Rob Palmer is a Southampton fan. He’s also the one on The Final Third Podcast what does a lot of puns. In this piece he tells us about how Southampton have had possibly the best season in their history, and yet it has flown under all our radars.
This era in Southampton’s history is definitely the most exciting one to be part of as a fan. In 2009 The Saints were relegated from the Championship; it was a dismal season on and off the pitch culminating in a 10-point deduction due to their parent company going into administration. During that summer Southampton were three weeks away from liquidation and would have ceased to exist had it not been for Marcus Liebher’s decision to buy the club.The Saints.
This kick-started a meteoric rise from the depths of obscurity and mediocrity which in 2016 has reached its highest point. However, this rise is showing no signs of stopping; sixth place in the Premier League and Crystal Palace losing the FA Cup final ensures that The Saints are granted a free passage straight into the Europa League group stages for 2016/17. A massive achievement for Ronald Koeman, his players and his coaching staff.
Had a certain Mr Ranieri not decided to go and win the league with Leicester like the selfish so-and-so that he is, there is no question in my mind that Koeman would have been crowned manager of the season. There are so many factors that this can be attributed to. Firstly, he lost yet more key players such as Nathaniel Clyne to Liverpool, Morgan Schneiderlin to Manchester United and Emmanuel Mayuka to Metz… alright he wasn’t exactly a key player but he played for the U21’s the odd time. Secondly, he beat every one of the previous season’s top six sides, and thirdly he made people fear Southampton. He turned them into one of the most formidable and well respected sides in the Premier League. An incredible achievement on its own, never mind when it’s paired with the other two.
Koeman in typical style recruited well for the most part with one weird signing thrown in for the hell of it, which we will come to later. Clasie and Romeu – from Feyenoord and Chelsea respectively – had shaky starts at St. Marys due to injuries, but once they regained their fitness and settled into Koeman’s system they developed into one of the most well balanced and hardworking midfields in the league. The creativity and work ethic of Clasie combined with the positional sense and defensive abilities of Romeu was a match made in heaven, as good as J.D and Turk from Scrubs, only more (b)romantic. Cedric Soares was a like-for-like replacement for Clyne and didn’t put a foot wrong all season, offering so much attacking energy down the right and as the season progressed his defensive game improved dramatically.
Rob said he’d buy us pints if we put this video in. Also it’s a lot of fun:
Signing of the season, though? Who else but Virgil van Dijk? One of the most impressive players I’ve ever seen in a Southampton shirt. He is the complete modern ball-playing centre back and was consistently the best player on the pitch for most of the season. Even when the team was playing poorly Van Dijk pulled incredible performances out of the bag to earn his side a point. A steal at £13 million, I hope he never leaves but if he does The Saints can look forward to tripling their investment at the very worst.
The only signing I found to be weird is Juanmi (Juan-who?), yes Juanmi. I watch La Liga instead of developing friendships so I had seen a lot of Juanmi at Malaga prior to his signing. I had really enjoyed watching him develop under Javi Gracia for the two seasons he was in the first team and I was really excited to see what he could do in the Premier League. A second striker who has phenomenal vision who is also a decent, if not spectacular, finisher. £5 million isn’t a huge sum of money but 13 appearances and 0 goals in your first season doesn’t make for pleasant reading. However, he is only 23, he is more than likely one for the future with three years left on his contract and I have no doubt he will be a big player for Southampton in the years to come.
The only low point of the season for Southampton was losing 6-1 at home in the Capital One Cup to the Liverpool B-team. It was a gutting defeat, and funnily enough the last game Steven Caulker played for Southampton before moving to ‘The B’s’ as a weird auxiliary striker which goes to show the calibre of his performance on the night.
In all seriousness though, Liverpool were sensational and simply unstoppable. It was the perfect mix of the initial ‘Klopp effect’ and the players beginning to understand his tactical approach. Southampton simply could not deal with the overloads in the wide areas and got gutted centrally through a mixture of Sturridge and Origi. It was a terrible moment as a Southampton fan, because there was not much that you could have done differently. Stekelenberg and Caulker were poor, that’s a fact, but two moderately weak links does not equal getting humiliated 6-1 at home.
This summer for Southampton is going to be an interesting one; with the bargaining chip that is guaranteed European football Koeman might be able to hold on to his troops without the threat of having to rebuild. The squad that The Saints have put together is excellent. The only position that is a worry in terms of depth and quality is at centre back. Maya Yoshida cannot play football yet he manages to make 20+ appearances per season. That is unacceptable and will need sorting by Koeman in the summer.
All in all, 2015/16 was the best season Southampton have ever experienced and in typical Southampton fashion it went completely under the radar. Koeman has created an incredible side which doesn’t seem to look anywhere near its peak yet. Who knows, next season I might be losing my mind about Champions League football rather than the Europa League. Wouldn’t that be something from a club that was in the third tier of English football just six years ago?
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