Premier League: Assessing the south coast trio's start to the season
Bournemouth, Brighton and Southampton have each made contrasting starts to the season so Ben McAleer takes a closer look at the south coast side's form so far...
"Saints have now failed to score in six of their 10 league matches this season and in firing a blank against Newcastle, they have gone 474 minutes without hitting the back of the net"
It's been a season of mixed emotions for the Premier League's three south coast sides and with 10 games gone, each is enjoying contrasting fortunes thus far. At the beginning of the season, nobody could have foreseen Bournemouth to be sixth as October ends, while Brighton have been impressive since a rocky start to the campaign.
Saints need to correct their goalscoring woes to avoid the drop
Southampton, meanwhile, fresh from beating the drop when relegation seemed a dead cert prior to Mark Hughes' appointment, are again battling to consolidate their top-flight spot. Saints' profligacy is the root cause for their issues. Only Huddersfield (4) have scored fewer Premier League goals than Southampton (6) this season, while their conversion rate (4.1%) is the second lowest in England's top tier this term. A 0-0 home draw with relegation rivals Newcastle United was far from ideal for the Saints, who despite mustering 22 shots at the weekend, failed to pile further misery upon a downtrodden Magpies side.
Hughes' side have now failed to score in six of their 10 league matches this season and in firing a blank against Newcastle, they have gone 474 minutes without hitting the back of the net, with a Danny Ings penalty against Brighton in mid-September the last time they celebrated a goal. With seven points to their name so far, they're fortunate that Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield and Newcastle have each struggled immensely this season, with a superior defensive record compared to four of the five teams around them ensuring they currently sit outside of the relegation zone.
However, Hughes needs his players to up their game in the final third if they are to consolidate their top-flight standing. Ings has scored three of the six league goals netted this season, yet with Shane Long, Manolo Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin all yet to score in the Premier League, the Saints boss needs those in the final third to begin hitting the back of the net with some regularity.
The fact that Saints are out at [5.9] to be relegated is a huge price on the Exchange and one that should be backed. All it needs is for results to go against them for the club to be sucked into the drop zone, which given the unpredictability of the Premier League, isn't such a far-fetched notion.
Can Brighton ultimately better last season's exploits?
The two-goal lead they threw away against Brighton, though, could well come back to haunt Saints. That result for the Seagulls, however, proved to be a catalyst ahead of a run of winnable games at the turn of the month. Brighton followed the stalemate with Southampton with back-to-back defeats to Tottenham and Manchester City, games they were expected to lose given their record against the top-six last season, but three successive 1-0 wins over West Ham, Newcastle and Wolves has propelled them away from the relegation zone and up into mid-table.
The run of victories moved Brighton up to 11th on 15 points with boss Chris Hughton turning their fortunes around following an indifferent run of form to kickstart their campaign. As such, Brighton have since been backed into [3.3] to secure a top half finish, when at one point that may have seemed unlikely.
Smart investment over the summer has certainly aided Brighton, as has their solid home record, where their sole defeat came at the hands of Tottenham. After an impressive debut Premier League campaign, Hughton was handed the backing of the board to sufficiently strengthen the squad and the arrivals of the likes of Martin Montoya, Bernardo, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Yves Bissouma, without disrupting the harmony of the immediate XI that secured their top-flight status, has done little but boost the Seagulls.
Will Bournemouth be this season's Burnley?
Similarly when it comes to sticking with a core group of players, it's hard to look beyond Bournemouth. Eddie Howe has done a remarkable job on the south coast and while some may have tipped the Cherries for relegation as it seemed the Bournemouth manager would remain loyal to a key set of players, the faith has been repaid.
That isn't to say Howe didn't add to the squad, with the arrivals of Jefferson Lerma, Diego Rico and David Brooks taking their summer spending to beyond £50m, over half of which was on the club-record capture of Lerma, but the increase in competition has had the desired effect, with those who felt their starting spot was sealed now upping their game accordingly for the good of the team.
The return to fitness of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser's fine form has contributed massively to their excellent start to the season, though maintaining that could prove easier said than done for Howe and Bournemouth. Could they be this year's Burnley, however? There is nothing to suggest they can't replicate the Clarets' exploits from last season, or even better what Sean Dyche achieved at Turf Moor.
Bournemouth sit two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, yet whether they have the necessary experience to land a top-six finish, it remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Bournemouth to finish in the top six has been backed into [8.4] on the Exchange, even if they do take on Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool over the next six league matches.
With only 10 games gone, plenty will change over the coming months from the Premier League's south coast sides, but the trio have each endured or enjoyed an ambivalent start to the campaign and one that has either matched or risen way beyond the pre-season expectations of those associated with each respective club.
Back Southampton to be relegated at [5.9]