By Alex McMahon
After the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Ricky Lambert left Southampton in the summer transfer window, many predicted that the Saints would be in for a tough campaign this year. However, that has not been the case as they have soared up the table under new manager Ronald Koeman and currently sit fifth in the Premier League, just two points behind Arsenal in third place. Despite their excellent start and the best defensive record in the division, it is expected that Southampton may tail off in the closing stages of the campaign. We take a look at six reasons why the Saints won’t finish in the top four this season under Koeman.
6. The goals have started to dry up
With just one goal in their last five matches, Southampton have been struggling to find the net in recent times. Graziano Pellé, who started the season in such fine form, hasn’t scored a league goal since the 2-0 win over Everton on the 20th December. Meanwhile, Shane Long has not had a consistent run in the side due to injury while Sadio Mané has missed the majority of 2015 due to the Africa Cup of Nations and a niggling calf problem. They have failed to score in their last three home matches – which is a worrying sign for a Saints side that were formidable at St. Mary’s earlier in the campaign.
5. Defeats have started to creep in
If you can’t score goals, you don’t win football matches – it’s as simple as that. And while Southampton have kept two clean sheets in their last five matches, they have also lost the other three games – including two at home. They failed to find the breakthrough against West Ham, despite the Hammers playing the majority of the second half with 10 men, and also lost to Swansea City and Liverpool in recent home matches. In their most recent clash, they were beaten 1-0 by West Bromwich Albion – although the Baggies are a much improved side under Tony Pulis. These are the matches that Ronald Koeman’s outfit cannot afford to lose as they bid to finish in the Champions League places.
4. They need to negotiate some difficult away matches
Although the Saints are currently faltering at home, it may be their away form in the remaining 11 matches that ultimately costs them at the end of the season. Koeman’s side travel to Chelsea, Everton, Stoke, Sunderland, Leicester and Manchester City in their final six away games – with each opponent set to provide a stern test. Chelsea are unbeaten at home in the Premier League this season, while Sunderland and Leicester may be fighting for their top flight survival and could be tricky opponents to face at the business end of the year. Goodison Park and the Britannia Stadium are always difficult places to go and, if the European battle hasn’t been settled by the last day, they will face a Manchester City outfit that may fighting for the Premier League title.
3. They don’t have the necessary strength in depth
Southampton have a paper-thin squad and one injury could be catastrophic for their European hopes. They have been lucky for the majority of the campaign but injuries have started to catch up with them after using the same players for most of the season. They could be in trouble if they lose any of their defenders for a prolonged period, while an injury to their midfield maestro Morgan Schneiderlin would also be detrimental to Koeman’s side. They are a tad light up front at the moment but the expected return of Jay Rodriguez this month will be music to the ears of Saints supporters.
2. Their rivals no longer have European distractions
Liverpool and Tottenham no longer have Europa League commitments which means that they can now focus solely on the Premier League and winning their remaining matches. With one less distraction, both sides should benefit and feel slightly fresher towards the end of the year. Arsenal are all but knocked out of the Champions League too, while Manchester United have not competed in either European competition this season. Southampton will need to start winning matches quickly if they are to keep pace in the hunt for the top four as the other sides continue to win while the Saints drop points.
1. Lack of experience at the business end of the season
Southampton have never been in this position in the past, and therefore they may crumble under pressure. The other teams, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in particular, have all finished in the Champions League spots during the Premier League era and they are used to doing so on a regular basis. Despite their excellent start to the season, the Saints have already shown a lack of composure in recent weeks and their poor run of form may be a sign that they have started to crack. Furthermore, Koeman has never managed in the English top flight before and at times, he has set up his team naively – with last weekend’s defeat to West Brom a prime example of this. No matter where the Saints finish, this season has certainly been a successful campaign and they have an excellent platform to build on as they prepare for next season.
Do you think Southampton can finish in the top four this campaign or, like us, do you agree that is a step too far? Let us know in the comments box below!