It is quite common for newly-promoted teams to start in a blaze of glory, picking up unexpectedly good results before the Premier League’s unremitting quality grinds them down, but are Southampton bucking the trend by doing things in reverse?
Hull City, Blackpool, Burnley and Crystal Palace are among the sides that have won an unexpected promotion from the Championship in recent years and continued that momentum into their debut top-flight campaign, only to see performances and points increasingly hard to come by as the season wore on.
But Southampton seem to be the opposite: they are getting better in nearly every department. The Saints started the year looking every bit the naïve team that had gone from League One to the Premier League in just two seasons and their performances were a bit of a horror show.
The south-coast club lost their opening four matches as their defence struggled to make the step up to facing top-level opposition. Southampton conceded 28 goals in their first ten matches, only one of which ended in victory, to register the worst goals against record at that stage of the season in Premier League history.
But the last four games have seen Southampton get back in the game and they have given manager Nigel Adkins a stay of execution.
From looking doomed at one stage, Adkins has overseen a mini-turnaround in the last few weeks that has lifted the Saints back into the pack: two wins and two draws from the last four league fixtures momentarily propelled Southampton out of the drop zone and their relegation no longer looks the certainty that it did previously.
What’s more, their defence has tightened up considerably. From looking utterly hapless, Saints have only let in three goals in their last four games and kept their first clean sheet of the season in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Newcastle United at St Mary’s.
It is an improvement that I will readily admit I really didn’t see coming and it will give Adkins hope that he will be able to get something when his side go to Anfield to face Liverpool on Saturday.
Southampton are 13/2 to pick up the three points, with the draw at 7/2 and Liverpool at 2/5, and it goes without saying once again that at those odds you can’t be backing the Reds.
There were plenty of good things to appreciate in Liverpool’s display in the 2-1 midweek defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, but once again they were so powder puff up top that, despite all their possession, they could only score via a comedy own goal and the lack of cutting edge continues to undermine everything Brendan Rodgers is trying to implement.
If Luis Suarez doesn’t score then nobody does and it has meant that, whatever the nuances of Liverpool’s performances, they have won just three games out of 14 and you’re absolutely mental if you are thinking of backing them at 2/5 (that makes our resident accumulator expert mental, then! – Ed).
The visit of Southampton represents the first in what you might call a run of ‘winnable’ fixtures for Liverpool (if indeed such a thing exists anymore) and if Rodgers delivers anything other than victory on Saturday there will be more than a few rumbles of discontent on the Kop.
Having said that, I do think Liverpool will win and the main reason for that is Suarez. Southampton have tightened up, but in all those matches they haven’t faced anyone in the same class as the Uruguayan – in fact, there are very few players in the world that are in the same class as Suarez at the moment.
And as usual, he will be the difference between a Liverpool win and not, but it will not be as easy as the 2/5 implies and I want a bit of better value than that. Instead, I’ll go for the 13/10 that the Reds win a match that sees under 3.5 goals.
Only three of Liverpool’s 14 games have seen four goals or more, with the only one at Anfield being the 2-2 draw with Manchester City. Part of the reason for that is Liverpool defending much better – they have let in only six goals in their last nine matches.
The amount of goals in Southampton’s matches have started to even out, too. Averaging well over four a match until the last month, only one of their last six games have seen more than 3.5 goals and indeed four of them have seen two goals or fewer.
So I don’t expect lots of goals, but Liverpool, thanks to Suarez, can nick a home win and that 13/10 represents much better value that their odds-on quote in the 3Way market.