7 games in and Southampton sit in 1 point above the drop zone. Can they stay up?
Life back in the Premier League for Southampton has certainly been a strenuous one.
After 4 defeats in the club’s opening 4 fixtures, things were looking grim for Nigel Adkins’ men as they embraced the weight of the rest of the division from the foot of the table. A comfortable victory over a lowly Aston Villa saw the Saints pick up their first points of the 2012/13 season, and although a trip to Goodison Park saw them revert back to losing ways, a last ditched Jose Fonte header snatched a point from the grasp of Fulham’s hands, during the 2-2 draw at St Mary’s.
Many people had written Southampton off after the embarrassing massacre Arsenal handed to them last month, but I have seen enough determination, resolve and most importantly, enough quality to see them keep their place in the pinnacle of English football.
I am going to attempt to deduce analysis into what I consider the three most important categories and briefly look at the south-coast club’s chances of staying in the Premier League.
When Southampton hit their lowest ebb in 2009, the club’s holding company had entered administration and the team started their fight with -10 points in League One. Saints fans were devastated and wondered what would be next for their beloved club, and until a suave-looking billionaire threw his money at them, things were looking bleak.
Worth an estimated £3bn, Markus Liebherr had made his money with his father, Hans Liebherr, via the family’s machinery business across Germany and Switzerland.
Immediately after the purchase of the club, Liebherr’s first move was to appoint the man that was pivotal in the sale of the club, Nicola Cortese and they set out a 5-year plan to reach the Premier League. He was primarily an Italian banker who was responsible for a number of billionaire’s bank accounts, but after the deal went through, Liebherr revealed that it was actually Cortese who had convinced him to buy the club.
Alan Pardew was put in charge of first-team affairs and given the financial backing to climb out of one of the toughest leagues to escape from in the UK, and after almost overcoming a 10 point deduction to make a late charge towards the top 6 in their first season in League One, the sad news spread that owner Markus Liebherr had died as a result of a heart-attack. He did, however, witness his new club winning their first trophy in 34 years when they lifted the Football League Trophy in March 2010.
In a controversial manoeuvre, Cortese then sacked Alan Pardew and recruited Nigel Adkins to take over. The decision was met with anger and negativity by the Saints faithful, but it would prove to be a very shrewd move for the club.
Adkins rallied his troops and saw them finish an inspiring 2nd place, only to be beaten to the title by a remarkable Brighton team who were managed by Gus Poyet.
The 2011/12 season was the one which announced Southampton were back, as they tore the Championship apart with their free-flowing, attacking football. After 26 wins and 10 draws, Saints fans were again celebrating a promotion that neither Liebherr nor Cortese could have imagined when taking the reins and the supporters soon forgave the chairman for the dismissal of Pardew, albeit some through gritted teeth!
Nigel Adkins is, and probably always will be, known because of his former role as a physio at Scunthorpe United. After the departure of then manager Brian Laws, Adkins was gifted the opportunity to take over as caretaker manager, although his only previous managerial experience came at Bangor City. Adkins guided Scunthorpe to the League One title after he signed a permanent deal as manager, and even though his team were relegated the following season, he repeated his heroics of 2006/07 and again advanced to the Championship.
Due to his reputation for getting his teams out of League One, Southampton came knocking in 2010. He became the first manager to lead his team to back-to-back promotions and has definitely warranted his chance of managing in the topflight.
Adkins is one of the most optimistic managers in world football. The Birkenhead-born man has a constant Cheshire grin stretched across his face and firmly believes in firing compliments at his players. You can sense the desire to win that surrounds Adkins, and to achieve this he feeds his squad portions of confidence and nurtures them with buckets of positive feedback. His attention to detail is a huge contributor to Southampton’s recent success, and although he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the former Wigan Athletic goalkeeper is showcasing why he deserves his shot at the Premier League.
When you speak of Southampton, football fans usually respond with the same few names. The first on their lips is usually Rickie Lambert, and if you were to mention a number of years back that Lambert would be applying his trade in England’s top tier, then you would have most certainly have been laughed at.
A chunky Scouser who roamed the lower league for what seemed to be an eternity, Lambert was deemed too fat to ever reach his potential. Prior to life at Southampton, the big front-man made his name after an impressive season with Bristol Rovers, with 29 goals in 48 games enough to see Saints splash a reported £1m for the striker, a move which would revitalise him and would allow him to prove himself to the footballing world. Lambert was put on a strict fitness routine, and as his waistline reduced, his goal scoring tally did the opposite and he was very much the spearhead of Southampton’s offensive play. His powerful frame and his facility to score from a vast range of areas have changed opinions of doubters, with some even calling for an England spot, optimistically, I might add.
The second name commonly associated with the club is Adam Lallana. After flourishing in Bournemouth’s centre of excellence, Saints did one of their best ever bits of business in snapping Lallana up as a 12 year old. He has gone on to make almost 200 first-team appearances for Southampton which has earned him the captain’s arm-band in recent months. One of the most technically gifted midfielders in the country; he exudes creativity and a composure which compliments his impeccable vision and his deft touch in front of goal. He is yet to score in the Premier League but I’m certain that when the first one goes in, there will be plenty that follow.
In a notable turn of events this summer, Gaston Ramirez became the club’s most expensive player in their long history, when he signed a four-year deal with a fee of £12m. The 21-year old showed glimpses of his talent during this year’s London Olympics and was reportedly on the verge of joining Manchester United before Southampton secured the Uruguayan’s signature. Its early days for the starlet, but it didn’t take him long to find the net in the stripes, scoring in the 3-1 loss away at Everton.
The biggest worry that may deter their survival hopes, in my opinion, is the defence. After just 7 games, Southampton have conceded 20 goals, six of those coming at the Emirates against a rampant Arsenal side. The club have brought in Japan international Maya Yoshida to concrete some of the gaps that have been violated by the opposition but the feeble defence continue to collapse at every opportunity.
Their style of play is somewhat similar to that of Blackpool’s when they introduced themselves into the Premier League a few years back, implementing the ‘we will score more than you’ approach. The problem with this philosophy, especially with Southampton, is that with a defence who is continually penetrated, the efforts of the attackers will be a waste of time.
Will Southampton avoid the drop?
Ultimately, I believe they can. Some of the vigour that has been shown by the team should be saluted, as well as possessing the potential to mix up their play. They troubled both Manchester teams during their fixtures and have created masses of chances in almost every game they have played.
Write Southampton off at your peril, there is still a long, long season ahead.