Southampton 2018/19 Season Preview: Mark Hughes seeking pastures new with Saints

Mark Hughes, formerly of Stoke City, Fulham and Manchester City, is aiming to lift Southampton into the top ten for the new Premier League season.

Southampton 2018/19 Season Preview: Mark Hughes seeking pastures new with Saints
(Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)

The new Premier League season is approaching the horizon for Southampton fans, as a summer of national team highs reached its climax and domestic football is refreshingly close.

A twelve month spell that has seen nothing less than disarray and one appalling performance after another; but, as a relief, Mark Hughes has seemingly replenished this depleted team with his own acquisitions, as well as giving a much-needed confidence boost to those who had already boasted the famous Saints' shirt.

An ambitious dream of a top-half finish is at the back of most supporters' minds for the coming campaign but that will certainly be thrown out the door when Southampton kick-off the 2018-19 term against Burnley this weekend.


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A season to forget

Whilst the majority of the fan base would desperately aim to forget last year, especially Mauricio Pellegrino's tenure, it is pivotal to use the dismal spell as inspiration and look at just how lacklustre the Saints were; dire performances that nearly saw them return to the Championship - if only it were not for Manolo Gabbiadini's dramatic winner against Swansea City.

Claude Puel led the club to an eighth-place finish the campaign beforehand, however, that was not nearly enough to keep hold of his job on the south coast and Argentinian Pellegrino became his successor. 

Goals were predominately the issue at St. Mary's and on the road - which did not help with the hamstring injury Charlie Austin sustained in December - but that is not a reasonable excuse for what was such a poor overall display from the squad.

Mark Hughes' arrival in March, who helped lead the Saints to a FA Cup semi-final outing at Wembley, was very much welcomed upon and was narrowly able to satisfy expectations of survival by escaping relegation, thankfully, to a three points satisfaction. 


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An opportunity to strengthen?

The summer transfer window is set to close before the season gets underway, which leaves managers limited chance to make the signings they so desperately attempt to attract but by the looks of things on the south coast, Mark Hughes has penned the players he drafted a transfer target list of prior. 

Stuart Armstrong, a strong individual when it comes to knowledge of claiming silverware having rallied many team accolades north of the border at Celtic, was the first man through the door

In a drastic attempt to strengthen their service to the strikers, Southampton swooped for in-demand winger Mohamed Elyounoussi; Jannik Vestergaard and goalkeeper Angus Gunn swiftly followed to complete the summer business at St. Mary's up to this point.

The question remains, has Mark Hughes strengthened the starting eleven ahead of the new season? The capture of in-demand Elyounoussi certainly helps the boss boast his case, especially considering the player's sublime record in Switzerland, and is possibly a more prolific replacement for Dusan Tadic - who did exit the club to join Ajax in the summer.

A new centre-half was one of the main priorities from the terraces and their wish was Hughes' command as Vestergaard, previously of German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach, is a superb addition for the manager's back-three defensive tactics.

Goalkeepers were potentially not high on the radar at Southampton considering Alex McCarthy had penned a new four-year deal in June but in an attempt to provide competition, the club did sign upcoming prospect Angus Gunn from Premier League champions Manchester City

What will also be key to the Saints is their ability to obtain the services of Ryan Bertrand, despite his below-par performances last season, with interest growing amongst some of the division's top clubs. 


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Pre-season very much a building block

Southampton's rebuild of fitness and team chemistry began at the beginning of July with a pre-season tour in China. FC Schalke proved to be the first opposition and were held to a 3-3 draw by the Saints; which featured Stuart Armstrong's first appearance in a Saints shirt.

Before returning to England, Mark Hughes' men overcame former Chelsea man Ramires' Jiangsu Suning with a 3-2 triumph - Manolo Gabbiadini, Nathan Redmond and Sam Gallagher grabbing the goals.

Unfortunately, that little glimpse of shine was vastly diminished as Frank Lampard's Derby County ran riot in the second-half against Southampton, claiming a 3-0 win, however, the Saints got back to winning ways in France as they beat Dijon.

Back-to-back friendlies on home turf ended in very mixed performances. A victory against Spain's Celta Vigo, where Sofiane Boufal now plays, was followed by a blow as Borussia Monchengladbach ran out 3-0 winners to end Hughes' pre-season schedule. 

Overall, a confusing month of preparation for the club with differing results. In an attempt to form a close bond among the team, the boss did try to integrate with all the players at his disposal and, in his mind, the main positive to come out of those friendlies is match fitness as the Premier League season gets nearer.