Tadic and Pelle are the signings of the season but tricky schedule could make or break Southampton
The jury is still out on how good Southampton are despite the remarkable achievement of 26 points from 12 games.
Last season that tally at this stage of the season would have had them four points clear at the top of the table.
That they have managed a start like that after a summer in which they sold so many players – Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw – makes it all the more impressive.
They have played neat, progressive football and, in the right-winger Dusan Tadic and the centre-forward Graziano Pelle, they have two of the signings of the season.
This has been a remarkable example of how a mid-ranking side can sell their best players, buy wisely and improve, although nobody should think that the process is infinitely repeatable – money will out in the end.
The doubt is that the fixture list has been kind. Southampton have faced only two teams who finished in the top seven last season – Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur – and they lost both of those matches.
That is why Sunday’s game at home to Manchester City is so important: this is a real test of just how good they are and it comes at the beginning of an extremely tricky run of games.
After City, Southampton face Arsenal (away), Manchester United (home), Burnley (away), Everton (home), Crystal Palace (away), Chelsea (home), Arsenal (home) and Manchester United (away).
In the next seven weeks, they play nine league games, seven of which are against sides who finished in the top seven last season.
It could be that the good start gives them confidence and Southampton are able to maintain their form, taking perhaps 14 or 15 points from those matches.
Or it could be that such a glut of tough games derails them completely.
The example of the worst-case scenario is Sunderland in 2010/11. They were sixth at the beginning of February, but then took a single point from a run of seven games against the previous season’s top six plus Stoke City. They did not recover until Steve Bruce was dismissed the following December.
City are beatable, but they have shown recent signs of improvement, even if much of it is rooted in Sergio Aguero’s clinical run in front of goal.
Although they were poor at Queens Park Rangers and fortunate to get away with a 2-2 draw two weeks ago, coming from behind to beat Swansea City and then Bayern Munich suggests that at least there is character in the side.
There were also, perhaps, glimmers against Swansea of Yaya Toure returning to some sort of form.
At the same time, Southampton’s display in the draw against Aston Villa on Monday, in which they badly missed Steven Davis, who is still out with his hamstring problem, was their least fluent for some time.
In that sense, the performance against City on Sunday is almost more important than the result: they need to prove they can compete against that level of opponent.
Sunday will go a long way to telling us just how good are Southampton.
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Published: November 28, 2014 04:00 AM