02 December 2014

Sometimes, you gotta kick a club when it's down...

I like Southampton. I do. At some level, in fact, I envy them. How many other clubs could lose a half-dozen key players and a highly-touted manager, go through the acrimony of almost seeing one of their most-coveted players come a bit unhinged during the turmoil, and actually come out ahead? Long gone, of course, are the likes of Shaw, Lallana, Dovren, Chambers (cough), and Lambert—but their departures are but accounted for with new signings like Pellè, Long, Tadic, and Forster, among others. Credit Southampton for reloading so effectively, but it does seem as if they haven't yet accounted for the absence of Schneiderlin, who is set to miss Wednesday's clash after coming up lame during Southampton's debacle against Man City.

Southampton's season could not have gotten off to a brighter start. After a summer transfer-window that eviscerated the squad from top to bottom, we could excuse a certain degree of slumping. Not the Saints. Last year's campaign saw them race out to a grand total of 22 points after 13 matches—impressive by many standards—but the Saints have eclipsed that early return by going for 26 points from the same 13 matches, improving on last season's 56.4% rate of return to 66.7%, good enough, if sustained over the course of a season, to earn 75 points or so, which would be far and way their best haul ever.

Of course, it's one thing to start strong; it's quite another to sustain that start over the grueling haul of a 38-match season. After twelve matches, the Saints were doing very, very well, trailing the seemingly-invincible Chelsea by a mere six points, albeit while coasting through a relatively soft schedule that had seen them visit Anfield and White Hart Lane only to come up empty-handed. Given the struggles that Liverpool and Tottenham have had to endure to this point, one could be excused for overlooking those matches and looking instead to Sunday's clash against Man City as Southampton's first true test of the campaign. By almost any standard, sad to say, Southampton failed. Despite holding fast to a scoreless draw for the first half, it all came undone in the second. Without suggesting causation but while implying correlation, Morgan Schneiderlin was subbed off due to injury. His deputy, Maya Yoshida, was not up to the task, even after Man City were reduced to ten men after Mangala was shown a second yellow. Instead of seizing the advantage, it looked and felt for long stretches as if it was City playing a man-up as they scored twice after Mangala's sending-off.

The question then becomes, "will Southampton struggle to the same degree on Wednesday?" Hard to tell. Koeman will have had two full days to assess his squad's shortcomings. Toby Alberweireld stepped up from centre-back to deputize for Schneiderlin, with Maya Yoshida coming at centre-back. With other key players out, such as Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse, and Sam Gallagher, Southamptons' soft underbelly should be exposed. For as much as we might lament who injuries have shorn us of options, we at least have options. Southampton, bless their plucky little hearts, are only an injury or two away from falling apart. Without wishing to kick a squad when it's down, there's rarely been a better time than this. Schneiderlin had a chance to join Arsenal over the summer. He spurned it and tried to join none other than Tottenham. Since then, he's led the Saints to third on the table. What better comeuppance could we offer than to dispatch the Saints on Wednesday?