Southampton’s best-ever start to a top-flight season began to go awry at the point that many onlookers had expected, with home matches against the Manchester sides, ending with a trip to Arsenal. Those matches ended in defeats and, in the process, saw them concede six goals – as many as they had let in during the previous 12 Barclays Premier League matches.
The defeats to City, Arsenal and United were not as clear-cut as they appear. Southampton were more than holding their own at the Emirates Stadium until Toby Alderweireld was forced off, the injury reducing Saints to 10 men for the closing stages – a numerical advantage Alexis Sanchez capitalised on to secure a narrow 1-0 win. Even Louis van Gaal admitted United were “lucky” to leave St Mary’s with three points.
Schneiderlin, arguably Southampton’s best player, was forced off injured midway through the match against Manchester City. With Jack Cork out ill, defender Alderweireld was pushed into midfield, which disrupted the balance of the side. Schneiderlin is now back but Cork is out for up to two months, while James Ward-Prowse is still recuperating from a foot injury.
LIGHT IN ATTACK
Graziano Pelle set the league alight with his start to life at St Mary’s, but things have dried up of late. A lack of service and confidence has impacted the Italy international, who Saints have become all so reliant upon to lead their forward line. Gallagher, who impressed last season, remains injured, while Emmanuel Mayuka is at best Championship material. Big-money acquisition Shane Long has so far been preferred in a wide attacking role.
For many of the new arrivals, this is the first time they have had such a hectic December. Pelle, Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mane and Alderweireld had never played in this league, while this it is also a first taste for vastly-experienced manager Ronald Koeman.