Southampton: Can Russell Martin oversee the return of Premier League football at St Mary’s?

Southampton’s eleven-year spell in the Premier League reached an untimely conclusion last season, with the Saints now forced to prove their worth in the EFL Championship as they fight for an immediate return to the top flight.

Despite bringing a tried and tested manager onboard, a hefty departures list with few arrivals to replace them leaves the Southampton ship in danger of veering off course. Can Russell Martin return to the Premier League immediately, or will they be forced to endure numerous seasons in the lower leagues of English football?

Woeful results see the Saints suffer

Southampton looked doomed from the start of their 2022/23 Premier League campaign. A hefty defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the season, though there were infrequent signs of promise shown in wins over Leicester City and Chelsea.

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Ralph Hassenhüttl was dismissed after a 4-1 defeat to Newcastle United in November, with Rubén Sellés taking charge of the next match while Nathan Jones’ signature was secured. The Welshman’s campaign was largely unsuccessful, with the former Luton Town manager sacked after just fourteen games.

Rubén Sellés took to the dugout for the remainder of the season, though the Spaniard couldn’t turn the Saints fortunes around – and their relegation was officially confirmed after a 2-0 defeat to Fulham in mid-May.

Russell Martin – up to the task?

Russell Martin has been appointed to lead the Saints as they return to the EFL Championship, leaving his post at Swansea City to take on the challenge. The 37-year-old Brighton-born manager has spent the last two seasons in South Wales, overseeing two mid-table finishes.

Prior to that stint in Wales, Martin had taken the managerial responsibilities at MK Dons following the departure of Paul Tisdale. He implemented an enjoyable possession-based style of football, with the club boasting similar possession percentage statistics to the likes of Manchester City and Barcelona throughout the 2020/21 season. Still though, the club finished thirteenth in League One.

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Russell Martin is certainly a tried and tested manager capable of producing enjoyable football for fans, but his results certainly haven’t been up to the level that Southampton supporters might have hoped for. With the Saints eying a swift return to the top flight, the manager will have to up his game if they’re to pull that off.

Who’s arrived at Staplewood this summer?

Shea Charles has made the move to the South Coast after leaving Manchester City’s academy setup. Primarily operating as a defensively-minded midfielder, the 19-year-old is capable of slotting in at centre-back or on the right side of defence – and he’ll be an incredibly valuable acquisition for Russell Martin’s Southampton side.

Ryan Manning moves to St Mary’s alongside Russell Martin, swapping Swansea for Southampton. The 27-year-old left-back boasts plenty of experience, having made 109 appearances for the Swans since signing in 2020. In that time, he scored seven goals and registered 19 assists.

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Who’s left for pastures new?

Mohammed Salisu has swapped the English South Coast for the stunning scenery of the French Riviera, having put pen to paper on a deal at AS Monaco. Having signed for the Saints in 2020, the Ghanaian went on to make eighty appearances.

Mislav Orcic didn’t prove to be quite as influential as Southampton fans would have hoped, with the Croatian winger failing to set the Premier League alight last season after moving from Dinamo Zagreb in January. He made just five appearances for the Saints, with only one of those coming in the league.

Duje Caleta-Car has left on loan for the upcoming season, as he looks to ply his trade in Ligue 1 for Olympique Lyonnais. The Croatian defender made thirteen Premier League appearances for Southampton last term, scoring once.

Mohamed Elyounoussi has departed St Mary’s Stadium this summer, swapping Southampton for Copenhagen as he links up with the reigning Superliga champions.

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Ibrahima Diallo has headed to Qatar this summer, signing with Al-Duhail SC. The 24-year-old midfielder made 81 appearances for Southampton, scoring once and assisting a further two goals in almost 5,000 minutes of first-team football.

Dan Nlundulu makes his move to Bolton Wanderers permanent, having spent the latter half of the 2022/23 campaign on loan at the Toughsheet Community Stadium. He scored once in fifteen appearances for his new club.

Mateusz Liz hasn’t made a competitive appearance for Southampton since signing for the club last summer, with the goalkeeper having spent the 2022/23 season on loan at ESTAC Troyes. This term, he’ll be heading to Türkiye, plying his trade for Göztepe.

What did we learn from preseason?

Southampton have won just one of their five preparation fixtures ahead of the 2023/24 EFL Championship campaign. A 2-0 defeat against Benfica at St George’s Park wasn’t the worst result in the world though, with the Portuguese side having been crowned as champions of the Liga Portugal last term.

Three days later though, the Saints were held to a 1-1 draw by their sister club, Göztepe, with Charly Alcaraz finding the back of the net in the 64th minute. James Ward-Prowse had missed an earlier penalty, with the ground seeming to give way as he attempted to thump an effort past the goalkeeper.

Southampton’s first, and only, win of their preseason preparations came against Reading on 22 July – as the Saints emerged victorious in a six-goal thriller at the Select Car Leasing Stadium. Jan Bednarek and James Ward-Prowse both scored early on, with goals from Adam Armstrong and Joe Aribo in the second half confirming a comfortable 4-2 victory over Reading.

A 3-2 defeat to Bournemouth at St Mary’s Stadium followed, where goals from Shea Charles and Stuart Armstrong weren’t enough to register a win over their South Coast rivals. The Cherries clinched a late winner through David Brooks – who has enjoyed a sensational return to elite-level football following a devastating diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Russell Martin’s side wrapped up their preseason campaign with a slender 1-0 defeat to AZ Alkmaar.

What’s realistic for the Saints in 2023/24?

Southampton should be heading straight back to the Premier League at the conclusion of the 2023/24 EFL Championship season. Russell Martin’s squad will likely look to play fast-paced, possession-based football – and with such a talented squad, their new manager looks set to reap the rewards.