Joyous Southampton’s Premier League credentials to be tested

After a turbulent summer Southampton have begun the season in an almighty fashion, but now the real test comes for Saints, writes Oli Coates…

The loss of manager Mauricio Pochettino and several key first team players ought to have plummeted Southampton towards the wrong end of the Premier League table, yet the reality has been the exact opposite. Ronald Koeman has regrouped the club and led them to second in the table, and it is with huge anticipation that Saints head into a tough run of fixtures.

Since losing at Anfield in their opening fixture, Southampton have only lost once more, with that defeat notably coming at Tottenham. This was one of the few highlights of Pochettino’s season to date, as his Spurs team have struggled and lie in twelfth position.

Quite to the contrary, Koeman has excelled in the Argentine’s vacated dugout, winning September’s manager of the month award. Similarly to their departed manager, the brigade of departures are yet to be vindicated in their decisions, particularly considering the league positions the might of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool find themselves in.

Despite a torrid time against Swansea at the weekend, Calum Chambers has begun his Arsenal career with promise, yet the Gunners are well off the pace. Luke Shaw appears to be settling in at Manchester United after a somewhat distressing induction, but the fallen giants have stuttered even more than Arsene Wenger’s team.

None from the Liverpool trio of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren could consider themselves to have lit up Anfield to date, with Lovren looking invariably shaky while Lallana and Lambert, both stars of last season and members of England’s World Cup squad, have sat on the bench for long periods.

Graziano Pelle

Conversely at Southampton, the new signings have been a success, particularly Italian forward Graziano Pelle, who was named player of the month for September and has nine goals in his first 14 appearances for the club. Fellow impressive new boy Fraser Forster highlighted the spirit at St Mary’s, stating “there is a togetherness here I’ve never experienced before”. This solidarity has enabled the summer arrivals to bed in quickly and adapt to life at the club, with the results plain to see out on the pitch.

Almost a third of the way through the season Saints are just four points behind what is widely acknowledged as an irrepressible Chelsea side, while they lead the champions Manchester City by the same margin. Gunning for Champions League qualification must be in Koeman’s thoughts, and major rivals for this Arsenal and Manchester United are eight and nine points adrift respectively.

They possess the best defensive record in all four of England’s top divisions, conceding just five goals in eleven games, with Forster keeping seven clean sheets. Attacking intent has not been sacrificed as a result, with an average of just over two goals per game contributing to Saints boasting the league’s best goal difference.

This is all after the first 11 games of the season, it is the next set of 11 that will reveal a lot more about Saints’ credentials. Home games against City, Chelsea and Everton, with return fixtures against United and Arsenal plus a trip to St James’ and a resurgent Newcastle is daunting to say the least.

Should Southampton emerge from this intimidating run of games still in the hunt for the Champions League places, Koeman and his men will have to be taken very seriously for the remainder of the campaign.

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