Southampton’s pre-season will be infamously remembered. Their first team squad was ravaged through the losses of prize assets. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino had jumped ship to Spurs. Worst of all, most bookmakers and fans alike had the Saints tipped for relegation.
Who would have predicted that an 8-0 demolition of Sunderland in mid October would see a new look Saints team under Ronald Koeman sitting third in the table behind only Chelsea and Manchester City. Such a remarkable upswing led many to ponder where it would end. Three straight defeats against the ‘Big Guns’ may well be an indication.
Koeman’s men tackled the reigning champions City in the first of three demanding fixtures and simply fluffed their lines. An injury to star man Morgan Schneiderlin allowed the visitors a 3-0 victory. It got no easier as a trip to the Emirates was up next.
The beginning of the end
Rather than attack cavalier style, Koeman seemed content to sit back against the Gunners. Registering only one shot on target. The heroics of Fraser Foster in between the sticks kept the scores level for 87 minutes as the Saints hoped for a point. It was left to Alexis Sanchez’s late winner to give Arsenal the points.
Seeing that defensive play failed, Southampton next took on Manchester United with attacking intentions. They dominated possession and attempts on goal yet United claimed victory. Southampton had lost their third successive game and their top four credentials are now severely dented.
It is said the hallmark of a top team is the ability to play badly and still get a result. How is this done? Ask Louis van Gaal and his Manchester United side on at least two occasion this season.
The Saints must learn how to grind out results from mediocre performances. Registering 15 shots on target against United is all well and good, but these stats alone don’t propel any team up the League.
Lack of Depth
Koeman has himself stated that his side’s ambitions must be tempered by a lack of depth and resources that his top four rivals possess. Will this undermine their chances? Undoubtedly. Having the ability to produce fresh legs at key times of the season is vital.
Numerous unused members of Manchester City’s well equipped squad emerged at the conclusion of last season and ended up Champions. As reported in the Mail, Koeman will take such advice into the January transfer window.
Following their pre-season player exodus, Saints fans must be wary of lightning striking twice. Schneiderlin and Foster are only two starlets becoming hotly in demand. The former has long had his suitors from the upper echelons of the Premier League and the latter is rapidly proving himself a formidable shot stopper. The Saints simply cannot allow any other key departures if they are to stay competitive.
After years of stability Southampton enjoyed their brief rise, yet maintaining this for an entire season may still be out of their reach.