After five games of the Premier League season, Southampton are in second place in the standings.
Saints fans aren’t getting too carried away, yet, but everyone else seems to be.
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Following an incredible summer exodus which saw Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Calum Chambers all leave St Mary’s, many pundits were tipping Saints for relegation. However, with three wins from five and some exhilarating performances under new manager Ronald Koeman, spirits are high on the South Coast of England. It was revealed that the entire first team squad opted to not have a day off this week and instead spend time at the training ground. Talk about commitment.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger recently said the following, as the mystique around Saints’ success remains.
“They are miracle workers at Southampton,” Wenger said. “I think if you look at the talents they have sold over the years, they could have been contenders to win the Premier League because they lost Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Bale. They have done a fantastic job at Southampton, they deserve a lot of credit. Everybody expected them to collapse [this season]. They lost the spine of their team, they lost their manager and they bounced back in such a way.”
Here’s a look at four factors why the Saints are surprising everyone so far this season. The big question is, can they keep it going and better their eighth place finish from last season?
Top quality coaches arrive
When Mauricio Pochettino walked out on Southampton to join Tottenham in the summer, you feared the worst for Saints. The Argentine boss had come in and revolutionized the side with a high-pressing style admired across the league. His departure sparked Lallana, Shaw, Lambert and others to leave but Southampton steadied the ship by bringing in Dutch national team legend Koeman as their new boss. The 51-year-old former Ajax and Barcelona star has instantly brought his prestige to Southampton and seems a big upgrade on Pochettino already. He has kept Saints’ hard-working core at the center of the club but has encouraged his players to get on the ball, be creative and push forward whenever possible.
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That creative approach was sometimes missing under Pochettino. Koeman has his brother, Erwin, as his assistant, plus Liverpool legend Sammy Lee and England goalkeeping coach Dave Watson have come on board. After coaching Feyenoord, Ajax and Benfica, many may have thought Koeman was taking a step down by joining Saints. If things carry on like this, it could be his biggest success in coaching thus far.
Along with Koeman’s wonderful work on the training ground to turn things around, his big-name status across Europe has encouraged plenty of top players to join Saints. They lost five key players but replaced them with eight new men, all of whom are national team players. Saints brought in goalkeeper Fraser Forster from Celtic for $16 million, Shane Long from Hull City for $20 million, Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord for $14 million, Dusan Tadic from FC Twente for $18 million, Florin Gardos from Steaua Bucharest for $10 million and Sadio Mane from Red Bull Salzburg for $19 million. Plus the loan signings of Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand have been key. Simply put, they’ve made a $60 million net profit in the transfer market and their squad is a lot stronger now than it was this time last year. Keeping French international Morgan Schneiderlin was key and huge credit must be given to Chairman Ralph Krueger and his staff for performing one of the largest, and so far most successful, overhauls in Premier League history. The scouting department at Saints does a tremendous job.
Youth element remains
With all these new players coming in, surely that means the end for Saints’ bright young academy talents? Not at all. James Ward-Prowse has been key in the early success and 19-year-old left back Matt Targett is pushing Bertrand all the way for a starting spot. Sam Gallagher, Sam McQueen and Harrison Reed all continue to be in and around the first team and although they may not quite have the talent of Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers or Adam Lallana, yet, the current crop of youngsters aren’t far off. Saints’ conveyor belt of talent continues to roll off the line of their Staplewood training ground.
All of the positives we’ve just mentioned are big parts of Saints’ early-season success, but they have been handed a fairly easy schedule. Liverpool away on the opening day was tough and they should have got at least a point from that. However, they are unbeaten after a draw with West Brom and then three-straight wins vs. West Ham, Newcastle and Swansea. Saints also beat a slightly under-strength Arsenal 2-1 away from home in the League Cup but their biggest test will arrive in December and January when they face Arsenal and Manchester United home and away, plus games against Chelsea and Everton. Only after those matches will we truly know if Saints are the real deal and can challenge for a top six spot. For now, Ronald Koeman’s side are enjoying being the surprise package after a turbulent summer.