How Good is Southampton and Can it Last?

Danny Ings giving the camera a thumps up after scoring

Southampton now sit 5th in the table on 20 points (6-2-3) and are tied for fourth in the league with 21 goals. With 8 multigoal performances, it’s really been about the attack for the Saints. And one star stands out — the Liverpool castoff Danny Ings.

After coming off a career-high 22-goal campaign in 2019-20, Ings has picked up where he left off with 6 goals in 8 games in the 2020-21 season. He and Che Adams have created a formidable strike partnership in their second season together. They have been deputized by Theo Walcott off the bench, giving Ralph Hasenhüttl options when unlocking opposing defenses.

The middle of the park shouldn’t be ignored. Midfield solidity has allowed the Saints to feed their talisman. James Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu and Stuart Armstrong are on pace for career seasons after losing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to Tottenham this summer.

Coming the other way from Spurs to Southampton was Kyle Walker-Peters. The English right-back splashed on the scene with Saints after coming on loan in January. His pace and positioning pleased Hasenhüttl, convincing Saints to shell out $14.5 million for the 23-year-old. This gave Southampton two potent full-back with 31-year-old Ryan Bertrand on the left.

But it’s Ings’ clinical finishing that has allowed Southampton to hang around the top 6 through the first one-third of the season.

Is it sustainable? The one number that should sound alarms in Southampton heads is xG. Despite scoring 21 goals this season, their xG sits at 12.35, good enough for 15th in the league. Their -8.73 differential is the highest in the league. For comparison sake, Southamton’s 56.50 xG last season was good enough for 6th in the league, but the differential was +5.5, meaning they scored almost 6 fewer goals than expected.

So their high xG to goals scored differential could be balancing out last year’s performance. Will it last? That depends on Ings. The striker has scoed 6 goals this season, outpacing his xG by 2.75. Ings is tied for 10th in goals scored in the Premier League. The only player with a higher xG differential is Spurs’ Son Heung-Min who has scored 10 goals despite a 3.88 xG. His 6.12 differential is thanks to his weekly worldly goal and is destined to flatten as the congested Premier League fixture list ramps up in late December.

The same should be expected for Ings.

What about Southampton’s fixture list? We’re through the first 11 weeks of the season and Southampton has had a favorable schedule compared to other clubs outside the Big 6. They have played 8 clubs outside of the Big 6, recording a 6-1-1 record. They’re taking care of business among their peers, which can launch you up the table fast, just ask Leicester City. Meanwhile, in Southampton’s 3 games against the Big 6, they’re 0-1-2.

So, how good is Southampton? They’re the most organized and scoring more goals than anyone outside of the Big 6. The Saints are good, but any aspirations of a European Tour should be on hold until we get through January, which will see 10 more matches. If Southampton can last through a brutal winter season, they could be this year’s Cinderella.

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