Southampton 1 Stoke 0: Saints built on rock Toby Alderweireld

Saints held on to victory over Stoke to go second in the league

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The Independent Online

Southampton made the headlines in scoring eight last week, but the goals that are not going in are the main reason they lie second in the Premier League.

Saints have the best defensive record among England’s professional football clubs, having conceded just six goals in 11 matches in all competitions. This was their sixth clean sheet of the season.

“I’m proud of that; we have worked hard on defensive organisation and clean sheets win games,” said Southampton’s manager, Ronald Koeman. “We are hard to beat.”

One significant factor has been the arrival of Toby Alderweireld on loan from Atletico Madrid, a smart piece of business considering Liverpool paid £20m for the player he replaced, Dejan Lovren.

“He has been a strong influence,” said Koeman of the defender. “He has settled so well that it looks as if he has played in English football for two years already.

“Last season he was playing for Atletico, who probably had the best defence in Europe. His experience has helped to improve some of the players around him. He is still young but he is an international.”

 

The 25-year-old’s last appearance for Atletico was the Champions League final. It was not the greatest of experiences; Atletico were leading 1-0 when he came on with seven minutes left. They lost 4-1, albeit after extra time.

The Belgian was set to stay in Madrid when Koeman got in touch. “I was happy there because I was playing games, but I wanted to play more,” said Alderweireld. “Then Southampton came to me. I talked to Ronald and he told me to ask them if I could play here. Ronald knew I played one third of the games for Atletico. He said I could stay there and hope for my chance or come to Southampton and show my quality. I wanted to play a lot more and show my qualities to the world. So I said, ‘Yes, why not?’

“I didn’t expect Southampton to do as well as we have done, but I did expect to be coming into a good team that likes to play good football.”

Southampton scored only once this week, through Sadio Mané’s well-taken drive, but struck the woodwork twice. Optimism abounds on the South Coast, with fans chanting, “We’re going to win the league”. Stoke manager Mark Hughes sounded a cautionary note, observing their fixture list will get much tougher.

First, these teams meet again on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup fourth round at Stoke. Hughes expects a better performance from his players. “We won’t be overawed this time,” he said.

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