There was one metaphor that acted as the guiding principle for Lawrie McMenemy’s heroic FA Cup-winning Saints side of 1976. The road sweepers and the violinists.

I’ll let Cup Final starting left-back David Peach explain.

“We used to say in the dressing room that we had violinists and road-sweepers. The violinists could win you a game from nothing and the road-sweepers gave them a chance! You need the road-sweepers to make the violinists - and we had both.”

READ MORE: Saints held to 0-0 draw by Klagenfurt in second pre-season outing

The brilliance of the 1976 side was in its balance. Bobby Stokes, scorer of the Cup-winning goal was the king of the road-sweepers and Mick Channon, Saints’ all-time top scorer, the violinist-in-chief. But they couldn’t have triumphed with only one - and they did triumph because they had both.

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton is overloaded with road-sweepers and dangerously lacking in violinists. Saints are capable of competing with anyone thanks to their athleticism and work rate in every area of the pitch but they are lacking the brilliance to convert competing into anything like consistent victory.

This was already a significant problem last season and Saints’ opening pre-season matches - one goal scored in 195 minutes of football - are showing the same issues.

Daily Echo: Saints players react to last season's defeat to Crystal Palace. Image by: Stuart MartinSaints players react to last season's defeat to Crystal Palace. Image by: Stuart Martin

Of course, conclusions drawn from Saints’ 3-1 defeat to RB Leipzig and 0-0 draw with SK Klagenfurt need to be taken with the massive pinch of salt that accompanies pre-season. But it is still a concern to see the persistence of issues that haunted the end of their 2021/22 campaign.

Much was made of Saints’ defensive issues last season - understandably - but their play at the opposite end wasn’t much more convincing. 

In total, Southampton scored 43 goals - joint-14th in the Premier League - but that included just nine in the final 12 games of the season. Of those closing nine, just three came from open play. Obviously, the slide to end the campaign represented the very worst of Saints’ form so these statistics must be taken with that context into consideration.

But zooming out, things don’t look much prettier.

Over the course of the season as a whole, only 58.1% of Saints' goals came from open play, third-least in the Premier League with only Wolves (57.9%) and Brentford (56.25%) scoring a lower proportion of their goals from open play.

There are obviously valid reasons for this. The obvious one is that Saints have James Ward-Prowse, the best free-kick taker in the world. Winning free-kicks around the box should be more of a strategy for Southampton than anyone else in the Premier League.

But that’s only accounting for part of this trend. On top of Ward-Prowse's four direct free-kicks, Saints scored 16.7% of their goals from corners, the third-highest percent in the league.

Daily Echo: Ward-Prowse scores a penalty against Leicester on the final day of the season. Image by: PAWard-Prowse scores a penalty against Leicester on the final day of the season. Image by: PA

There’s nothing wrong with being good from set-pieces, it can be a huge advantage and Saints likely would not have survived without their proficiency from deal ball situations. But it also emphasises their struggles to create chances from open play.

Additionally, Saints hit paydirt ten times from outside the box, accounting for 23.3% of their total goals, the second-highest portion after Leeds United. Once again, Ward-Prowse’s ability from range shouldn’t be discredited but all this data is telling the same story: Saints desperately struggled to create high-quality chances from open play last season.

Their xG, expected goals, says the same. Southampton actually managed the ninth-most shots in the Premier League through the 2021/22 season but those efforts came with an xG per shot of just 0.11 - good for joint-17th.

READ MORE: Will Smallbone speaks on pre-season tour of Austria 

We won’t go as far as saying Saints were downright boring last season as they did have notable thrilling victories, but the conclusion is clear: Hasenhuttl’s side failed to create chances on any sort of consistent basis.

The fear from supporters is that this problem has not been addressed with the teams that took on Leipzig and Klagenfurt once again looking heavy in road-sweepers and light in violinists.

While much of the attention has been set on Saints lack of strikers - understandably after the departures of Shane Long and Armando Broja - it’s the areas behind the forwards that should also be of worry.

Daily Echo: Long and Broja have departed St Mary's this summer. Image by: Stuart MartinLong and Broja have departed St Mary's this summer. Image by: Stuart Martin

Saints’ crop of four strikers last season scored a combined 16 league goals, a pretty paltry contribution. But those 16 came from an xG of just 19.59. The group certainly underperformed, Adam Armstrong the biggest culprit with two goals from an xG of 4.24, but they still should have only scored around 20 goals combined based on the quality of the chances presented to them - most definitely not enough for Saints' ambitions.

Largely utilising the Hasenhuttl 4-2-2-2 system, Saints had seven different players operating as the 'tens' behind the strikers throughout the course of the season. Those seven players combined for just eight assists - five of those coming from the largely ignored Nathan Redmond.

The strikers no doubt missed chances but the service they were given hardly did them any favours, those eight assists from Saints’ attacking midfielders and wingers coming with an expected assists of 9.2, slightly higher but nothing game-changing.

Moi Elyounoussi and Stuart Armstrong, two of Hasesenhuttl’s preferred choices for the number ten role are perfect representations of the balance issues in this side. Both are good players who have important roles in helping Saints build up play and on the defensive side. But both lack killer qualities whether that be the final splitting pass or the ability to beat defenders with the ball at their feet.

Saints didn't do enough in front of goal last season. Some of the flack has to go to a set of strikers who as a collective scored their final goal of the season on February 25th, but the problems run deeper than that and the solutions must be greater than simply signing a striker - even if that is hugely essential as well.

It would, though, be unfair to suggest these issues have been totally ignored. Saints have been proactive in the transfer market, bringing in a total of four first-team players (plus Mateusz Lis) and while none are prototypical forwards, the additions of Joe Aribo and Romeo Lavia should help.

Aribo’s greatest strengths are with the ball at his feet. Last season he managed 5.05xA in the Scottish Premiership (more than any Saints player other than Ward-Prowse) while racking up 195 dribbles - fifth-most in the division. He also managed 136 touches in the opposition penalty area, fourth-most and 26 ‘key passes’, good for fifth in the SPL.

While he’s a better dribbler than passer, Aribo has proven his ability to help unlock defences and it’s a major reason Saints were so determined to recruit him. However, we are yet to see the best of the former Rangers midfielder in his brief Saints career thus far.

Daily Echo: Aribo posing with his Saints contract. Image by: Southampton FCAribo posing with his Saints contract. Image by: Southampton FC

It’s far too early to make any judgements, but the current Saints set-up hasn’t been designed to get the most out of Aribo. Operating as the second striker - alongside Nathan Tella against Leipzig and Armstrong against Klagenfurt - Aribo has found himself with his back to goal and forced to hold up defenders too often. He’s strong and can play this role effectively, but Aribo is at his best with the game in front of him where he can pick up the ball in space and carry it forward, driving past opposition players.

It’s hard to be too critical of Aribo’s quiet start considering he just arrived and it’s still the earliest of pre-season days in experimental set-ups. But it does feel that the tactical plan seen in the first two pre-season fixtures is not the most Aribo-friendly.

Meanwhile, another new addition - Lavia - has quickly displayed his ability to help orchestrate Saints’ attack from deep. Oriol Romeu has been a fantastic servant to the club and is better than mediocre with the ball at his feet but Lavia has already looked a step up in that regard.

Whether it’s short passes between the lines or long passes sprayed over the top, Lavia’s range of distribution has seriously impressed.

Here’s one example from early on in the second half on Monday evening. Lavia picks up the ball in space with a crowd of Klagenfurt players around him.

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The midfielder splits the two Kalgenfurt players ahead of him, finding Stuart Armstrong through the middle. The passage ends with Moussa Djenepo firing a tame effort straight at the keeper.

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More impressive is this example of Lavia’s long-range passing as he clips a delightful pass over the top of the Kalgenfurt defence for the on-rushing Kyle Walker-Peters who ends up winning the penalty that Armstrong failed to convert.

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Admittedly, in both these cases, Lavia has acres of time and space with virtually no pressure on the ball - a luxury that won’t be nearly as prevalent in the Premier League. But the raw ability is clearly there.

Speaking after Monday’s 0-0 draw, Hasenhuttl recognised the issues going forward. “In some parts, I liked what I have seen, but, especially in the final third, like we always say, we are missing something.”

It does appear that Hasenhuttl has been trying to address these issues. Using a 3-5-2 formation with two incredibly high wing-backs and two number eights making runs into the box, Saints frequently attacked Klagenfurt with as many as six attackers and it did pay dividends to some extent.

Will Smallbone - a standout of this pre-season campaign thus far - struck the post early on after finding space in the box with a smart late run before Ibrahima Diallo hit the crossbar after being picked out following a similar bit of late movement.

Both starting wing-backs on Monday - Thierry Small and Diamond Edwards - were instructed to play high and wide, closer to wingers than wing-backs, something that is evident from the image below.

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Tactically, it appears Hasenhuttl is trying to find solutions to Saints goalscoring problems but whether it’s due to the qualities of the personnel available or those tactics, it still doesn’t seem to be working just yet.

Much has been made by Saints’ lightweight striker department - both in numbers and quality - and while that is an absolutely essential area to address, quite possibly season-defining - it won’t solve the problems on its own. Saints issues going forward have been far more structural and deep-rooted. 

This is a team chock-full of road-sweepers. The Saints hierarchy have 44 days to add violinists.

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