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Koeman critics correct after Saints struggle in top four tests

Following a trio of acid tests of their Champions League credentials which they all lost, Southampton are now 7/2 chances with Coral for a top four finish. And it seems, for once, that critics of Ronald Koeman were right.

Saints have failed to pick up a single point against any of the seven sides that finished above them in the Premier League table last term. A hat-trick of successive defeats against reigning champions Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have followed similar results with Liverpool and Spurs earlier in the campaign.

This poor run of recent form, during which the south coast club have managed to score just once, has seen Southampton slip from second to fifth with last midweek conquerors Arsenal now just three points behind them.

Robin van Persie was a thorny Red Devil in the Saints’ side in their latest outing, pouncing twice on defensive errors as United climbed up to third with a 2-1 away victory. Even more injuries for Louis van Gaal at the back could not stop him from triumphing over compatriot Koeman.

Southampton captain Jose Fonte’s terrible back-pass misjudgement allowed Dutch striker Van Persie to grab the opener inside 15 minutes, only for Graziano Pelle to end a six-game goal drought and restore parity on half an hour. The Italian frontman, signed in the summer from Koeman’s former club Feyenoord, saw his effort deflect in off Michael Carrick, who had to play as a makeshift centre back for the second half.

Van Persie popped up at the back post to turn in Wayne Rooney’s deep free-kick with 20 minutes to go and take all three points. The manner of these three Saints defeats have all thus been different. While City put together a consummate away day counter-attack display and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez snatched a later winner, Van Gaal was magnanimous in victory, saying United got lucky.

As football is a results-based business, Koeman has failed to deliver against the upper echelons of the Premier League. We should remember he inherited a squad that needed to replace star performers from the Mauricio Pochettino era, though, and many had Southampton down as candidates to struggle this season.

While that analysis has clearly been proved wrong and the top four appears beyond them unless they can record favourable results in subsequent encounters with their rivals, finishing in a European place remains a realistic enough aim. Everton, Liverpool and Spurs are struggling with the rigours of a continental campaign, something Saints do not need to worry about presently.

The bookies certainly recognise this, as Southampton remain odds-on at 4/7 to crash the top six this term, and should not let their confidence be knocked by recent defeats.