Southampton Top Ten Spot Inevitable

You’ve read the title, you can gather what’s about to be discussed, but you might disagree; the club might not have started with quite as much dazzling trickery as last season, but a Southampton top ten finish is inevitable.

For a number of weeks, I have tutted, sighed and rolled my eyes in frustration at Southampton’s lack of finishing accuracy and possession, but there have been several occasions that I have been filled with glee. For the past two bouts of Premier League action, it has become increasingly promising for Saints, to the point of leaving no margin for doubt that they can enjoy a place in the top ten once more.


Southampton Will Achieve a Top Ten Spot


Evidence: Grit against Liverpool

It was always going to be hazardous going toe-to-toe with a team newly managed by German wonder-boss, Jürgen Klopp, but Saints’ game against Liverpool was quite pleasing. One of the club’s more recent signings, Cédric, was stronger than usual, suggesting that he’s truly finding place within the squad. This was fabulous to witness; Saints have needed to regroup so often, simply because they have not instantly meshed quite as well as they did last term. Virgil van Dijk is another coming into his own, cultivating a rather threatening visage.

A very mighty presence in the form of Sadio Mané, Southampton’s Senegalese trump card, is always a solid power on the field. He hasn’t become a player overshadowed by fresher feet, but his finishing technique is often a bit shaky; this is perhaps one of Saints’ weaker aspects during this season, which could have cost them a few snap goals.

Against Liverpool, it was Mané who snatched the equaliser, bringing Klopp’s enthused gentlemen down a peg. However, Mané also earned himself a red card, after a second yellow from another aggressive challenge. This is not a good situation for Southampton; when grappling with an indecisive score-line, they really can’t afford to have players swanning off the field on an unfavourable booking.

So, despite Mané’s productivity and brashness, Saints encountered some undisputed grave misfortune at Liverpool; this indicates that it wasn’t a lack of focus and determination, but simply one of those games. Southampton have remained dogged despite goals conceded in Premier League fixtures, which is a real credit to both players and Ronald Koeman, emphasising that they really do possess tough morale to bust. They have great aerial ability and clearing options, too, but can often just be well-matched by their opposition, which was clear against Liverpool.

Could Saints appear weaker at times due to the style of play other teams possess? Quite possibly. Therefore, could it be that other teams have strengthened in order to give Saints the credit they deserve, and really try to challenge them? They did finish seventh last campaign, after all.


Evidence: Victory in South Coast Derby

Hailed by FourFourTwo and other such publications as ‘El Clasicoast’, a very remarkable history-maker, the derby day between Southampton and Bournemouth was a scintillating game indeed. For someone originating from that neck of the woods, it was a slight conflict of interest, but my faith was obviously with my native side, Southampton. Thankfully, they were victorious over Bournemouth, bagging two goals to the Cherries’ nil.

It wasn’t a case of Saints putting in a much harder shift against local rivals, to seal a win and some tasty bragging rights, they were technically better. This first south coast Premier League derby was a pretty well-rounded game, with Bournemouth really picking up the pace in the second half, but Saints were the more clinical team.

Despite only drawing with Liverpool, Koeman played the same starting eleven, suggesting that he has much confidence in the ability of that bunch, and will only shake things up if a major loss or blunder occurs. Sensible.

Again, true to their usual form, the players that really shone against the Reds were omnipresent against Bournemouth. Virgil van Dijk was extremely decisive, mopping up every ounce of danger, whilst Sadio Mané was relentlessly drilling balls into Bournemouth’s goal mouth. Unfortunately, this was to no avail, once again suggesting that Mané needs some assistance with his finishing; confidently, I posit that his ability will likely be the difference between a mere top ten finish, or a plot in the top five. If he could net every ball he drills forward, Ronald Koeman would be a man ever grinning.

What also came across during the match is how facilitative and concerned about how his team play that Koeman is. Instead of being all about showing off as a manager, he is instead more concerned with eking out the best from his team. This strategy and human element clearly seems to be such a strong point for Saints; as aforementioned, their morale and team solidarity is generally impenetrable.

The goals derived from Steven Davis and Graziano Pellè. It was a “well-worked team goal” (via Match of the Day 2, BBC 2), Davis confessed in his post-match interview, which shows stellar camaraderie between the players at Saints. They aren’t pushing for individual glory; they are all in it together. I think it’s this kind of gelling ability that gets them that hurdle further each game, and could well be, along with some technical polishing, the difference between a decent result and a ground-breaking achievement.

The second goal came from an expertly delivered ball from Dušan Tadić, which was whipped in to generate a fantastic header from Pellè. The teamwork between this duo was top notch, and was what them so many goals last season. Interestingly, courtesy of Match of the Day 2, 15 of Pellè’s 18 goals in the Premier League have been at St. Mary’s, indicating that some major playmaking takes place on home soil. In order for Saints to truly progress and climb the table weekly, they need to channel this more regularly during away fixtures.


How Can Southampton Advance?

From Southampton’s Liverpool draw and Sunday’s derby win, it is clear that they have the talent to deliver at least a top ten finish when the season draws in. Koeman expressed his content in the post-match interview, stating that his team scored some “great goals” (via Match of the Day 2, BBC 2), but it was obvious to anyone watching that the goals themselves weren’t the main focal points. Maarten Stekelenburg was rigid and determined, whilst Virgil van Dijk has bedded in well enough to assert himself deftly. Tadić and Pellè are always alert, whilst Mané’s unquestionable determination must be kneaded into a more accurate finishing skill. Plus, those yellow cards that evolve into reds must be stopped; Mané’s trouble against Liverpool was mirrored by Victor Wanyama’s impacting tackles against Bournemouth. These ten-man consequential blows could cost them, and Saints need to stick to their path.

In sum, a pinch of extra care wouldn’t hurt Southampton if they truly want to better their seventh placed finish of last season, let alone stay within the comfort of the top ten. They are currently seventh again, so they need to retain focus and be meticulous if they want to better themselves – morale upkeep and improved skill will be the trick. But, I reckon they can definitely keep top ten.

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