Ronald Koeman was crowned the Premier League’s Manager of the Month on Friday, and the Southampton boss believes his upstarts are ruffling the feathers of the perennial big boys in England’s top-flight.
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Koeman, 51, is performing miracles down at St Mary’s as Saints have sustained early promise — despite a summer of exodus and upheaval — to sit in fourth place in mid-February and are just one point behind third-placed Manchester United.
Nobody expected this from Southampton this season, and many don’t expect them to continue their top four charge and qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
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In an interview with BBC Radio Solent, Koeman believes the big boys are wary of the threat his team possesses between now and the end of May.
“Maybe they thought it would be very difficult for Southampton to keep that spirit, but we are fourth in February,” Koeman said. “They now take us seriously. They are a little bit afraid now, I think.”
He then touched on the difficult period Saints had in November and December when they lost five-straight games, coupled with plenty of injuries, and is proud of how his team has bounced back.
“The most important thing at that time was the spirit that the players showed, even with a lot of injuries and some key players not involved in the team,” said Koeman. “That gave opportunities to young players, and they showed their qualities. I think English football likes the Southampton team and how they’ve played.”
If you ask most Premier League fans, they want to see Southampton qualify for the Champions League. If they did, it would be one heck of a surprise, especially after their most talented players and manager Mauricio Pochettino left in the summer and a whole host of new faces arrived.
To see a small team being able to beat Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham to a spot in the top four would be refreshing and give hope to other PL clubs of a similar size that it can be done. Koeman is a likeable media personality and his team play attacking, attractive soccer which has been key to their growing number of admirers.
Southampton’s next PL game at home against Liverpool is huge as they currently have a four-point lead over the Reds in the top four race. They play another top four contender, Tottenham, at home in April and they have to travel to Chelsea and Manchester City between now and the end of the season. Despite that, Saints have the most favorable schedule out of the top seven teams in the table. If star players Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld can return from injury soon and other key players stay fit, Saints have a real chance of not only scaring the big boys.
They can finish above them.