Ronald Koeman’s Southampton are proving to be this season’s surprise package in the Premier League. Nobody, not even the Dutch boss himself, could have envisaged just how successful his new side would have been in the first half of the campaign – with the Saints sitting in fourth place in the league table going into the New Year.
Southampton certainly deserve to be in their lofty position, after a remarkable first 19 games of the season. When Koeman took over at St Mary’s in June, the Saints looked like a broken team. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino jumped ship to Tottenham Hotspur, and many of their successful team of last season followed suit. Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert joined skipper Adam Lallana at Liverpool, whilst Calum Chambers headed for the Emirates, and Luke Shaw secured a £30m move to Manchester United.
Pochettino was lauded for the Saints excellent eighth place finish last season. But if he was commended for getting Southampton’s talented squad to a very impressive top half finish, then surely Koeman deserves a knighthood? What the ex-Feyenoord boss has done at St Mary’s has been nothing short of extraordinary. Many of the experts predicted a relegation battle for the Saints this season, and you couldn’t really have argued with them. But Koeman had other ideas – starting with being extremely shrewd in the transfer market.
The Saints brought in the likes of the talented Serb Dusan Tadic, strikers Shane Long and Graziano Pelle – Senegalese midfielder Sadio Mane from Red Bull Salzburg, and Toby Alderweireld on loan from Atletico Madrid. To say all these signings have been a success would be an understatement – all of them have adapted to life in the Premier League very quickly, and have hit the ground running. But maybe Koeman’s best bit of business was keeping hold of midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin – the French international quickly put aside rumours of him joining Pochettino at Spurs, and has been phenomenal for the Saints this term.
Despite losing five games on the bounce recently – including being knocked out of the Capital One Cup by League One side Sheffield United, the Saints have got their season back on track. League wins over Everton and Crystal Palace was followed up with the hard fought 1-1 draw with Chelsea at St Mary’s on Sunday. Jose Mourinho’s side put Southampton on the back foot for most of the game, but Koeman’s men held on for a very respectable draw, and in the process proved that they can still mix it with the big boys. And not forgetting the impressive victory over Arsenal yesterday.
It’s incredibly hard to criticise Southampton this season, but if you had to criticise them for anything, it would have to be the fact they have struggled against the league’s better teams this term. The Saints have lost against Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, although the draw against Chelsea somewhat stopped the rot. But those disappointing results must not take any gloss off of Southampton’s season so far.
Koeman has already surpassed expectations at St Mary’s this season and he’s only been there for six months. The Saints have been a revelation and a credit to the Premier League so far, and everyone involved with Southampton should be extremely proud of their success.