We get the lowdown on Southampton's weekend opponents, Newcastle United, from Magpies reporter Chris Waugh of the Newcastle Chronicle...
How would you sum up Newcastle’s start to the season?
Pretty woeful, to be perfectly honest. Bottom of the table, winless in all competitions, and with five straight home defeats – there is no other way you can really describe it. To be fair, the Magpies have faced five of last season's top six – and have run all of them close. But their inability to score goals has hampered Newcastle. There are definite nerves on Tyneside that a third relegation of the Mike Ashley era could be unfolding – unless Newcastle's form improves rapidly.
Are there any signs of results turning in their favour?
To a degree, yes. At Old Trafford before the international break, Newcastle were excellent for an hour – and should have beaten Manchester United. Had they done so, I think the mood on Tyneside would be markedly different. Also, the defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion was harsh; the Magpies dominated, conjured up 27 attempts on goal and enjoyed 68 per cent possession, but just couldn't score. Brighton's strike, meanwhile, came from a corner that should have been a goal kick and a deflection off a player facing the opposite direction. On the whole, Newcastle have played pretty well in recent weeks – the defeat to Leicester City aside – but they just need a slice of luck to reinstall some self-belief.
Which players have performed well, regardless of results?
Federico Fernandez has been excellent since arriving during the summer. With Florian Lejeune sidelined due to a long-term knee injury, Fernandez has slotted seamlessly into the centre of Newcastle's defence and has been the Magpies' player of the season so far. Martin Dubravka, too, oozes confidence with his calm authority between the posts and is consistently impressive. In attack, however, no Magpie has yet been consistent enough – although there have been flashes of quality from Jonjo Shelvey, Kenedy and Ayoze Perez; just not enough of them.
How much do you think matters off the field have started to affect the team?
In my opinion, yes. Rafa Benitez's contract situation has proven to be a distraction from the very start of the summer – and the fact Newcastle fans are unsure if their manager will be at the club long term has led to some supporters losing a bit of the usual buzz they have supporting their team. The desire for Mike Ashley to move on as owner has also dominated the agenda once again this season, with a supporters' coalition called 'The Magpie Group' arranging regular protests against the billionaire. Newcastle's lack of investment during the summer window – the Magpies actually made a net profit in terms of their business – has also exasperated matters and has left Benitez with a squad full of endeavour, but lacking in genuine top-flight quality. Unfortunately, football has almost been a secondary concern this season – and that in itself is alarming given the situation Newcastle now find themselves in.
Is the ownership situation likely to resolve itself anytime soon?
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it. The club has been officially on the market for more than a year now – though privately Ashley had been sourcing potential buyers for a lot longer than that – but it looks like being up for sale for a while longer yet. Newcastle themselves insisted during a Fans Forum last month that there has been little serious interest in the Magpies – and it is understood that, since Amanda Staveley and PCP Capital Partners Ltd's bid to buy the club collapsed, no other party has even gotten close to reaching an agreement with Ashley. Former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon is trying to put together a consortium to buy the club, but he is not believed to be close to attracting enough investors to meet Ashley's valuation. What's more, senior sources at St James' Park are planning for Ashley to remain owner for "the medium term" – while the billionaire himself is believed to have told players at a team meal earlier this month that he does not envisage selling the club this season.
What are you expecting from Saturday’s game?
A cagey affair. Both Newcastle and Southampton desperately need a win – but this is also a game neither side dare lose. Although Newcastle's dreadful form ensures I can't be overly confident about the Magpies beating anyone, a small part of me does fancy Benitez's side this weekend. This Newcastle side are better suited to playing away from home – both of their points have been picked up on the road – while Benitez himself often comes up with tactical masterplans against fellow bottom-half-of-the-table rivals. Last season Newcastle went to the likes of West Ham United and Stoke City with little previous form, and returned with excellent wins. From a Magpies point of view, I hope that happens this weekend, too – although I don't expect this game to be a thriller. Let's hope I'm wrong on the entertainment side, though!