Southampton’s summer was one of major upheaval. So much so that fans and pundits alike decided to write off Southampton. Their early season form has been a revelation as Ronald Koeman has gone about building a formidable team. John Howell takes a look at this fantastic start.
This past summer, a host of key players including Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers left in big money deals for sides offering Champions League football. Boss Mauricio Pochettino left for supposed greener pastures at Spurs due to a ‘lack of ambition’ shown at St. Marys. Worst of all, Executive Chairman Nicola Cortese – the man truly responsible but not always recognised for Southampton’s continued rise – exited in January of this year.
In walks Ronald Koeman – the 51-year-old Dutchman who came to The Saints with little fanfare – signing a three-year deal and watched the squad he inherited fall apart before his very eyes, before quickly rebuilding. Koeman went about his job in the summer transfer window with quiet confidence, making low-key European signings whilst plucking established, under-rated domestic players such as Shane Long and Fraser Forster from Hull and Celtic, respectively.
Not much was known about striker Graziano Pellè when he arrived from Feyenoord, but his former boss Koeman knew what he was capable of – snapping the Italian up for eight million pounds. Six league goals in 10 games has seen Pellè become a revelation for Southampton and for Italy along with another signing from the Dutch Eredivisie, attacking midfielder Dušan Tadić. Koeman’s inside knowledge of Holland has seen him spend relatively little money for a big return. The huge fees gained in selling their stars means that Southampton’s bank balance is also sitting pretty.
Loan signings Ryan Bertrand from Chelsea, and Toby Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid have both impressed in defence along with the established Nathaniel Clyne and José Fonte – making Southampton’s defence the best in England. Forster in goal has shown steady hands to bring confidence back between St. Mary’s sticks, following some questionable goalkeeping from fellow Celtic alumni Artur Boruc last year.
Koeman has managed to get the best out of his new recruits with ease and along with the likes of sturdy midfield enforcers Steven Davis and Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton have a formidable team in place. The Dutchman’s philosophy has quickly been adopted by his squad – their control and organisation of the game has shown how cohesive team play can trump individual brilliance.
Yes it is early days, but for all the pomp that preceded the arrival of fellow countryman Louis Van Gaal to Manchester United, Koeman has spent far less and achieved much more in both men’s brief foray into English football.
Following a 1-0 away win over Hull on Saturday – their 10th win in 11 games – Southampton sit in second place chasing Jose Mourinho’s formidable Chelsea team for top spot. Whether they can keep this challenge going is a question yet to be answered. But should former Barcelona defender Koeman be able to keep his squad fit and fresh, there is no doubt Southampton have the tools to challenge for a top six spot this season at the very least.
With a safe pair of hands, a settled and consistent defence, a creative and secure midfield, strikers who can score, and a manager with subtle confidence, the sky is the limit for the side that no-one saw coming – least of all Southampton fans themselves.
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