Can Southampton Shock The World And Finish Above Arsenal, Manchester United And Liverpool?

The return of the Premier League after the international break saw one of the most surprising results of the season so far. Southampton’s 8-0 demolition of Sunderland at St. Marys’ was something that nobody saw coming. While the Black Cats’ record against teams from the South coast is certainly good, the simple fact is that not many expected the Saints to be doing so well particularly after the mass exodus in the summer.

Pelle leading from front - Southampton
Pelle leading from front – Southampton

Saturday’s victory was their biggest win in almost a century and ensured that they stayed in third place, just a point behind Manchester City. This is a side who had lost three of their back four from last season, along with their main creator and striker. And cap it all off, they lost the man responsible for their lofty finish last season, their manager as well and had replaced him with a manager who was successful in the Netherlands, but not anywhere else.

The loss of Adam Lallana and co. prompted many to consider the Saints favourites for relegation. But here they are almost a quarter of a season gone, with five wins in their last six games and currently sitting pretty in third place, a position that not many predicted they would occupy, even this early in the season. So what has Ronald Koeman done to ensure that the Saints didn’t fade into obscurity once they lost all their key players.

The first thing he did right was recruiting in areas that needed attention. With Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren gone, it was pretty clear that they needed a first-choice centre back and left back right away. The loan signings of Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand addressed exactly that, even if it is only a temporary fix.

While defensive solidity was certainly a concern, the more pressing issue was up front. The loss of Lallana and Lambert, couple with a long-term injury to Jay Rodriguez meant that the Saints didn’t only have a proven goal scorer in their ranks, but also no supply line for the goals to emanate from. If there is one thing that you need to survive in the Premier League, it is goals and plenty of it.

To ensure that the Saints don’t go through a goal scoring drought, Koeman brought along with him Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord, a player who had had scored more than 50 goals in his last seasons in the Eredivise. As they say, the goal scorer is only as good as the chances that he gets, so in order to provide him with proper service, the Dutchman drafted in Dusan Tadic from FC Twente who was the League’s leading creator last season.

The duo have flourished so far and have made the south coast club, one of the most entertaining teams this season. Only Chelsea have scored more goals than the Saints and much of it has been provided by Italian striker Graziano Pelle, who has six already this season. And in Dusan Tadic, they have the league’s leading assist provider with seven assists in eight league games.

While all of his signings have bedded in nicely, Koeman’s most important transfer was the one that didn’t go through. Morgan Schneiderlein has been the bed rock on which this enterprising side have been built and the Dutchman did well to ensure that he didn’t leave St. Marys’ over the summer. Although there were plenty of offers for the Frenchman over the summer, the Saints manager stamped his authority and ensured that he remained at the club. While his three goals have certainly been a bonus, the 24-year-old’s ability to just sit in front of the back four, pick up the pieces and start the attack has been crucial to Southampton’s success so far this season.

So can they shock the world and finish in top 4?

Although they are in the Champions League places right now, Koeman will know that it will difficult to maintain their current form and stay there. Even if Southampton don’t finish in the top four, they are now almost guaranteed a European spot if they can keep it together for the rest of the season. And that is certainly a big achievement for a side that was talked about as a possible candidate for relegation.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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