Football: Saint Koeman & his super hits

Football: Saint Koeman & his super hits

Transition.

Managers cower behind it, as if it is an all-purpose shield to buy time, deflect criticism, and explain bad performances.

But Southampton boss Ronald Koeman makes a mockery of it.

By firing Southampton to second in the English Premier League (after 11 games) in his first season in charge, he relegates the word to nothing more than a fashionable excuse by under-performing peers.

Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur would do well to take a leaf from his book.

The Saints didn't just come marching in this season. They strutted into Premiership town with pots and pans clanging, gongs banging, trumpets blaring - the works.

Koeman is conducting his own orchestra, doing it his way.

After losing a host of key players and manager Mauricio Pochettino in the close-season, they were expected to suffer.

Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Calum Chambers - widely seen as important players behind the club's eighth-place finish last term - left for bigger clubs.

The combined fee of about £92 million ($188.4m) Southampton received gives a good indication of how highly prized they are.

1. ASTUTE SIGNINGS

Koeman, 51, worked his magic right away after he took over.

He raided his home league and bagged Southampton's top two performers this season - Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic - although no one batted an eyelid at first.

Pelle, a 29-year-old Italian striker signed from Feyenoord Rotterdam to fill Lambert's position, has notched six goals in 11 league appearances, and another three from three in the League Cup.

But Pelle also has the luxury of working in front of Tadic, the replacement for Lallana.

Poached from FC Twente, Tadic has been the Saints' main source of creativity.

With six Premiership assists that place him joint-third in the assists chart, it's no wonder he's seen as the gem of the pack.

2. SOLID DEFENCE

While Tadic and Pelle take care of the offensive side of things, the guys at the other end are pulling their own weight.

Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand may be a new partnership but they certainly don't look like it.

Never mind that the club had lost defenders Lovren, Shaw and Chambers.

No team in the top flight have been more miserly than Koeman's backline - five goals conceded in 11 league matches.

That the teams with the next best defensive records are Chelsea and Swansea, who have both conceded six goals more, goes to show the sort of form Southampton's defence are in.

In fact, Arsenal legend Martin Keown highlighted the central pairing of Fonte and Alderweireld as one of the top five in the Premier League.

3. MIDFIELD PROTECTION

Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama may not grab the limelight as often as the rest but they have not been any less efficient.

A big reason for their excellent defensive record is down to the work the two men put in from midfield.

Schneiderlin was the one big player Southampton successfully managed to retain despite interest from elsewhere.

And they are being rewarded for their determination to hang on to the Frenchman.

Wanyama is not losing out in the popularity stakes either, as he continues to excel in his defensive midfield role.

That 40-metre strike against Hull earlier this month showed that the Kenya captain is no one-trick pony.

His power and tackling ability, coupled with Schneiderlin's positioning and organisational skills, give Southampton an engine room that many rivals, Manchester City included, can only look on with envy.

4. TEAM SPIRIT

There is also something else that has got their fans dreaming of a first foray into Champions League football.

For a side who lost their core players and replaced them with several unknown names, their team spirit has been remarkable.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who joined Koeman's revolution in August, said: "There is something very special about the club.

"There is togetherness here I've never experienced before, especially when you consider the turnover of players."

Koeman himself has expressed his delight, on several occasions, with the fight shown by his charges.

After the 8-0 mauling of Sunderland last month, he said: "The most important thing in my opinion is that we had the spirit until the last second of the game and that shows a lot to me about the players."

5. A KIND DRAW

Yes, they may have looked extremely impressive but even the most ardent Saints supporters won't deny that they have had a relatively easy start to this season.

Eleven games in, they have yet to meet Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton or the two Manchester clubs.

The pessimists will also point out that they lost their two arguably toughest league assignments so far - against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

The true test of their credentials is not far away.

There are some tough fixtures in their next 10 matches, between now and mid-January.

Against Man City, Arsenal (twice), Man United, Everton and Chelsea, Koeman will find out for himself if his side are indeed the real deal.


This article was first published on Nov 21, 2014.
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