Of the two Dutch managers in the Barclays Premier League, few would have said from the beginning of the season that Southampton’s Ronald Koeman would be looking down on his more experienced counterpart, Louis van Gaal after eleven games – but that is the truth. The Saints are sitting proudly in second place in the current league table, but can they stay there? Here we will discuss the merits of the men from St. Mary’s, and their quest to bring Champions League football for the first time.
Favourites to be relegated
Before a ball was kicked in the Premier League, Southampton were among the favourites with Betfair to be relegated. The Saints had lost several key players from their previous term, which had yielded an excellent eighth-place finish in just their second season back in the top flight. Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers all departed St Mary’s for new pastures.
Koeman began to rebuild the squad with a player he knew well from his time at Feyenoord in Graziano Pelle and also landed Dusan Tadic from FC Twente. Fraser Forster and Shane Long arrived from Celtic and Hull respectively, while Koeman excellently worked his way around the loan market with deals to bring in Ryan Bertrand and Toby Alderweireld. Unheralded Sadio Mane and Florian Gardos were also recruited to bolster the numbers.
The Saints began the season with just one point from their opening two games, but have since won eight from the next nine – the highlight being an 8-0 humiliation of Sunderland. Southampton have conceded just two goals in their most recent eight Premier League games – and are currently on a four-match streak without being breached.
The total of 23 goals scored is just second to Chelsea – and Southampton even have a better goal difference than the current league leaders – such is their strength in defence.
A concern for Southampton is that they’ve had a kind start to their league campaign with many fixtures against some of the lesser teams in the top flight. Defeats at Anfield and White Hart Lane have been their only fixtures against sides who finished above the Saints from last season.
In contrast, Koeman’s men return to league action after the upcoming international break with an away trip to Aston Villa, quickly followed with more testing fixtures against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United. It will be these types of contests that will give a truer indication if Southampton are to be seriously considered as a live Champions League contender.
Southampton have also had the benefit of using just 17 players in their opening 11 league fixtures – which is the least of any of the current top ten sides in the Premier League. The Saints have a strong nucleus of players within their squad, but if injuries kick in, then it will surely put a major strain on Koeman’s side. The attacking play of Southampton has been a joy to watch this season.
Pelle may grab the headlines with his six goals, but the incisive, attacking threats posed by Tadic and Long have also become a headache for opposing defences. The Saints have a solid platform in midfield with Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama along with Steven Davis, who work tirelessly to win the ball and create attacking chances.
Koeman must take huge credit for putting this team together in such a short period of time, to have them so well organised and defensively sound – and with a serious cutting edge. It does still remains to be seen if Southampton are to be considered top-four material though, after a comfortable set of fixtures to open their campaign. With some difficult upcoming matches on the horizon, those games could well have a big bearing on the hopes of the St. Mary’s faithful.