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Manchester teams and Arsenal are acid test for Saints’ top four hopes

Be honest, you didn’t have Southampton down as Chelsea’s closest challengers for the Premier League title a dozen games into the season, did you?

While their odds to win England’s top-flight are 50/1 with Coral, finishing in the top four at 7/4 looks a much more realistic prospect for Ronald Koeman.

Saints left it late, but snatched a point from their Monday Night Football trip to Aston Villa courtesy of England’s new right back Nathaniel Clyne. The former Crystal Palace academy product is also relishing their next three televised tests.

“We’re buzzing for it,” Clyne said of successive matches against Premier League champions Manchester City, perennial Champions League qualifiers Arsenal and Manchester United. “There are some big games coming up thick and fast and we have to be mentally prepared.

“We’re going into those games confident. We are underdogs but want to show how good we are.” And Southampton have been very good indeed. Away defeats at Liverpool on the opening day and to Tottenham apart, they are unbeaten in their other 13 games across all competitions.

Flank combinations have been key to Saints’ success under Koeman this campaign; Clyne and Dusan Tadic down the right, plus Chelsea loanee Ryan Bertrand and Sadio Mane on the other side.

This quartet are key to supplying top scorer Graziano Pelle, as well as supplementing Shane Long’s strikes.

Southampton have taken four home points off City in their two previous Premier League seasons since returning to the top flight, meaning their odds for a favourable result (2/1 to win or 13/5 to draw) are tasty.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men will be buoyed by hat-trick hero Sergio Aguero, who has revived their Champions League campaign by beating Bayern Munich ahead of an away match in Rome on the final group game, though.

Will his heroics have taken their toll on the Argentina attacker, who has struggled with injuries in recent times, however?

Koeman’s Saints must pray it is so, as with both Aguero and Edin Dzeko out, they would stand a real chance of upsetting the established order again.

As far as Arsenal are concerned, this side have already beaten them at the Emirates in the Capital One Cup, a competition Southampton are 9/2 third-favourites to win.

So, can Koeman and company really crack the top four? These next assignments will tell us an awful lot about whether the Dutch coach can go one better than predecessor Mauricio Pochettino and steer Saints into Europe.