It has been a magnificent season so far for Southampton, one beyond their fans’ wildest dreams. The summer saw plenty of changes with five key players all leaving in the transfer window. There was also a change of manager, with Mauricio Pochettino leaving for Tottenham and Dutchman Ronald Koeman replacing him.
Many replacements were brought in, including Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, Fraser Forster, Ryan Bertrand and Toby Alderweireld – the latter two on loan. These signings were more than adequate replacements and have all played key roles for Southampton currently sitting in third position.
Many had tipped Southampton to struggle despite the quality that was brought in, but the Saints were quick to defy these claims. The club only dropped eight points from their opening 11 matches, including a breath taking 8-0 demolition of Sunderland. Four defeats in a row followed against the likes of Man Utd and Man City, with questions arising about their league position being a fluke. Whilst there is no doubt that Southampton are playing above themselves and are exceeding all expectations, recent results and performances have been anything but a fluke.
They are currently five league games unbeaten but more importantly have picked up points against teams also challenging for a top four position. First the Saints earned a deserved 1-1 draw against leaders Chelsea, showing great organisational and defensive skills to deny Chelsea all three points. Another solid performance against Arsenal followed, with a superb 2-0 victory to build a gap between the two sides. And if these two results weren’t enough, the performance and victory against Man Utd demonstrated a side with fantastic leadership, quality and most of all tactical awareness.
It was their first win at Old Trafford for 27 years and manager Ronald Koeman out thought Louis Van Gaal tactically from the first whistle to the last. It ended United’s 11 match unbeaten run, which also gives you an idea of the enormity the victory holds for Southampton. It was a tremendous Premier League away performance with the Saints knowing Man Utd would dominate possession; the defensive display was superb, proving why they have the best record in the league.
They were again extremely well organised in defence, with defensive midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama helping to keep their shape throughout. Captain Jose Fonte led from the front in the heart of the defence, always galvanising his team and put in a flawless display that won him man-of-the-match.
It’s not just their defensive performances that have impressed this season, though, with plenty of goals being scored at the other end. Pelle is currently the clubs top scorer with eight league goals and the Saints look threatening when going forward thanks too from the addition of Dusan Tadic. The fact is, Southampton have stayed in the top four a lot longer than anyone could have anticipated but after 21 matches, surely have to be taken seriously as a contender for those Champions League qualification positions.
Winning and overtaking the likes of Man Utd and Arsenal reinforces this point, adding as well the level of performances and tactical know-how. Time will tell if the long season will take its toll on a squad lacking in depth to some of its top four rivals, when inevitably injuries arrive. But Southampton have assembled a starting XI of quality with several players that could play for a Man Utd or Man City.
With matches coming up against teams you now have to say Southampton should be beating, then the top four dream could well become a reality.