What a season for Southampton. After a mass exodus following a good 2014-15 season, including their key players and manager, many expected Southampton to struggle and even get relegated this time around. The exact opposite occurred and Southampton had yet another remarkable campaign which will see them competing in Europe next season. Replacing the departing Mauricio Pochettino with Ronald Koeman proved to be a master stroke from the Saints board as the Dutchman made some shrewd signings to make Southampton a real force. All seven of Southampton’s summer signings performed well and contributed to their 7th-placed finish. At the back, Fraser Forster got a well overdue return to the Premier League and picked up 11 clean sheets.
Ryan Bertrand made himself a regular at left-back, taking Luke Shaw’s place and performing so well that he’s now a part of the England set-up. The loan of Toby Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid was an inspired signing and, alongside Fonte, formed a strong partnership that has seen the Belgian linked with moves this summer to a number of top clubs across Europe, including Premier League Champions Chelsea. The final defender was Romanian Florian Gardos, who hasn’t been groundbreaking but performed well when called upon and definitely contributed to the small number of goals conceded.
In the attacking midfield area, both Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane provided pace and skill to the side and were two of the better performers, not just at Southampton, but in the league as a whole. This was added to by the January loan signings of Eljero Elia and Filip Djuricic, who contributed quality and depth to make Southampton’s attacking midfield one of the strongest outside the top four teams.
Even Shane Long had an impact behind Graziano Pelle, arguably their best signing, who came in from Koeman’s previous side Feyenoord to score 12 league goals for the Saints, with nine of them coming in his first 11 Premier League games. His form dropped off, as did the whole team, but his performances during the season were enough to earn him a call-up to the Italian National Team. With these investments, in addition to the squad they already had with youngsters like James Ward-Prowse and Nathaniel Clyne, Southampton looked solid at the back while playing some fast, attacking football.
Southampton’s performances dipped a little in the last month or two of the season and saw them fall to seventh, but overall, with all the changes at the club, this was a successful season for the Saints. It’ll now be a test to see if they can keep this group of players and management and how far they can go next season in the Premier League, both domestic cups and the Europa League.
Key Player – Jose Fonte
Jose Fonte, who’s been at St Mary’s since the team dropped down to League One and is Southampton’s most consistent performer, was a rock this season. Similar to John Terry in his strength and in that he’s not blessed with bags of pace, his positional sense and game experience showed once again this season as Southampton had one of the strongest defences yet again.
A relatively changed back five because of the summer exits, Fonte managed to get all members of defence to gel almost immediately, working as one unit at the back. They became the second best defence in the league, conceding just 33 goals, just one more than Chelsea. Fonte was extremely unlucky not to have made the Premier League team of the season. Now at 31 years of age, it remains to be seen whether or not the Portuguese centre-back can continue to perform near the top of the Premier League and in Europe.
Most Improved Player – Sadio Mane
On the radar of a number of Premier League clubs for a few years now, it was Southampton that prized Sadio Mane away from Austria. The Senegalese winger/forward had an excellent first season in the Premier League despite having a difficult start to the campaign, struggling to make an impact in a number of the opening games. This is why I think he is Southampton’s most improved player over the course of the season.
Ryan Bertrand was a close contender, but it was Mane’s form from the Christmas period onwards that prompted me to choose him. Four important goals over the festive period, including against Chelsea and Arsenal, really sparked his outburst on to the Premier League scene. His pace and trickery proved to be difficult to defend against for both of these sides and the rest of the teams in the league. Mane’s first season in England was summed up in the penultimate weekend of the season when he scored the fastest ever Premier League hat-trick against Aston Villa. It took him just two minutes and 56 seconds to complete the hat-trick between the 13th and 16th minutes of the game.
Fans’ View – Ben Hooke (Sports Journalism Student and Writer for The Dell Boys)
Saints were fantastic this season – we got European football for the first time since 1989. Because of the summer we had preceding the start of the campaign, I, and many others, thought that we wouldn’t be able to repeat the feats of the previous season, however we exceeded them.
Ronald Koeman has been outstanding all year; tactically astute as they came and delivered some brilliant results during a cracking season – beating Sunderland 8-0, Villa 6-1, Arsenal 2-0 and winning at Old Trafford for the first time in 27 years, all personal highlights. Highest ever points total, highest ever league position and second best defence in the league – not many Saints fans would have predicted that if you go back to August last year after Lallana, Lambert, Lovren & Co left for bigger and better things.
Their replacements have been, at different points in the campaign, unbelievable – Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic started the season in startling form but Sadio Mane was the star post-Christmas. If it weren’t for some vital goals on his part we probably wouldn’t be in the position we are now.
However, for me, there will always be a miniscule hint of disappointment that we didn’t achieve more I think – getting into the Europa League is a top achievement but we did spend the majority of this season in the top four – it would’ve been nice to finish above Liverpool or Tottenham too.