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Top 4?

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It’s been a question on many Southampton fans lips for the past couple of weeks. After the mayhem and “meltdown” that the club encountered in the summer many fans and pundits would have settled for survival this season. Out went Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren to Liverpool, Luke Shaw to Manchester United and Callum Chambers to Arsenal. While individually many didn’t see each transfer as a surprise nobody predicted so many would leave.

What new boss Ronald Koeman did well is used the transfer market and in particular the loan system very wisely. Ask many fans now “Have we missed Shaw?” and the answer will be no. If anything loan signing Ryan Bertrand has performed better, offering goals and assists to the left back role. “Have we missed Lambert?” the answer will be no, Pelle has replaced the goals that Lambert has scored, and while Pelle appears to need more chances to score his goals his all round game seems to be better than Lambert. Callum Chambers wasn’t even the first choice right back and his departure has enabled Nathaniel Clyne to make the position his own and now is the current England right back. Perhaps the biggest two doubts were if Lovren and Lallana could be replaced. Belgium international Toby Aldeweireld has arrived on a season loan and while Lovren has struggled massively at Liverpool Toby has become a fans favourite and again seen as a step up compared to Lovren. Tadic was tasked with being Lallana’s replacement and after a bright start has struggled since December to maintain the bright start but has ensured fans haven’t missed Lallana.

Now after the bright start to the season I think the media were also pleased when the team suffered 5 defeats in a row, although not many would have expected to have beaten Man City, Man Utd, and Arsenal. However, how they bounced back since probably best sums up the team’s performance this season, wins away to Man Utd (first time since 198 at home to Arsenal and holding Chelsea to a draw has seen many sit back up and take the side seriously again.

So what’s behind the successful season? I would say a manager that believes in his players and the players believe in him. Having a settled team has enabled the new players to gel and perform to their strengths. It’s very much an “all for one, and one for all” mentality at the club this season. Also, not being afraid to switch to “Plan B”, something lacking under the previous manager. There seems to be fluidity in the team and Koeman isn’t afraid to tinker with the formation depending on the players available and team playing against. 4-2-3-1 / 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 / 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 / 4-1-4-1 all being used this season.

Schneiderlin and Wanyama have really gelled this season and both are being played to their strengths. Many would argue are second only to Fabregas and Matic as the best central pairing in the Premier League this season.

The defence has been getting most of the plaudits and rightly so, having conceded the fewest goals in the league. 3 of the back 5 were changed in the summer, but one that stayed, Fonte, took over the captaincy, and while many would have seen him as the weakest defender in the side last season, the captaincy has really changed him as a player and has stepped up to the plate. His performances recently won him a place in Sky Sports team of the season so far in Dec alongside John Terry.

The cup runs have brought up the debate on the terraces of cup success or top 4 again and while I’d favour the cup win and a place in the history, many now want a top 4 finish. Can it be achieved? Only the remaining 16 games will tell but one thing is for sure, this team has far exceeded expectations of every so called pundit this season and probably 99.9% of all supporters. I for one hope a top 4 finish can be achieved, not only to make people sit up and take notice but also to show you don’t have to leave to join a so called bigger team to play Champions League football.

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