With six competitive games under their belt, Southampton’s season to-date has been the definition of a mixed bag. Two wins, three draws and a defeat, and a resounding defeat it was too.
Despite early success with a 5-0 aggregate win over Vitesse Arnhem, supporters of Southampton are still awaiting that first win, after an opening day draw at Newcastle was followed up by a heavy defeat the hands of Everton. The most recent league result? A dull 0-0 draw at Watford.
So when will we see the best of Ronald Koeman’s side, complete with new additions?
The best suggestion I can offer is that it certainly won’t be in the forthcoming games against FC Midtjylland or Norwich City.
Saints have spluttered their way through fixtures to a combination of reasons to-date. Not being able to select both first-choice full-backs – Cédric and Ryan Bertrand – being just one.
Others include trying to perfect the midfield balance, something that has become easier since the arrival of Oriol Romeu, but which ultimately depends on blending the defensive abilities of Romeu and Victor Wanyama with the sidelined Jordy Clasie.
With Bertrand and Clasie expected to return to consideration for selection after the forthcoming international break – which follows Sunday’s match against Norwich City – it is then that we shall truly see the new-look Saints.
After conceding twice against Newcastle United, once against FC Midtjylland and three times at home to Everton, Saints boss Koeman went with a 3-5-2 at Watford.
While the Dutchman declared himself satisfied with his side’s clean sheet at Vicarage Road, it was, in truth, a game where they never looked too likely to find the back of the net. In fact, had it not been for the unintentional reprieve gifted to them by Etienne Capoue, there would be just one point on the board at this stage.
With the transfer window closing at the beginning of next week, the club anticipates the arrival of Virgil van Dijk from Celtic, thus cementing Koeman’s defensive options. There are no expected departures, with both Wanyama and Sadio Mané set to continue with the Saints beyond the deadline. That news comes despite reported interest from Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in the duo.
Van Dijk’s arrival and the return to fitness of both Bertrand and Clasie should enable Koeman to field a full-strength side, with all speculation over the short-term future of both Wanyama and Mané drawing to a close following the recommencement of the Premier League schedule on September the 12th.
Saints have, for large spells of this season, lacked fluidity and the same level of attacking endeavour that we have come to expect from the St. Mary’s outfit. That, supporters hope, will change with time.
Until such a time, it’s about finding ways to win games, as underlined by Koeman in his media duties ahead of the second leg against Midtjylland on Thursday night.
There’s been criticism in some quarters of Saints going direct, which has been the case. It will likely continue in the meantime. However, with the return of key faces and new additions joining the line-up in the near future, there is plenty of cause for optimism.
Saints will return from the international break – barring any incident – with a full-strength squad and quite possibly the strongest bench of substitutes in the club’s Premier League history.
While it may have proven somewhat frustrating not to hit the ground running, with some favourable early fixtures, it’s still too early to be discounting this squad and the new additions that are part of it.
The first hurdle is to ensure that Saints progress to the Europa League group stage, while Norwich’s trip to St. Mary’s on Sunday simply must be earmarked as a prime opportunity to pick up a first league win.
It’s far too early in the campaign for hyperbole, but should Saints fail to overcome Midtjylland and struggle against the Canaries, a lot of concern will seep from the fanbase.
These two fixtures represent a great opportunity to pick up two wins, sow the seeds of progress and rightly ensure well-placed optimism and hope for the season ahead.