The 2015/16 campaign has not been smooth sailing for Southampton. Although their first spell under Ronald Koeman wasn’t flawless, there were weeks on end that victories and great runs of form were commonplace for the south coast club. This season, the fixtures have been less secure; the tallies of wins have been very up and down, and that has been largely to do with the initial absence of Fraser Forster.
The wondrous goalkeeper kept Saints massively afloat during their 2014/15 bid, but was ruled out of action for the majority of the current season due to injury. The news dealt a severe blow to the shape of Southampton, but they did pen a loan transfer with Fulham’s Maarten Stekelenburg.
Although the Dutchman, Stekelenburg, has had some real moments of clarity and strength for Koeman’s team, he has also worn gloves of butter on occasions, letting silly goals hit the back of the net, causing his new side to concede.
Given that the end of the season is upon us, and faithful fans are bandying about ideas of possible Europa League qualification again, it’s an appropriate time to consider just how Forster’s benching impacted negatively. It might seem somewhat unattainable for Saints to make Europa this time around, and it might just be slightly unreachable due to the errors of newbie Stekelenburg as of last August.
Has Maarten Stekelenburg hindered Southampton’s chances of soaring further up the Premier League, and, thus, earning a spot in the Europa League?
The mildly haphazard nature of Stekelenburg’s first cluster of matches meant that the team had an unsettled start to the season, with less wowing performances than the previous year. In the 17 Premier League games that the Dutch ‘keeper lurched in goal for Saints, some fixtures resulted in frittered points. Instead of retaining a clean sheet, the odd draw was awarded, which obviously will have had an increasing negative effect on their table standing. Forster was last campaign’s hero between goalposts, and was sorely missed through a degree of these 17.
However, there has been a distinct lack of finishing ability with both Sadio Mané and Graziano Pellè throughout the run of 2015/16 games. Therefore, some losses have been due to a lack of cohesion among the forwards, more so than the failure to clench shots on target down at the home end.
A prime example of not only how both Stekelenburg and Saints’ attacking force could have been much tighter, but how the team often yo-yo from decent and poor results, is their opening game of the season. This match resulted in a 2-2 stalemate draw with Newcastle United, a game in which both teams, in my view, should have scored on several more occasions. Southampton should have triumphed though. However, in the second meeting between teams, just a week ago, Saints beat Newcastle 3-1. It was a bit of a smattering, but mostly because The Magpies have become weaker throughout the tournament.
However, this is also a great instance of Fraser Forster’s innate capability in goal. This alert behaviour is exactly what Southampton thrive upon, and it just wasn’t entirely present when Maarten Stekelenburg was heading up the saves.
So, is the alteration in ‘keepers a contributing factor to Southampton’s current table position? Yes.
Could they have achieved more if Forster hadn’t been out with injury? Quite possibly indeed.