Why Southampton Could Be The Premier League's Surprise Package Next Season

Jerrad Peters@@jerradpetersWorld Football Staff WriterJune 27, 2013

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  Rickie Lambert of Southampton celebrates with team mates after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Just over two months ago, with Southampton having drawn Swansea at Liberty Stadium, manager Mauricio Pochettino was asked to respond to goalkeeper Artur Boruc’s claim that the Saints could be contending for European places within the next few seasons.

Pochettino, who had only been in the job three months after replacing Nigel Adkins, was surprisingly bullish with his reply, telling ITV, “Why in a couple of years? It might be next year.”

He added: “I think in football if you have to be something, you have to be optimistic. Why not dream of big achievements, big goals?”

He may not have to dream much longer.

At the time of the interview, Southampton had just extended their Premier League unbeaten run to an impressive six matches—a streak that included back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Chelsea—and were on course for a respectable 14th-place finish in their first season back in the top flight since 2005.

Summer signees Boruc, Maya Yoshida, Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis and Gaston Ramirez have made significant impacts in a squad already comprised of some decent talent in the forms of Rickie Lambert, Jason Puncheon, Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana, and when Pochettino joined ranks in mid-January, it all seemed to come together.

And neither the manager nor executive chairman Nicola Cortese has been content to stand pat during the summer and bask in last season’s achievements. Cortese is thought to have readied a £30 million war chest for squad enhancements, and already Pochettino has brought in 23-year-old Croatian defender Dejan Lovren from Lyon for a reported £8.5 million (Daily Mail).

In other words, Southampton has no qualms about shelling out for specifically-targeted players. Last summer’s capture of highly-rated Uruguayan attacker Ramirez was nothing short of a coup, and once again the club is showing signs they’ll be punching above their weight in advance of their 2013-14 Premier League opener away at West Bromwich Albion on August 17.

Malaga right-back Jesus Gamez is just one player who could be on his way to St. Mary’s in the coming weeks (talkSport), and Ecuador international member Frickson Erazo is also being lined up to add depth to what is already a solid group of defenders (Mirror).

Following the curtain-raiser at The Hawthorns, Southampton will face Sunderland, Norwich and West Ham before a trip to Liverpool that will be followed by home matches against Crystal Palace and Swansea.

Given their schedule, it’s not inconceivable that they could be comfortably planted in the top half of the table after seven rounds, and from there they just might be able to ride the momentum into European contention.

Building a squad to compete for a place in the Premier League’s top seven is anything but an easy task, but at Southampton they seem to have hit on a blue-print to reach the Europa League quicker than most.