England Can Reap Rewards of Continental Influence at Southampton
There is something big bubbling under the surface at Southampton FC.
As things stand, only Serie A leaders AS Roma have a better defensive record than the Saints in all of Europe’s major leagues. Setting up a team that is hard to beat and difficult to score against is one thing, but finding the right blend to compliment that with an eye-catching offensive style is something above and beyond expectations on the English south coast.
A quarter of the way through their second season back in the big time, Southampton have gatecrashed the promised land that is the top-4, after a convincing 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday evening. Very few teams in the EPL, if any outside those involved in the Champions League, are playing more stylishly than Southampton right now. The credit must go to the man in charge.
Mauricio Pochettino‘s arrival in England came off the back of a bitter series of events. Namely, Southampton harshly parted company with Nigel Adkins after the former boss had engineered two consecutive promotions. With little time on his hands, the Argentinian guided his new club away from the relegation zone into a highly respectable 14th placed finish, which went a long way to justify the owner’s knee-jerk reactions.
Nowadays Southampton fans have little cause to look back in anger; Pochettino is steadily turning the team into European contenders and has taken huge strides in improving the defense especially. The addition of Dejan Lovren over the summer was a huge coup that flew under the radar at the time. With his inclusion, the defense that shipped 60 goals last season has allowed just three over nine games so far in this campaign.
Southampton are now noticeably more astute without the ball but it is what they are doing in possession that is drawing all the plaudits at the moment. The continental influences that the manager brings from his days in Spanish football and with the Argentinian national team are there for all to see. What’s perhaps most pleasing of all for the natives, is how Pochettino is incorporating a core of English players into his intricate systems whilst also harnessing the talent of some promising youngsters.
The Saints dispatched of Fulham with relative ease in front of the cameras on Saturday Night Football and it was largely due to some top performing home-grown stars. Six of the eleven players that started the game were English nationals, only one of which has received full international honors with the others having appeared sporadically for the under-21′s at some point; on this evidence they will not be far behind.
The goals and assists in the victory were provided by the English striking duo, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert scoring one and providing for the other. Adam Lallana — who has been the next big thing waiting to happen for sometime now — pulled the strings in midfield displaying an effortless and precise passing range and that vaunted commodity of being able to operate successfully anywhere across the middle of the park. The two full-backs that make up the league’s best defence, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, are also both English with the latter just 18 years old and already on the radar of the more prestigious clubs in the country. Shaw is joined in the team by James Ward-Prowse, another product of the now-famed Southampton youth academy and another who operates with maturity beyond his years, looking comfortable in a Premier League midfield.
— Luke Shaw (@Luke_shaw3) October 26, 2013
Aside from Lambert who the most of his belated international calling over the summer, none of the other English proteges at Southampton are over the age of 24, suggesting that there is plenty more to come and plenty for England‘s long-suffering supporters to feel optimistic about. As the so-called ‘ golden generation’ are coming to the end of their careers, there appears to be another waiting in the wings.