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Southampton 2022-23 season review - star player, best moment, standout result

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Southampton's dismal 2022-23 season, which saw them suffer relegation from the Premier League.

After enduring a bitterly disappointing 2022-23 campaign, Southampton wave goodbye to their 11-year spell in the Premier League and prepare for life back in the Championship.

The Saints tried their luck with three different managers and sacked two of them in an attempt to climb away from danger, but their youthful squad built with 15 new signings across two transfer windows ultimately lacked the experience and quality to move away from the dreaded dotted line.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Southampton's dismal 2022-23 season which saw them relegated from the top flight after finishing rock bottom of the table.


SEASON OVERVIEW

Southampton's James Ward-Prowse and Theo Walcott react on April 15, 2023© Reuters

Final league position: 20th

EFL Cup: Semi-finals

FA Cup: Fifth round

Top scorer: James Ward-Prowse (11)

Most assists: James Ward-Prowse (5)

Southampton had reason to be optimistic heading into the new campaign six months after Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng decided to sell his 80% stake to Sport Republic, headed by Serbian investor and chairman Dragan Solak.

The Saints' summer transfer business was heavily influenced by head of senior recruitment Joe Shields, who left a similar youth role at Manchester City in June to take up his position at St Mary's. Highly-rated teenager Romeo Lavia arrived two days before Shields from the Etihad Stadium, while Gavin Bazunu, Sam Edozie and Juan Larios also joined from the Citizens on permanent deals.

Southampton made 10 summer signings in total, spending around £60m, and the ethos of growing potential at the club was clear as their recruitment included four teenagers, two 20-year-olds and four players aged 25. Meanwhile, the likes of Oriol Romeu, 30, Fraser Forster, 34, and Shane Long, 35, all left the club permanently, and there were also a number of loan departures including Nathan Tella to Burnley and Jan Bednarek to Aston Villa, although the latter returned in January.

Ralph Hasenhuttl was tasked with integrating the large number of exciting young players into his system as quickly as possible, and the Saints made a respectable start to the campaign, accumulating seven points from their opening five Premier League games in August – including 2-1 wins away at Leicester City and at home to Chelsea – and they also progressed past Cambridge United in the EFL Cup second round.

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl barks orders on August 27, 2022© Reuters

However, Southampton's form declined rapidly and they plummeted into the relegation zone courtesy of a nine-game winless run. Injuries and mass rotation did not help their cause, but with little signs of progression under Hasenhuttl, the Austrian was relieved of his duties after four years in charge of the Saints following a 4-1 home loss to Newcastle United in their penultimate league match before the World Cup break in early November.

Ruben Selles was placed in temporary charge as Southampton scraped past League One outfit Sheffield Wednesday on penalties in the EFL Cup third round, before the Saints moved quickly to appoint Nathan Jones as their new head coach on a three-year deal, with the Welshman opting to leave the successful project that he had built at high-flying Luton Town in the Championship.

There were high hopes that Jones, the 2021-22 Championship Manager of the Season, could replicate his success with Luton in charge of Southampton in the Premier League, but it soon became evident that the 49-year-old was incapable of sparking a much-needed revival on the South coast.

Although the Saints had a successful spell in the domestic cups – advancing to the FA Cup fourth round and EFL Cup semi-finals, with a surprising yet deserved quarter-final triumph over Man City in the latter competition followed by a 3-1 aggregate loss to Newcastle in the last four – their harrowing form in the Premier League ultimately led to Jones' swift departure from St Mary's.

Southampton head coach Nathan Jones pictured on February 4, 2023© Reuters

Jones had overseen a January spending spree close to £60m, with Carlos Alcaraz proving to be the pick of the purchases, while Kamaldeen Sulemana – a club-record signing – Paul Onuachu, Mislav Orsic and James Bree all failed to make the desired impact, particularly the latter three who started only eight league games between them.

Despite bizarrely labelling himself as one of the best managers in Europe with Luton last season, Jones lost eight of his nine Premier League games as Southampton boss – including seven defeats by teams outside the so-called Big Six – and the toxic atmosphere generated from the St Mary's faithful following a disappointing 2-1 defeat to 10-man Wolves in February gave the club's hierarchy no choice but to sack the man they hired just three months earlier.

While Southampton searched for a successor to Jones, who left the Saints rooted to the foot of the Premier League table and four points adrift of safety, Selles stepped in on an interim basis for a second time, although at this point he was keen to take the top job full time.

Those hopes of becoming the club's new head coach were significantly boosted after he successfully led Southampton to a surprise 1-0 win away at Chelsea, courtesy of a stunning James Ward-Prowse free kick. Selles was eventually rewarded with the permanent job until the end of the season after talks with former Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch broke down.

Southampton manager Ruben Selles looks dejected after the match on April 15, 2023© Reuters

The Spaniard failed to build on his impressive triumph at Stamford Bridge, though, as Southampton suffered back-to-back defeats against Leeds and Grimsby Town, losing in frustrating fashion to the latter in the FA Cup fifth round. However, the Saints responded with a rare home victory over Leicester, just their second and final home win of the campaign, to climb off the foot of the table.

Southampton then earned a respectable point in a goalless draw at Man United in the middle of March, but that result proved to be the beginning of a winless 13-game run that stretched until the final day of the season. Selles was ultimately unable to get the best out of his youthful crop who picked up just four points from the last 39 available.

A chaotic 3-3 draw with title-chasing Arsenal in April seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Saints after they let a two-goal lead slip with just two minutes of normal time remaining, before a 2-0 defeat at home to Fulham the following month confirmed their relegation to the Championship with two games to spare.

After Southampton confirmed that Selles would not have his contract renewed in the summer, the Saints managed to avoid finishing the season on a whimper as they played out a frantic 4-4 draw at home to Liverpool, with Diogo Jota preventing the hosts from claiming a final-day victory by netting a 73rd-minute equaliser.


PREMIER LEAGUE STATS

Wins: 6 (20th)
Draws: 7 (=11th)
Losses: 25 (1st)
Goals scored: 36 (18th)
Goals conceded: 73 (2nd)
Yellow cards: 73 (11th)
Red cards: 0 (=15th)
Passes: 14,795 (15th)
Shots: 417 (16th)
Big chances missed: 30 (16th)
Saves: 83 (19th)
Tackles: 712 (3rd)
Own goals: 5 (=2nd)
Hit woodwork: 11 (13th)
Clearances: 824 (4th)


HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?

Southampton players look disappointed after conceding against Fulham on May 13, 2023© Reuters

After back-to-back 15th-placed finishes under Hasenhuttl in the previous two Premier League campaigns, Southampton ended the 2022-23 season rock bottom of the table for the first time since 2004-05.

The Saints managed to reach the 40-point mark last year with nine wins, 13 draws and 16 defeats from 38 top-flight matches, but they could only notch up a measly 25 points this term after winning the fewest games in the division (six) and suffering a club-record 25 defeats.

Southampton actually picked up more away league victories (four) this season compared with last year (three), although their form on home soil suffered a sharp decline as they won just twice and accumulated only 11 points from 19 matches at St Mary's, 14 points fewer than in 2021-22.

The South Coast club also finished this season with the worst goal difference in the division (-37) after scoring just 36 goals compared with 43 netted last year while conceding the second-most goals in the top flight (73) behind Leeds (78), having let in 67 last term.

After failing to progress beyond the fourth round of the EFL Cup in the previous four seasons, including a fourth-round exit last year, Southampton managed to secure an impressive win over Man City en route to the semi-finals this time around, before missing out on a trip to Wembley after losing over two legs to Newcastle in the last four.

However, they failed to progress as far in the FA Cup as they suffered a shock fifth-round exit to League Two outfit Grimsby, a year on from reaching the quarter-finals and two years after progressing to the semi-finals.


PLAYER OF THE SEASON: JAMES WARD-PROWSE

Southampton's James Ward-Prowse celebrates scoring their first goal on February 18, 2023© Reuters

At the age of just 19, Romeo Lavia deserves a special mention after excelling in a poor Saints side in his first season of senior football following his summer move from Man City.

However, it is difficult to look beyond the contribution of club captain and chief creator James-Ward Prowse, who was once again their main source of goals as he admirably led by example in centre-midfield.

After finishing last season with the most goals and assists for the Saints, Ward-Prowse came out on top in both categories once again this term as he registered 11 goals and five assists in 45 games across all competitions, including three trademark free kicks.

A product of Southampton's academy, Ward-Prowse is the club's all-time record appearance-maker in the Premier League (343) and he played a total of 3,973 minutes in all tournaments this campaign, at least 600 minutes more than any of his teammates.

The 28-year-old showcased his playmaker qualities with more progressive passes (189) and more crosses completed (274) than any other Saints player, while he also deserves credit for putting in the hard graft after winning more tackles (40) and more interceptions (59) for the South Coast club.

Attempting to keep hold of Ward-Prowse is now the challenge for Southampton, but relegation could prove to be the catalyst for a summer departure after two decades at St Mary's.


STANDOUT RESULT: SOUTHAMPTON 2-0 MANCHESTER CITY

Southampton's Moussa Djenepo celebrates scoring against Manchester City on January 11, 2023© Reuters

Arguably the only success story of Southampton's season was their journey to the EFL Cup semi-finals and they had to pull off a giant-killing against none other than perennial winners Man City to progress to that stage.

Man City, winners of the EFL Cup in six of the previous nine seasons, were understandably firm favourites to come out on top in a quarter-final tie at St Mary's on January 11 despite resting a number of key players, but it was the Saints who deservedly prevailed on a rare joyous occasion under the tutelage of Nathan Jones.

A spirited, energetic Southampton side were in front on the 23-minute mark courtesy of a sweet first-time strike from Sekou Mara, before Moussa Djenepo caught Stefan Ortega off his line with a stunning 30-yard lob to double the host's advantage five minutes later.

Pep Guardiola's decision to bring on Erling Braut Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne in the second half was to no avail, as a dogged defensive display from Southampton prevented the Citizens from registering a single shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.

> Click here for a full list of Southampton's results from the 2022-23 season


BEST MOMENT

Southampton interim manager Ruben Selles celebrates with the Southampton players after the match on February 18, 2023© Reuters

Southampton's survival task became all the more arduous following a poor run of results under Nathan Jones, but Ruben Selles briefly restored hope when he, as interim manager, led the Saints to a surprise 1-0 victory away against Chelsea on February 18.

Selles went back to basics and reverted to a familiar 4-4-2 formation previously used under Ralph Hasenhuttl, while the only goal of the game came from a familiar source as dead-ball specialist James Ward-Prowse stepped up to curl a delightful 25-yard free kick beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Chelsea themselves entered the contest at Stamford Bridge in dire form and were at the time an easy target for any team in the division, but take nothing away from Southampton's stubborn performance in keeping the hosts quiet and earning three valuable points to complete their first league double over the Blues in 35 years.

Although claiming maximum points was not enough to move Southampton off the foot of the table, the Saints supporters came away from the capital with some optimism that the victory could potentially spark a revival in their quest to avoid the drop. Unfortunately for them, that failed to materialise.


TOP PRIORITY FOR SUMMER

Swansea City's manager Russell Martin before the match on February 11, 2023© Reuters

Southampton have already made several changes within their hierarchy ahead of the summer, and Sport Republic have now taken full operational control of the club after Martin Semmens left his post as CEO and director.

The new board of directors includes chairman Henrik Kraft, Dragan Solak and Rasmus Ankersen, while incoming director of football Jason Wilcox, formerly of Man City, begins his role in July. Further changes include the appointment of Darren Mowbray as head of recruitment, replacing Joe Shields who left the Saints in October to join Chelsea after just four months at St Mary's, while Mark Bitcon has joined as director of performance.

Southampton's first task is to appoint a new head coach to replace Selles, with Swansea City boss Russell Martin reportedly on the verge of taking the reins for the Saints' return to the Championship.

The future of a number of star players will also need to be resolved quickly, none more so than captain James Ward-Prowse, who is expected to bid an emotional farewell to his boyhood club as he seeks to continue his career in the Premier League.

Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse celebrates scoring against Chelsea on February 18, 2023© Reuters

Southampton may also struggle to keep hold of Romeo Lavia, who has attracted interest from a number of top Premier League clubs, while Armel Bella-Kotchap has been tipped to return to his native Germany amid reported interest from Eintracht Frankfurt. The likes of Che Adams, Carlos Alcaraz, Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohammed Salisu may also depart this summer if top-tier clubs come calling.

Meanwhile, Theo Walcott has already confirmed that he will leave St Mary's in the summer upon the expiration of his contract, and the same is set to apply to both Mohamed Elyounoussi and Willy Caballero.

The number of outgoings will likely determine how many new signings are brought into the club this summer, although some of the club's highly-rated academy graduates such as Dom Ballard, Kami Doyle and Sam Amo-Ameyaw could be given an opportunity to step up to the first team.

After two disappointing transfer windows in the first full season of Sport Republic's majority ownership, Southampton can ill-afford another year of poor recruitment, and, as simple as it sounds, incoming players need to have greater quality that those currently at the club if they are to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight.

Recruiting players to match the philosophy of the incoming manager is imperative and the addition of a proven goalscorer will be high on the agenda, while upgrades in defence and a new creative midfielder to fill the void set to be vacated by Ward-Prowse should also be targeted.


FINAL VERDICT

Although there were promising signs at the beginning of the season that Southampton had embarked on a fresh project with a young, exciting squad, the notable imbalance between youth and experience was one of the key factors behind their downfall.

Ending the campaign rock bottom with the fewest wins and most defeats, the Saints deservedly go down after enduring a disappointing decline under three separate managers, and another rebuild is required to provide the fans with hope of a brighter future.

A spate of swift second-tier promotions from the likes of Burnley, Sheffield United and Fulham in recent years gives Southampton cause for optimism that they can follow suit, but whether they can challenge for an immediate return to the promised land under a new manager with a new style and a fresh influx of players remains to be seen.


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Southampton manager Ruben Selles looks dejected after the match on April 15, 2023
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