Were well underway in the 2015/16 season and so far it’s been one of mixed emotions for fans on the South coast. Southampton have been battered, done the battering, sent fans to away games more effective than sleeping pills and most importantly, kept hold of stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama. So, what have we learnt?
1) Standing ground in the market
The first and perhaps most important lesson is that we have managed to keep a firm grip on our African stars. Both Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane played key roles in last years against all odds season; with such mesmerizing performances, fans were understandably fearing a summer exodus 2.0. All had prepared for yet another social media mockery.
However, Southampton chairman Les Reed ensured to make it clear that no player was to be leaving Southampton for the remainder of the window – this followed from the departures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne. Despite manager Ronald Koeman continuing to reiterate Reed’s promise, the rumour mill stops for no one. Tottenham Hotspur fans remained confident of securing the Kenyan’s signature, and in turn, many Southampton fans trembled at the knees. Yet here we are.
Since the Norwich City game it seems that Wanyama’s toys have returned to his pram and all can be dusted behind us. The board have remained strong and it’s an act that fans could certainly get used to.
We wouldn’t have it any other way, would we Saints fans?
2) The Black Box Has Worked Its Magic Once Again
Had it not been for this wonder working machine, Southampton football club may well have been the laughing stock that the media wanted so badly last season.
Now it seems that Southampton have uncovered yet more gems in the form of Romeu ( 4.9 Million from Chelsea ) Cedric Soares ( 4.55 Million from Sporting Clube De Portugal ) and Virgil Van Dijk ( 11 Million from Celtic ). Romeu has offered a much needed presence in midfield after the departure of Schneiderlin to Manchester United. Fans have been wowed by his wide range of passing, passion on the field and crunching tackles; he’s fast becoming a fan favourite, proving to be our best player of the new season along the way.
Then we have the Portuguese International Cedric Soares who has provided an incredible option from the right side with persistent movement, a beautiful cross and stamina to make Steven Davis proud. Our new right back has already notched up one assist in his first five games, beating Nathaniel Clyne’s assist tally from last season. On top of that he has created six more chances than Clyne’s disappointing two for Liverpool; not half bad for a debut season.
To round it off we have the newly capped Dutch International Virgil Van Dijk who was a shining light in the recent fixture against West Bromwich Albion; with a classy touch, an eye for a pass and a composed defender, he’s a shoe in fit for Toby Alderweireld. Were yet to see a true reflection of Juanmi, Jordy Clasie and Marteen Stekelenburg’s talents, but with the track record that Southampton hold, it would come as no surprise for them to soon flourish under Ronald Koeman.
3) Europe Can Wait
After last seasons displays, Southampton fans held every reason to be positive about the European journey that lay ahead.
Sadly however it wasn’t to be, Southampton steered clear of their beautiful fluid football and poorly exchanged it with a Sam Allardyce tactical dream. To fans it became apparent that we had lost our core – thanks to th departure of Schneiderlin – and we needed time for our new faces to settle in. After all, it’s hard to maintain your identity with just two familiar faces in the seven defensive positions.
In a season that will largely be focused on transition and cohesion, European football would simply be an unneeded headache at the cost of League form. For now, the European nights can wait until we are ready to march on.
4) Koeman’s Favoritism
It’s slowly becoming more and more evident that Ronald Koeman holds his selected favourites. Whilst I applaud his man management and belief that he installs in his players, you have to worry that it could be at the cost of performance and team morale.
In light of the recent Wanyama transfer saga, James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu proved to form a perfect partnership in his absence. Despite wiping the floor clean with Norwich City and producing the first and only high quality game of the season, it wasn’t enough. Wanyama returned, Romeu was dropped and subsequently James Ward-Prowse was pushed forward into a less familiar position; the result? a share of the spoils in what was to be a 0-0 snoozefest against West Bromwich Albion. Granted, this is a point against a well structured Tony Pulis side that went out with the intent not to lose. However, you just can’t help but wonder what may have been if we stuck with our winning formula. Even more so if the returning player “Isn’t mentally ready” after a blocked transfer away. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, Ron.
5) We Can Still Play That Beautiful Football
Early season form was not only worrying, but ugly in the process. As mentioned before, our football shown against FC Midtjylland on the European stage was nothing to be proud of and a million miles away from the standards we had set last season. Fans were especially worried about the aesthetics of our play when you tie this performance in with the defensively poor showing against Newcastle and Everton. It had seemed we lost our identity; our beautiful and crisp passing that helped to make us everyone’s little soft spot was nowhere to be seen. Whilst fans questioned if that football had made its move to The Theatre Of Dreams, Koeman’s army produced the greatest response to silence the doubters… a dominating three nil masterclass. Southampton proved to be superior in every position against Norwich City in a performance that proudly and rightly belonged at St. Mary’s.
With our number one summer target Virgil Van Dijk still settling in and Clasie joining Bertrand on the way back from injury, play can only improve.
The overlapping runs, quick one touch passing, constant movement and sharp decisions were back, let’s hope they are here to stay.