After last week’s exhilarating performance and result against Liverpool, Ronald Koeman’s side showed they have the fight, resolve and quality to challenge for European qualification. With Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane replicating their great early season form, all whilst Shane Long and Charlie Austin have popped up with vital goals, Southampton are now breathing down the neck of their fellow European football competitors.
As we approach the final few hurdles of the remaining season, the teams that join Southampton in this mouthwatering finale are Liverpool, Stoke City, Man Utd, West Ham and Manchester City. Liverpool are currently sat in 9th position, Stoke are in at 8th, with Manchester Utd in 6th, West Ham are on the brink of Champions League football, sat in 5th place, and Manchester City are slacking in 4th. With only seven points separating Man City in 4th and Liverpool in 9th, the Premier League will surely have a few more twists and turns as these sides challenge for a European spot, be it the Europa League, or the Champions League.
However, the race for these European spots will become much clearer when all teams have played the same total of games. Due to European and domestic cup commitments, not every team has featured the same amount of times in the league this season. Liverpool have the most games in hand, with two, which could potentially move the reds one place higher to 8th – leapfrogging Stoke in turn. Then, with results going their way, Liverpool could move as high as 7th, but only if they were to better Southampton’s goal difference.
All three teams above Southampton have a game in hand, due to FA cup and Capital One cup appearances.
These could prove to be crucial points for West Ham, Manchester City and Manchester United to gain breathing space from the following pack. Manchester United and West Ham could go six points clear of Southampton if results fall in their favour, and Man City could push their margin to seven points. The pressure is well and truly with the four teams who have their games in hand.
On paper, Liverpool and Manchester City have the ‘easiest’ run-in in terms of times facing the current top four. Liverpool will only play against Tottenham on the 2nd of April, whilst Man City will only face Arsenal. Unfortunately Saints fans, you guessed it, we have the toughest run-in on paper. Southampton will play against three of the current top four in the last seven games of the season. And of course, that would include the current top two battling it out for the Premier League crown – Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. The King Power Stadium is Southampton’s next stop in the Premier League, whilst our final away outing of the season is at White Hart Lane, against Pochettino’s Spurs. Before Southampton make the trip to North London, however, St Mary’s will be the host of a potentially season-defining match against Man City on the 1st of May.
As for the Hammers and the Potters, West Ham will face Arsenal and Leicester, whilst Stoke will play against Man City and Tottenham. Manchester United will also compete with the current top two – Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. United’s clash against the Foxes will be held at Old Trafford, whilst they also travel, like Southampton, to North London to face Tottenham.
Worryingly, the final table would be grim reading for Saints if the remaining fixtures finished how the reverse fixtures finished earlier in the season. If Saints’ remaining seven games finished how they did earlier in the campaign, we would only gain three more points, leaving us with 50 points in 9th place. Manchester City would rise to 3rd with 73 points, whilst Arsenal would slip down to their familiar surroundings of 4th place with 68 points.
Manchester United would finish the season in 5th and gain automatic qualification to the Europa League, whilst West Ham, who would finish in 6th place, qualify through Manchester City’s Capital One Cup win. Liverpool would finish in 7th with 59 points and Stoke would finish one place below the reds in 8th.
However, there’s no need to panic Southampton fans. During the reverse fixtures, Southampton were in their worst form of the current season. We have to remember that during those games, we were missing Pelle, Forster and Rodriguez. Not to mention that we were still trying to find our feet after the loss of Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweireld. Now, however, with the return of Forster, the defence has looked as strong and reliable as it did the season before. To add to the positives, Pelle and Mane are both back amongst the goals, Shane Long is in the best form of his career, Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez will be back from injury and Wanyama looks to have turned a corner after his five-match ban. With all these factors present, there’s no reason why we can’t get the results to gift us an immediate return to European football for Ronald Koeman’s side.