Do Southampton’s summer signings have stamina for top four scrap?
Southampton’s season has certainly been a rollercoaster. From being tipped as relegation candidates after losing a swathe of first-team stars, to hailed as top four contenders as Ronald Koeman’s savvy signings took the Premier League by storm.
Now the Saints (6/1 with Coral to make the top four) appear to have plateaued, however, and have slipped to seventh spot. Coach Koeman’s canny captures were key to that surprise start, raising expectations, and are now also central to the slump.
If the south coast club are to secure European football and stand a chance of retaining much sought-after centre back Toby Alderweireld, who has helped reinforce their impressive rearguard, Saints must spark again in attack.
Poacher Graziano Pelle provided eight goals and two assists to spur Southampton on in 2014, replacing departed predator Rickie Lambert with aplomb.
Since the turn of the year, though, the former Feyenoord forward has lost his sparkle. Without a league goal in 2015, Pelle has kept his place due to his work ethic, tactical intelligence and link-up play.
The Italy international cannot have lost his instincts overnight, but confidence issues are often trickier to resolve than injuries. Despite being on a dry spell of 11 league games without scoring, Pelle is more than capable of another purple patch, and is 10/3 to be on target anytime against next opponents Chelsea.
Another summer recruit that needs to get back to the bread and butter of scoring and assisting is playmaker Dusan Tadic. The Serbia star has not made a game changing contribution in his last seven outings, and has often either started, or ended, his games on the bench.
Winter window loan signings, including compatriot Filip Djuricic and energetic wing wizard Eljero Elia have increased competition for places, and this appears to have had an adverse effect on talented Tadic.
A match-winning goal against Manchester United illustrated just what magic the attacking midfielder is capable of when given the nod, and Koeman may need to place more trust in Tadic to get the best out of him.
If the 26-year-old can replicate his rampant run of seven assists in eight games at the start of the season, Southampton could surely breathe life back into their top four challenge.
Only Senegal starlet Sadio Mane has improved on his early season promise, so tactician Koeman should perhaps stop tinkering and go back to basics. Saints were clearly having fun at the start of the season, before the pressure to challenge began to dominate their game, and should attempt to channel that fearless spirit again.
Are Southampton capable of staying the distance or was their form just a flash in the pan? The truth probably lays somewhere in between. Koeman’s decision to draft in talents untested in the Premier League certainly saved Saints a pretty penny or two, but it appears the pace and intensity of the English top flight, both mentally and physically, is beginning to take its toll.
With upcoming opponents and league leaders Chelsea having wobbled in Europe midweek, this is the ideal time for Koeman and co to show their credentials once again. As the cliche goes, form is temporary but class is permanent, so Pelle and his peers must shape up and show they have more miles left in the tank.