Saints still marching on in the top four

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-19 22:28:02

Even as the Premiership has passed the halfway stage, the race for the top four is still very open.

While the usual clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are in the mix, third-placed Southampton have upset the regular ­order. Meanwhile, Arsenal, West Ham, Liverpool and Spurs are all slightly behind in the hunt. This has made the season a lot more exciting than recent ones.

Earlier in the season, Southampton drew a lot of praise for good performances after surviving a summer exodus that saw five of their best players move to other clubs. Having risen to second place, the club had many observers lauding them, but cautious. It would only be a matter of time before the Saints were brought back crashing to reality, many thought. But here we are in January, and Southampton are still marching on.

Their early-season ­success came from wins over the ­modest likes of Sunderland and Leicester. However, the club then hit a rough patch with a five-game losing streak that ­included narrow defeats to ­Arsenal and Manchester ­United and even Burnley.

Critics believed the Saints had been exposed as ­pretenders.

But in a two-week period in December and January, they avenged those defeats to the Gunners and the Red Devils with hard-fought but deserved wins, and drew 1-1 with league leaders Chelsea.

One major reason for the Saints' success is that they were able to replace the players they lost with ones who are just as good or better. This might sound easy but Spurs and Liver­pool have failed while doing the same. Manager Ronald Koeman has done a great job integrating the players despite only starting in the summer.

Southampton have a formidable team that can score, dominate midfield and boast the stingiest defense in the league. And besides technical skills and teamwork, the Saints also have strong mental fortitude.

In their draw with Chelsea and win against United, Southampton showed they could ­battle for a gritty draw and hold on to a narrow lead against more talented opponents.

In their victory over Arsenal, Southampton harried the Gunners, preventing them from ­establishing their passing game and forcing the Arsenal keeper and defense into making major errors that resulted in goals.

Given their ongoing form, the number of skeptics who doubt the Saints could finish in the top four may be dwindling.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.

Posted in: Extra Time

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