Southampton can get even better under Ronald Koeman

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Back in July, Ronald Koeman’s innocent tweet ‘Ready for #training!’ was greeted by uproar from quite rightly disgruntled Southampton fans.

Having seen their side finish in a best-ever eighth place, a mass exodus left the Saints as early relegation candidates and their manager had just tweeted an empty training pitch. Misinterpreted or not, it wasn’t an encouraging beginning to pre-season for the South Coast club.

After building a very good side, manager Mauricio Pochettino had been poached by Tottenham and the Saints looked in genuine danger of losing their status as a top-flight side.

Jumping ship

Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert had all jumped ship to Liverpool, with Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers also moving for huge sums of money to Manchester United and Arsenal.

If that wasn’t enough, midfield general Morgan Schneiderlin wanted out, rumoured to be a Tottenham target. With Jay Rodriguez a long-term injury absentee, it looked as if a relegation battle was a genuine fear amongst supporters.

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Who then, would have thought that after eleven games, Southampton would sit second in the table with a massive 25 points? The Saints are not only four points clear of Manchester City but seven points ahead of Swansea in fifth, quickly becoming genuine top four candidates.

Cup run

Let’s also not forget that a Capital One Cup quarter final against Sheffield United is also on the horizon and having beaten Arsenal already in the competition, there is no reason Southampton can’t go all the way.

A daunting run of fixtures awaits Ronald Koeman’s side, Manchester City, Manchester United twice, Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea all await within their next ten Premier League games. Come away from that with a decent number of points and anything is possible for this young, vibrant side.

Ronald Koeman deserves credit for the incredible early-season form Southampton have shown and the Dutchman’s signings have been shrewd acquisitions.

New signings

Graziano Pelle has been a revelation, carrying his goalscoring exploits from the Eredivise into the Premier League. He is more than just there to score goals though, his link-up play has been superb, forming a great relationship with fellow new man Dusan Tadic who also came from Holland.

Goals have certainly not been hard to come by, eight in one game against Sunderland came playing a side who, apart from that game, have only conceded eleven this season.

Fellow new boys Saido Mane and Shane Long have found it a little harder to get into their stride but appear to be edging towards the levels we expect to see of them, Long’s double against Leicester was very encouraging.

The most impressive feature of Southampton this season however has been their defence, conceding just five goals this season, six less than next best Chelsea. This is in stark contrast to Liverpool who snatched Dejan Lovren, the Reds have let in ten more goals than the Saints.

Solid defence

The back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte and new boys Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand has been formidable and it is great to see home-grown talent amongst the success, with Fraser Forster in goal making three of the back five English.

Forster has kept seven clean sheets this season following his move from Celtic, a remarkable record. It is safe to say Southampton have spent their money wisely and looking back, a combined total of over £90million received for transfers is a crazy amount of money. With Koeman not spending all of this, the Saints have made a very healthy profit of nearly £35 million.

Although Ronald Koeman’s acquisitions have been excellent, there have been star performers from those already at the club when the former Feyenoord manager arrived.

Kicking on

Morgan Schneiderlin has been once again superb, knuckling down after trying to force a move; it is worth noting that this was the only potential transfer where Koeman stood in the player’s way, recognising his importance to the team.

Victor Wanyama is now beginning to show why Mauricio Pochettinho paid out £12 million for his services, his stunning winner against Hull epitomising his excellent form so far this season. Jack Cork also provides healthy competition for places in what is a squad rich in team spirit and depth.

With Jay Rodriguez to come back from long term injury, exciting times are still on the horizon for a club who were in League One and in administration just four years ago.

The next ten Premier League games Southampton face are pivotal this season. Come out of them with a healthy number of points and there is even the genuine possibility of a title challenge.

Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, their beginning to the campaign has captured the imagination. If their defence remains as water-tight as ever, anything is possible for the Saints.

Fraser Forster
Premier League

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