“Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.”

It was Mike Tyson’s famous rasp that imparted those words of wisdom and on Saturday at St Mary’s, Southampton’s plan disintegrated as they were repeatedly punched in the face by an overpowering Chelsea side.

The 6-0 defeat opened scars from a couple of other seismic losses we won’t discuss and places Saints' chances of a top-ten finish in jeopardy.

READ MORE: Saintsplus has launched - a letter from new Saintsplus reporter Benjy Nurick

But perhaps most importantly, it showcased the size and magnitude of the job that’s required this summer.

Saints are building something potentially quite special but help is needed. And it’s needed by the time the new season kicks off in August 2022.

Last summer, Saints went young, rebuilding the long-term future of the club. The average age of their seven non-Theo Walcott signings was 20.6 years old. And a lot of it looks like shrewd business just under a full season later.

Daily Echo: Saints react to conceding the first of six against Chelsea. Image by: PASaints react to conceding the first of six against Chelsea. Image by: PA

19-year-old Tino Livramento appears the bargain of bargains at around £5m and he’s the only reason Romain Perraud at just over £10m hasn’t been the steal of the window. 

Temporary striker Armando Broja has largely been a revelation on the South Coast and while the jury is very much still out on Adam Armstrong and Lyanco, there have been flashes from both that give reason to hold faith. 

Meanwhile, Dynel Simeu and Thierry Small were brought in for the future with the former displaying his talent during a successful loan spell at League Two Carlisle United.

With Jannik Vestergaard, Ryan Bertrand and Danny Ings departing, the squad ended the transfer window with a refreshed albeit unknown feel to it. Ings was obviously a loss but Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team came into the 2021/22 season with the potential to stir things up.

They’ve largely exceeded expectations. For two-thirds of the season, Saints were outstanding -  climbing well clear of the relegation battle while earning a number of thrilling results against both Manchester clubs and Tottenham (twice) amongst others. 

But stutters over the last six weeks mean dreams of a European place are dead while they’re now almost certain to finish somewhere amongst the mid-table pack. 

Saints have shown flashes of brilliance and potential but on Saturday, they were ruthlessly picked off by Chelsea to punctuate a rough couple of months. As Fraser Forster went to pick the ball out of the net on each of six occasions, it became clearer and clearer the size of the task facing Hasenhuttl and the Saints hierarchy this summer.

Daily Echo: Saints celebrate scoring against Norwich earlier this season. Image by: PASaints celebrate scoring against Norwich earlier this season. Image by: PA

With a first-team age of 25.8 this season - fourth-lowest in the Premier League - last summer’s rebuild has worked. Saints' average age has dropped 2.2 years from last season to this, with only Newcastle and Crystal Palace seeing their squad age drop by more. Saints have built a young and hungry core, packed with talent.

The full-back room can challenge virtually any side in the Premier League and the eldest member, Walker-Peters, turned 25 this week.

Mohamed Salisu has displayed significant signs of the player he can become despite some indifferent recent form; inconsistency that has to be expected of a 22-year old. Meanwhile, Lyanco still has much to prove but has time to do so at just 25.

Up front, Che Adams and Adam Armstrong are both 25 while Moi Elyounoussi is 27. Even captain James Ward-Prowse is just 27 while Ibrahima Diallo is 23.

This core of this Saints talent really is quite exciting. But to reach their potential and become the individuals and group they can be, they need the right mentors around them.

Of the team that was pummelled by Chelsea over the weekend, only Fraser Forster, Oriol Romeu and Stuart Armstrong were past their 30th birthday. 

Forster appears likely to leave at the end of the season while Romeu - despite a largely excellent campaign - has one year left on his deal. He was taken off after 36 minutes against Chelsea - making it the fifth-straight game he has been withdrawn - something that only happened five times in his first 25 matches of the season. 

Romeu’s Saints career is closer to the end than start or middle whether he ends up leaving this summer, next, or stays beyond that.

When Romeu does depart - as well as Forster - Saints will be losing some of their limited experience as well as emotional leaders in the dressing room. Theo Walcott has one more year on his deal but has played just one minute in the league since the turn of the year while Shane Long has had 30 minutes of Premier League action in that time and his contract expires in the summer. 

Southampton will almost certainly continue to aggressively pursue the best young talent in the country - as they should. But to help this group take the next step, they also must find the right guides.

Would Saints have lost 6-0 on Saturday with more experience in the team? Quite possibly. After all, they were beaten 9-0 last year with a far more veteran - although perhaps not as talented - XI. But over time, the trends of maturity are not favouring Southampton.

With seven games left in the Premier League season, Saints have lost 23 points so far from winning positions while taking eight from losing positions. 

Granted some of those ‘lost’ points have come in perfectly good results against Spurs, Manchester City and United but they’ve also conceded leads to Everton, Burnley, Norwich, Leicester, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle. That’s points dropped from winning positions to four teams below them in the table as well as three - Leicester, Brighton and Palace - that are within three points above them.

Last season, with a far more experienced XI - actually sixth-oldest in the division - they gave up the same 23 points from winning positions although every ‘dropped’ point came against sides who finished ahead of them and other than Wolves, all the teams they failed to beat after leading ended with 15+ more points than them.

A similar story is seen when looking at what happens when Saints score or concede the first goal in any given game. This season they’ve actually scored the first goal more times (15) than they’ve conceded it (13). 

When scoring first, they’ve gone on to win less than half their games - 46.6% - while when conceding first they’ve lost 62% of the time and won just 7.7% of the time. This is likely in line with their current lower mid-table status but more leads need to be held if they’re going to make the step up. 

While adding an injection of ‘experience’ or maybe rather ‘know-how’ is perhaps easier said than done and won’t magically solve these issues, the collapse against Chelsea shows what can happen when developing players start to feel the slide going against them.

Mohamed Salisu is a great example of this. The more Saints started to struggle the worse his performance got, capping off a disastrous first half with the gift from which Chelsea notched their third goal.

Salisu is a budding leader. He can be a big player for this team and he can be a big person within the squad. He’s not the only one. For the most part, Saints have recruited both the right profile of players but also the right profile of people.

Daily Echo: Ralph Hasenhuttl remonstrates with the fourth official earlier this season. Image by: PARalph Hasenhuttl remonstrates with the fourth official earlier this season. Image by: PA

It’s hard not to be optimistic about the core of this team but they need teachers alongside them.

Heading into the first summer transfer window under Sport Republic, there are naturally questions that require answering. The winter window saw just one player arrive, highly-rated 19-year-old centre-back Nico Lawrence, which told us very little in terms of what to expect for the summer.

It is believed that Saints will pursue more of a mix between talented youngsters and slightly older players and while they’ll stick to a budget, it is thought that the previous semi-formal £15m cap for one player from the previous ownership will be slightly more flexible should the right opportunities crop up.

An argument could be made that Saints need experienced quality in central defence, central midfield, and up front. Of course, experienced quality is an easy term to throw about but often both hard to find and expensive. 

Ultimately, above all, the Saints hierarchy will look for value. The recent links to Tete are an example of this. Far from experienced at just 22 years old, Tete will be available after joining Lyon on a short-term deal following his Shakhtar Donetsk exit at the outbreak of war in Ukraine. 

While it goes against quite a lot of this article, if they return for him in the summer it is because they believe he’s a good player - and 31 goals in 77 games for Shakhtar says he is - the number one quality for signings rather than age or experience.

But balance is important in football and Saints will need more of that if they’re going to take the step forward this team has shown they’re capable of.

Speaking in the week before the Chelsea defeat, Hasenhuttl alluded to the potential of bringing in more established players. 

"We will move earlier this season, this is for sure, I think we have a squad at the moment where we have young, potential players and they are going in a good way."

" The question this summer will be how much of young players we need or maybe even some, I won’t say experienced players but players that give us something different also. We have to balance it quite well and this is the goal for the summer.

"In the end, we are now back known as a developing club that gives young players a chance to play. This is definitely helpful for our transfer activities in the summer, the rest we will look very carefully and see."

This season, Southampton have lost just four out of 12 games against the current top seven in the Premier League. Last season they lost nine of 14 against the final top seven. 

The impressive performances against some of the best teams in the country just shows how much potential this group has. On their day, they can fight with anyone. Nurtured in the right ways, it should be the foundation for a hugely successful period for the club. But to take the next step they need momentum-shifters. When things started to slide against Chelsea, panic set in.

Tactics and coaching obviously play their role, but a calm head or two in times of crisis can make the difference. This Saints team is capable of achieving special things - whatever that means. But to do so, there is huge amounts of work for the Sport Republic and Hasenhuttl this summer to get them the help they need.

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