VAVEL's 20/21 Season Previews: Will Southampton break into Europe? 
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Southampton’s 2019/20 campaign can only be described as a topsy-turvy one.

As low as 18th at one stage and in real danger of relegation, the club stuck with manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and recovered to finish an impressive 11th.

They suffered a 9-0 loss to Leicester City at home as well as producing some quite magnificent performances, none less so than their victory over Manchester City.

This season, they will be looking to build on the club’s best Premier League finishing position since the 2016/17 season and reach the promised lands of European football.

There is huge optimism amongst Southampton fans that this season could be the season that success comes back to St Mary’s.

And that optimism is not misplaced. Ralph Hasenhuttl looks to be building a team for the future, and the signings of Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohammed Salisu are key to the project, a project that Hasenhuttl himself has admitted might take a few seasons.

Fresh from his first full season in charge of the Saints, Hasenhuttl has managed to keep the majority of his players, including club captain James Ward-Prowse, who has recently signed a new five-year deal, and top scorer Danny Ings who may follow suit.

Ward-Prowse himself has said that there is a 'real confidence amongst the players that we are building something special'. But what will the target be for the Saints this season?

Their lofty league position last season compared to previous seasons was almost all down to the goals of Danny Ings, who netted 22 Premier League goals, just one behind Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy.

Post-lockdown, however, he was not the only one firing on all cylinders with Che Adams finding form and Ward-Prowse looking sublime in midfield. 

There were also key contributions from Kyle Walker-Peters, who has now signed on a permanent basis, and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.

They will be looking to take that end of season form into the start of the new season when they face Crystal Palace away from home on Saturday. 

Starting well will be vital for the Saints to ensure that they are not embroiled in a relegation battle come November time as they have been the past few seasons. If they can consistently be in the top half during the first few months of the season, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge for the Europa League positions at the back end of the season. Whether or not Ings can recreate his form from last season will have great bearing on their position come the end of the season.

As for cup competitons, they will want to improve on their less than impressive form in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup over the last couple of seasons, as they haven’t got past the fourth round of either since the 2017/18 season. Ralph Hasenhuttl will look to these competitions to bring Southampton’s first piece of silverware since 1976.

Recapping pre-season

Southampton’s pre-season exploits have gone quietly under the radar with not much action going on.

A 7-1 victory against Swansea City, a game that included a brace each for James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings as well as goals for Che Adams, Nathan Redmond and Ryan Bertrand, is about all there is to report on.

A youthful-looking Saints side were beaten 3-1 by Coventry City but that was more an U23’s side.

Like other clubs, they haven’t been able to properly make the final preparations due to the international break just days before the start of the new season.

Captain Ward-Prowse said it would be 'strange' not being with the squad until just a couple of days before the Palace game due to his England exploits. 

On the plus side, all the players playing in highly-competitive internationals are more likely to be ready for the new season than if they were just playing training matches and friendlies.

  • Transfer business

Despite selling one of their best players in Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Southampton have had a relatively good transfer window. 

His £15million transfer to Tottenham Hotspur saw Kyle Walker-Peters make the switch from Spurs to Southampton as part of the same deal.

Young full-back Walker-Peters impressed during his loan spell at St Mary’s last season and Saints fans will be hoping he can rekindle that form now that he’s there on a permanent basis.

The money from the Hojbjerg sale also funded another transfer for Southampton as they brought in Ghanaian centre-back Mohammed Salisu from Real Valladolid.

Salisu was highly sought after by many Premier League clubs due to his exploits in La Liga last season so signing him for just £10.9million will be seen as a real coup for the Saints if he can recreate that form in England.

At just 21 years old, he has plenty of time to grow into Hasenhuttl’s team.

Who is Southampton's key player?

Just as they were last season, Danny Ings’ goals will be crucial for whether or not Southampton can achieve their goals.

He has got his career back on track at his boyhood club Southampton having been unlucky with injuries at Liverpool.

Last season, he became the first Saints player since Ricky Lambert in the 2011/12 season to score over 20 goals in a single season and he almost went on to become the first Saints player ever to win the Premier League golden boot, finishing just one goal behind Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy.

Having been rewarded with his first England cap since 2015, Ings’ confidence will be sky high going into the new season and he will be looking to hit the ground running once more.

  • Breakthrough player: Will Smallbone 

Will Smallbone’s breakthrough season last season was one that he can certainly be proud of.

He featured nine times in the league all in all, bagging himself two assists.

His performances were rewarded with a new four-year contract handed to him by Ralph Hasenhuttl.

He’ll certainly be looking to build on his breakthrough season and force himself into Hasenhuttl’s future plans.

At just 20 years of age, Will Smallbone still has plenty of time on his hands so this isn’t a make or break season for him. However, he will be looking to challenge the ever-consistent Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse for a starting position in midfield.

  • Key dates 

Southampton’s first game of the season comes against Crystal Palace on Saturday where they will be looking to start the season with an away win. They will then be looking to kickstart their home form with a game against Tottenham Hotspur the following Sunday.

Looking further down the calendar, back to back games against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United in late November will be a real test of their European hopes.

Saturday, 12 September - Matchday One | Crystal Palace vs Southampton

Saturday, 19 September - Matchday Two | Southampton vs Spurs

Saturday, 21 November - Matchday Nine | Wolves vs Southampton

Saturday, 28 November - Matchday Ten | Southampton vs Manchester United

  • Writer’s verdict

Southampton’s hopes of reaching the Europa League positions this season will all hinge on them turning around their home form.

Last season, whilst they came third in the table for away form, they were 19th in the table if you only take into consideration home games. The only team that were worse than them at home were Norwich City.

This must change if they are to work their way up the table and consistency, which has been a problem in recent seasons, will need to be gained.

I think, whilst they will be looking towards that end of the table, getting into Europe will be too much of an ask for them, unless they can win either the FA Cup or the League Cup, which would be fantastic.

I'm tipping them to finish ninth.

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