Project Restart has treated Southampton very kindly. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men are enjoying the clubs best finish to a season since 2016, currently sitting 18 points clear of the relegation zone.
Hasenhuttl very quickly turned things around at St. Mary’s, but perhaps even more important than that will be how he goes about improving the team for next season and beyond.
The spine of the team is in most need of reinforcements, simply adding to the overall quality and reliability of the squad as they embark on a return to challenging for European football.
Saints are in a very strange position in that they have a lot of first-team talent returning to the club from loan spells at the end of the season.
The brief pre-season period could be an opportunity for the likes of Wesley Hoedt, Mario Lemina and Guido Carrillo to make a case for a spot in Hasenhuttl’s plans, but will more likely see them being shopped on the market.
With Maya Yoshida on the way out and Kevin Danso unlikely to return permanently, there is a need at centre-back that Hoedt could fill. Jan Bednarek, Jannik Vestergaard and Jack Stephens have all been inconsistent at times and could do with the added competition.
Former captain Pierre Emile Hojbjerg has one leg out the door at St. Mary’s, undoubtedly a massive blow to the team. Simply put, he must be replaced.
Will Smallbone recently signed a long-term contract, and in his limited appearances this season has shown bags of potential as an attack-minded midfielder.
He is intelligent, adept at playing between the lines and distributes the ball superbly well with an emphasis on moving forward, and he will surely be the recipient of more opportunities next season.
Potential transfer targets
Centre half options are not exactly at a premium, and they won’t come cheap. Filip Benkovic could be poached from Leicester City after a successful loan spell at Bristol City, while fellow Championship star Semi Ajayi could be an option, especially if his West Bromwich Albion fail to earn promotion.
Ryan Bennett is likely on the way out at Wolves and will be unlikely to stay at Leicester after his temporary move to the Foxes, while Andreas Christensen would be the slightly unrealistic option. The Dane has slowed in his development at Chelsea, but would no doubt command a large fee.
In midfield, the no-brainer is Adam Lallana. The former Saints captain is available for free, and putting any issues about him leaving aside, this is a transfer that must be targeted.
Lallana – who has become an England Player of the Year, Champions League and Premier League winner while at Liverpool – would return with experience, leadership and an existing love and understanding of the football club.
Florian Neuhaus at Borussia Monchengladbach is a wonderfully technical and intelligent central midfielder, and fellow Bundesliga star Diadie Samassekou emerged as one of the top defensive midfielders in German football this season.
Closer to home, there is a plethora of midfield talent to be poached from potentially relegated teams. If Watford go down, Abdoulaye Doucoure will undoubtedly be in high demand, same for Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing at Bournemouth and Aston Villa’s John McGinn.
Do Saints need another striker?
Danny Ings has been nothing short of a revelation at Southampton and is well and truly set as the team’s no.9, but the question remains what were to happen if he is unavailable.
Shane Long is 33 and has failed to score more than five goals four seasons in a row, Michael Obafemi remains a raw talent and Che Adams has scored just twice in his debut Premier League season – although he seems now to have finally settled in.
Another option up front could only be a welcome boost in competition for places and would bring the ability to rotate without losing quality.
Karlan Grant could make the step back up to the top flight after an 18-goal season in the Championship with Huddersfield Town, and Michy Batshuayi could be an option as he seems all but out of favour at Chelsea.
This is a very important period for the club to build on this purple patch and ensure they are not sucked into the relegation scrap once more.
The transfer market will be a big opportunity for Hasenhuttl to develop the team, and with sustainability in his position and an upturn in positive attitude, Southampton will look to continue rising up the table.