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How Can Southampton Avoid Relegation in 2024/25?

A 1-0 victory over Leeds at Wembley in the Championship play-off final handed Southampton an immediate return to the Premier League. Now the Saints have booked their place back in the English top flight, how can Russell Martin ensure his men stay there? Having witnessed all three promoted teams face the drop in 2023/24, the Southampton boss will know that the challenge ahead will be a tough one.

While there is no way of guaranteeing Premier League safety next year, Southampton can improve their odds by focussing on the following areas. If they do this, we think they have a very credible chance of beating the drop in 2025.

Sign A New Goalkeeper

Southampton’s number one between the sticks, Gavin Bazunu, will miss over half the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in April. He is not expected back until some point in 2025 meaning Alex McCarthy will need to deputise if the Saints do not dip into the transfer market. While the Englishmen deputised well in the remaining weeks of the season, particularly in the play-offs, he is perhaps not quite good enough to be playing every week in the Premier League.

Some more optimistic Saints fans have been suggesting a loan move for Aaron Ramsdale (who was sitting in disguise with the Southampton fans for the play-off final) but this seems unlikely to happen. Any prospective target though would benefit from some experience as it is a difficult league for any young keeper to impress.

Aason Ramsdale Transfer Betting Odds
Saints fans hoping to see Aason Ramsdale playing in the new season may be dissapointed.

In the 2022/23 season, 20-year-old Gavin Bazunu and 22-year-old lllan Meslier had the worst ‘prevented goals’ stats by a long margin. Someone like, David De Gea, who is still without a club, could be worth exploring although he may not be good enough with the ball at his feet.

Bolster The Defence

In the 2023/24 Championship season, Southampton may have finished fourth but they only had the 14th best defensive record. Their ability to outscore opponents worked for much of their time in the second tier but defensive shortcomings will be more ruthlessly exploited in the Premier League. To make improvements at the back, Russel Martin could make changes to his tactical approach but this seems unlikely to happen. His alternative, then, is to simply sign defensive players who are up to the challenge of the Premier League.

The two defensive positions Southampton need to reinforce as a priority are left back and defensive midfield. For the former, there is a feeling that Ryan Manning will struggle in the Premier League and he should not be starting as first choice. The cheap solution is simple to play Romain Perraud who spent the 2023/24 season on loan at Nice, assuming the French club do not exercise their option to buy him.

As for the defensive midfielder, making loanee Flynn Downes into a permanent transfer seems like something of a no-brainer. He probably shines most as a box-to-box player though and would be best suited to playing alongside a natural ball-winner. Someone in the mould of former Saint, Oriol Romeu, would fit the role perfectly and add a great deal of much-needed protection to the Southampton rearguard. It is unclear how much money Martin will have available to him in the transfer market though.

Improve ‘Big Game’ Record

This may seem a bit harsh coming from a team that won the play-off final, which was their third win over Leeds for the season, but there is reason for it. For a newly promoted team, the biggest matches are the six-pointers against other relegation candidates. Two clubs that are likely going to be in this relegation battle are fellow newly-promoted teams Ipswich and Leicester.

Southampton v Ipswich Town and Leicester City

Despite faring so well against Leeds, the Saints lost all four encounters with the Tractor Boys and the Foxes, conceding 13 goals in the process. It was these matches that stopped them from gaining automatic promotion and it could be what denies them Premier League safety. It may not be pretty but the more pragmatic approach they showed against Leeds in the play-off final could be what is needed for these big six-pointers.

Beware The Dangers of Passing It Out From The Back

If there is one thing Russel Martin loves, it is possession. Death by a thousand passes has been his usual way of beating opponents and it worked well in the Championship after getting over some teething problems early on. In the division, no team ended up with more passes than the Saints (28,747) nor had a higher completion rate (87.7%).

Martin will not have to abandon his principles in the Premier League but as Burnley found out, playing it out from the back carries a much greater risk in the top flight. The Clarets were often the masters of their own downfall by giving away possession in their own third. While sometimes the high-risk play did pay off, other times they would have been better served just launching the ball long to get out of danger.

Even if Southampton sign a keeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet, Martin needs to start getting comfortable with the idea of his keeper going long. This was something that rarely happened in 2023/24 with Southampton recording the shortest average goal kick length (18.8 yards) and second shortest passing length (25.6 yards) in the Championship.

Keep Faith In Armstrong

Southampton originally signed Adam Armstrong after he netted 28 league goals for Blackburn in the 2020/21 Championship season. He started every match for the Rovers that year but never got such an extended run of time on the pitch in the Premier League. Across the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, he began 40 matches on the bench compared to 31 starts. In both cases, he was given a run of games at the start of the campaign but dropped after struggling for goals.

Just four goals in over 2,700 Premier League minutes does make for poor reading but sometimes it takes a striker a while to find their feet amongst stronger opponents. Even if he begins next season poorly, Martin should keep faith in the 27-year-old as he has shown bags of quality since last August. He is not going to get 20+ goals as he has done in the Championship but with backing there is every chance he could reach double figures.

Do Southampton Have A Chance?

Looking at the bookmaker odds, they have Southampton as the fourth favourites to go down.

Team Odds
Leicester 4/9
Ipswich 8/11
Everton 6/5
Southampton 11/8
Nottingham Forest 7/4

Odds of 11/8 imply a probability of 42.1% so the bookies at least think it is more likely that the Saints will stay up. History also tells us that one of the promoted teams usually avoids the drop. Only in 1997/98 and in 2023/24 have all three of the newly promoted teams gone straight back down so this is positive news for Southampton supporters. Their cause is also strengthed by the fact that some existing Premier League teams risk facing points deductions for FFP breaches unless they can sell enough players over the summer.