Five reasons why Southampton's great run ended

A fantastic start to the season has been followed by five straight defeats. So what has gone wrong for Ronald Koeman’s once unstoppable Saints?

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The Independent Online

Barely a month ago, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton looked all but unstoppable. Now they have slipped to fifth in the Premier League and, to compound their problems, a lacklustre display in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday ended in 1-0 defeat to League One Sheffield United. It was a fifth straight defeat, and prompts the question: what exactly is going wrong with the Southampton dream?

A squad lacking depth

Koeman’s appointment after Mauricio Pochettino left for Tottenham in the summer came with Southampton’s players following him out of St Mary’s at an alarming rate, lured away by Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. Koeman acted decisively, recruiting astutely and presenting Southampton fans with an influx of players, including Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pellè, Fraser Forster, Florin Gardos, Shane Long and Sadio Mané, spending some £56m. But the Dutchman warned that beyond his first team, there was little quality in reserve.

 

Injuries and suspensions

That lack of depth is beginning to bite. In addition to long-term absentee Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis and Jack Cork were ruled out by injury at Bramall Lane.  Meanwhile, leading-scorer Pellè missed the match because of suspension, which may not also be far away for Nathaniel Clyne, Mané and Victor Wanyama, who were among six players shown yellow cards in the Capital One Cup defeat.  Gardos faces an automatic ban after his late red card.

Lack of desire

More than 4,000 Saints fans travelled to South Yorkshire, but their commitment was not obviously matched on the field, where Southampton’s players never seemed comfortable.  In short, against a team that had shown several times in the last couple of seasons that they were not fazed by Premier League opponents, they did not seem to fancy it much, coming out second best in too many areas.

Unkind fixtures

Koeman accepts that Christmas games in England come thick and fast and that, no matter how ridiculous it maybe to play three times in six days, everyone is in the same boat. What he has a right to question, perhaps, is a sequence of nine Premier League fixtures that sees Southampton meet Manchester United and Arsenal twice, as well as Manchester City and Chelsea. They have lost to three of those sides already in that run of four consecutive league defeats and face United and Arsenal again, as well as Chelsea, in their next five games.

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Saints face Arsenal twice in a matter of weeks

Unrealistic expectations

Southampton climbed to second in the Premier League on the back of phenomenal early-season form. But as they counted the victories – a run of 11 in 12 games in all competitions – did the fans start to have ideas above their station?  Jostling for position with Chelsea and Manchester City gave rise to talk of playing in the Champions League, despite Koeman’s attempts to play down such dreams. But were those  expectations ever really likely to be borne out?  Top eight perhaps; top four maybe not....

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