I am sure that I was not alone in thinking that Southampton were going to be in for a tough time this season. They had effectively had the heart ripped out of their team over the summer with a number of departures. First out of the door was head coach Mauricio Pochettino, who left to take the managers post at Tottenham Hotspur vacated by caretaker Tim Sherwood. Pochettino was followed out the St Mary’s exit door by Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren; all of whom joined Liverpool, Luke Shaw; who joined Louis van Gaal’s revolution at Manchester United, and Calum Chambers who moved to Arsenal.
If all of that turmoil wasn’t enough, Morgan Schneiderlin had handed in a transfer request, and both he and striker Jay Rodriguez were constantly being linked with moves to White Hart Lane. All of this painted a very bleak picture for Southampton, but judging by their start to this season, the reality is a lot brighter.
It all started with the appointment of former Dutch International Ronald Koeman as Pochettino’s successor. Koeman had been appointed following a very successful spell as head coach of Feyenoord Rotterdam in his native Netherlands, leading the Dutch giants to a second place finish in the Eredivisie the previous season. Southampton’s new manager set to work straight away finding replacements for last season’s stars.
It was to no real surprise that Koeman looked to his old club Feyenoord Rotterdam for at least one player, re-uniting himself with Italian striker Graziano Pellé, who joined the club for £9 million. A lot was written about whether Pellé would adapt to the English Premier League, having arrived at Southampton following a very productive goal scoring season in the Eredivise. However, Pellé’s last season in the Dutch top flight aside, the Italian’s goal scoring record was far from prolific. Pellé has however hit the ground running at Southampton, scoring four goals in his first six games.
Along with finding a new striker, Ronald Koeman knew that it was equally as important to find a creative midfield player to fill the void left by Adam Lallana’s departure. Once again Koeman looked to the Eredivise to find him; Serbian international Dušan Tadić, who cost £11 million from FC Twente. Tadić has looked good value for money so far, impressing on his league début against Liverpool, where he assisted Southampton’s goal, scored by Nathaniel Clyne, and has looked very comfortable during his early games for the club. Tadić recently scored his first goal for the club, converting a penalty in the 2-1 victory at Arsenal in the Capital One cup.
Towards the end of the transfer window Southampton signed two defenders, Romanian international Florin Gardoş, who joined from Steaua Bucureşti, and Toby Alderweireld, who signed on loan from Athlético Madrid. With both players arriving at the club during the latter stages of the summer transfer window, neither have been able to secure a regular starting place in the side, but with both players having made impressive débuts, there is genuine competition for Southampton’s other centre backs, Japanese international Maya Yoshida and team captain José Fonte.
Southampton signed Ryan Bertrand on a season long loan from Chelsea, with the option to make the move a permanent one at the end of the season. Although Bertrand is likely to be the clubs first choice left back this season, he will have competition from Matt Targett, who is another product of Southampton’s youth academy. Targett made his first team debut this season, playing the full ninety minutes of the Capital One cup second round tie at Millwall. Targett made his second appearance for Southampton in the third round of the same competition, and has since made his league début, coming on as a late substitute in the win against Queens Park Rangers, the game in which Ryan Bertrand scored his first goal for the club.
In addition to replacing the key players Southampton lost over the summer, Ronald Koeman has also added depth to his squad, bringing in goalkeeper Fraser Forster from Celtic, Sadio Mane from Red Bull Salzburg and Shane Long from Premier League rivals Hull City. The club have also managed to keep hold of key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, whose early season from has been impressive despite the speculation surrounding his future.
Despite a large turnover of playing staff and a change of manager, Southampton have started the season in blistering form. After the opening six rounds of matches they sit second in the league table behind Chelsea, and, at the time of writing, boast the league’s best defensive record. Admittedly, it is still very early in the season, and an opening day visit to Anfield aside – which Southampton were unfortunate to lose 2-1, they are yet to come up against any of the leagues big sides. I know they recently defeated Arsenal in the League Cup, but it was not a full strength Gunners side they faced. Take nothing away from Southampton though, after all, you can only beat whoever is put in front of you.
So how far can Southampton go this season? I have been very impressed with what I have seen of them thus far. Their new signings appear to be gelling very well with their new team mates, and the squad as a whole seem to have bought in to Ronald Koeman’s philosophy. From what I have seen Southampton play with a high tempo and energy, with an attacking flair which is very pleasing on the eye. I am not sure if they will be able to sustain this level of performance throughout the season, particularly when injuries and suspensions start kicking in. We are also yet to see Southampton hit a difficult patch of form, so it will be interesting to see how Koeman, the players, and the supporters react when this does happen.
I do not think Southampton can finish high enough in the league to qualify for Europe, their best chance of European football next season, and a trophy, lie with the League Cup. However, I do expect Southampton to achieve a top ten finish, and matching last seasons eighth place finish is certainly not out of the question. There is one thing I am sure of however; Southampton Football Club will not be relegated!