Southampton Repeat Similar Mistakes in 3-1 Loss.
The Saints continued their freefall to the Championship on Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 loss against third-place Newcastle at St. James’ Park. If Southampton weren’t six points adrift with four games to play, this could be seen as a forgivable result. Newcastle were coming off a 6-1 rout of Spurs, followed by a 4-1 handling of Everton.
But the Saints are in desperate need of points. What normally could be seen as a spirited performance is now another disappointment in a disappointing season. Winning games against Southampton FC has become all too easy for opposing teams, and Rubén Sellés and his men only have four games to prove they can figure it out.
Once again, in a game they needed points from, Southampton started well. After one of his trademark rampaging runs forward, Stuart Armstrong linked up well with Kamaldeen Sulemana who played a low cross into the box. After some confusion in the Newcastle backline, left-back Kyle Walker-Peters forced a smart safe out of keeper Nick Pope.
Armstrong would once again be influential early, as after a turnover he drove into the Newcastle box and stung the palms of Pope from close range in the 8th minute. But this would be the Saints’ last foray forward for some time, as Newcastle would immediately take control.
In the absence of full-back Romain Perraud, Rubén Sellés inserted central defender Lyanco at right back. Southampton fans will not-so-fondly remember Nathan Jones making the same decision several times, with mixed results. History would repeat itself, as Newcastle attacked the Southampton right throughout the match.
Former Everton forward Anthony Gordon singled out Lyanco time and time again. Newcastle should’ve scored early in the first half, with Bruno Guimarães volleying wide after a Gordon cross. Gordon himself would hit the post a few minutes later after finding himself 1v1 against Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy. Sellés moved Moussa Djenepo over to the right to try to give Lyanco some help, but the attacks were still coming.
The architect of these Newcastle chances? Bruno Guimarães. Repeatedly he would drop deep to pick up the ball unmarked, and spray pinpoint passes forward to spring attacks. Southampton forwards Kamaldeen Sulemana and Carlos Alcaraz seemed disinterested in tracking Guimarães, and the Saints defense was already springing leaks.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints also had problems. Sellés again started the game without a traditional striker, and again the lack of a press-beating out ball was evident. Newcastle, like Bournemouth on Thursday, would press high and Southampton had no answers.
Too often the ball would be played long, and against the giant Newcastle backline, Alcaraz and Sulemana had no chance of winning possession. With Newcastle piling on the pressure, the Saints seemed to be destined for another uninspiring defeat.
Southampton Strike Back
Roméo Lavia has been a much-needed bright spot in a dismal Southampton season. It is thus fitting that what could be the Saints’ last breath of life in the Premier League came through Lavia’s brilliance.
Southampton were attempting to slow down Guimarães in the first half by man-marking him with Lavia, who got the better of his counterpart late in the first half, winning the ball with a beautiful sliding challenge. Carlos Alcaraz picked up the ball and drove at the Newcastle backline, finally playing a ball into the box for Kamaldeen Sulemana.
Alcaraz’s pass was a little too weighty, and the play looked to be gone. But Sulemana played a driven cross across the box, and Stuart Armstrong got across Newcastle right-back Kieran Trippier and finished the move from close range. Southampton have now taken the lead against leaders Arsenal, and Champions League-destined Newcastle, in the past two weeks.
After the goal, the first half would conclude with more Newcastle control. Moussa Djenepo would go down injured off the field and crawl back on to stop play, showing some veteran gamesmanship that the Saints have been lacking all season. Southampton would need to continue this game-breaking play into the 2nd half to disrupt the Newcastle momentum.
Newcastle Take Control in the 2nd Half
The Geordies came out of the dressing room on a mission. Callum Wilson was inserted for the dangerous looking Anthony Gordon, but instead of directly taking his spot, Alexander Isak dropped a little deeper to fill Gordon’s role.
The switch would almost immediately pay off, as on the Southampton right Djenepo and Lyanco were forced to give away a succession of free kicks and corners. McCarthy was called into action multiple times, including one save from point-blank range from Newcastle’s Dan Burn. The pressure was mounting, and Saints could not find any spells of possession to interrupt the Newcastle storm.
The Saints would finally buckle. Once again it stemmed from an attack down the Southampton right, as Isak once again found acres of space between Djenepo and Lyanco, and played a low cross into the box. Callum Wilson evaded Jan Bednarek (who had not put a foot wrong all game it must be said), and looped a finish past the helpless McCarthy in net. Newcastle still had thirty-five minutes to find a winner.
The camera immediately cut to Rubén Sellés screaming at his players to keep their heads. However, Sellés himself had just received a yellow card, following Walker-Peters entering the book for a take foul on Trippier. Southampton looked absolutely clueless against the Newcastle press, unable to string more than 2-3 passes together, forced to play long and hope Newcastle’s backline made a mistake.
Sellés attempted to make a change to ease the Newcastle pressure, bringing on Theo Walcott for Moussa Djenepo. Saints desperately needed someone to be calm under the Newcastle pressure, and the veteran Walcott was unable to provide that respite. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Adam Armstrong, and Ché Adams would soon follow, but none could break the Newcastle storm.
Callum Wilson would temporarily put Newcastle ahead in the 76th minute (once again initiated by Isak on the Saints right), but have it ruled out by VAR. Three minutes later the Geordies would go ahead for good. They had threatened from set pieces all game, and finally capitalized on a Theo Walcott own goal from a corner kick. Southampton has been incredibly poor defending set plays all season, and to throw away points on an own goal was the icing on the cake.
Two minutes later Newcastle would score again on some woeful defending from Bednarek and Maitland-Niles. A long clearance from Pope was allowed to bounce, and Maitland-Niles played his clearance directly to Callum Wilson, who coolly rounded McCarthy in net to slot home. 3-1, and the game was effectively over.
Southampton would finish the second half with a sputter, having barely any touches in and around the Newcastle box. Taking the 1-0 lead almost seemed to doom the Saints, as they spent the entire second half fixed into their own penalty area, unable and unwilling to provide any attacking threat. According to The Athletic’s Jacob Tanswell, the switch of mentality was not tactical, as Rubén Sellés could be seen instructing his players to stay high up the pitch.
Sellés will have his work cut out for him analyzing this match. The gulf in quality between the two teams was evident throughout, with Newcastle able to play through the Saints press like it wasn’t there, while Southampton looked, frankly, like a Championship side. But once again, the Saints players have started well, failed to adjust to the opposition’s changes, and lost their heads upon conceding. Newcastle’s 2nd and 3rd were not goals a Premier League side should be conceding. Individual mistakes have plagued Southampton all season, and these two undid what was sixty minutes of desperate defensive work.
In the 47th minute, the USA TV broadcast claimed that Southampton had a 55% chance of winning the game. The person who came up with that statistic must not be a Saints fan. Southampton have fallen into this pattern all season, and today was no different.
The Saints look formidable when pressing high, forcing turnovers, and playing directly on the counter. But when the opposition presses the Saints, and forces them to show quality on the ball in possession, they crumble. Furthermore, you cannot allow a team like Newcastle to have most of the ball (64%) and expect to keep them at bay. On another day, and if not for the heroics of Jan Bednarek and Armel Bella-Kotchap, Newcastle could’ve easily had four, five, or six.
With Southampton seemingly destined for the Championship, focus will now shift to next season. Roméo Lavia and James Ward-Prowse seem destined for an exit, and several others might be auditioning for other clubs in the last four games of the season. The Saints will have to make decisions on players like Paul Onuachu, Kamaldeen Sulemana, Romain Perraud, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and many others. Their tailspin this season has generated far more questions than answers, and with games running out, the Saints will head into the offseason with question marks around almost every position, including manager.