5 Signs That Southampton Are on the Right Track to Safety
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Southampton were completely outplayed in Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Liverpool, and the result put them back in the relegation zone, one point from the safety of 17th place.
But the Saints have reason for optimism as the new year approaches.
Southampton took eight points out of a possible 15 in November and have four very winnable games left in December: They will host Reading and Sunderland and travel to Fulham and Stoke City.
Gaining eight points from those four matches would put Southampton at 20 points after 19 games, halfway to the magic safety number of 40 points.
Looking ahead, here are five reasons why fans should keep the faith that Southampton will remain in the Premier League for 2013-14.
The Defense Is Getting Better
With Maya Yoshida (left) adapting to the Premier League, the Saints defense has been much better in past games.
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If you look at the table, you would see Southampton have conceded 32 goals so far, the worst in the Premier League.
But look inside the numbers a little bit.
Southampton conceded 24 goals in their first eight games, including six to Arsenal and four to West Ham United. In the past seven games, the Saints have tightened the ship considerably, allowing only eight goals and keeping one clean sheet (against Newcastle United).
Continuity has certainly helped the cause.
Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida have played in each of those seven games. The only changes were at left-back, where promising youngster Luke Shaw has played the last five games—in the place of Danny Fox—and in goal, where Paulo Gazzaniga has wrestled the starting position away from Artur Boruc, playing in each of the last six games.
Nathaniel Clyne has been a tackling machine while hardly committing a foul.
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Some may see this as a sign of being soft, but Southampton have one of the best disciplinary records in the Premier League.
The Saints have been issued only 15 yellow cards in 15 games, tied for fourth best in the Premier League. They have not had one player sent off.
Only six Premier League teams can boast this accomplishment this late in the season. And only two players—Morgan Schneiderlin and Jos Hooiveld—account for almost half of Southampton's cautions with four and three cards, respectively.
Southampton are highly skilled at tackling the ball without committing fouls. They lead the Premier League in tackles, averaging 23.8 per game according to WhoScored.com. With that record and their ability to cut out passes (they rank third in interceptions, with 17.4 a match), the Saints commit the fourth fewest fouls per match, at just over 10.
Only three Southampton regulars—Schneiderlin, Gaston Ramirez and Jason Puncheon—average more than one foul per match.
The prime example of Southampton's tackling skill is Nathaniel Clyne, who has made 45 tackles and only committed seven fouls in his 14 matches since being acquired from Crystal Palace over the summer. That rate of success for an outside-back who is often facing wingers at full pace seems inconceivable.
Passing with a Purpose
Gaston Ramirez is quite adept at finding Southampton attackers cutting through opposing defenses.
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Many are apt to praise Southampton for their flowing style and attacking flair, and the stats back that up.
Southampton are tied with Arsenal in being the most successful through balls per match with six, according to WhoScored.com. Not surprisingly, the Saints also rank next to last, just behind Arsenal, in long balls per game, with just 54.
Manager Nigel Adkins has definitely encouraged his side to play positively, even if some caution might be warranted at times—Paulo Gazzaniga's poor pass to Nathaniel Clyne against Swansea instead of a safe long ball probably cost the Saints two points.
Southampton's pass completion rate is only 79.4 percent. Not a terrible figure, but raising that percentage a couple of points to place in the top half of the Premier League would make the attack even more effective.
A Doomed-from-the-Start FA Cup Run
Southampton's FA Cup run will likely be short after drawing Chelsea in their first match.
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Most people tend to agree that extra matches in competitions—like the FA Cup—can be an unneeded distraction for teams fighting relegation. For Southampton fans, their FA Cup draw probably couldn't be set up better, as the Saints will host Chelsea.
After their Champions League exit, Chelsea will likely take the FA Cup seriously and try to defend their cup to capture some silverware and make their season seem a bit brighter.
Meanwhile, Southampton will be quite happy to get a full house at St. Mary's for a match against one of the Premier League's elite and gracefully bow out of the competition.
To make it even more interesting, the third-round FA Cup match will be the first meeting of the season between the two sides. Southampton's upcoming match at Stamford Bridge, originally scheduled for December 15, has been postponed because of Chelsea's involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup.
No make-up date has been set for that fixture, but it will surely be after the FA Cup game that will be played on January 5 or 6.
Maybe Nigel Adkins will throw out a second-choice side so that he does not tip his hand too much for a follow-up fixture that could occur a couple weeks later.
Money, Money, Money
Nicola Cortese (holding the trophy) seems to have unlimited access to Markus Liebherr's estate to invest in the club.
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When the January transfer window rolls around, Southampton fans can be confident that Chairman Nicola Cortese will not be in a selling mood.
If anything, Cortese will probably splash a few more million pounds' worth of signings into the squad.
The finances of the club are secure, as Cortese seems to have plenty of money available to invest from the late Markus Liebherr's estate. The estate, which still owns the club, was reported by The Telegraph to be worth €3 billion (£2.38 billion).
Not that all the money is just about buying players. Southampton are in the midst of rebuilding their Staplewood training center practically from scratch (the full design document can be found here.) Cortese and Adkins have been clear in their eventual goal that half of the Southampton squad will be made up of home-grown academy players.
"We've set out a vision to bring the youth through our system here," said Adkins in an interview with The Guardian. "Unless you give them that opportunity to perform, you're never going to find out about them."
Three academy graduates—James Ward-Prowse, Ben Reeves and Luke Shaw—have already made their debuts in the Premier League this season, while Calum Chambers has appeared in Capital One Cup play. The Saints won their group in the U18 Premier League, a sign that they have plenty of quality prospects on the way.