After their sensational finish to the 2013/14 season, Southampton was one of the few overachieving clubs. Tottenham wasted no time in persuading their manager Mauricio Pochettino who agreed to join the White Hart Lane outfit. Similarly, several key first team players departed for bigger teams. Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert went to Liverpool, Calum Chambers was sold to Arsenal as well and Luke Shaw to Manchester United.
Seeing their coach and players being snapped up by bigger clubs was a reminder of Southampton’s rightful place in the food chain of the game. They are and have been a feeder club for the big teams.
Koeman the rebuilder
New head coach Ronald Koeman claimed they were not a selling club during his introduction at the club, but was helpless during the transfer window during the departure of star players. However, the Dutch tactician cleverly brought in players like Fraser Forster, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, Florin Gardos, Ryan Bertrand and others to fill the void created and ease tension amongst supporters.
At the start of the season, expectation of smashing the glass ceiling like the previous year had flown out of the window and whispers of a long season with a possibility of relegation were heard around Saint Mary’s.
Koeman had taken a job which required rebuilding. With the positive mindset of a strong academy and plenty of money in the bank from players’ sale, he needed to implement his ideas real quick.
The Saints opened their campaign away to previous season’s runners-up Liverpool, losing 2-1; this was followed by scoreless draw against West Brom at home. With one point out of a possible six, Portsmouth would have begrudged their supporters thinking that they were heading into an unknown territory against a capable manager.
Even as a multiple title winner with PSV and Ajax, Copa del Rey winner with Valencia, Koeman had almost got Los Ches relegated. He also had a rough spell with AZ Alkmaar and his time at Benfica was not very successful either.
The indomitable spirit at St. Mary’s
Their visit to Boleyn Ground late August was the start of their rise; they defeated West Ham 3-1 and followed it with a convincing home win against Newcastle. The Saints enjoyed a good run from September till late November where they lost once to their former manager’s new team Tottenham. Koeman’s side was truly punching above their weight as they sat comfortably in second place till the visit of Manchester City.
The champions brought the south coast club back to earth with a crushing 3-0 defeat at home. Southampton lost their next three league fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester United and Burnley but like the phoenix which they have proven to be this season, they returned to winning ways in December against Everton and have not looked back since. Since the turn of the year, they have beaten Arsenal at home and inflicted home defeats on Manchester United and Newcastle United.
Their league cup run was ended by Sheffield United during their poor run of form early December while they have progressed into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Can they march on into next year’s UCL? The Saints sit pretty comfortable in third position after 22 league games. European places do not look beyond their reach at this pace but for a catastrophic decline.
If last season’s success instigated the decision of bigger clubs to dismantle them before metamorphosing into a genuine force, their determination has inspired them to march on.