Southampton slipped back into the relegation zone following another disappointing performance and 2-0 defeat against Liverpool at St Mary’s on Sunday, and they continue to be in real danger of dropping into the Championship six years after they were promoted.
Mauricio Pellegrino and the players gained some temporary respite with the fine 3-2 win against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns the previous weekend that moved them out of the bottom three.
However, while Huddersfield Town and Swansea City won and Stoke City and Brighton and Hove Albion picked up a point, and Newcastle United put in a huge display to beat Manchester United 1-0 at St James’ Park, Saints failed to match their relegation rivals and once they found themselves 1-0 down early on, they never really looked like getting back into the game.
Sofiane Boufal played 85 minutes in the victory against the Baggies and Dusan Tadic featured for 88 minutes, and while the latter kept his place in the starting XI against Jurgen Klopp’s men, the former dropped to the substitutes’ bench as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg came into the side.
While Tadic had an excellent relationship with former Southampton centre-forward Graziano Pelle when he joined the club in 2014 – and has 30 assists in 123 Premier League outings for the south coast outfit – his assists have certainly dried up in the last 18 months or so.
The Serbia international has three assists in 25 top flight appearances so far this season, while he only got six in 33 last term, with just one of those coming in his final 11 outings of the 2016/17 campaign.
That means he has just four assists in his last 36 Premier League appearances, and the St Mary’s faithful are quickly growing frustrated with the 29-year-old who is struggling to deliver even though he is named in the starting XI most weeks.
Meanwhile, hopes were high that Boufal was going to make a big impression for the south coast outfit when he joined them from Lille in the summer of 2016, having provided 10 assists in 51 outings for the Ligue 1 outfit.
The Moroccan international was known for his trickery and ability on the ball, and Saints would have been hopeful that he could go some way to replacing Mane following his move to Liverpool.
The attacker was struggling with injury when he signed and didn’t really have a pre-season, and it meant that he struggled for starts and to find any form in his first campaign in the Premier League, ending it with no assists in 24 top flight games.
The 24-year-old would have been hoping for a more successful 2017/18 under new boss Pellegrino, but it hasn’t really worked out that way as he has once again been in and out of the starting line-up, even if he did produce a moment of magic to score a wonderful solo goal in the 1-0 win against West Brom at St Mary’s in November.
Despite his ability to beat a man and the glimpses of quality he has shown, the Moroccan still only has two assists to his name in 23 Premier League games this term, and two in 47 top flight matches in total for Saints.
That record is clearly not good enough and he was one of the players that was attracting groans from the home support when he entered the field against Liverpool on Sunday, giving the ball away cheaply on more than one occasion.
While the fans’ frustrations are probably fair enough given the position of their team in the table and the respective records of Boufal and Tadic over the course of the last 12 months, now is the time to get behind the duo rather than vocally criticising them.
The duo may not be doing well enough right now and not having as much of an impact as they should be, but they are still the club’s two most creative players and if they aren’t on the pitch, then the south coast outfit are left with the likes of Steven Davis, Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the attacking midfielder positions, and none of them have the ability to make as many chances as Boufal and Tadic can on their day.
With 11 matches to go and five huge Premier League fixtures in the next six weeks – against Burnley, Stoke City, Newcastle United, Swansea City and West Ham United – Saints need the attacking pair to start making a big impact on the pitch.
They are more likely to do that if they have the support of the crowd, and the fans must get behind them to boost their confidence and to ensure they help keep the team in the top flight.