Southampton have made impressive strides under Mauricio Pochettino – heading into this weekend in sixth position in the Premier League and just one point behind second-placed Chelsea, 10 games into the season.
The ambitious manager stated over the summer he wanted to take Southampton into the Champions League. This was despite the Saints finishing last season in 14th position – some 32 points off fourth spot and that final Champions League place.
Pochettino hasn’t splashed out on a whole new squad either. His three summer signings were to strengthen the spine of the team. Centre-back Dejan Lovren arrived from Lyon for an undisclosed fee thought to be around £8.5 million. The Croatian has been a commanding leader at the back and does venture forward with the ball. He scored the winner at Anfield this season and it was his header that deflected in off Adam Lallana to earn a point at Old Trafford.
Southampton’s defence has conceded just 4 goals in their opening 10 games. That includes Asmir Begović’s freak goal last weekend. Only Roma (2) have conceded fewer in Europe’s top five leagues heading into the weekend. Pretty impressive. They’re good at limiting the number of shots on their own goal.
Centre midfielder Victor Wanyama joined in a £12.5 million deal from Celtic. After a slow start, the Kenyan’s energy is having a positive effect. He makes a number of tackles and interceptions per game and clears a lot of danger. When he stays back it allows team mate Morgan Schneiderlin to make forward runs too and the French midfielder gets himself into good positions despite not registering a goal so far this season.
The Saints have committed a league high 140 fouls through 10 games. However this has only resulted in 12 yellow cards – only Crystal Palace, Cardiff and Norwich have picked up fewer.
Pablo Osvaldo was the final summer signing from Southampton. A club record £15 million to Roma was spent on the Italian striker. He’s a bit of a nuisance to the opposition and his solo goal was a fine finish against Crystal Palace. Other than that I haven’t been too impressed with him myself. But Southampton are winning so it’s working.
Southampton have collected 19 points from a possible 30 to start the season. 10 games into last season they had picked up just 4 points before they went on a four-game unbeaten run. Here’s how those first 10 games of 2012-13 under Nigel Adkins went:
A completely different story this season. It wasn’t even a fairy tail start after picking up just one win from their opening four matches against what we can call some of the weaker teams in the league.
Then came matchday 5. A 1-0 win at Liverpool. That was the start of a three-match winning streak. They remain unbeaten since then, picking up 14 points from a possible 18. Only Arsenal (16) have picked up more matches from their last 6.
Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing game was clear from the start of his reign when he took over in January this year. And although the results were tough to get at first they comfortably avoided relegation.
Summer training camp has clearly worked wonders for the Hampshire side. An interview with Jay Rodriguez a few weeks ago said that his fitness was better than ever under the Argentinian’s regime and that it was an important part of their system – to be fit, close down the opposition from the front.
A similar strategy has worked well for Jürgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. Pochettino doesn’t quite have the goalscoring prowess of Robert Lewandowski up front, but Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez are starting to form a great partnership. The pair have been called up to next week’s England squad to face Chile and Germany as a result.
Adam Lallana is the playmaker in the team from open play. Gastón Ramírez used to have that role but his time on the pitch has been limited this season. I wonder if that’s anything to do with his off the ball workrate.
If there is one weakness in this Southampton team right now it is their goals from open play. Or rather, a lack of goals from open play. In 10 games Southampton have only 11 goals – 5 of which are from open play. They have been quite reliant on their set pieces. But whilst their set pieces are working we shouldn’t complain.
Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, José Fonte, Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin all look goal threats from them. And the deliveries from both Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse have been good too. One thinks they worked hard on these over the summer, having scored 8 goals in 38 games last season from dead balls, compared to 5 in 10 games already this season.
Mauricio Pochettino’s regime ultimately failed in Espanyol but less than 12 months in his role at Southampton it’s working very effectively so far. Will it last the full season? Time will tell but there’s every reason for the fans down at St Mary’s to get excited about.