Despite being tipped for relegation at the start of the season, Southampton have emerged as shock top four contenders in the Premier League this year – in fact, they’re currently third in the table, two points ahead of Manchester United and six above Arsenal, who visit Manchester City tomorrow.
That position was preserved with an impressively professional 2-1 win over Newcastle this evening, and the Premier League affair also suggested signs of the Saints being a long-term threat to the English top flight’s powerhouses – not simply a flash in the pan. And just to prove it, here’s three such signs, as evident throughout the 90 minutes at St. James’s Park.
Of course, whether Southampton will be able to keep hold of their overachieving stars during the current and the next transfer window remains to be seen; I’m sure we all remember their incredible exodus of first team personnel, not to mention manager Mauricio Pochettino, during the summer.
But assuming they can, the Saints will be privy to a strong cohort of key players at optimum age with plenty of years ahead of them at their footballing peaks. Take Nathaniel Clyne for example, who is currently top of the division’s tackle charts:
He put in a sensational performance again against the Magpies, recording another four successful challenges, and at just 23 could be a defensive bedrock for Southampton for another decade.
The same can be said of 26 year-old summer signing Dusan Tadic, Southampton’s leading creator with seven assists this term, reliably consistent loan star Ryan Bertrand, 25, industrious midfielder Jack Cork, 25, striker Shane Long, 27, and centre-back Florin Gardos, 26, who put in a particularly impressive performance this afternoon – but more on that in a second.
A major factor in Southampton’s rise this term has been the effectiveness in which they spent in the summer, improving their squad whilst raking in £35million’s worth of profit from the sales of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw to name a few.
That was evident once again against Newcastle this afternoon. The aforementioned Florin Gardos, signed for just £6million during the summer, was the best defender on the pitch by quite some distance, barring his role in the Magpies’ freak equaliser, as shown in the statistics below:
His performance was bettered by a more recent signing however- January loan acquisition Eljero Elia, who got his Southampton career off to a flier with a stunning brace, viewable below:
Impressively, the Werder Bremen loanee also made four tackles.
If Southampton keep on recruiting with such incredible efficiency, even another exodus in the summer might not be able to prevent them marching towards the Premier League’s summit.
Generating incredible prospects from their youth system has got the Saints to where they are today. In addition to the likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, who were so vital to Southampton’s cause last season, the South Coast outfit can also claim responsibility for the careers of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale to name a few.
Well, against Newcastle, there were a number of impressive academy products on display once again for the Saints. We’ve already seen Matt Targett and James Ward-Prowse, who grabbed an assist at St. James’s, play well this term, but the real star of the show was 19 year-old Harrison Reed.
Just take a quick look at his stats from this evening – fourth best for the Saints in both defensive and possession-retaining terms:
If Southampton continue to churn out supremely talented youngsters at the rate they are now, there will be no stopping them in a few years’ time.