As Saints embark on the second half of what could prove to be an historic season, the next few months will determine whether they can hold the course, steady their collective nerve…
As Saints embark on the second half of what could prove to be an historic season, the next few months will determine whether they can hold the course, steady their collective nerve, and provide a serious challenge to the established order at the top end of the Premier League.
They have already proved that the pundits and doomsayers have no better idea of predicting the future fortunes of football clubs than you or I.
Ronald Koeman has ridiculed the ingrained idea that bringing in half a dozen new players from foreign leagues and melding them together into a formidable team takes time. Saints were prepared and ready to go from the first game of the season against Liverpool and were unlucky not to have come away with at least a point.
Saints started the season by playing enterprising football combined with a steely defence and have continued with that approach ever since. Despite a mini crisis of disappointing results in December, they have emerged from that period with more determination and resolve by cementing their position as very serious top four contenders.
In spite of injuries and absences due to international call ups, Saints have utilized squad players and yet more academy talents, to gain points at Newcastle and Ipswich, not to mention Manchester United.
With the return of Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld, there is no reason why they can not finish strongly and end a Premier League season in their highest ever position, eclipsing both Gordon Strachan and Mauricio Pochittino’s efforts in 2003 and last year respectively.
In my view, Saints have only been outplayed twice this season. Once against Manchester City, losing 3-0, and during another home against against Chelsea, where Saints were fortunate to earn a hard fought draw.
On another day, losses against Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United could easily have resulted in at least half a dozen extra points gained. Saints have mixed it with the best in the league and unlike last season where points against the big boys proved almost non-existent, have emerged with 7 points against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
So what lays ahead for the remainder of the season?
From my vantage point, here in the USA, the conclusion I have drawn from having watched every single league game is that I am not going out on a limb by predicting Saints will conservatively finish in the top 6 and my glass half full attitude sees them finish 4th, behind Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
That scenario will leave Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool scrambling to qualify for European competition through the much maligned Europa League. This competition is one I hope Saints avoid due to the extra demands of the number of matches played and the traveling etc. The Europa League could seriously negatively impact Saints fortunes in next year’s Premier League campaign.
Mind you, they have defied the odds this year and who am I to say they couldn’t excel in the Europa League as well.
So here’s to Saints finishing the season with a flourish and wouldn’t it be a great denouement if Saints travel to Manchester City on the last day of the season with a top four position secured and fighting for third, or dare I even say it, second place at the expense of City!
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