Playmaker Dusan Tadic has been out since the early November international break, suffering a broken nose in the 1-1 draw to Wales with the Serbian national team.
In a pivotal group stage match in Prague, the creative woes continued, with a forgettable 1-0 loss against a side previously brushed away with ease, at St. Mary's.
Southampton fans watching on as Christian Benteke eased the third goal into an empty net, must've been left feeling the performance was equally empty, void of a creative spark.
Tadic is due to return soon, sporting a mask for protection, to quote The Dark Knight, "he's the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now".
Except, Southampton do need and deserve the watchful protector in this instance.
The key cog
When looking for the issues that Saints have faced in terms of creativity, it's important to know the set-up from Puel tactically. Switching to his diamond formation this season hasn't been the simplest, but when it's used to its full potential - a joy to watch.
With two full backs pushing on past the triangle of central midfielders, it allows the defensive minded Oriol Romeu to sit between the everpresent Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk. Whoever joins Romeu in the centre, whether it be James Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis or Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, has to operate within the space that any regular full back would take up, when in possession of the ball.
The role that needs to be filled in order for Southampton to have success is just ahead of the midfield. It is one that Tadic has adapted to (previously being a winger) and mastered this season, call him the false nine, or the simple attacking mid.
Picking up the ball in areas that players like Prowse and Davis aren't fully comfortable in, seeing passes incomprehensible to the eye of other midfielders at the South-Coast club.
Being able to hold and keep possession whilst enclosed by opposition defenders is crucial, Charlie Austin and Shane Long can provide this at times, but not to the level of Tadic. In the Crystal Palace game for example, Austin made the least amount of passes of all 11 starters, that includes goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Not to say that the former QPR man isn't talented, with nine goals in all competitions he's the main threat for Southampton. Key difference being that Southampton's out-and-out strikers have done wonders when used up top with another striker (and Tadic in behind).
How does his absence affect the side?
In simple terms, massively. Arsenal result aside, Southampton have mustered one goal in four games (in all competitions).
With the departure of Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Gaston Ramirez in the summer, Tadic remained as the only creative spark in the squad this season.
This means that during games the ball moves sideways a lot more than forward without the Serb, since Puel has opted for a more classic 4-3-3 formation in recent weeks. Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond take up wider positions from the central striker, the attacks become drowned out in situations where the front three have no link, no false 9.
It becomes easier for a team to defend against Southampton when the play is mostly facing towards them. Passing back to our defence and making sure the ball reaches the width of the pitch with the intelligent Ryan Bertrand and UEFA Euro 2016 winner Cedric Soares. These two can't do it alone however and need the outlet through the middle that Tadic provides. If they're forced to go back to their defensive team-mates then the opponent's manager has to be looking on with glee.
On top of that, the space between the midfield and forward line is drawn out, leading to lots of possession in the feet of players that cannot make game changing decisions...unlike one man.