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Southampton: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

After flirting with relegation danger as Mark Hughes' tenure unravelled, the Saints look set to thrive once again in the top flight following their revival under the enigmatic Ralph Hassenhuttl.

Last season's Premier League finish: 16th - W9 D12 L17 - F65 L39 - Pts 39

Last season's top scorer: Danny Ings and James Ward-Prowse - 7 (Nathan Redmond scored 9 in all competitions)

To finish in the top six*: 33/1

First five fixtures: Burnley (A), Liverpool (H), Brighton (A), Manchester United (H), Sheffield United (A)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 11th

Predicted finish by The Script: 14th

Transfers in: Danny Ings - Liverpool (£20m), Che Adams - Birmingham City (£15m), Moussa Djenepo - Standard Liege (£14m)

Transfers out: Matt Targett - Aston Villa (£14m), Sam Gallagher - Blackburn (£5m), Charlie Austin - West Brom (£4m), Jordy Clasie - AZ Alkmaar (free), Steven Davis - Rangers (free), Dan Bartlett - Coventry (free), Jack Rose - Walsall (loan), Alfie Jones - Gillingham (loan), Kingsley Latham - Havant & Waterlooville (loan), Alex Cull - AFC Totton (loan), Harrison Reed - Fulham (loan), Harry Hamblin - Bath City (loan), Josh Sims - New York Red Bulls (loan)

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Reasons to be optimistic

With the level of talent in their squad, Southampton should have too much talent to be troubled by relegation fears. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, James Ward-Prowse, Nathan Redmond and Mario Lemina are players who would not look out of place in a top-six side.

Lemina knows it better than most. The midfielder responded to interest from Manchester United this summer by posting a compilation video of his highlights last season accompanied by the caption: “I know what I can reach and I will fight for it.”

But under former Saints coaches Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes, attacking players’ instincts were curtailed and confidence dropped. In Ralph Hasenhuttl the board have appointed a coach willing to unlock the attacking potential in his ranks and play on the front foot, especially at St Mary’s.

The issue was taking the opportunities they created. Southampton missed 50 big chances last season, the same amount as fifth-placed Arsenal despite finishing in 16th place.

Shane Long is an effective striker in many ways but has never been a regular scorer. While the Irishman was not the only Southampton player guilty of missing chances, a sharper forward in front of goal could make a huge difference to Saints’ total in 2019/20.

So after Charlie Austin's departure, it’s down to Danny Ings to remain fit and Che Adams to replicate something close to the 22 Championship goals he managed playing for Birmingham last season.

Southampton, famed for their academy, boasted the youngest average age of any side in the division in 2018/19 and can count on some more exciting talent coming through.

Yan Valery, plucked from Rennes in France, burst on to the scene with a stunning goal at Old Trafford and the 20-year-old can be expected to make further strides at right wing-back. Teenage forward Michael Obafemi, already an Ireland international, is another who was handed opportunities by Hasenhuttl last season and there are high hopes he could be the next star off the production line.

Reasons to be fearful

Even after Hasenhuttl replaced Hughes in December, Southampton displayed a fragility after going ahead that saw them sacrifice leads time and time again.

Last season Saints lost 29 points from winning positions, comfortably the most in the division. In the final seven games alone they lost once and drew three times after going a goal ahead. It’s a worrying trend that Southampton will need to eliminate if the new campaign is to be spent without fear of relegation.

The signings of Adams and Ings on a permanent deal were made to ensure a shot conversion rate last season of just 9.3% improves. Both will need to hit the ground running this campaign to ensure Southampton aren’t overly dependent on Redmond and Long for goals again.

Goalkeeper has proved a problem position for Southampton under both Hughes and Hassenhuttl, with Alex McCarthy, Angus Gunn and even forgotten man Fraser Forster all taking turns between the sticks.

Gunn appeared to have won the gloves off McCarthy in the second half of last season with a man-of-the-match display at Stamford Bridge amid a run of three clean sheets in six. But the £13.5m signing from Manchester City then failed to register a shut-out in any of the club’s final seven games, conceding 15 in the process.

So while Gunn begins as first choice, the position remains up for grabs with McCarthy waiting in the wings. Southampton, who shipped 65 goals last season, will surely suffer again if the ambiguity over the goalkeeping position continues.

Key man: Nathan Redmond

From Birmingham to Norwich, from an England cap to on-field dressing downs from Pep Guardiola, it is hard to believe that Redmond is still just 25 years old. But he is and that means he’s yet to enter his prime.

In the disciplined, defence-first systems of Pellegrino and Hughes, Redmond struggled for form. After Hasenhuttl took over from Hughes in December, that changed almost instantly.

Playing either on the left of a front three or behind the striker, Redmond thrived, scoring all nine of his goals last season after the Austrian’s arrival on the south coast. He completed the third-most successful dribbles of any player in the division with 92.

Last season’s next-top scorer Ings is back on a permanent deal but Southampton have no other proven Premier League marksmen in their ranks so Redmond will likely be asked to carry much of the burden once again in 2019/20, particularly if Ings' injury jinx strikes again and Adams struggles to make the step up to the top flight.

With a full season under the impressive Hasenhuttl ahead, Saints fans hope Redmond can replicate his form since the turn of the year throughout all of the coming campaign. His goals could be the difference between a push for the Europa League spots and a struggle against relegation.

The manager: Ralph Hassenhuttl

Southampton supporters took to their new coach almost immediately following his arrival at St Mary’s. Hasenhuttl’s first home match was a 3-2 win over Arsenal that ended the Gunners 22-match unbeaten run.

It was immediately obvious why Hasenhuttl has been nicknamed ‘Alpine Klopp’ during his time in Germany. The Austrian was constantly jumping up and down during that December victory at St Mary’s, living and breathing every moment of the match and celebrating goals with a series of wild fist pumps.

With Claude Puel, Pellegrino and Hughes the three preceding managers at Southampton, it’s easy to see why the fans quickly began to feed off his energy from the touchline.

The 51-year-old lifted Southampton clear of the relegation zone with eight victories from his 23 Premier League matches in charge. Hughes had managed just one in 15 to begin the season.

The former RB Leipzig coach employs a 5-3-2 system that requires the three centre-backs to start attacks from deep and the wing-backs to bomb forward in support of Southampton’s forwards.

Fan favourite Ward-Prowse, just one of the many players to have improved under Hasenhuttl, was in and out of the XI under Hughes but played the best football of his career after being reintegrated by the Austrian. “He showed I can trust him, that I can count on him,” the coach said of his midfielder.

The system is demanding and attack-minded - a complete departure from the drab, defensive football played under Hughes.

But with double-training sessions he managed to implement it quickly and effectively, so much so that England boss Gareth Southgate got in contact to ask how he managed it. “He wanted to know how I did what I did in the first three or four weeks!” said Hasenhuttl.

With a full pre-season this time around, expect the Hasenhuttl effect to make an even greater impact in the 2019/20 campaign.

Fans' view  - Freddie Hunt - The Ugly Inside

"Hughes should never have been given a long-term contract. He gave us the feel-good factor of staying up and that should have been it. The start of the season was just dreadful.

"As soon as Ralph came in he was buying us all beer at the first home game! We never saw that sort of character from Hughes. Hasenhuttl has got the best out of the squad and the best out of the young players. We have returned to the Southampton FC blueprint.

"Hasenhuttl is fully on board and so are we. He wants to make a name for himself in the Premier League and the fans trust the manager.

"The players looked lazy under Hughes and after a year of torrid football we just lacked identity. Straight away Ralph started with double training sessions and the intensity was stepped up about three gears. Tactically, he has much more to his locker and the players are showing a never-say-die attitude. They believe in themselves.

"We played an attractive brand of football under [Mauricio] Pochettino and [Ronald] Koeman. That’s the standard of football the fans want, we want the players to play without fear.

"A top-ten finish is a realistic target if we can maintain the consistency that Ralph brought when he first took over. We should definitely not be involved in a relegation battle.

Beating one of the big six sides would be huge for us because it gives us a real sense of belief, it gives the supporters sheer euphoria. We want to make St Mary’s a fortress."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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