Southampton currently lie in 13th position in the Premier League standings – six points adrift of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and seven above West Ham United in the final relegation spot.
They probably would have taken that at the start of February following their humiliating 9-0 defeat at home to Leicester City at the end of October, and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has done a remarkable job to turn their fortunes around in the space of just a few months.
With a decent run of fixtures – on paper at least – against Burnley, Aston Villa, West Ham United, Newcastle United and Norwich City to come, the south coast outfit should very much be looking up rather than over their shoulders.
Having beaten the likes of Chelsea, Leicester City and Crystal Palace on the road in recent weeks – as well as dominating at times against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool – relegation shouldn’t be a worry for them.
Saints have had their fair share of impressive performers in recent weeks – a shout-out to rejuvenated January Premier League Player of the Month nominee Jack Stephens – as well as those who haven’t been shining – sorry, Che Adams.
Here, FFC takes a look at Southampton’s most overperforming and underperforming stars so far this season…
Coming into the 2019/20 season you would have been hard-pressed to find many Southampton fans who would have labelled James Ward-Prowse as a regular starter let alone being one of their most important players, but he is absolutely imperative to them now – it’s about time, too.
Following a number of seasons at St Mary’s where he struggled to fit into the starting XI, the 25-year-old has finally found the position he works best in – as part of a double-pivot midfield in a 4-2-2-2 system.
The England international has been absolutely outstanding this term and in a position that is so demanding in terms of work-rate, he had played every minute of every game in all competitions until he was stretchered off with a deep cut to his leg against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
The pure worry and concern from some Saints fans on Twitter about the potential seriousness of the injury told you all you need to know about how highly he is regarded.
Undeserved defeat for #saintsfc tonight. A really good performance for the most part, with an outstanding goal to go ahead, but defensive wobbles were ruthlessly punished. Plenty to be positive about, especially now the fixtures improve. Just hope JWP’s injury isn’t too bad. 🙏
— Lucy Highnett (@lucyhighnett) February 5, 2020
Wishing @Prowsey16 all the best! 😔❤️🙏🏼
— Ben Stanfield (@BenStanners) February 5, 2020
Ward-Prowse is still versatile too though, and has actually been filling in at right-back in recent matches – he even pocketed Wilfried Zaha in his side’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace last month.
He can tackle, he can score, he can assist as you can see from his WhoScored stats above.
He is playing out of his skin right now, and Southampton supporters will long hope it continues.
Coming into the campaign, many may have expected Oriol Romeu to be a first-choice option in the Southampton midfield – especially if Hasenhuttl played three people in there in a 5-3-2 system.
Even when the Austrian decided to go with his preferred 4-2-2-2 system consistently, the Spaniard surely would have been the favourite to partner captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the centre because he is ultimately a defensive midfielder who is seen as being technical.
The former Chelsea man has been one of the big casualties of the 9-0 loss to Leicester and has only started four times in the Premier League since – including the previous two against Crystal Palace and Liverpool when Ward-Prowse had switched to right back.
Romeu’s issue in this system is that while he has proven he can tackle – he has 2.3 tackles per game according to WhoScored – he doesn’t have the mobility, crazy work-rate and slightly more speed his English teammate can offer, and he has paid the price.
The fact he has been dribbled past on average two times per top flight appearance is evidence enough of his issues, while he doesn’t offer enough going forward either in terms of incisive passes, either.
He has 0.5 key passes per game compared to Ward-Prowse’s 1.6, and while the latter may take free-kicks and corners, that simply isn’t good enough when you are playing in a central midfield duo.
Romeu may have come into the campaign thinking he should be good enough to hold down a regular starting XI spot, but he looks set to end it with the exact opposite being true.
The 28-year-old has a lot to prove to Hasenhuttl in the next few weeks and months, but it might be a losing battle.
In other Southampton news, Carl Anka has told the Southampton board to “take it” if they receive a big offer for one player, and it isn’t Hojbjerg or Ings…