“Maybe there is a reason for that, maybe because we are not good enough,” Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said after watching Wilfried Zaha snatch victory for Crystal Palace in the second minute of stoppage time.

The defeat left Saints on 40 points - good for 15th place and now a rather considerable sounding three points adrift of the top ten. It’s shaping up to be another season where Saints avoid disaster but fail to truly build on what has come before it.

Last season they ended on 43 points, a total that isn't a certainty this time around, with remaining games against Brentord, Liverpool and Leicester City. Heading into March, Hasenhuttl’s side were flying with 35 points before collapsing over the past two months.

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Their five points won in the last nine league fixtures is only better than Norwich and Watford, the former getting their relegation confirmed on Saturday and the latter just waiting to join them.

As another Saints season fizzles out rather spectacularly, eyes are naturally drawn towards the summer and the job at hand.

Financially, Saints haven’t kept up with the rest of the top flight and they risk being left behind. 

Daily Echo: Hasenhuttl during Saints' defeat to Crystal Palace. Image by: Sean RyanHasenhuttl during Saints' defeat to Crystal Palace. Image by: Sean Ryan

Saturday’s opponents spent double what Saints did on transfers over the course of 2021/22. They weren’t the only ones to outspend Southampton. According to Transfermarkt, only Brentford, Wolves and Everton spent less than Southampton did over the 2021/22 season. But it goes deeper than that. 

Brentford, Burnley, Norwich and Watford are the only of this season’s Premier League sides with a lower net spend than Southampton's £24.28 in the last five seasons. Of course, two of those are headed down to the Championship and Burnley could still join them.

Daily Echo: Premier League net spend on transfers over the last five seasons - Saints in redPremier League net spend on transfers over the last five seasons - Saints in red

Here’s another one: only Brentford, Burnley and Norwich have joined Saints in not having a season with a net spend of £40m or more in the past half-decade. Once again, one of those sides are already relegated and another is still in danger.

There’s a trend here: financially, Southampton are competing with relegation battlers - and Brentford.

This may just be reality. Even under new ownership, the Saints’ hierarchy doesn’t seem likely to compete with the other 19 clubs in the division via a financial footrace and instead will try to get there by being smarter.

Speaking in February, CEO Martin Semmens explained how things would work under new ownership: "It's not going to change us and you're not going to see Philippe Coutinho arrive here in the transfer window, that's not our model.

"But it probably allows us to be more flexible and reactive when the next Tino (Livramento) is available and allows us to push to make the top ten thing more of a reality."

“The ultimate destination for us is not about where we finish in the league – it’s about providing a competitive advantage against the guys with more money.

“Let’s say Everton have spent £300m on players more than we have since I’ve been in the job, Aston Villa spent £150m more than we did last summer, so how are we going to beat these teams?

“And our way is about creating a better environment, being 2% better at everything from medicine to food to doctors to cleaning the building, every tiny detail."

It’s no doubt a positive thing that Saints are one of the few sustainable clubs in the division, actually working within their means. 

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Aston Villa sit level on points with Saints while spending £196.6m more than them in the transfer market over the last five years. Brighton’s number is four points and £162.06m. Crystal Palace, £63.64m and one point. Everton’s is £194.97m and eight...points less.

Those involved in the running from manager up to the boardroom deserve credit for keeping Saints in the division on the relatively meagre (in Premier League terms) allowance and actually competing with the best at times. The players deserve credit for at least achieving the mandatory minimum of survival (assuming they do get there, of course).

But things are only getting harder and more and more teams are starting to spend. The top six are obviously out of reach financially and a glance down the table makes it hard to find clubs that are spending less freely. 

All sides just above Southampton - Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Leicester City, Brighton, Wolves and West Ham - have proven they don’t mind splurging while Newcastle are clearly now in a different stratosphere now.

Only Brentford are operating in a similar manner - of sides set to be in the Premier League next season.

Of course, it’s one thing to say Southampton should spend more money - that’s quite an easy solution. But it has to be spent right. Of the four players signed for a fee last summer, only Tino Livramento and Romain Perraud have shown value for money. Adam Armstrong can’t even get on the pitch and Lyanco has shown flashes but clearly doesn’t have the trust of his manager.

It’s doesn’t sound great after that kind of defeat, but Hasenhuttl appears correct on in his assessment of the quality of the squad: maybe they just aren’t good enough?

The starting full-backs are largely excellent but now Saints lack depth with Livramento out for the foreseeable future. At centre-back they’re missing a leader and some calming consistency. In central midfield, it’s fair to wonder if Oriol Romeu has the legs to continue in a two-man operation going forward. Meanwhile, up front, Saints have no reliable source of goals and not enough concrete help on that front from the wide men.

Of course, then there’s also the goalkeeping situation.

An argument could be made that Saints need new starting players at goalkeeper, centre-back, central midfield, winger and striker. You could add depth options at full-back and on the wings if you wanted to be greedy.

A major problem is that recently, they just haven’t been able to replace starting players with better ones. Danny Ings, Jannik Vestergaard and Pierre-Emile Hojberg have departed in the last two seasons - replaced by Adam Armstrong, Lyanco and Ibrahima Diallo. The trio have combined for eight total league starts in 2022 (Lyanco was injured for two months, but he’s only made the bench in each of Saints’ last two games).

If Fraser Forster does leave this summer and no new first-choice arrives, it’s hard to see how they haven’t gone backwards again - something that says more about Forster’s recent form than Alex McCarthy, the potential replacement.

The other side of the coin is that Southampton have too many players who haven’t proven they deserve to remain in contention. Jack Stephens has started just once in the league since the turn of the year and Jan Bednarek has been shaky at best. At 26 it would be fair to wonder if it’s time for the club to move on from the Polish centre-back.

Daily Echo: Eze scores Palace's equaliser on Saturday. Image by: Sean RyanEze scores Palace's equaliser on Saturday. Image by: Sean Ryan

Diallo hasn’t made notable strides in his second season and in attack, Shane Long started in the Premier League on Saturday. In 2022. That’s genuinely no slight on Long, who won multiple free-kicks and made some sort of impact on Crystal Palace’s defence. He'll continue to deliver what we know he can but he hasn’t beaten ten league goals in more than a decade and is out of contract in the summer.

Nathan Redmond, Moussa Djenepo and Theo Walcott are all on borrowed time while the end is coming for Romeu - whether it’s this summer, next or in a few couple years down the line.

“We are in some positions at the moment lacking quality, this is not only for the players who have started but also for the players that are coming on,” was Hasenhuttl’s assessment of his squad.

“They are far away from the level they have shown and this is the reason why we are not good enough to play what we have shown.”

“It’s not bad if you have something like that (Zaha as a substitute), I must say I expect more from my guys coming on.

"This is what we are lacking at the moment, Broja is not the same like he was a few months ago. This is the difference at the moment.

"It is very hard to take but this is the realistic thing that we are always coming into this situation that we can make this up and we fail. Maybe there is a reason for that, and maybe because we are not good enough.”

The whole quote is incredibly blunt. But it’s proving to be true. Whether you want to place the blame on Hasenhuttl, higher management or the players, Saints are showing this season that they aren’t good enough to take the next step that the club is desperate for. After failing to make the jump, something has to change this summer.

The first summer window under Sport Republic, questions of some kind will be answered over the coming months.

Saints have proven savvy in the transfer market but it’s only getting tougher and tougher as those around them spend more and more. They are in danger of not only failing to take their next step, but actually falling troubling behind their rivals.

Money isn’t the answer to everything and Saints aren’t going to suddenly start entering bidding wars against their Premier League rivals.

But money does mean something in this game and Saints need to find the right balance in how they rebuild this squad going forward. Smarts combined with greater financial flexibility is usually better than smarts on its own. Let’s see what the summer brings…

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