Despite all the intriguing plots and sub-plots that have gone on this season, the story of the campaign has undoubtedly got to be that of Southampton. Predicted to be set for doom and gloom after a mass summer exodus that saw all of their star players from last season leaving, the Saints have forged an incredible revival under new manager Ronald Koeman. On Saturday, they put an outstanding performance to beat Sunderland by an astonishing scoreline of 8-0.
The tale of Southampton is made even better by the fact that despite all that has gone on in the last one year, they have stuck to their roots and principles, and continue to entertain us with some scintillating displays of attacking football. Under Mauricio Pochettino, they had a season to remember in the 2013/14 campaign and finished 8th. This year, despite losing many of their key players from that side, they are on course to do even better.
They are currently in 3rd place in the Premier League table, and though finishing in the top 4 may be a step too far this season, a top-6 finish is a realistic target.
Stuttering Start By Fellow Contenders
Southampton’s fellow contenders for the European places have all made extremely patchy starts to their Premier League campaigns. In a race that was set to be extremely competitive this season, with the number of teams exceeding the number of places, Southampton have been a surprise entrant.
Only Chelsea and Manchester City have made commanding starts and a top 4 finish for the duo looks a foregone conclusion. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham though, are all outside the Champions League places following very ordinary campaigns so far. Everton, who finished in 5th last year, find themselves languishing in 13th.
Proven and Consistent Individuals
Some of the reinforcements that Koeman brought in in the summer have had an absolutely tremendous impact. The duo of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic, both brought in from the manager’s native Netherlands, have been at the centre of everything good for the Saints this season. Pelle already has 6 goals to his name, while Tadic has stamped his authority on the league with some fantastic attacking displays of his own.
Pelle has a proven goalscoring record in Europe over the last few years. In the past couple of seasons, only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have more goals than the Italian across the whole of Europe.
Along with these two, some of the survivors from last season like Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne have been superb.
Can They Compete Against The Big Sides?
Despite Southampton’s blistering start to the season, one important thing to be noted is that they are yet to really face stiff opposition. The only real teams of the same ilk that they have come up against are Liverpool and Tottenham, who both beat them. In the period between November 30 and December 28, they face all of Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea. This is the time when their quality and credentials will show through. If they can stand toe-to-toe with these sides like they have done with teams from the lower half of the league, the sky is the limit for Southampton.
Finishing in the top 6 and sealing European football for next season will be nothing short of commendable for Koeman’s men. The Dutchman though, will be keeping his feet firmly on the ground, knowing that there is a still a long, long way to go.