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Premier League preview: Will Ronald Koeman march the Saints back into the Championship?

Southampton were living the high life last season but now look like they could disintegrate

by Sean Goff | July 31, 2014

It was all looking so promising for Southampton.

You ditch the manager that won you two successive promotions (Nigel Adkins) as you’re facing the drop – and replace him with a cool, continental version who pretends not to speak English – but keeps you in the top tier.

An eighth-place finish in the Premier League last term in Mauricio Pochettino’s first full season in charge had Southampton fans getting the phrasebook out for long-awaited European trips.

But when the Argentine manager – with the newly-discovered perfect English – took the road to Tottenham – the exodus at the South coast club became as frenzied as Tinder on a Friday night.

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Exodus – movement of the people

First Rickie Lambert (£4m), then Adam Lallana (£25) and earlier this week, defender Dejan Lovren (£20m) started humming ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ making the Saints look like a feeder club for the House of Scouse.

Add on left –back Luke Shaw (£30m to Manchester United) and right-back Calum Chambers (£16m to Arsenal) and midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin’s transfer request – that’s almost £100m of talent waving goodbye to the Saints and the odds on Southampton being relegated have plummeted to 4/1 from 18/1 since May.

What are our goals?

But apart from the player exodus – the goal drain on the Saints survival chances have taken a hammering too.

Lambert’s (13 goals, 3 pens) Lallana (9) and even Lovren (2) scored 24 of the Saints 54 Premier League goals last season – 44 per cent of their onion-sack tally.

Its ironic then that top scorer Jay Rodriguez (15 league goals) is still at the club – for now. But if the England international joins Pochettino at Spurs and takes his 15 goals with him that’s 39 of their 54 top flights goals gone – a massive 72 per cent.

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Case for the defence

It was Southampton’s consistency that made them a top 10 side last season. They picked up 30 points from 19 home games and 26 points from 19 matches on the road.

With the sixth meanest defence in the Premier League with just 46 goals conceded (Chelsea were the lowest with 27) – three of the back four are now gone (Lovren, Shaw and Chambers) and stopping goals – as well as scoring them – could be as big a problem.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed as the Saints are 11/8 to finish inside the top 10 again but 8/15 to finish in the bottom 10. 

While the bean counters may be happy at the £100m booty – the fans could be forgiven for dreading the visist to Anfield on the opening day of the new season more than an outbreak of the ebola virus.

And then there’s the unknown factor of new boss Ronald Koeman.

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Koe are ya?

The 51-year-old either has a dark sense of humour or is starting to panic after tweeting an empty Saints’ training ground earlier this week (below).

There’s no questioning his CV as a player with 78 caps for the Netherlands, two World Cup appearances, La Liga titles, two European Cup medals (PSV & Barcelona) and a 1988 European Championship medal for his country.

But his career in the dugout hasn’t hit the same heights and most of his league success has come wrapped in the comfort blanket of the Eredivisie, winning two titles at Ajax and one at PSV.

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His 14-year managerial career highlights outside the Netherlands include winning the Copa del Rey with Valencia in 2007 – but even this ended badly as he was sacked in the same season as the club flirted with relegation.

The Dutchman quit Benfica in 2005 less than 12 months after taking charge of the then reigning Primeira Liga champions despite guiding them to third place in the league and a Champions League quarter final. And after a year out of the game he lasted less than five months at Dutch side AZ in 2009.

Koeman has been praised for his academy work.

But Southampton fans will want more than just a production line of players that has yielded a current crop of Lallana, Shaw and Chambers to add to Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – that thrived at other clubs as the Saints struggled.

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