Leicester City have rightly taken all of the plaudits this year.
Their team members have been rewarded with end of year trophies on a team and individual basis and even Claudio Ranieri must have turned up with an empty suitcase, in expectation, at the Managerial Awards on Monday evening.
Quite a few teams have been fortunate to have a lot of paper space or air time this year. Tottenham have for their style of play, Arsenal for enjoying/enduring the same season as normal and West Ham because they did better than many thought they would and then the long goodbye to the Boleyn. The usual ‘big four’ have been lamentable and widely criticised for being so poor at times, but unfairly some teams appear to go under the radar.
Southampton are just that sort of club.
Quietly and methodically, the Saints get on with the job without the need for a fanfare. The work that Mauricio Pochettino did at St Mary’s Stadium has been carried on and improved by Ronald Koeman, and yet the column inches are conspicuous by the absence of a mention for the South Coast club.
To finish 6th, is another great achievement and offers up another shot at the Europa League.
The club’s form was a little helter skelter in the middle of the season, but their performances of late have seen them gather momentum, just as Leicester’s did, this time last year.
Southampton will have to fight to keep hold of their star names, but every season the Saints seem to sell and buy in just the right type of player without any detrimental effect to the team or to their playing style. So, how well did Southampton do?
In the first 19 games Leicester had 39 points, meaning that in the second half of the season they gained 42 points – Southampton had 39 points whilst Spurs managed just 35 in comparison. Therefore, Southampton’s second half to the season was indeed on par with the top performers.
For the Saints, this season has seen their best Premier League finish and it also means that the Hampshire outfit have finished in the top eight of the top flight for three consecutive seasons. Additionally, 63 points is also the club’s best points tally in this league.
For a club without the financial muscle of the bigger teams, it should be noted that the Saints finished only three points behind Champions League bound Manchester City. In reality, there should be a chasm between such clubs, but this season, teams like Leicester and Southampton have shown that money doesn’t always talk.
Ronald Koeman had to almost rebuild his squad after the exodus a couple of seasons ago and so it is fitting that his name will be linked to some of the top jobs in the Premier League, if not in Europe.
The momentum that the team has, could be carried through into the next season, just as Leicester have done. Graziano Pelle seems likely to leave St Mary’s, but careful choices in recruitment could mean another exciting season in the red and white stripes is looming.
There was further news to cheer for Saints fans when star defender, Virgil Van Dijk committed his long-term future to the club by signing a new six-year deal. The new contract, which runs until 2022, comes less than a year after his £11.5m move from Celtic.
The club have ambition and are on a roll and the teams around them in the league would do well to acknowledge them and not dismiss them.
This time next year, Southampton could be the new Leicester City.