The boss preaches togetherness on the eve of the new season.
Mark Hughes believes the tough times Southampton endured last season can help his side fulfil their potential in 2018/19.
The boss inherited an uphill task when he took charge in March, with only eight Premier League games remaining, but is confident the foundations built in that short time before survival was achieved will accelerate the team’s progress.
Rather than having to spell out his ideas and principles over the summer, they are already drummed into most of the players.
“It’s been really good because the majority of the group were with us before,” Hughes said of pre-season.
“Given the experience of last year, it’s brought everybody a little bit closer and the majority of the squad already have an understanding of what I expect and what I want from the group.
“We’re working from a base that was in place and ready to be enhanced, which is what we’ve tried to do in pre-season.
“The different players who weren’t with us before will have to get up to speed with my thinking and what I want from the team.
“The group itself, which I’ve said since I walked through the door, is very receptive. It’s a vibrant group who want to learn and want to get better, which helps me in my role.
“When you’re trying to impart information through to them, it’s not resisted. It’s embraced, because they want to get better as a group and individually as well.
“As a working environment, I think we’re in a good place.”
Hughes thinks Saints now have increased motivation not to find themselves in a similar fight against relegation this time around.
“I think we’ve got good reference points from last year in what we achieved and the level of performance we were able to produce under really immense pressure,” he reflected.
“It’s not a situation we want to be in again, which is why we’ve tried to strengthen, but I think the fact the majority of the squad, myself and the coaching staff have gone through that together, we know now what we’re capable of.
“We had hard fixtures – away fixtures against top clubs, and we ran every one of those teams very, very close.
“We know what we’re capable of, but it can’t just be eight or ten games at the end of the season to get us over the line.
“What we need to do is remember what we did in the last games of the season, how well we played and the levels we hit, and hit those levels again. They’ve got that reference point now.”
mark hugheswe needed to make sure the dressing room was strong with good leadership and good personalities.
Saints made five summer signings in total – Angus Gunn, Jannik Vestergaard, Stuart Armstrong, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Danny Ings.
“I feel we’ve had a really good window,” Hughes continued. “It’s clear we needed to increase our threat, and hopefully with the attacking players of Stu, Moi and Danny we’ve been able to increase that creativity at the top end of the pitch to enable us to score more goals and create more chances.
“The transfer window has been really good, in my view. We’ve been able to strengthen every area of the squad, so we can’t complain.
“I think it’s important for the group as a whole. When you see new players coming in, I think that lifts the group and players judge themselves against the new ones coming in.
“They like to test the new players to see what level they’re at. That generates energy and reenergises the group, so it’s always important to freshen things up.
“The guys we’ve been able to bring in are good players in their own right, but good characters as well, which is something that we talked about at the end of last year – we needed to make sure the dressing room was strong with good leadership and good personalities.”
Now Hughes is targeting a winning start to the campaign at home to Burnley tomorrow, citing the opportunity to immediately build some positive momentum.
“I think it’s really important. If you have a good start, that can sustain you, because you’re not under pressure to get a result,” he said.
“If you go two or three games without one, that’s when the pressure builds because that’s how the Premier League is.
“The key for us is to get off to a good start in terms of our home games. We start off at home against a difficult opponent, but it’s one we should expect to win.
“If we’re going to increase the number of home wins, which was too low last year… we didn’t give our fans enough reason to really get behind us and cheer us on, which has got to change this year, so that’s our intention.
“We’ve got to be more progressive at home, capable of being strong defensively but at the top end of the pitch we’ve got to take more risks and try to create more chances. If we do that, we’ll have a good season, in my view.”