Scotland V England Saturday 24th February. 4:45PM. BBC One Scotland v England renew their rivalry…
With a quarter of the season played, high-flying Southampton are enjoying a near faultless start to life under new boss Ronald Koeman.
Only Chelsea boast more points than the Saints at this stage of the season, which has led to Koeman challenging his players to secure a top four finish in 2014/15. Can Champions League qualification really be a realistic target for the St Mary’s club?
Worthy Replacements Firing Saints To Success
Following a mass exodus of players during the close season, finding the right replacements was always going to be crucial for the Saints in 2014/15.
Perhaps the most important appointment was replacing the departed Mauricio Pochettino with a manager capable of producing the goods. Thus far, nobody can argue with Koeman’s results. The Saints were superb under their former boss, but the Dutchman has certainly brought a new found sense of confidence to St Mary’s, thanks partly to the success of his summer signings.
Whilst all the headlines are being made by Graziano Pelle, who followed Koeman from Feyenoord to replace Rickie Lambert to make a phenomenal impact early on, there are plenty more players that have started their Southampton careers on fire.
Pelle has hit six league goals already since making the switch from Feyenoord; just seven less than Lambert managed in the entire 2013/14 season, but his success is largely thanks to another summer capture from the Eredivisie.
Dusan Tadic cost just a third of the price that Southampton sold Adam Lallana to Liverpool and was a little bit of an unknown entity to many fans. However, Koeman was confident that the acquisition from FC Twente would deliver and the Serbian has already began to repay the faith shown in him.
Only Cesc Fabregas can boast more assists than Tadic this season and the 25-year-old also chipped in with a goal during the 8-0 thumping of Sunderland.
For all of that attacking quality, though, it would be wrong to overlook the importance of other transfers. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster has settled in well since making the switch from Celtic, whilst on-loan Ryan Bertrand has proven to be a shrewd piece of business following the £27million sale of Luke Shaw to Manchester United.
Brilliant business has certainly played a major factor for the Saints so far, but it isn’t the only plus point.
Saints Midfield Three Thrive Under New Roles
At a glance, the change from 4-5-1 to 4-3-3 might seem minimal. However, it has certainly allowed the central midfielders to shine at St Mary’s this season.
Playing Victor Wanyama as the anchor sitting in front of the backline has been a stroke of genius and we are beginning to see why the former Celtic boss was so highly rated prior to a tumultuous first season in English football. Perhaps more crucially, though, it has allowed Morgan Schneiderlin to get further forward and that has shown by the Frenchman’s return of three goals.
Alongside Steven Davis, who has been moved into the centre with similar success to West Ham’s Stewart Downing, Wanyama and Schneiderlin are controlling the midfield with far more authority and this has been supplemented superbly by the tireless effort of attacking player Shane Long, who has also enjoyed a fine start to his Saints career.
Southampton’s central midfielders are retaining possession particularly well this term, which is also allowing them to create plenty of chances in the final third. That has to be a formula for success.
Nobody can deny that Southampton have enjoyed a brilliant start to the campaign but it is perhaps a little premature to talk about Champions League qualification.
It should be noted that Southampton enjoyed a similar start to 2013/14 before falling away. Their fixtures have also been quite kind up to this point and we can probably get a better perspective in the New Year.
However, with the likes of Everton and Liverpool struggling, there is no reason that the Saints shouldn’t ascertain thoughts of Europa League qualification; if they win Wednesday’s Capital One Cup clash against Stoke, they may even achieve that by picking up silverware.