Southampton continue to be among the best teams in the Premier League when on song, though are marred by inconsistency.
Though that’s been a theme throughout the season on a much larger scale, it is perhaps fair to say the Saints haven’t received as many plaudits this time around than last.
While that points to the fact they are now an established top half outfit, able to beat anyone on their day, even the most ardent of supporters surely would concede their have been some dismal runs of form.
Manager Ronald Koeman has done a remarkable job to turn the fortunes around for a team that were sliding down the table at an alarming rate just before the festive period into top six challengers.
Clearly, the pre-Christmas slump was not truly indicative of the sort of quality on show at St. Mary’s, but it was really the first time major questions have been asked of their Dutch coach.
It’s all very well waxing poetic on the former Barcelona legend when the going is good, but his switch to a 3-5-2 was a brave decision when the pressure was on and ultimately worked wonders. Management at its finest.
Still, the South Coast outfit are prone to the odd off-day, as proved in their recent trip along to Bournemouth, who dispatched their visitors with ease.
So, the club are well placed for a top six finish with 11 games to go. With that in mind, here are FIVE fixtures that will make or break Southampton’ top six challenge…
To harbour any real hopes of bettering last season’s seventh placed finish, Saints need to beat the teams in and around them.
Amidst the waters below the Champions League battle, lies a ferocious mini-league that appears to have been created in the vacuum between fifth and ninth.
Saints currently occupy ninth, while Stoke sit in seventh. In order to keep ground on the race for a Europa League spot, they really need to get a result in the Potteries next weekend.
The home side reflect Southampton in many ways, boasting a raft of top quality players though are prone to the odd slip up.
Wedged between the two aforementioned sides is Liverpool. Due to the recent history between the Merseyside giants and the Saints, it’s a fixture the fans truly sink their teeth in to.
Though the Reds are clearly not the team they once were (many, many years ago now), a victory at Anfield is still naturally somewhat of a coup, for any side.
Considering the manner of the 6-1 Capital One Cup loss earlier this season, Koeman and his men will no doubt be looking for revenge against Jurgen Klopp.
By beating their hosts later this month, Saints could potentially leapfrog them in the table and make up ground on the Europa League race.
Southampton enjoy a dominant record over Newcastle United, particularly on the South Coast, though the fact the travelling Toon Army will presumably be fighting for their lives adds an extra dimension to the tie in early April.
Liverpool and Stoke play each other that weekend, while West Ham host Arsenal earlier in the day. Perhaps this particular weekend could prove pivotal in deciding who finishes in the top six.
On paper, Saints have the easiest game.
Due to the rapid improvement at Southampton Football Club since their arrival back into the Premier League, the manner in which they disposed of Manchester City in February 2013 takes on more poignance.
That was the first win under Mauricio Pochettino and a benchmark for their best performances since, with their distinctive high pressing style in all its glory.
While that result will help little on the pitch, it can serve as inspiration as the final month of the season begins in earnest. Both sides could have plenty to play for when the game rolls around, with City still able to challenge for the title. However unlikely it may be.
The penultimate game of the season sees Southampton travel to White Hart Lane, potentially providing the chance to scupper their former manager’s hopes of winning the league.
Should Saints play to their best ability, it will be very hard for Spurs to keep up with them. Though they have impressed almost universally with their highly energetic style of play, signs of fatigue appeared to be setting in during their loss to West Ham.
Koeman’s side could well be in the running to breach the top six at this point, though this fixture could have much heftier implications. Perhaps the South Coast side will have a major say as to where the Premier League title ends up.