A lack of goals is becoming an issue for Southampton. So far this season, eight sides have hit the back of the net on fewer occasions than Mauricio Pellegrino’s men. The four goal glut against Everton skewed things.
Of those eight teams – Burnley, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth, Newcastle United, West Brom, West Ham and Crystal Palace – four of them sit in the Premier League’s bottom five and only one team is above them. It isn’t ideal company for Saints to be keeping.
Yet their meagre return this season perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, they were hardly prolific last year either.
Only the bottom five teams in last season’s Premier League netted fewer than Southampton’s 41, that despite Claude Puel leading them to eighth place.
The Saints were built on a solid defence and their goal difference of minus eight was largely down to their lack of goals rather than fragility at the back.
But there is a time when you start to worry for a side if they can’t score, and Southampton will want to avoid that happening to them.
Just who should they pick to lead the line If they're to repeat the feat of scoring four in a game?
Southampton’s striking options analysed
There are three main striking options in the squad at St Mary’s Stadium – Shane Long, Manolo Gabbiadini and Sunday's two-goal hero Charlie Austin, although Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal could also play the role of the main forward.
It’s clear Pellegrino hasn’t been entirely convinced by the main options at Southampton so far this season if you look at the time on the pitch of each of the trio have had in the Premier League.
Gabbiadini has played just 676 minutes of a possible 1170, while Long is just behind him on 592. Austin trails the pair with just 218.
The Italian has eight starts with an additional four coming off the bench while Long's 12 appearances are split evenly; six starts and six appearances off of the bench.
Austin, meanwhile, has made 10 appearances in the league, with just one coming as a starter.
Switching so often suggests the former Alavés boss isn’t entirely happy with what he has at his disposal, or at the very least, he isn’t convinced by them yet.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that when Redmond was top scorer in the league last season, the striking options haven’t improved from last season when they haven’t been strengthened.
In 2016/17, Austin managed six goals, Gabbiadini four and Long three in the league.
The Italian of course arrived in January and made a flying start, scoring three in his first two Premier League outings. He was, incorrectly, denied a hat-trick in the EFL Cup final loss to Manchester United by the linesman's flag and finished with six goals in all competitions for the Saints in his first half-season as injury interrupted.
Former QPR forward Austin, meanwhile, endured an injury-hit campaign, only playing 15 Premier League matches. Long’s total of three in 33 is extremely disappointing, though the County Kilkenny native has never been prolific.
The Irishman has continued that form this year too, failing to find the back of the net so far, while Austin and Gabbiadini have managed one each.
If you work average those goals out per 90 minutes, it looks particularly favourable for Austin. The Englishman is averaging 1.15 goals in that time, due to his limited minutes on the pitch. Gabbiadini is at 0.27.
He’s also averaging more shots per 90 too, with 3.46. Gabbiadini is at 2.43 and Long is at 1.96.
Austin also has the best shot accuracy of the trio at 50 per cent. The Italian is at 25 per cent while Long is at 14 per cent.
Interestingly, all of Austin and Long’s shots have been from inside the area, while close to half of Gabbiadini's have come from outside of the penalty box.
Should Southampton have more goals?
If you look at expected goals (xG), Southampton should have more goals than they currently have scored this season.
Their xG is 16.47 – above Chelsea, who have scored 24 goals – yet Saints have only found the back of the net 13 times.
That would suggest they are being wasteful in front of goal.
When you breakdown the xG of individual players you get to see whether they're over or under performing. Midfielder Dušan Tadić leads the way with 3.1 but only has two goals to his name this season. Redmond's xG comes in at 1.48 but the winger has yet to find the back of the net. Likewise Oriel Romeu and Long both have an xG of over one but neither have found the back of the net.
Austin’s stats will be slightly skewed as one his goals arrived from the penalty spot, and therefore has a high xG as there is a high chance of him scoring.
Those statistics are unlikely to fill any Southampton fan with much joy.
Gabbiadini has a goal to his name but just a quarter of his shots are on target Meanwhile, Long hasn’t scored in the Premier League this season. Throw in his return of three in 33 games last season and it's far-from-convincing stuff.
There’s no real surprise Pellegrino seems unsure about who is his best man for the job as at the moment, none of them are setting the world on fire.
If Pellegrino wants goals then he's going to have to give Austin more minutes, maybe even partner him with Gabbiadini and tweak the system.
If there isn’t an improvement before January, it would be no surprise to see Saints go marching into the winter transfer window looking for a striker.