Championship: 2nd (Promoted)
FA Cup: Fourth round
League Cup: Fourth round
Norwich City and Southampton have made a mockery of the notoriously difficult Championship in the last couple of years. Both have reached the Premier League after back-to-back promotions, escaping the second tier in much the same way that they navigated the third. Entrusting largely the same group of players, they have utilised a positive ethos and benefitted from inspiring young managers to achieve their goal of securing top flight status. Southampton will hope that the similarities do not end there, as they aim to emulate Norwich’s very respectable 12th placed finish from last season.
Nigel Adkins has been a revelation since taking over from Alan Pardew in August 2010. Having achieved promotion in four of his last six seasons, with the Saints and Scunthorpe, Adkins is a keen advocate of positive thinking and the results speak for themselves. “You can’t underestimate team spirit” is one of his many mantras that appear to have struck a chord with his talented young charges. With Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal amongst their first four fixtures, Adkins will hope that their enthusiasm is not immediately extinguished.
If Southampton are to hold their own, their home form will be vital, having won 16 of their 23 games at St Mary’s last year. Their ability to sustain a lead was also significant, winning all 21 of the matches in which they held a half-time lead. The form and fitness of talisman and reigning Championship Player of the Year, Rickie Lambert, may make or break their campaign, having netted on 27 occasions last term, including four hat-tricks. The goalscoring burden will be shared with Jay Rodriguez, a £6m summer signing from Burnley, who bagged 21 goals in the Championship last year. The pair would appear to complement each other stylistically and have the makings of a formidable partnership, with able support from Billy Sharp.
Having lost young stars Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in recent years, Southampton have at least managed to hold on to Adam Lallana, who is the driving force in their midfield. With 13 goals and 11 assists last season, Adkins will be hoping he can replicate and improve upon the form which has resulted in him being named in back-to-back divisional teams of the season. Steven Davis, a star turn in the SPL in recent years, has been acquired from Rangers for a bargain fee of around £800,000, and he will add steel and experience to a fledgling midfield.
For a team that build from the back and look to utilise width, signing Nathaniel Clyne from Crystal Palace was a real coup. The talented full-back was expected to secure a move to a side within the Premier League elite, but their loss will certainly prove to be Southampton’s gain. Should their fate be decided within the final few weeks of the season, Southampton have a pretty gentle run of games in April and May, but like Norwich before them, they will hope to be safe by then.
Manager – Nigel Adkins: The former physio may look more like a supermarket manager than a football manager, but Adkins is sure to charm the masses with his positivity, honesty and integrity. Cherished by Southampton fans, he can do no wrong in their eyes and will be able to pit his wits against the Premier League’s finest with the benefit of job security.
Key signing – Nathaniel Clyne: One of the Brightest prospects in British football, Clyne has consistently impressed at Championship level. With so many big sides in the market for a right-back, it was a real surprise to see him end up at Southampton, but regular first-team football will certainly aid his progress.
Key sale: Southampton have managed to keep their squad intact and will keep faith in the players that have delivered Premier League football. Jay Rodriguez, Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis and Gillingham’s Paulo Gazzaniga have been added for a combined sum in the region of around £10m, but no-one of any real note has exited St Mary’s.
Keep an eye out for… Luke Shaw: The latest lauded graduate of the Southampton academy. The 17-year-old left-back has been with the club for almost a decade and made his senior debut against Millwall in the FA Cup last season. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have already expressed an interest.