Chelsea are the next stop on Southampton’s rollercoaster ride
Good, bad and good again: Southampton’s season so far can be divided into three basic phases.
There was the part that lasted until mid-November in which they won eight and drew one of 11 league games and beat Arsenal in the League Cup.
Then there was the part that lasted until a week ago, in which they drew at Aston Villa, lost four league games and went out of the League Cup to Sheffield United.
Now there is the resurgence that has seen them score six in two matches, comfortably beating Everton and Crystal Palace.
The past two games prove at least that they have resilience.
Just as they had been widely written off after a summer of selling off most of the talent that had taken them to eighth last season, so there was a tendency to think that once the bubble burst, once injuries began to bite, their fall would be inevitable.
The quality of the performance against Everton – who are struggling desperately to live up to their achievements last season, even if the Europa League provides some mitigation – suggested there is still plenty of fight left in the team from the south of England, even if that does not necessarily mean they will be able to stop Chelsea on Sunday.
The other big criticism of Southampton is that, Everton aside, every time they have faced a team that finished above them last season, they have lost – against Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.
It has not helped that so many of those games have been clumped together: they faced City, Arsenal and United in successive games and, after Chelsea, must play Arsenal and United again.
Nothing is especially wrong with a team that beats the sides below them and loses to the sides above them – Arsenal have been doing that for years – but it does rather hamper any possibility of breaking in to the top six or perhaps qualifying for the Europa League.
That is why this run of three games seems key.
If Southampton win only one of them – and they should have beaten United at home – it would offer a token, a symbol that they do perhaps belong, even if only temporarily, at the top table.
After this run of games, there is some clear water: if Southampton can stay in the hunt until mid-January, it is entirely possible they could put together the sort of run they did in September and October.
If they could, it would be a good thing for English football: how sustainable a top-six place can be without major financing is debatable, but in a season in which so many top sides are in transition, it would be a useful fillip for Southampton (or West Ham) to prove that with wise husbandry and enlightened coaching, the mid-ranking clubs can still occasionally make their mark.
It would be a much more convincing mark, though, if Southampton could beat one of the top sides.
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Published: December 27, 2014 04:00 AM