SAINTS’ depressive 2022/23 season could end badly, which would actually suit the rest of their underperforming season.
Thursday’s loss to Bournemouth left the Saints six points short with five games to go. It’s not mathematically complete yet, and not quite complete yet, but getting closer and closer to the possibility of a demotion.
The lack of wins in the last seven is a problem. Not conceding goals at the same time is also a problem. But in the end, the huge hole they dug under three different managers in a season will be decisive.
While the Cherries had one of their last chances for a big lead at St. Mary’s, Ruben Selles’ team put in another modest performance as Marcus Tavernier’s second-half goal gave the visitors all three points.
The Saints don’t get better as they head north to Newcastle. Eddie Howe’s Magpies have scored ten goals in their last two games in good form and will be determined to stay on track to qualify for the Champions League.
It’s scary on paper and scary in real life. Here are the three important questions we chose ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Newcastle…
1. Will Selles go bankrupt?
The brutal truth is that saints have absolutely nothing to lose. Their season is long over, and now relegation seems more likely than inevitable than possible. Given the small miracle it would take for the Saints to stay awake, it seems like the time for any conservative approach is long past.
But Selles seems unwilling or unable to provoke an outstanding attacking play from that side. In his eleven Premier League games, Saints has only scored nine goals, three against Spurs and three more against Arsenal. They only hit the net three times in their remaining nine games.
Simply put, if you don’t score, you can’t win. And it was incredibly difficult for the Saints to score. Part of that may be down to a recruiting team that hasn’t seen an established forward in any of the Saints’ last four games.
Both Adam Armstrong and Moy Elyounoussi also started again on Thursday night. Both players have their strengths, but it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t score much or even assist.
Armstrong has scored just one league goal this season and three in total since arriving at St. Mary’s, while Elyounoussi has yet to hit the bull’s-eye with an assist this season.
This is not a criticism of this duo, we already know what they are. Both players are hard at work, chasing relentlessly and will try to prolong the game by running fast forwards in the case of Elyounoussi or running backwards in the case of Armstrong. But we also know what they are not. And these are players who are able to open the opponent’s defense and score or create goals.
Saints need goals. So maybe it’s time to choose the players who could provide them. Kamaldin Sulemana has yet to hit the bull’s-eye in a Saints jersey, but looks at least some kind of threat, while Paul Onuachu barely had a chance to hit the bull’s-eye.
In addition, there are a host of other offensive options that have largely been discarded, including Mislav Orsic, Samuel Edosi, Joe Aribo, Moussa Genepo, and Stuart Armstrong. Che Adams is likely to start on his return due to a calf injury he sustained while on international duty, but Saints fans are hoping for an ambitious team selection around the striker. Let’s see if they can.
2. Will the Saints be able to handle the atmosphere in St. James’s Park?
When the Saints visited the Magpies for the second leg of the League Cup semi-final in January, they were completely unable to cope with the event and the atmosphere that surrounded it. At the first whistle they looked shocked and stunned as Newcastle quickly took a 2–0 lead to reportedly end the tie.
Careless to the extreme, the Saints made life easier for their hosts that night by repeatedly returning the ball, looking like a distraught and panicked group.
This time they should make life difficult for Newcastle. Howe’s team has been in brilliant form in recent weeks and their last loss to the Spurs is a clear sign of what they can do.
The Saints need to stay strong, defend their box well and do their best to knock the edge out of the game and silence the vociferous support of St James’ Park.
Newcastle will approach the game with confidence and perseverance as they race for a place in Europe, but this need to win could cause panic if the Saints really put them to work for it.
But if they fight back early, like that night in January, it could be a very long day for Selles and his team. On a positive note, Romeo Lavia should start his time after being inexplicably benched in a Cup semi-final.
However, Lavia’s midfield partner James Ward-Prowse’s status is still in limbo after the Saints captain missed his first Premier League minutes of the season when he was removed at half-time following his side’s loss to Bournemouth. with a score of 1: 0. Saints cannot afford to be weaker than usual, the reality is that they must be better than usual. And for this they need Ward-Prowse.
3. Will the Saints continue their quirky seasonal trends?
If the saints descend mathematically – which at this point seems almost true – they will descend as one of the alien places that do just that.
Clearly they are a talented team as they have had some impressive results at times against some of the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, they almost never lost a place as they lost 12 times by one goal.
This is a team that can’t stand up to the teams around them in the division at their best, but when the pressure off their shoulders and the suspense is placed on their opponent, they seem to thrive.
They have beaten Chelsea twice, drawn twice against Arsenal, once against Manchester United and once against Spurs. In this sort of relegation battle, all other games, six-point games against potential opponents in the relegation zone, are more important, which is one of the reasons the Saints look destined for the championship.
But this is a track record that should inspire at least some optimism about tomorrow’s trip to St. James’s Park. Yes, Saints lost 4-1 at home to Newcastle in Ralf Hasenhüttl’s last game. And yes, they also lost both semi-finals of the League Cup.
But despite all the bad things that are inevitably said about this team of Saints, they don’t seem to be afraid of the biggest teams and the best players.
Saints centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap told Sky Sports: “We see that even at the bottom of the league you can play against a team at the top like Manchester United… we drew.” (with them.
“Meetings like this can help us change our confidence and restore it.
“Looking at past results, we can do it. We always believe, even against teams at the top of the league, that we can get things done.”
Saints are clearly believers when it comes to defying circumstances. They will think they can do something great on Sunday. This is probably not enough for a serious chance in the battle for relegation, but let’s step by step.
Author: Benji Nurik