Many people have been taken by surprise by Southampton’s blistering start to the season and there have been a number of key questions surrounding their ability to confound the critics early this season,
The key to success and installing a philosophy within a football club is finding a manager with a long-term vision. Mauricio Pochettino took Southampton to the next level once he had taken over from Nigel Adkins with his style of pressing, passing and giving young players a chance to shine..
Last season Southampton aimed to strangle teams and force them into errors, however this season under Ronald Koeman the pressure has been much more measured and the side remains balanced with the back four not pressing such a high line.
Koeman's transition has been seamless
Koeman came in from Dutch football and from there found two players, who seem to have hit the ground running, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle. When this duo came over to the South Coast, the critics would have never given them a chance to do what Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert had done the previous season.
Tadic however has provided a bit more pace than Lallana and an eye for a pass which has rewarded him with six assists already this season.
Pelle needs to keep scoring
Pelle meanwhile is a big, old fashioned number nine who looks to bully centre backs, similar to Lambert. Pelle is also comparable to Lambert in the way that for a big, traditional number nine he can play when the ball is on the floor and is technically very good.
At the back Southampton lost Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers for over £60 million and their replacements have not cost Southampton a penny in transfer fees. Ryan Bertrand has filled in perfectly at left back, by tapping into some of the early promise he showed as a youngster at Chelsea.
Clyne has been star of the show
Nathaniel Clyne has not only made Southampton’s right back position his but has put in a claim to become England’s number two with a series of fine performances. Losing Dejan Lovren could have been a huge blow however, securing Toby Alderweireld on loan from Athletico Madrid for the season has been key for Southampton only conceding eight goals all season.
Southampton also boosted their attack with the signings of Shane Long and Saido Mane, who add that extra unpredictable threat in front of goal. The competition for places in the attack may only grow as Jay Rodriguez gets closer to fitness with each passing day.
Securing Fraser Forster for £10 million from Celtic gives the Saints a stopper who has a point to prove in England for some time and can prove a genuine threat to Joe Hart for England duty.
Academy will stay at the core of plans
As for this season, Southampton should have the belief that they can finish above the likes of Everton and Tottenham but for now the top four just looks a bridge to far.
The Saints have plenty of players who have played in big games with likes of Victor Wanyama, Steven Davis and Forster all competed in Old Firm derbies. Toby Alderweireld and Bertrand have both played in Champions League finals, therefore the foundations for this young team to go on and compete are there.
However if Southampton wish to maintain this success and possibly push on to Europe they must continue to produce youth talents in the way they have previously, with Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The next off of the long production line looks to be youngster James Ward-Prowse, who can be key to keeping the recent success sustainable.
If Southampton can get some form of continuity then they may in a few years’ time be genuine contenders for Champions League places however that would require the core of this side to remain together.