Southampton’s fantastic start to the season has taken many in the Premier League by surprise. Despite sitting second with nearly a third of the campaign gone, not too many people are giving them a chance of staying in the top four.
But here are five reasons why the Saints can defy the football betting odds and go marching on to seal an unexpected place in the Champions League come next May.
1. Graziano Pelle’s goals
The summer departure of Rickie Lambert to Liverpool was predicted to hit Southampton hard as they had lost their regular Premier League goalscorer. However, Pelle has been brought in and he has hit the ground running, scoring nine goals in all competitions already. He appears to be revelling as a somewhat unknown quantity and has already displayed the movement, technique, desire and sharpness to succeed in England. Pelle, who has plenty of experience at 29 years old, still has a ruthless edge to him that suggests he can improve further and he clearly works well under Koeman, as he hit 50 league goals in two seasons with him at Feyenoord.
2. Dusan Tadic
Another summer signing who has settled into life over here very quickly, Tadic has been mightily impressive in the Saints midfield so far. The established Serbia international keeps things ticking over nicely while adding a combative edge and even a goalscoring threat. Already a candidate for ‘buy of the summer’ even if some were taken aback by his £10m price-tag.
3. No European football this season to distract them
Even though Southampton are attempting to qualify for Europe this season, the fact they do not have any extra games to distract them from their domestic duties can be a big plus in the second half of the campaign. It was evident last term how much no European football aided Liverpool’s ultimately failed title challenge and Saints may well be able to benefit in a similar way. When the likes of Everton and Tottenham are toiling a few days after a Thursday night trip in the Europa League, Saints should be fresh and concentrating fully on their league ambitions.
4. Ronald Koeman
The former Netherlands international was highly regarded at Feyenoord, after earlier guiding both Ajax and PSV to the Eredivisie title in previous jobs. He also won the Copa del Rey with Valencia in Spain to further enhance his credentials. It came as a surprise to some that it took until 2014 for a Premier League club to take a chance on the former centre-back and there were more raised eyebrows when a respected, but mid-table, Southampton were the team to make the call. The start he has made at St Mary’s has made others sit up and take notice, though, and his managerial stock is rising virtually week by week at the moment.
5. Strength in depth
There were plenty of doom-mongers around in the summer when Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren were all sold to Liverpool and Luke Shaw moved on to Manchester United. Calum Chambers’ subsequent exit to Arsenal only fuelled the ire of some disgruntled fans further. However, the millions generated allowed Koeman to recruit widely and he has been astute in the transfer market.
Tadic and Pelle’s attributes have already been mentioned but other summer arrivals Ryan Bertrand, Shane Long, Toby Alderweireld and Fraser Forster have all also made significant contributions. Saints were also able to keep key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin out of Spurs’ clutches and they now boast a decent squad with plenty of options across the park for Koeman.