Often when a team of a certain stature is threatened with relegation from the Premier League, you will hear the phrase ‘they are too good to go down’.
While the idiom is just as often dismissed, in some cases a team will genuinely have players too good to be relegated. Southampton this season are one of those teams.
As a collective unit the Saints have been deserving of their 18th place in the table, winning just six of their 35 games (14 draws, 15 losses).
The poor results have seen Mauricio Pellegrino replaced by Mark Hughes, despite guiding them to the FA Cup quarter-finals, after a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle United proved the last straw.
There are some Saints players who could easily find another club should Southampton be relegated at the end of the season thanks to their individual form this campaign and, perhaps more significantly, in previous years.
But who are these players, and which sides should sign them if Southampton’s five-year spell in the Premier League were to come to an end?
The former Chelsea man has long been linked with a move to one of the more elite teams in the Premier League and, now an England regular, would be one of the first to leave should Southampton go down.
Originally having joined in February 2015 following a successful loan spell earlier in the season, Bertrand has been one of Southampton’s best attacking players despite being a left-back.
This season the Englishman has registered three assists in the Premier League, the joint-most of any Southampton player.
Bertrand has also contributed with 105 defensive actions, including 64 clearances, at an average of four per game.
Who should sign him: Manchester United
United manager Jose Mourinho has a problem at left-back, currently playing winger Ashley Young there having been unimpressed with the ability of former Southampton man Luke Shaw.
But whether or not the Portuguese stays past the end of the season, given the recent grumblings in press conferences, Bertrand would be a good signing to add some stability and creativity at the back for United.
One of Southampton’s unsung heroes, James Ward-Prowse has often found himself frustrated this season with the lack of striking ability to make the most of his exquisite passing range.
The 23-year-old has attempted more crosses than any other Southampton player (154) but with the poor form of Shane Long and Manolo Gabbiadini only 35 have been successful – though this is still more than any player at the club.
Having created 39 chances, including three assists, so far this season the Englishman needs to play in the Premier League to continue to thrive for both club and eventually country.
Who should sign him? Liverpool
In the summer, Liverpool will be bringing the impressive Naby Keita into the midfield and Ward-Prowse would be an excellent fit into Jurgen Klopp’s football revolution.
Playing exciting football with their attacking trio, a midfield three of Keita, Ward-Prowse and one of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can – should he stay – would improve the club’s already frightening fire power with creative output from deep. The set-piece specialist would also go some way in making up for Philippe Coutinho’s quality from such situations, perhaps the only thing Liverpool have missed since the Brazilian’s January departure.
If Charlie Austin had better luck with injuries this season, Southampton might not be where they are in the Premier League.
The Englishman is the club’s top-scorer this season with seven goals despite playing just 21 games, at an average of 0.8 goals per 90 minutes.
For whatever reason, Pellegrino often opted not to play the former Queens Park Rangers striker to his own downfall – and when Southampton most need him, it appears it may be too late for the striker to save them.
Who should sign him? Watford
Six points above Southampton in 14th, Watford are all-but confirmed of staying in the Premier League for next season and if they should do so and the Saints go down, Austin would be a great signing.
Midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure is currently the Hornets’ top-scorer with seven goals, with forwards Richarlison and Troy Deeney on five and six respectively, but with both of their futures in doubt Austin can help Watford to have a better season next year.
Despite Southampton’s poor form this season, Oriol Romeu has been a midfield shield for the club.
A graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, the Spaniard has impressed on the south coast after underwhelming spells with the Blaugrana and Chelsea.
The midfielder has won more duels than any other Southampton player this season (221), including 84 tackles – another club high.
Romeu recently played down talks of a return to Barcelona, stating regular Premier League football as his dream and should Southampton go down, the Spaniard would have no problems in finding a new club.
Who should sign him? Arsenal
For all their attacking signings this season, Arsenal have failed to strengthen the positions they most need to – defence and defensive-minded midfielders.
Despite the likes of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka being at the club, Romeu would be a defensive upgrade on the duo, but could also build up a defensive partnership with either to allow Arsenal’s attacking talent more freedom going forward.
While Mario Lemina has not been entirely blameless for Southampton’s problems this season, making four defensive errors, the Gabonese midfielder has the ability to shine.
Completing 88.1% of his 59 take-ons in the Premier League and having the best pass accuracy of the club of any player to make more than one pass (88%), Lemina has been a bright spark when afforded the time on the pitch.
Often benched behind the ageing Steven Davis, of Southampton’s players to play more than five games this season only Romeu (2.90) has a better average of successful tackles per 90 minutes than Lemina (2.80).
Who should sign him? Everton
Previously linked with the Toffees before signing for Southampton, should the Saints go down in the summer, Everton could come back in for Lemina.
With neither Morgan Schneiderlin and Davy Klaassen having impressed this season, Everton need someone new to hold their midfield alongside Idrissa Gueye, as well as a more dynamic presence to carry the ball forward: Lemina would tick both boxes.
Despite not enjoying his best season for Southampton, Dusan Tadic would still be considered as above the levels of playing in the Championship – though the quality of England’s second league is not to be scoffed at.
The Serbian has created more chances than any other Southampton player this season (59) and registered three assists, the second-highest behind Bertrand (four).
Turning 30 later this season, the next move for Tadic might be the final chance for the Serbian to make himself a star player at a club in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Who should sign him? Bournemouth
Staying on the south coast, Tadic can help Bournemouth push for their next step of becoming a regular top-half side.
Eddie Howe is doing a good job with Bournemouth but eventually they need to improve and Tadic can be the start of the revolution, making the Cherries the best side on the south coast.
One of Southampton’s many attacking players who is skillful on the ball, but who has not been given enough minutes this season, Sofiane Boufal has shown glimpses of his talent when given time on the pitch.
The Moroccan has started just 11 Premier League games this season, having to deal with substitute appearances on 15 occasions – with an average of 46 minutes per match.
Completing more take-ons than any other Southampton player (58), the 24-year-old scored one of the contenders for goal of the season in October, running through most of the West Bromwich Albion team before finishing to win the game for his side.
Who should sign him? Newcastle United
With Newcastle now guaranteed to stay up at the end of the season, they seriously need to invest in their team if they wish to re-establish themselves as Premier League regulars.
Though highly unlikely, as the club have been there before, Boufal would be worth breaking the bank for, adding another dimension to a very average Newcastle attacking line.
Despite not impressing much this season, Nathan Redmond has a lot of untapped potential that can come out in a more successful side – even Pep Guardiola was left frustrated by the winger’s display when the sides met in November.
Still only 24 years old, the Englishman has created 43 chances in the Premier League and registered three assists this season, with only Tadic faring better.
On Hughes’ announcement as Southampton manager, the Welshman highlighted the impact Redmond can have on the Saints in their quest for survival. But should he prove unsuccessful, the former Norwich City man could find himself moving elsewhere.
Who should sign him? Leicester City
With the future of Riyad Mahrez still in doubt at Leicester City, the Foxes would do well to bring in Redmond as a potential replacement.
While not as good as Mahrez, Redmond can thrive at the King Power Stadium using his pace to link up well with Jamie Vardy and Leicester’s other attacking players that Claude Puel utilises on the attack.
Arguably Southampton’s best player this season, clubs should be circling around St Mary’s waiting to sign Cedric should the Saints go down.
The defender has played 29 games so far this season, averaging four defensive actions per game while also contributing to the attack with 23 chances created (two assists).
Who should sign him? Arsenal
One of Arsenal’s bigger problems this season has been their defence and in the defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final, Hector Bellerin was among a number of players to fail to impress.
In Cedric, the Gunners would have a reliable player at right-back, similar to Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea, who would give the club at least a seven out of 10 performance each game.