How Far Can Southampton Go?

Following the weekend's matches, Southampton sit 5th on the table. Currently at odds of 6.00 for a top 6 finish, how far can the Saints go? Today Tim Poole discusses.

Southampton

Three years ago, Southampton were plying their trade in League One alongside Bristol Rovers, Carlisle United and Rochdale. Now, the Saints sit fifth in the Premier League table, four points behind league leaders Arsenal and just one off 4th placed Tottenham.

It has been a remarkable transition. Yet a more pertinent question is not how they got there – but where they will go next?

Manager Mauricio Pochettino and goalkeeper Artur Boruc have already alluded to lofty Champions League ambitions this season – and there are several reasons why Southampton could keep surprising their rivals in the coming months.

 

Southampton Odds - Odds as at 28th October 2013.

 Opening OddsSkybetLadbrokesBwinBetVictor
Win Premier League  2001.00 251.00 501.00 301.00 401.00
Top 4 Finish  151.00 21.00 26.00 21.00 26.00
Top 6 Finish  17.00 6.00 7.50 7.50 6.00
Top 10 Finish  2.50 1.22 1.30 1.30 1.25

 

#1 - Defensive Record

The Saints’ defensive record so far this campaign speaks for itself. Having conceded just three times (less than Chelsea, Tottenham and Barcelona) in their eight Premier League games so far, Southampton possess the most effective back four in the division. Pochettino’s side have amassed five clean sheets – the joint-best record in the division – and lost just once in their last 12 games in all competitions.

A look at why reveals that Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte have been key to their success, forming a formidable partnership at centre-back. The duo have averaged four key tackles and interceptions – and an impressive 15 clearances – per game between them. And, on the flanks, they are shielded by two of the most promising full-backs in the league in Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw.

But two key facets in their defensive success do not form part of Southampton’s back four, however. Indeed, Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have had as much to do with their success from midfield as anyone in behind them. The former, primarily, has developed into one of the Premier League’s most underrated players, with an average of 4.1 tackles per game and 1.9 interceptions from the middle of the park. Wanyama’s arrival at St Mary’s this summer, moreover, has further strengthened that department, with the Kenyan’s physicality key to helping Frenchman Schneiderlin break down opposition moves.

#2 - Brilliant Boruc

As many Fantasy Football players will know, one man who cannot be forgone in an analysis of Southampton’s current defensive prowess is goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Controversy-laden at Celtic and criticised for his fitness at Fiorentina, it appears the Polish stopper has finally found his rightful home with the Saints.

With Boruc behind them, Southampton’s back line have been able to play with confidence in the knowledge that a solid no.1 stands in between the sticks. His sharp reflexes and authoritative persona in the box have proved fundamental to his side’s success, while three points at the very least can be directly attributed to the 33-year-old after a man of the match display in the 2-0 triumph against Swansea City.

If he continues to thrive, so too will the Saints’ flourishing back line, spelling trouble for opposition forwards.

#3 - Rising Stars

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Southampton’s rise to prominence is the youth on the side of several of their key players. Left-back Shaw (18), right-back Clyne (22), Schneiderlin (23, Wanyama (22) and midfielder James Ward-Prowse (18) all appear to have exhilarating futures ahead of them, providing the Saints with a unique energy and exuberance.

Although the potential of these key men will attract a barrage of wealthy suitors ready to lure them away from St Mary’s, Pochettino can at least live safely in the here and now. While the Spaniard can call on the experience of Boruc, Fonte, Steven Davis, Dani Osvaldo and Rickie Lambert, he will cherish the ability to utilise the raw talent of the younger members of his squad.

Shaw and Clyne, for instance, bring with them a combination of speed, attacking instinct and technical astuteness, while Schneiderlin and Wanyama provide the Saints with the engine to persevere through thick and thin. Ward-Prowse, meanwhile, already has an assist to his name, with there almost certainly being more to come - from all of Southampton’s youngsters.

#4 - A Balanced Attack

Upon viewing the Premier League table, an initial worry for the Saints appears to be their comparative lack of goals. Every member of the current top four has scored at least 13 times, while Southampton have notched only eight. But another side to the same coin is that Pochettino’s side have had nine different goalscorers in all competitions – and six in the league.

Indeed, although no player has scored more than twice this season, Southampton possess a healthy balance to their attack. While there are the obvious threats of Osvaldo, Jay Rodriguez and Lambert up front, goals can also be relied upon from midfield with Davis and skipper Adam Lallana. Even Lovren and Fonte have scored.

A particular speciality appears to be set-pieces, especially with Lambert’s threat from free kicks and Southampton’s organisational clarity from corners. The Saints have already netted from corner-kicks at Anfield and Old Trafford so far this season, where next?

Fans will also be buoyed by the fact that big-money striker Osvaldo is yet to truly find his rhythm. When he does, individual brilliance up front may become more prevalent.

#5 - Performance Against Top Sides

A real measure of a team’s credentials at the top of the table is how they perform against those near them. And judging by Southampton’s record so far, their capabilities are not to be sniffed at.

A 1-0 win against a previously unbeaten Liverpool side made onlookers take note, as a resilient, disciplined counterattacking performance gave the Saints an impressive three points. Then, Pochettino’s side travelled to Manchester, where they withstood an attacking bombardment and hit back with a late equaliser.

On that evidence, Southampton need not fear anyone, especially when welcoming them to St Mary’s. That type of clash, of course, will be the true making of the Saints’ Premier League campaign. But, while a top-four finish still remains the hugest of tests, there is nothing to suggest they cannot challenge the top clubs. Southampton were 151.00 to finish in the top four before the season began. Just look at the odds now. A top-six finish, at the very least, is well within their reach.

 

 

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Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimothyPoole

And read more of his work at Think Football and Goal.com.