Jose Mourinho has claimed the title of Autumn Champions of the Premier League for his Chelsea team while Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reckons that his London neighbours may be ‘unstoppable’ in the race to clinch the league crown in May. Reigning champions Manchester City are already eight points adrift of the current leaders whereas Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham are well in excess of twelve points further behind. However, a team which was forecast to be labouring among the relegation candidates at the beginning of the season remain just four points behind Chelsea and are their nearest challengers.
When Southampton sold Adam Lallan, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Dejan Lovren during the summer in multi million pound transfer deals, it was adjudged that the heart had been removed from the Saints squad and that it would take years for the team to recover. Much of the core of the first team squad had progressed from a successful academy structure although James Ward-Prowse still remains at the club and several other players recruited into the youth ranks are still valuable members of the Premier League team.
When manager Mauricio Pochettino departed for Tottenham during the summer, Dutchman Ronald Koeman was asked to fill the void and despite vast experience in the Netherlands and Spain as a manager, he had never previously played or coached in the Premier League.
Yet his recent tenure at both AZ Almaar and Feyenoord has proved invaluable in his efforts to recruit replacements for the outgoing players. Striker Graziano Pelle was persuaded to follow Koeman from Feyenoord and midfield creative payer Dusan Tadic was signed from FC Twente. Pelle has since netted nine Premier League goals with Tadic responsible for several assists.
Koeman has also used his knowledge of Dutch football to secure the loan signing of defender Toby Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid who failed to settle into the Spanish team last season but who was regular performer during several seasons for Ajax in the Eredivisie.
With the reliable ex-Celtic ‘keeper Fraser Foster arriving and the surprising acquisition of the speedy Hull forward Shane Long, Koeman has now assembled a balanced and successful squad at St Mary’s Stadium. Southampton have now won five successive home matches in conceding just one goal and both Newcastle and Sunderland have been despatched via 4-0 and 8-0 scorelines respectively.
Ronald Koeman’s team have lost only two league matches all season and they are quarter-finalists in the English Capital One Cup but some real tests do await this promising team. Although they currently occupy second position in the Premier League with no European distractions, they have yet to face Chelsea or Manchester City this season and a visit from Manchester United beckons.
It may still be early days in the 2014-15 Premier League campaign but Southampton are currently providing a breath of fresh air from the usual challengers at the top of the table with an astute manager eager to maintain their present lofty status.