Currently showing immense intent to pursue the aspirations of the motivated chairman, Southampton are continuing their journey to rise up the English soccer ladder.
Understandably, the Italian chairman was doubted when he decided to sack Nigel Adkins in January last season, following a run of just two league losses in 12 matches. However, you would struggle to find a Southampton supporter who would disagree with the chairman’s decision to replace Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino having already seen off Liverpool home and away, Chelsea, Manchester City and picking up a point at home to Arsenal since taking over as Saints’ manager.
The new-styled pressing approach was evident from the first match that the Argentine took over against Everton back in January, but it is now becoming obvious that the Saints team have developed and responded to the manager’s aims since coming over to Southampton.
Some would argue that Pochettino’s side failed to pick up a point at Norwich this season, or even beat a weakened West Ham United team at home, but the Saints side of last season had only picked up three league wins before Christmas, losing to West Brom, Wigan and the Hammers. Ian Holloway’s struggling Crystal Palace team head to St. Mary’s this weekend in search of their second win of the campaign, but Saints fans will be expectant of another three points to keep driving the team up into the top 10.
Any Premier League manager would admit that Anfield is one of the hardest places to pick up a result, so when Southampton went and took all three points last weekend for the first time in 10 years, there was certainly something to brag about on the South coast. There is also the last 16 of the Capital One Cup to boast about too, having seen off a resilient Bristol City side at St. Mary’s on Tuesday evening. Pochettino put out a completely different 11-man team compared to Saturday’s line-up at Anfield and still managed to progress into the next round.
The last two seasons have seen Southampton knocked-out of the League Cup by opposition lower than the Premier League with a full strength side out, but Tuesday evening’s fixture saw more youthful talent take to the field at St. Mary’s. Not only have results been going their way, but the club has also got young prospects coming through the system, as they have done for the past decade.
Calum Chambers, just 18-years-old, has already made four appearances for the first time in the Premier League this season and as a result, has been named in the England Under-19 squad for next month’s 2014 UEFA European Championship qualifiers along with Matt Targett, another Southampton graduate.
Saturday’s goalscorer at Anfield, Dejan Lovren, has confessed that the club are aiming for a Champions League spot within two years:
“Every player here thinks we can get into the Champions League within the next two years. It’s a big job, but everything is possible. Playing in the Champions League is an experience you can never forget and I hope to do it with Southampton. We can do something big this season, I want a place in the top seven or eight.”
Lovren gave up Champions League football to join the Saints during the summer; this shows how the ‘Southampton project’ is highly appealing to players on the market.
Becoming a Champions League team within two years of becoming a Premier League team is clearly a tough ask, but Southampton have already showed a statement of intent this season by beating one of the considered top six clubs in Liverpool. Pochettino’s side are now above Manchester United in the Premier League, but the Southampton fans will not be complacent following their impressive start to the campaign.
Southampton will play host to Crystal Palace this weekend as Ian Holloway’s side will be in search for just their second win of the season. The last time the two teams met were in April 2012 when Rickie Lambert’s brace saw Saints win 2-0 at Selhurst Park. Fierce rivals Portsmouth were also in the Championship during the 2011-12 season, which shows how much has changed from then up to last weekend. Southampton took all three points at Anfield, whilst Pompey lost 1-0 to Fleetwood Town at Fratton Park.
Speculation has surrounded Pochettino and his inability to speak English since joining the club in January, but evidence of the Argentine speaking reasonably good English dismisses this speculation with fact that the manager has spoken in English to Sky Sports presenter Ed Chamberlain (link below). In a recent press conference, Pochettino has expressed that he does speak English, and he will speak English to the media ‘soon’, but for now he will only speak English to the squad.
On 31 August 2012, Gaston Ramirez joined Southampton for a reported £12 million, but the Uruguayan can only find a place on the bench so far this season due to notable appearances from team mates Jay Rodriquez, Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse, all young English talent. Ramirez started against Bristol City in the Carling Cup on Tuesday evening and scored the opening goal, reminding Pochettino what the attacking midfielder is all about as he pushes for a first-team spot.
One negative from Tuesday evening’s tie against Bristol City was the attendance at St. Mary’s. Southampton fans have been out in force over the past few seasons during their rise back to the Premier League, but over-priced tickets for the Capital One clash resulted in just 8,000 spectators at the match.