By The Numbers: Why Did Southampton Stutter Last Season?


Southampton finished eighth in the Premier League table in 2016/17, 15 points lower than seventh placed Everton and two places lower than the preceding season. Claude Puel left the club despite leading the Saints to the EFL Cup final. So where did Southampton go wrong?

No team lower than Everton in last season’s table recorded a positive goal difference, but Southampton’s minus eight was the best of the rest. However, Southampton’s 41 goals scored was the joint 14th lowest in the league.

Team Goals Non-penalty goals
Southampton 41 38
Stoke City 41 37
Watford 40 37
Burnley 39 33
Hull City 37 34
Sunderland 29 24
Middlesbrough 27 25

The chances created by sides, including assists, show that Southampton was seventh and that the top eight in the table for points were also the top eight for chances created, with Southampton and Everton swapping places.

Team Goals Chances created including assists
Tottenham Hotspur 86 507
Liverpool 78 502
Manchester City 80 486
Manchester United 54 453
Chelsea 85 451
Arsenal 77 434
Southampton 41 396
Everton 62 394

Indeed, when one looks at the low-scorers last season, it’s apparent that Southampton created 96 or more chances than all the teams that scored the same number of goals or fewer, a discrepancy of almost 25% or more.

Team Goals Chances created including assists
Southampton 41 396
Stoke City 41 300
Watford 40 299
Burnley 39 267
Hull City 37 272
Sunderland 29 266
Middlesbrough 27 249

Clearly, then, these chances were not being converted. Indeed, one when looks at the percentage of chances created that did not yield assists, only Sunderland created a greater proportion of chances that were not turned into goals.

Team Chances created including assists Chances not yielding assists % chances yielding assists
Sunderland 266 254 4.5
Southampton 396 369 6.8
Stoke City 300 277 7.7
West Ham United 358 329 8.1
Middlesbrough 249 228 8.4

Compare this with Chelsea and Arsenal, the two best sides for converting chances into assists, who both managed around 12.5% conversion of chances into assists. It’s a big difference.

Shot conversion was also a significant issue, one of the reasons why the above chance conversion numbers are so. Southampton recorded the lowest shot conversion rate, including blocks, of any Premier League side last season.

Team Shot Conversion Rate (including blocks)
Southampton 7.45
Sunderland 7.49
Middlesbrough 7.69
Manchester United 9.14
Hull City 9.32

The table is striking: three relegated sides, and Southampton and Manchester United. Both Southampton and Manchester United were in the top eight for shots on target as well.

Southampton had seven players who created 20 or more chances last season. Of these, only one, Ryan Bertrand, saw fewer than 90% of his chances NOT yielding assists.

Player Chances created including assists Assists % chances yielding assists
Sofiane Boufal 23 0 0
Nathan Redmond 57 1 1.8
Dusan Tadic 66 5 7.6
Cedric Soares 39 3 7.7
James Ward-Prowse 43 4 9.3
Steven Davis 32 3 9.4
Ryan Bertrand 28 4 14.3

There were eight other players who managed to fail to get a single chance turned into an assist, Burnley’s Scott Arfield topping the list with 34 chances, all of which went nowhere. Nathan Redmond created the most chances of any player in the league to only record one assist.

Bearing in mind that for players who created 20 or more chances, the average percentage of chances yielding assists was 9.8%, six out of seven of Southampton’s qualifying players, or 86%, were worse than average; only Ryan Bertrand was better (and by some margin, actually).

Why Southampton failed to convert these chances could be down to bad strikers, bad luck, or bad chances. Claude Puel also played a pretty cautious, slow style of football which means that chances may have been engineered against sides who were already in a good defensive posture and able to minimise the danger.

While it can be hard to say why, it’s clear that Southampton made a lot of chances, took a lot of shots, and failed to score a lot of goals. If there’s one area that Mauricio Pellegrino needs to address, it’s that.

Alex is a Southampton supporting writer based in north London. He writes about sports and coffee for a variety of magazines and websites. He likes hermits, reading, drawing, forests, and graphic novels.

He creates By The Numbers and provides scripts for the Whiteboard Football: Tactics

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