Each season there always seems to be one team that surpasses all expectations in the first few months. In the past it’s been the likes of Hull City back in 2008/09 when they won six of their first nine matches before eventually slipping down the table to finish 17th.
This year, it seems as though Southampton are the team to watch and their impressive start to this campaign has been rewarded with three of their players recently named in the England squad for the friendlies with Chile and Germany.
When looking for their replica kits during the summer, many kids will have been looking on sites like www.newitts.com for their football socks, shirts and shorts to wear around the house or at their club training sessions, but many won’t have been turning up in England shirts with Lambert, Lallana or Rodriguez printed on the back.
All that could be about to change, however, if the Saints keep up their impressive start. The English trio have been the undoubted stars of Southampton’s season so far and undoubtedly deserve their chance to impress Roy Hodgson ahead of the 2014 World Cup, with all three chipping in with goals and performances that you would expect to see from players at any of the so-called ‘big four.’
It’s worth remembering – on that note – that Southampton have already been to Anfield this season and won, and picked up a well-deserved point from their trip to Old Trafford too, so nobody can say that they’ve only performed against the ‘lesser’ clubs in the Premier League.
It’s not just the attacking threat of Lambert, Rodgriguez and Lallana that have propelled Southampton to the Champions League places after eleven games, however. The defensive line have been rock solid at times, with Artur Boruc seeming to have finally made himself the club’s number one goalkeeper after plenty of chopping and changing last season, and players like Dejan Lovren, Jose Fonte and highly-rated full-back Luke Shaw have been impressive – with Lovren and Fonte even chipping in with goals.
In the midfield the Saints have added a top quality midfielder in Victor Wanyama from Celtic, with the Kenyan scouted by many of Europe’s top clubs. His strength and combative nature is a perfect foil for the creativity of Morgan Schneiderlin, a player who regularly goes unnoticed until you take him out of the side.
These two, along with Lallana, hold the key for Southampton if they’re to keep attacking and making chances to score goals for the likes of Lambert who is showing at both domestic and now international level, that he knows how to find the back of the net.
With the international break coming at what may seem like a bad time for the in-form Saints, it remains to be seen just how long they can challenge with the big boys for, but boss Mauricio Pochettino said after the 4-1 win against Hull that “the only thing that might stop Southampton challenging is Southampton themselves.”
This is a fair assessment from the Argentinian manager, because if you look through the Saints’ squad, there is nobody there who has experience of challenging for the Premier League title, and very little strength in depth. If you take out the likes of Lambert from the attack, Lallana and Schneiderlin from the midfield and Lovren and Fonte at the back, the squad is very young and lacking in Premier League quality.
There is no doubt that the Saints will be looking at a top-half finish this season, the only question that remains is how long they can stick it out to try and clinch a European place at the end of the season. We’ll see in May!