Before the start of the season, things weren’t looking great for the Saints, with many tipping the side to struggle to maintain a spot in the Premier League.
Several key, long serving players were part of a summer exodus from the club, including manager Mauricio Pochettino, the mastermind who had guided the club to an exceptional 8th place finish last season, just short of delivering European football.
Some of the club’s talented young players, such as Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers, were whisked away by top clubs Manchester and Arsenal, for £30 and £16 million respectively. Also amongst those to leave were the club captain, top striker and defensive rock; Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, who all joined Brendan Roger’s Liverpool side, where the £50 million trio have collectively flopped. A long term injury to top scorer Jay Rodriguez, who could have been in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad, also meant that he would be unable to play for nearly a year.
With so much of the first team departing, there were serious questions asked of the Southampton owners and whether the team would be able to cling onto Premier League status.
But in reality, Southampton haven’t looked back, going from strength to strength this season.
After an impressive start, including an 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland, Southampton showed no signs of being a club in crisis. 12 games into the season, they sat 2nd in the table behind leaders Chelsea, with many believing that the Saints were capable of going the distance and securing Champions League football for the first time in the clubs history.
Whilst that may not be the case now, Southampton currently sit in 6th place, which would mean that they can expect to be playing in the Europa League next season, although a Harry Kane inspired Spurs, led by former Saints manager Pochettino, are close behind them.
Much of the credit for Southampton’s continued presence at the top end of the table must go to new manager Ronald Koeman, who arrived shortly after Pochettino’s departure in the summer.
The Dutch legend has brought several top quality imports with him from his native league, more than replacing those who moved on, such as playmaker Dušan Tadić, electric winger Sadio Mane and striker Graziano Pelle. Whilst the latter has recently endured a lengthy goal drought, he has still been impressive, especially the part he played on the Saints early season form. Tadić has racked up 7 assists so far, along with 4 goals, with Mane contributing another 8. James Ward-Prowse, yet another Southampton academy graduate has also continued his impressive rise, demonstrating his exceptional dead ball capabilities many times this season
Crucially though, Southampton have been very tight at the back this season. In this department, it is not about who Koeman has sold, but rather who he has kept, though it is likely that his own defensive qualities have rubbed off on his players. Defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin has stayed put, despite interest from Arsenal, amongst others. Nathaniel Clyne, again from Southampton’s youth system, has filled the void left by the departure of Luke Shaw, along with on loan Chelsea player Ryan Bertrand. Fraser Forster has been solid between the sticks after arriving from Celtic, although the quality of Fonte and Yoshida as a centre back pairing has meant he has been rarely called upon. Southampton also managed to avoid selling off any key players in the January transfer window.
Looking forward toward the end of this season, Southampton certainly look placed to better their achievements from last season and have a realistic chance of competing in Europe next season.
However, European competition can exact a heavy toll on a team, as Roberto Martinez’s Everton have found this season, meaning it may be a blessing in disguise if Spurs do manage to reach the Europa League instead of the Saints.
Also in the back of the mind of every fan must be the exodus of last season; it happened before, why couldn't it happen again this year? This will be a major concern come the summer and you can expect to see the rumour mill churn out story after story linking players with moves away from St. Marys.
There will always be one bright spark for the club though: the youth academy. Having produced the likes of Theo Walcott, Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and of course Gareth Bale, to name just a few that have moved on, it seems as if the Saints will always have a ready pool of young talent to dip into, if the first team is sold off again.