Three years ago, Southampton were lying in League One, vying to regain promotion to England’s upper tiers. Now in 2013, the Saints are stable in the Premier League, playing good football, and with good quality players such as Gaston Ramirez in their ranks, it’s not hard to see why. Traditionally one of the better sides in English football, the club have suffered ups and downs over the last few years, but now feel they are finally back comfortably at the top table of England’s football structure.
Even in mid-2012, when the Saints gained a second successive promotion, this time back to the Barclays Premier League with a final day thrashing of relegated Coventry City, it would have been hard to imagine that they would cope so well on their return to the top flight. Many of the players contained in that side are still with the club in the current squad, including now-England international Rickie Lambert. This shows that the team was perhaps just missing a couple of cogs from their full potential.
Even in their first competitive game back in this league, against Manchester City at the Etihad, there were many signs of things to come for the side. They went behind in the first half, before a shock turnaround saw them 2-1 ahead, before goals from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri gave the Citizens the three points. Despite the loss, there were a lot of positives to take from the defeat, and they built from there.
They ended up finishing in 14th place in the 2012-13 season, sacking manager Nigel Adkins halfway through the season and replacing him with the Argentinian Mauricio Pochetino in February. Pochetino guided his new team to victories against sides like Liverpool and Manchester City (in matches at St. Mary’s). However, whilst they may not have lived up to their early billing, there was clearly more to come from the south coast side.
During the summer, Saints chairman Nicola Cortese sanctioned what fans felt to be some very shrewd purchases. Croatian international Dejan Lovren was the first to join, from Olympique Lyon. The 24 year-old is a highly underrated defender, partly because he had only been playing in France’s Ligue 1, generally considered a poorer league, and whether he is or not remains to be seen.
Victor Wanyama, a Kenyan who attracted attention from the likes of Liverpool during his time with Celtic was another player to join the club over the summer for a fee of £12 million. Again, this is a top-quality purchase, considering the midfielder’s accomplishments during his time with the Bhoys, on both the domestic and continental stage. He has been a Kenyan international since the age of 16 whilst he was still playing youth football with Helsingborg of Sweden, and has amassed almost 30 caps in the six years since then.
The Saints’ third and final purchase of the summer was their very own Johnny Depp impersonator, Dani Osvaldo, from Italian side Roma for a club-record fee of £15 million. The Italian international was also reportedly targeted by Manchester City and Tottenham during the summer but joined the Saints with a couple of weeks left in the window, and has had a positive effect on their results so far. He may have only scored once in his first seven games for the club, but there is a belief in the Southampton cap that he will come good sooner rather than later.
In Southampton’s opening games in this year’s Premier League, they’ve started extremely well, sitting in fifth after eight games above sides like Manchester United. The Saints have also suffered defeat in just one of their games at the hands of Norwich City, and drawn three of their remaining seven matches. However, wins have included a tough victory at Anfield against Liverpool, and also against sides such as West Brom and Swansea.
One notable worry is that Southampton - despite having a strong defense that has conceded just three goals in the entirety of this season - can’t seem to score a huge amount of goals, which comes back to bite them in later months. Indeed, they have failed to score more than two goals in any of their league matches this season, meaning their victories and draws have been down to the defensive side of their game.
Whilst it’s still early on in the new season, the signs are all there that Southampton could be set for a good year in prospect. If the defense continues to perform at the current levels and the attacking side of the game improves, then the Saints could be a very tough nut to crack for the bigger sides this season, much as they were at times last year. With Pochetino at the helm and players like Gaston Ramirez and Victor Wanyama in the side, there aren’t too many weak links in the line-up, which can only be good for the team, and the Premier League.
Written by Ben Warner