Rain clouds on the horizon? Southampton beat Plymouth Argyle

Southampton (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
Southampton (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

It is hard to complain about seven points through three games. You have to go back to February 2022 to get a better three-game stretch for Southampton. For the record — the results in ’22 were 1-1 against Manchester United and 2-0 against Everton and Norwich City. Against United, Saints toughed out a result, as they fell behind early before a Ché Adams equalizer salvaged a point.

Sound familiar? The Scottish striker affectionately known as Chele has bailed out Southampton not once but twice in three games so far in the Championship. Not content with an 87th-minute winner at Sheffield Wednesday, he topped off his fine start with a 94th-minute winner at Plymouth Argyle (these goals were separated by a third goal against Norwich at St. Mary’s).

No disrespect to Wednesday and Argyle, they are two well-organized teams that should do well this season. But even away from home, automatic promotion-seeking Southampton should be beating these two newly promoted sides. Not only beat, they should be winning with relative comfort. Comfortable, these wins were not.

Argyle especially caused Saints issues, having a late winner of their own hit the post and having a penalty shout waved off by the referee (it was later shown that Argyle striker Ryan Hardie thought he was trying out for the Olympic diving team). But on another day those could’ve been goals, and then we are talking about a disappointing loss rather than an inspiring win away from home.

The what-if theme has resonated throughout all three Southampton games this season. Take away a soft penalty call in stoppage time against Norwich and the Saints lose. Remove a peach of a James Ward-Prowse assist against Wednesday and the Saints only take away a point. JWP has actually been removed from Southampton since that game. For all these reasons, perhaps slight rain clouds are forming in the South Coast sunshine. The Saints are a hop, skip and jump away from a devastating 2 points from 3 games.

But football is a results business, and Russell Martin’s men are flying to start the season. Queen’s Park Rangers come to St Mary’s next. QPR were one of the pre-season betting favorites to be relegated, and have started poorly with just 3 points from their opening 3 games. This is an opportunity, especially at home, for Southampton to show a wire-to-wire dominant performance.

Most importantly, I would like Saints to keep a clean sheet. The duo of Captain Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek have not exactly covered themselves in glory defensively so far, and left back Ryan Manning made mistakes directly leading to two opposition goals (all three have been excellent on the ball so far…just pointing out their purely defensive shortcomings).

Transfer Business Not Over for Southampton

James Ward-Prowse and Roméo Lavia have officially left the South Coast. But just like with their performances, some uncertainty remains. Kamaldeen Sulemana, Armel Bella-Kotchap, and Paul Onuachu have shown no indications they will be playing for the Saints, but remain on the payroll. Jason Wilcox, Russell Martin, and the Southampton board will either have to convince these players to stay or move them on imminently, as incoming players are needed.

There are three major areas of need in the squad.

1.) Midfield: Saints went from having one of the deepest midfields in the Championship to fielding Adam Armstrong as a midfielder overnight. Ward-Prowse and Lavia have departed, and after Will Smallbone’s injury, there is a clear depth issue. Flynn Downes coming in will help, but the Saints could use another body here, as injuries will pile up in the incredibly congested Championship season.

2.) Center-back: as mentioned above, Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek have not kept a clean sheet so far. But more worryingly, if either gets injured (or suspended, Stephens is racking up the yellows), next up in the pecking order is Lyanco. No one can doubt Lyanco’s attitude, but his consistency is constantly in doubt, and the club tried to move him on once already this window.

3.) Striker: a new striker? Why would the Saints need a new striker when both Ché Adams and Adam Armstrong have scored three times apiece? Firstly, Adarma might actually be a midfielder! His performance against Argyle was top class, and he has earned more playing time in that deeper role. Secondly, Adams is reportedly on his way to Everton.

Saints should do everything in their power to hold on to the Scottish international. It will not be easy to replace a proven goal scorer, who does not come cheap at this level. The Southampton brass argument to Ché will be simple: Everton are really, really bad. Would you rather score single-digit goals for a Sean Dyche brexit-ball side, or bag 30 goals for a team that is favored to win every single week?

But at the end of the day money talks, and Everton can likely offer a higher wage than the Saints can on their Championship budget even with parachute payments. If Ché goes, Sékou Mara moves up the pecking order, and after his disastrous outing against Gillingham, he seems to be on the outs with Saints boss Russell Martin.

Southampton have started incredibly strong but questions abound. QPR next needs to be a win, and a comfortable one at that to exorcise Saints’ home form demons. After QPR, the schedule becomes daunting: Sunderland, Leicester, undefeated Ipswich, Middlesbrough and Leeds.

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Any questions we have about this Saints side will be answered by the gauntlet they are about to run. If they come out on the other side unscathed, I will happily put this article into the pile of off-target analysis. Let’s hope they prove me wrong.

QPR come to town Saturday at 3 pm BST.