Koeman hails Saints’ quality; Pelle “one of best strikers in Premier League”

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SOUTHAMPTON — Ronald Koeman believes Southampton produced one of the “best 45 minutes” of play since he took over in 2014 as they beat Bournemouth 2-0 at St Mary’s on Sunday.

[ MORE: Saints see off Cherries ]

Saints came flying out of the traps in the first half, scoring twice around the half hour mark via Steven Davis and Graziano Pelle, and despite going down to 10-men in the second half and Bournemouth pressing, they never looked like relinquishing their grip on the game against their South Coast rivals.

[ MORE: Understanding Saints-Cherries rivalry ]

Koeman believes his side put on a stellar display in the first half as they gave Bournemouth countless problems which they couldn’t recover from.

“That was the best 45 minutes, maybe the best in more than one year,” Koeman said. “It was a high tempo. We had good ball possession and if you watch the two goals it is all about high quality of football. I am very pleased about that but we know that we still have to learn from mistake and we know that you get a reaction from the opponent after half time. It is normal. How you deal with that reaction, keep winning battles and that confidence on the ball. Okay, we can do it better than we did in the second half.”

In the second half Saints sat back and after losing Victor Wanyama to two yellow cards and going down to 10-men, Bournemouth threatened.

“We lost battles and lost passes. It was not the same but it also depends on the opponent who put in everything in the second half,” Koeman said. “We have a good example against Leicester [2-0 up but drew 2-2] and we learned from the Leicester game. They didn’t create. Maybe one chance and a good save by Marteen Stekelenburg. Of course we like to continue playing and be dangerous like the first half but to play 95 minutes on that level what we showed in the first half, in my opinion that is impossible.”

The trio of Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mane and Pelle in attack tore Bournemouth apart in the first up, with Pelle nodding home his sixth PL goal of the season and the Italian international reached double figures in all competitions for club and country in 19 outings. Pelle was named man of the match and he, along with his partners in crime, signified Saints’ dominance in the first half.

“He is very important, but for Graziano, also like Dusan and Sadio, the difference between the first and second half was that we lost more balls,” Koeman said. “We had no help for them. Still they can learn from second halves like today but we know with Graziano, he is a very good striker, scoring goals, strong. I said before that in my opinion he is one of the best in the Premier League.”

With Southampton in seventh place after 11 games of the season, they sit just four points off the top four with winnable games against Sunderland and Stoke City coming up.

“We are not so busy with the position on the table,” Koeman said. “We know that we can beat everyone if we showed what we did in the first half. It is all about every day to work hard, try to do it better, play out of our strengths, what we know and fight for every minute. Then the quality makes the difference. We showed that in the first half.”

Asked about the issues reigning PL champs Chelsea are having and if that opens up a top four spot for Saints, Koeman was coy about his side pushing for UEFA Champions League qualification.

“My experience is that maybe they are struggling at the moment but they will not struggle until the end of the season. Normally they will come back because they have a great manager, great players and maybe one day they will be a little bit more lucky than they have been before,” Koeman said. “It is difficult. It is too early to make conclusions like that because we have played 11 games, still 27 to play. It is a long way but we know we can play good football and be competitive to big clubs in the Premier League.”

Speaking of the newfound rivalry between Bournemouth and Saints, Koeman hopes the Cherries stay up so he and his team can enjoy more days like Sunday.

“The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic,” Koeman said. “It is a local derby and I hope that we also get to play next season.”