Playing the right way has got the Saints here, now is it enough to keep them there?
By Daniel Barr
In the space of two years, Southampton Football Club has risen from the lowly status of League One football to the heights of Premier League action.
But what has this meant for the club in terms of the football on show and what realistic expectations can the Saints have for the foreseeable future?
In their first three games back in the big league, the club has come away with no points, but gained a lot of respect and admiration for their style of play and demeanour on the pitch. It’s a style of football that has seen them grab successive second place finishes in League One and the Championship, but will it be enough to ensure Premier League survival this season?
A passing game, which sees the defence play the ball up the pitch rather then playing the long long ball to effective target that is Rickie Lambert, has earned the club praise, something that has been instilled under the guidance of Nigel Adkins in his time at the club. This may have been effective against weaker teams, but the team seem to have been found out slightly against the best teams in the world.
Southampton's style of play has changed very little on their charge back to England's elite league, as they outplayed the majority of their opponents, but their seems to be quite a step up in quality when entering the top tier of domestic football. A certain, ‘je ne sais quoi’, that can’t be avoided and must be addressed if the club wants to continue to evolve into a majorly successful team.
Some areas of the team just aren’t up to the standards required to play in this league and to play the kind of football that is desired of them. A sharpness and attention to detail is constantly needed as the slightest slip of concentration can see a goal conceded or crucial moment be grabbed in the Premier League.
In both games against the Manchester clubs, the extra bit of quality and pressure from these two giants of world football saw them pounce of defensive lapses from the Saints in order to score a goal or win a penalty which has cost momentum in the game, and overall, the result.
Attacking quality has never been doubted for Adkins’ men however. Top scorers in the Championship, they were always going to cause defences a hard time, even though the credentials of the team’s talisman and top scorer Lambert, were questioned due to his inexperience at this level before. He’s already shown that class is prevalent irrespective of the opposition faced.
A young, but experienced Adam Lallana, who played alongside the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, has become a fan favourite and with good reason. Silky ball control, goal scoring from midfield and a trick or two to compliment his style, he and Lambert were in the top three players from the Championship last season.
Examples of ‘over playing’ have been evident with the team getting caught out on numerous occasions, such as the moment when Kelvin Davis attempted to play a risky ball out wide to a full back which was intercepted, rather than clearing his lines and momentarily relieving the team of any pressure. This will need to be stopped sooner rather than later as there will come a point where points are valued a lot more than style of play.
Notable new signings in the transfer window have helped to build a squad which is capable of accomplishing themselves in this division. The likes of Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis, Maya Yoshida, and most impressively, the acquisition of Gaston Ramirez, have brought in a mixture of youth, pace, and talent to build upon a team that already has the mentality of possession football.
So it appears steps are being taken to ensure survival and development. Yet another centre back would have been ideal with that being a position that needs cover and one where the current pairing have struggled to match the intensity of the top league.
But positive notes should be taken from the start of the season. Yes the team has no points, but facing the top three teams last season in the first four games is more than likely to end in agony. Look at last seasons promoted teams of Norwich and Swansea in particular, a good playing style along with the ability to hold onto results has ensured success.
With a strong attacking force and a style of play that encourages utilising this, it promises to be an exciting season for saints fans, and one that I see will continue their legacy in the top English division.