Even as Southampton made their way through a pre-season in which they won five of their six games conceding just twice, prophecies of doom were being issued by all and sundry.
After all they’d sold four-and-a-half-first team-players, their 2013/14 top-scorer to injury, the manager who’d established them in the Premier League, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Their excellent form since is to Ronald Koeman’s great credit, but how exactly has he fashioned a team that seem to be an improvement on last term’s crop so quickly?
Before discussion of the mild-mannered masterstrokes that have led to the Saints being cut to just 67/100 for a top-six finish this season ensues, a note of context to the Dutchman’s achievements should be added.
The south coast club has three points more on the board than it did at this stage in 2013/14.
Meanwhile even if Southampton’s recent win over promoted QPR is charitably considered a like-for-like swap for last term’s success over then-useless Crystal Palace, they have gleaned three points more than they had from the commensurate fixtures under Mauricio Pochettino last season.
So, while Koeman has eked improvement from a supposedly decimated group, the degree to which he has done so remains slightly exaggerated by the current silver medal berth.
However the way in which these marginal gains have been achieved suggests the Dutchman is a shrewder manager than Saints fans may have gleaned from his stop-start managerial CV.
The perceptiveness behind his success is highlighted by the fact after the Hull game he identified the summer upheaval at Saint Mary’s as a blessing in disguise, suggesting it had allowed him to craft his own squad rapidly:
“It helped, although (Dusan) Tadic was already on the scouting list at Southampton,”
“It also came down to positions. (Adam) Lallana left, so we have to bring in a similar player to Lallana. (Rickie) Lambert goes, so we have to bring in another striker. Spending the money in the positions that we needed was the most important thing.”
He has signed well, yet he has also recognised the value of some the more unsung players in last season’s success, namely the criminally-underrated Jack Cork, Steven Davis and Nathaniel Clyne.
Meanwhile, rather than fall into the trap of trying to get his head around Pochettino’s system, Koeman has been wise enough to recognise that a squad replete with several new faces and lacking identity in the wake of the Argentine’s departure was, as a result, ripe to quickly assimilate a new way of playing.
Namely defending from slightly deeper, in the process eliminating the long ball into space, that fatal flaw of high-pressing defence, as a cause of goals.