The 4-2-3-1 system and current team selection that Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino is opting for is not working, and it is time for a change when the south coast outfit host Newcastle United at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Saints have taken just eight points from their opening seven Premier League fixtures – six of which were very winnable on paper – this season, finding the net on just five occasions.
Three of those goals came in the 3-2 win against West Ham United at St Mary’s back in August, meaning they have netted just twice in the remaining half-a-dozen matches.
Considering Southampton have hosted Swansea City and Watford at home and faced Huddersfield Town, Crystal Palace and Stoke City on the road that is a disappointing return, and it follows on from their poor form in front of goal last season.
The south coast outfit have now failed to score in 10 of their last 15 Premier League games stretching back to the tail end of the previous campaign, and it is clear to many that the 4-2-3-1 system and the personnel that are starting on a weekly basis just aren’t doing the job that they are required to do.
Manolo Gabbiadini scored six goals in his first four matches in all competitions following his move from Napoli during the January transfer window, yet he has netted just once in 16 games in all competitions since then.
It is clear to see that the Italy international struggles when he is play in the lone striker role, and whether that is simply because he is not suited to it or because the individuals behind him aren’t doing enough is a conundrum that Pellegrino will be looking to get to the bottom of.
Gabbiadini has shown how clinical he can when provided with opportunities, and Saints must find a system that gets the best out of the 25-year-old.
The Italian attacker has started Southampton’s last three top flight games on the substitutes’ bench with Shane Long taking his spot up top, but while the Republic of Ireland international is a pest and strong in the air, he is without a goal for club or country since February.
There is no way that a team that is struggling to score as much as Saints are right now should be playing Long up top on his own, and the lack of confidence he has in front of goal at the moment was there for all to see when he missed a sitter in his nation’s 2-0 win against Moldova last week.
Meanwhile Charlie Austin, who was the club’s top goalscorer last term despite missing half of the campaign with a shoulder injury, has played just 61 minutes of Premier League football so far this season, scoring a last-gasp penalty in the win against West Ham in August.
Behind the strikers, Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic aren’t being effective as they can be in the wide positions and have just one goal and one assist between them in the league last season, while Steven Davis has one goal and one assist from the central attacking midfield role he has filled in recent weeks.
Those stats simply aren’t good enough and Pellegrino must consider adopting a 3-4-1-2 formation when Newcastle visit St Mary’s on Sunday.
With Virgil van Dijk, Maya Yoshida, Wesley Hoedt and Jack Stephens available, the Argentine boss has the quality to play with three central defenders, while Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares are more than capable wing-backs and Oriol Romeu and Mario Lemina have already created a strong partnership in the middle of the park.
Once again, the difficult decision would come to selecting the front three in that system, but for many it would be an obvious decision.
While Redmond can bring pace out wide, he is often let down by his decision-making and Sofiane Boufal still looks to be a player more suited to making an impact from the substitutes’ bench rather than when he starts.
Davis isn’t creative enough and while he may feature away against one of the bigger clubs in the Premier League, only one man should be starting behind the front two against Newcastle at home.
Tadic has provided 27 Premier League assists in just over three seasons with Southampton and he is undoubtedly the most creative player the club has right now.
The Serbia international has the ability to pick out good runs from the strikers in front of him, and that is why Gabbiadini should be one of the two centre-forwards starting against the Magpies.
The Saints supporters that watch the Italian on a weekly basis will see the great runs that he makes off the ball, and it is about time that they were taken advantage of by someone like Tadic.
As well as his runs, the 25-year-old is a goalscorer and the threat he brings would certainly improve if he had a player alongside him that would also take some of the focus of the opposition defenders.
He may have played just 61 minutes in the Premier League this season, but Austin has shown during his career that if you give him a chance in and around the penalty area there is every chance that he will finish it, and he simply has to be in the starting line-up alongside Gabbiadini against Newcastle if Saints are to take all three points and produce the attacking performance that the St Mary’s faithful are so desperate to see.
Over to you, Mauricio…