Southampton: Will the Saints March into European Football Next Season?
With a core of young players 25 years old and younger like Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama, James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez, Southampton have been considered by many to be a team of the future.
Maybe it's time to consider the Saints a team of right now.
Naysayers will point out the fact that the Saints have yet to play any of the Big Four: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that Southampton can keep their current form going and earn a place in the Champions League or Europa League next season.
From a historical view, the top seven teams after seven games in the table really don't change that much at the end of the season. Compare the tables after seven games last season and the end-of-season table.
After seven games:
Except for Liverpool, who recovered from a slow start, replacing West Bromwich Albion, who ended up finishing eighth, the exact same teams who were in the top seven after seven games ended the season in the top seven.
Southampton currently lead the Premier League in fewest goals allowed, conceding only two in their first seven matches. Going back to last season, goals allowed is also a very good indicator of a club's chances of qualifying for Europe. All four clubs that qualified for the Champions League finished in the top five of fewest goals allowed.
The Saints have not had as easy of a schedule as some may think. Yes, Southampton have faced all three teams currently in the relegation zone already: Norwich City, Crystal Palace and Sunderland. But Mauricio Pochettino's squad only earned four points from those three games.
Southampton have earned most of their points from the tougher teams they have faced.
The Saints won their Premier League opener at West Brom, a task Premier League leaders Arsenal failed to do twice, drawing both games in the Premier League and the Capital One Cup while winning the latter on penalties.
The Saints also have given co-league leaders Liverpool their only Premier League loss of the season, a 1-0 defeat at Anfield. That win was no fluke, as Southampton outshot the hosts 12-10, according to WhoScored.com, and thoroughly controlled the play in the second half. The scoreline may have been more if not for the heroics of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
"We deserve to be (in the top four),” team captain Adam Lallana told Neil McLeman of The Mirror. “We’ve been consistent and kept clean sheets. People might argue we haven’t played the best teams yet, but we’ve been to Anfield and picked up three points."
Lallana continued: “Swansea are no walkovers. They’re a really good side and will take points off good teams.”
Pochettino has plenty of international-level talent in the starting 11. Five members of the Saints' starting 11 also play for their country's senior national teams; Rickie Lambert for England, Dani Osvaldo for Italy, Wanyama for Kenya, Lovren for Croatia and Artur Boruc for Poland. In addition, both Shaw and Clyne have been regulars in England's youth teams.
Southampton also have legitimate depth behind their first-choice starting 11. International-level players such as Northern Ireland's Steven Davis, Uruguay's Gaston Ramirez, Scotland's Danny Fox and Japan's Maya Yoshida and Tadanari Lee are part of a second group that also includes rising talents such as Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers and Lloyd Isgrove.
If there appears to be an area of the team that needs strengthening, Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese has had no issue using part of the Liebherr family's fortunes to invest in a player. The past two seasons have seen Cortese spend £71.3 million on player transfers to strengthen the squad, according to transfermarkt.co.uk.
Will Southampton Qualify for European Football Next Season?
Most importantly, the team believe that a top-four finish is possible.
"If we're going to work hard, if we are going to believe in our work, we may be there. I am always dreaming about the Champions League. Obviously it is going to be tough but I think there is a chance towards the top of the league," Boruc was quoted by Sky Sports.
Boruc continued, "I would not say we are worse than any other team in England, so why not?"
After the break, Southampton get a crack at defending champions Manchester United. If the Saints walk out of Old Trafford with a result, the naysayers will have to admit that the South Coast squad are true contenders to cross the channel for European play next season.
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