It's been far from an ideal year for Southampton striker Shane Long. Following a superb campaign last time around, the Irishman simply has not been able to get going this season, and it now looks as if his days with the Saints could be numbered.
After a disappointing campaign, there is likely to be at least a few comings and goings this summer at St Mary's, and it will be up to manager Claude Puel to determine whether Long is part of the changes.
When Shane Long signed a new four-year contract with Southampton last July, the response from the Saints faithful was overwhelmingly positive.
Looking back, the jubilation that greeted the news should come as no surprise, since the 30-year-old had come off a fantastic season under then Saints boss Ronald Koeman. Sure, his tally of 13 goals was nothing special, but when you threw in his endless work-rate, deceptive pace, and harassing of defenders, he was an invaluable asset for Southampton as they finished sixth.
Yet ever since Long put pen to paper in the summer, things have not been so rosy. He has started only nine Premier League games this season, netting a mere three times. Moreover, that tenacity that served him so well twelve months ago is now his greatest weakness, as he commits countless unnecessary fouls on defenders; allowing them the easy way out when struggling to clear their lines.
It is no coincidence that Long's dip in form has come at the same time as his club's struggles; Southampton currently sit in ninth place, but have been uninspiring this season and, besides from a memorable EFL Cup run, the general consensus among fans is that this season has been very forgettable.
Long time coming
With the Saints on the decline, the club are expected to be very active in this summer's transfer window, as they look to revive their sensational journey up the English football ladder. As well as new faces coming in for Southampton, others will be expected to make way. With Long out of form and now the wrong side of 30, he looks a likely culprit to be moved on.
Manager Claude Puel, whose own future is not certain, has confirmed that the decision on Long will be discussed "at the end of the season." With a handful of games still to go, the Frenchman believes that "it's not the moment to have conversations about this".
While Puel's the professional focus on finishing the season well is admirable, he will surely have one eye on the transfer window and, in the back of his mind, be considering what to do about Shane Long.
All change up front
Should Long set sail from the South Coast in the coming months, then the Saints will once again have to delve into the transfer market for a striker.
As well as Long, Jay Rodriguez could also leave Southampton this summer, meaning the two remaining strikers in the squad would be Manolo Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin.
After scoring a sensational six goals in his first four games after signing in January, Gabbiadini looks set to lead the line for the Saints next season, but options after that are pretty scarce. When fit, Austin can be as lethal but, with his injury record, it would take a brave man to rely on him to play a significant role over a year.
As a result, Southampton will most likely purchase at least one striker this summer, depending on how the situation with Long and Rodriguez plays out. Putting away chances by far the Saints' biggest problem this season, and so it is vital that they solve their problems up front in the off-season.