Southampton triumphed over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday (0-1), claiming their third straight victory in the English Premier League.
Can the club maintain a high-standard performance in the second half of the season? Yiannis Bouranis explains.
Southampton have been rather inconsistent this season, with many ups and downs taking place since last summer. After being eliminated from group stage of the Europa League by Midtjylland in August, the team entirely focused its attention on the championship, however things didn’t go well for Ronald Koeman’s squad.
More specifically, Southampton couldn’t perform to the same high standards for a long period of time and, consequently, the side couldn’t retain its place within the top seven.
From mid-November to the first days of January, the Saints won only once (against Arsenal at St Mary’s Stadium) in the 10 games they played in all competitions, being 12th on the table and unable to maintain a decent performance, along with a home exit to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.
However, in the past couple of weeks, the situation seems to have changed. The side has claimed impressive victories against West Bromwich and Norwich, respectively, while the win against the Red Devils saw the team climb to eighth place on the table.
Consequently, they are four points behind Manchester United and nine behind Tottenham (42 to 33), with the Spurs currently being fourth in the standings, so a late push for a Europa League spot can be considered achievable.
With that being said, what are the key factors that have led to the squad’s transformation? First of all, Fraser Forster’s return to action has helped the side keep consecutive clean sheets, while the entire defensive line has enhanced its overall performance.
More specifically, Jose Fonte, Virgil Van Dijk, Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand have been solid and effective, especially against Manchester United, as Southampton’s defensive stability seems to have been restored.
In addition, the Saints have been in great shape offensively as well. Despite Graziano Pelle’s absence, due to injury, Shane Long and Sadio Mane managed to offer decent solutions, while the acquisition of Charlie Austin has already proved extremely useful.
The latter scored the winning goal against Louis Van Gaal’s team, with a powerful header, looking ready to become a valuable weapon in Southampton’s effort to make a big come-back. After the game at Old Trafford, Koeman was very happy not only with Austin’s debut, but also the Saints overall performance.
“He has big numbers in scoring goals and he showed that. It gives competition to everybody and it’s a great signing. It’s great to work with those kind of players.
It was a great debut for him on a personal aspect, but the whole team – how we work together and the organisation – is a big compliment to everybody,” said the Dutch coach.
Last but not least, the midfield line has also played at high standards lately, giving the Saints stability and balance in transition. Matt Targett and Jordie Clasie have been quietly effective, with Victor Wanyama being tremendous in the last two games, since his sending off against Norwich.
All three of them, along with the presence of Dusan Tadic, who plays better when used as an impact substitute, have been key players in Koeman’s playing style and their decent performances are vital for the squad.
At the end, though, what really matters now is for the club to build a winning streak, which will help the team make a big come-back, as the Saints have played mediocre throughout the entire season, despite the quality of their roster.
Because, as we said before, if Southampton continues to be victorious in the following games (starting from their match against Arsenal at The Emirates on February 2nd), a late push for a Europa League spot can be considered achievable. Otherwise, the club will, probably, finish in the second half of the table.