Southampton were the surprise package of the Premier League last season, finishing seventh under new boss Ronald Koeman to earn a Europa League qualifying place. They had been tipped by many pundits to be battling relegation following the departure of coach Mauricio Pochettino and several key players. Instead, they were challenging for an unlikely top four spot for much of the season.
A 1-0 victory at struggling Sunderland has lifted them back into the top seven after a sustained run of form and Koeman is already eyeing a quick return to Europe. Their foray into European football was short-lived this season as they beaten 2-1 on aggregate in the qualifying play-offs by FC Midtjylland.
The Saints have suffered home defeats in the Premier League against Everton and Manchester United but have now gone eight games unbeaten. Dusan Tadic’s second-half penalty secured all three points against the Black Cats and has sparked optimism that Southampton can achieve another top seven finish.
Koeman scoffed at suggestions that a Champions League place was a possibility, mindful of last season?s experience with strong finishes from Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal. Although Champions Chelsea are perilously close to ruling themselves out of the equation, there is no danger of complacency from the Dutchman.
Ronald Koeman had defended Southampton’s second-half performance a week earlier when they appeared to sit on their 2-0 half-time advantage over Bournemouth. The Saints had been similarly dominant against Leicester at St Mary?s but allowed the midlands club to claw back a point in the second period.
Southampton?s fine recent run has been spearheaded by the attacking duo of Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane while Dusan Tadic has also returned to his best form. The trio have contributed eleven goals between them as Koeman looks to establish a settled side. Other regular names on the team sheet are Jose Fonte, Steven Davis, Victor Wanyama and Maarten Stekelenburg.
The latter was secured on a loan deal from Fulham in the summer and has made an impressive start for the Saints. He was brought in to provide cover for the injured Fraser Forster who was originally expected to be out until March following knee surgery. He has been making rapid progress in recent weeks and it is now possible that he could be back in full training before the end of the year.
Southampton have some important matches coming up including a visit to Manchester City on November 28th. That will provide a stern test of their fine away form with the Saints yet to be beaten on their travels this season.