Sunday's match against Everton will mark the official halfway point of the season—19 matches down, 19 matches to go.
It's been an up-and-down season for Southampton. The Saints have been on both an eight-game unbeaten streak and a six-game run without a win. But on the whole, Mauricio Pochettino's squad sits where many expected it to—solidly in mid-table, sitting at 27 points and in ninth place.
While the bad run of form has severely dampened any aspirations of European play for the Saints, a win on Sunday would take them within five points of fifth place. Another good run could put Southampton right back in the chase for a top-five place.
Besides getting healthy, there are a number of areas in which Southampton could improve in the second half of the season and 2014.
Creating More Chances
While Southampton are one of the best teams in retaining possession of the ball—the Saints are second in the Premier League with a 57.5 percent possession rate—they only rank ninth in shots created with 13.1 per game, according to WhoScored.com.
Predictably, the average number of shots is creating an average number of goals. Southampton have scored 25 goals, which is good enough for eighth-best in the Premier League. But that total isn't even half of the impressive 53 goals Manchester City have already scored.
For Southampton to move up the table, more balls will have to find their way into the net.
Get More Creative Dribbling
One way to create more chances would be to encourage players to take opponents on one-on-one more often. Southampton currently rank 11th in the Premier League with 8.7 dribbles per match, according to WhoScored.com.
Adam Lallana is certainly outstanding with the ball at his feet. The 25-year-old ranks 13th in the Premier League with 2.0 successful dribbles per match, according to WhoScored.com.
But only three other Southampton regulars, Jay Rodriguez, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, average more than 1.0 successful dribbles per match. The Saints certainly would like to see one of these three elevate his skills to Lallana's level to create consistent threats down both flanks or buy a creative outside midfielder to open up spaces.
Stop Going Offside
It's no secret that Pochettino likes to take chances all over the pitch. But one area where Southampton could stand to be less aggressive is in challenging the last line of defense.
The Saints have been true sinners in the eyes of the assistant referees, as Southampton lead the Premier League in offside calls against them with 3.3 calls per match, per WhoScored.com. The next-worst team, Chelsea, only averages 2.7 per match. Dani Osvaldo in particular is a repeat offender, going offside 1.2 times per match.
If the Saints could just cut that number in half, that improvement could create 15 more shots (assuming a shot on every other opportunity that got called back), which could add three to five goals to Southampton's tally by the end of the year.
Concede Fewer Fouls
Another area that comes with the territory of a high-pressing defense is the amount of fouls a team will commit. Southampton currently rank third in the Premier League in fouls committed with 12.9 fouls per match, according to WhoSocred.com.
So far, the fouls haven't caused much damage. The Saints have not had anyone sent off this season, and Morgan Schneiderlin will be the first Southampton player to be suspended due to yellow-card accumulation.
Also, Southampton have not conceded a goal on a free kick, and they've conceded just one goal on a penalty kick.
Is it good fortune that the Saints have not been overly punished for their fouling or good sense that they know where to give fouls in non-dangerous areas?
Win More Aerial Duels
With players like Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, one would think Southampton would be a very good team in the air. But the Saints have only won 308 of 649 possible aerial duels this season, per WhoScored.com. That's a success rate of just 47.4 percent.
Most of the defensive players on the Southampton squad are average to good in the air. Players like Lovren, Jose Fonte and Victor Wanyama all win well over 50 percent of their duels.
However, the attacking players aren't living up to their end of the bargain. Lambert is just 31-of-82 (37.8 percent) in aerial duels. Rodriguez is 20-of-57 (35 percent). Osvaldo is even worse at just 10-of-41 (24.3 percent).
Being great in the air certainly isn't a requirement for success in the Premier League. Teams like Everton and Tottenham rank in the bottom five in terms of aerial duels won. But winning a few more headers against mid-table teams like Stoke City, who love to play in the air, may score a goal or stop one from happening.
In this year's tight race, a point or two could mean multiple positions in the final table.
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