There has been a lot of media hype over this Southampton side, and rightly so based on their current position. Widely tipped for a relegation battle, Ronald Koeman’s team have surpassed all expectations so far by sitting in second, just six points below leaders Chelsea. But do they have the ability, temperament and squad depth to maintain this run and break in to the top four.
The Saints have looked on fire this year, taking 8 wins from their opening 12 games. They’ve scored the joint-second highest amount of goals whilst conceding the least, 5 less than their nearest challenger. The additions of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic are seen as the key reason for the boost in attack, boasting 7 goals and 11 assists between them. At the back, Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne have been outstanding, both offensively and defensively, whilst Toby Alderweireld and Jose Fonte have built a solid central partnership.
But do they have the depth to maintain this position. Last year, Pochettino led Southampton to a similar position at this stage, until a defeat at Arsenal led to a dismal run of one win in nine. The inability to cover the injured Victor Wanyama and Artur Boruc can be viewed as the reason Saints dropped to finish in 8th. This year though, the team seems to have greater depth. Centre back has always been a problem area, but this season Koeman has four internationals to pick from. Central midfield is very strong, with Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama, Jack Cork, James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed all battling it out for a first team spot. Concerns have been voiced about if Bertrand or Clyne gets injured, but Matt Targett has played well in his League Cup appearances, and either Alderweireld or Cork can prove adequate cover for Clyne. Realistically, Saints only really lack depth in goal, with Artur Boruc out on loan, and up front, as their appears to be only Shane Long as a proven replacement for Pelle.
With United, Arsenal and Liverpool floundering this year, a Champions League place looks to be up for grabs. Saints face Manchester City at home, a trip to Arsenal and Manchester United at home in the next week, in a real test of their credentials. But could Southampton be classed as bottlers this season? They have lost the two games against teams that finished above them last season, carrying on from last season’s poor two wins from 14 against the seven sides that finished above them. To reach European football next season, Saints will have to pick up some points from this coming week, especially in their two home games. All three opponents have struggled defensively, so Saints should aim to get at them rather than being star-struck and standing off them.