Note: Over the next twenty days, we will spend a day previewing each team in the Premier League in advance of the coming season. We''ll start with the promoted teams, then move up the table, skipping Newcastle and saving them for last. We will finish on August 12, exactly one week prior to the Toon's opener with Manchester City. Sorry for falling behind on these; I promise we'll catch up soon!
Southampton finished a somewhat surprising 14th in the Premier League last season, becoming the second consecutive club to survive its first season in the top flight following two successive promotions (Norwich City being the other). That the once unthinkable feat is becoming commonplace should not in any way diminish the accomplishment, but try consoling Nigel Adkins with that logic. Adkins was inexplicably fired in January with his team in 15th place and his team on a 5 match unbeaten run, and new boss Mauricio Pochettino finished the job that he started. He was quickly embraced at St Mary's Stadium, given high profile wins over Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea.
Those victories proved instrumental in their promotion push. They were out of the conversation well before Newcastle were, thanks to a 6 match unbeaten streak that also had 3 wins in March and April. By the time they were beaten 3-0 by West Bromwich Albion with 4 to play, it didn't really matter anymore. At least from an outsider's perspective, it was a successful return to the Premier League. They even got revenge on Alan Pardew, beating his new club 2-0 at home. For the most part, they achieved what they did by playing smart football - generally beating the teams they were supposed to, drawing against the mid-table (against the 10 matches against the teams that eventually finished in 9th-13th place, they drew 9 times and lost only once), then pulling off the occasional and well-timed upset.
It's a winning formula to be sure, as long as the goal is to avoid relegation. This is a proud club with a proud history, and eventually they will hope to set their sights higher, an attitude they embodied when they spent a club record £12.5 million on the highly-regarded Victor Wanyama. (Have you noticed a pattern? Almost all of the clubs we've previewed so far have broken their own purchase record. It's almost as if they've noticed that this year's TV contract will be double what it has been in the past, and they're acting accordingly. Hmm.) Wanyama will join player-of-the-year Morgan Schneiderlin and the plucky Jason Puncheon in midfield in support of Rickie Lambert, who is perhaps the most unsung 15-goal scorer in recent memory. This is a team looking to improve on an already respectable goal total of 49.
They'll likely need to score at least 50 to keep up with their defending, to be honest. They've brought in Dejan Lovren, who was on the fringes of the first team at Lyon, to bolster the back line, but Pochettino continues to express verbal support for the controversial Artur Boruc, who at 33 has a long injury history. It's not necessarily a poor situation, but their goal prevention capability is rather tenuous.
At the moment, the Saints have the type of squad that I like quite a bit - young, but with plenty of veteran presence to provide direction. Problems could arise if injuries hit and the inexperienced players are forced to play roles they're not quite ready for. It doesn't do much good to project injuries in the preseason, however, so we'll settle for saying that this is a team that looks set to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, as long as their lack of squad depth doesn't become an issue.