT, cpl (n.b. upper case is home, lower case is away)

Fantasy Football Scout’s ticker rates them like this (and our ticker is in near total agreement):

Screengrab from FFS website

But just how good are they?

Well, let’s see, by using the Premier League’s own “head to head” meter to gauge Southampton’s record against those each of these teams and see if that is truly the case. Any semi-predictions come with big caveats, as we have the transfer window and pre-season to shake things up, but here’s 2 or 3 lines on each with some general observations.

Swansea (H): 10 games played in PL, 6w Southampton, 1d, 2w Swansea.

Last season: SWA 2-1 sou / SOU 1-0 swa

It could be a tight game, but Pellegrino will want his side to give him the best possible start in the league, and consign last season’s inability to score goals to history. A lot will depend who starts, but Pellegrino’s penchant for solidity at the back could see early investment in Saints defenders bear early fruit.

West Ham (H): 30 games played in PL, 10w Southampton, 7d, 13w West Ham.

Last season: WHU 0-3 sou / SOU 1-3 whu

The GW2 “Jose Fonte derby” being moved to St Mary’s means two homes in a row for Saints, with this fixture swapped to accommodate athletics in Stratford. An unusual pair of fixtures last season, though an OK one on paper for Southampton, with the away side taking the glory each time: might be touch and go for defenders.

Huddersfield (a): never played in PL

Last season: n/a

We like Huddersfield’s new signings, particularly T Ince, as bargain prospects. Southampton had a mixed record away to the promoted sides last season, losing to Burnley and Hull but beating Middlesbrough. Could be an intriguing one, with how David Wagner – currently signing players prolifically – lands his tactics in his side’s first few matches.

Watford (H): 6 games played in PL, 3w Southampton, 2d, 1w Watford.

Last season: SOU 1-1 wat / WAT 3-4 sou

Will Watford still be smarting from Manolo Gabbiani’s (scarcely believable) goal? In games that tend to go Southampton’s way, We’ll likely see Saints on the front foot on this one, with owners of their assets circling this fixture as one they’ll see returns from.

Crystal Palace (a): 16 games played in PL, 10w Southampton, 4d, 2w Crystal Palace.

Last season: CPL 3-0 sou / SOU 3-1 cpl

The first managerial meeting between the two newbie Premier League bosses. We’ll have to see if they’ve instilled their philosophies by then and how that impacts things, but this is a game Southampton have usually won, even if beaten resoundingly last season in the same value – could 8.0m Tekkers troll those of us who aren’t too happy at that allocation and might avoid as a result?

The key players

The top targets

Fraser Forster: A dependable mid-priced option expected to open at 5.0, Forster tied with David de Gea for the third-most clean sheets last year with 14. With a kind opening schedule, investment in Forster could prove shrewd.

Ryan Bertrand: In addition to a penchant for clean sheets, Bertrand also offers great value in the attacking game. The England international finished tied-second among all defenders for assists last season with 5; should he retain an attacking role within Pellegrino’s new setup, a similar output could be expected.

Dusan Tadic: I know, I know. Every year, it seems that Tadic’s underlying numbers hint at a breakout year…only for the points to fail to materialise. Though many will surely gravitate towards Nathan Redmond over Tadic following the Englishmen’s superior returns last year, we are backing the Serb to bounce back in 2017/18: particularly as a drop in price of last year’s 7.5 offering is expected.

The signing

[We will give a short write up once he is made – it won’t be Bedenerak]

The punt

Jwpping the league this year?

James Ward-Prowse: After a strong showing with the England U21s this summer, Ward-Prowse could stake a claim for a more permanent midfield role – perhaps alongside Oriol Romeu in the double-pivot, but licensed to roam forward. With 4 assists a season for the last two seasons, and then a massive 8 back in 14/15, he could be one who really kicks on this year, provided he gets the manager’s trust. A key point in this is his ability at set pieces, which augurs well for his assist potential should his minutes receive a boost. Another piece of idle speculation concerning JWP concerns penalty duties: he can take them, scoring once in 14/15 and another in 15/16 from the spot. Tadic, Shane Long and Gabbiadini have each missed their last penalties. Could penalties come back to him? A cheap opening price in the 5.0 bracket would make Ward-Prowse an intriguing option as a fifth midfielder.

The blanker

Sofiane Boufal: 20 games, 1 goal, 1 assist. With such high expectations of the Moroccan following his arrival for a club-record £16million fee from Lille, Boufal proceeded to disappoint Southampton fans relentlessly last season with his lack of end product. Though the potential is certainly there, Boufal represents an enormous risk heading into next season.

The verdict

Over the past few seasons, Southampton have typically produced strong defensive showings whilst struggling to create the requisite number of goals to sustain strong fantasy options. Whilst that pattern seems set to continue into 2016/17, we should be mindful of the opportunity for the Saints attack to rebound from last season’s abysmal finishing rate. Even a league-average chance conversion rate would have netted the Saints an extra 10.1 goals last season. As goal conversion rate seems not to carry over strongly from one season to the next, some degree of improvement in this area seems strongly likely.

Though a competitive pre-season will help to clarify the new manager’s thoughts, it would seem that midfielders such as Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic could be in line for an uptick in fantasy output going into 2017/18. It was Redmond (126 points) who outperformed Tadic (108 points) last time around, while boasting a much lower price tag – however, a drop in price could make the Serb the higher-upside fantasy option for next year, particularly should he hold down the #10 position within Pellegrino’s new setup. Given the kind early fixtures afforded to the Saints – which include 3 out of the first 4 at home – many could gravitate towards one of this pair of players.

The other position over which there will be intrigue is the central striker spot. An uptick in chance conversion rate should bring more goals to St Mary’s in 2017/18 – close monitoring of the attacking depth chart in pre-season will be important in determining which forward, if any, deserves a place within our starting squads for the upcoming year.

 

[1] Man City 66%, Liverpool 62%, Tottenham 61%, Arsenal 59%, Manchester Unted 57%, Chelsea 55%.

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