Having sold half their squad and lost their manager during the summer, few expected Southampton to do much this season. But after eight matches under new head coach Ronald Koeman, Southampton are sitting pretty in third spot in the Premiership with 16 points to their name. It’s a testament to the work done by the former Dutch international who joined the club in June following the departure of Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham. Having lost a wealth of stars including Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren to name a few, Koeman has managed to successfully pick up the remaining pieces and rebuild a squad capable of challenging in one of Europe’s toughest leagues. The stunning 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland demonstrated how far Koeman’s new look side have come in such a short space in time. Out played and out classed, Sunderland looked shell shocked by how effective Southampton were at going forward and how proficient they were at the back. At times, Southampton looked to have had an extra man or two on the field, gently stroking the ball around the pitch with the ease and precision expected of a championship winning side. Sunderland were poor but few will argue that even a well organized side would have struggled to contain Southampton in the form they are in.
It’s a remarkable turnaround in fortunes given the amount of inward and outward traffic through the doors at St Mary’s this summer. Koeman’s job from day one was to make a decision about his new squad and its want away stars like Lallana and Lovren. He had two options – fight tooth and nail to get them to stay or let them leave and rebuild. He took the latter option knowing that an unhappy player would be harder to work with and could upset the balance of his team. So in the first two weeks of Koeman’s rein he witnessed £90million worth of talent depart and the breakup of Pochettini’s well crafted squad. The fans were outraged, angry with the board and Koeman for letting their stars leave. But unbeknownst to them, Koeman had a plan and knew how he wanted to spend the war chest of fund snow at his disposal. In came Serbian winger Dusan Tadic and Italian striker Graziano Pelle to add pace and precision finishing to his new look side. Ryan Bertand was signed on a season loan long from Chelsea as a direct replacement for Luke Shaw whilst accomplished Belgian defender Toby Alderwiereld arrived from Atletico Madrid to shore up the back line. He also quickly replaced Artur Boric in goal with Celtic’s Frazer Forster as he saw Boric as a problematic figure who he could ill afford to rely on. Finally Romanian defender Florin Gardos, Irish striker Shane Long and Senegalese winger Sadio Mane were signed to strengthen the squad in general and provide much needed options to Koeman. In all Koeman’s spent just over £60million leaving Southampton with a healthy profit and further funds to be spent in the January transfer window if needed.
All of Koeman’s signings (with the exception of a loan move for Saphir Taider which ended abruptly after only three weeks) has worked out perfectly, with the squad gelling together in record time. Pelle has settled well and has already hit six goals so far including a brace against Sunderland whilst Tadic has quickly become one of the best wingers in the league, leading the way in assists alongside Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas. Koeman has worked hard to integrate his new players into the squad but has also spent time assuring the players that remained from last season that he has a vision for the club and what role they play in that. He convinced Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez to stay for one more season whilst encouraging youngsters like Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama and James Ward Prowse to stamp their authority on the squad and earn their place in the team. Added into this influential players like Steven Davis, Jose Fonte and Jack Cork have been encouraged to lead the way with their performances, something that the trio has done so with a renewed sense of conviction and vigour.
Koeman’s has his team buzzing and for that has been rewarded with wins. In total 5 wins from his first 8 league matches including impressive victories over West Ham, Newcastle and Sunderland. Koeman bagged the manager of the month reward for September alongside his striker Pelle who picked up the best player award. It was the first real recognition of Koeman success since joining and will likely not be the last as long as his side continues to perform as they have been. It seems like a long time ago that the Southampton fans were worried for the clubs future following the departure of its top stars and manager. But now Koeman has them singing again this time to his tune, one which he hopes they will be singing all the way to the end of the Premiership season next May.