Back in the summer, as player after key player left St Mary’s, few – if any – would have predicted that Southampton would go into today’s visit of Liverpool ahead of them in the race for fourth place and Champions League football next season.
Fans’ worst nightmares involved former favourites Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren coming back with Liverpool today to inflict humiliation on the relegation-bound Saints. In fact the players who thought the grass was greener at Anfield have hardly enjoyed the most successful of seasons.
Matthew le Tissier is one of those few entitled to say “I told you so” after bravely stating pre-season that new manager Ronald Koeman and his squad would not be involved in a losing battle to stay up.
Although that sounded like the Saints legend ploughing the sort of individual furrow he did during his playing days, when he resisted all offers to join bigger clubs, it was based on inside information.
Le Tissier tells The Independent on Sunday: “People in the club knew what was going on and I was aware that any money that was being brought in was going to be put back into the squad, so that was why I wasn’t panicking. I knew it wasn’t a fire sale, I knew it wasn’t asset-stripping. Having said that, I’d have been more than happy with a season of mid-table consolidation, but what has happened has been beyond every Saints fan’s wildest dream.”
He was also publicly critical when Lovren claimed “my head is already at Liverpool” while still a Southampton player, and admits that he is not heartbroken at the Croatia defen-der’s struggles this season.
“I thought he showed a lot of disrespect and perhaps the season he has had has been just a little bit of payback for the way he treated us.
“He’s probably not bothered by what I say – well, he might be actually, because he stopped following me on Twitter after I said what I did, which I found very amusing, and really mature – but he didn’t do himself any favours with the way he behaved.”
Le Tissier recognises that the “monumental figures” being paid to players these days represent a greater temptation than he faced when staying loyal 15 years ago, but he cites Lambert as an example of parting on good terms. “He dealt with it the proper way in public, with respect for Southampton, and that’s why Rickie will get by far the best reception of the three who come back,” he says.
“Adam, when he has been given the chance, has probably had the best season. But even when he has been fit, he hasn’t always been first pick. He had a run of games when he looked Liverpool’s best player and then he has been left out.
“So there is something there that tells you that Brendan Rodgers hasn’t got 100 per cent faith in him just yet,” he adds. “I think Rickie and everybody realised he wasn’t going to play regularly, but it was a move he couldn’t turn down. The other two would have expected to be playing every week.”
Talk of loyalty brings up Koeman’s recent insistence that he will honour his contract despite interest from his former club Barcelona – one of many things about the Dutchman that has impressed Le Tissier.
“After [Mauricio] Pochettino left, some Saints fans were starting to think, ‘Here we go again’, but he dealt with it brilliantly. His managerial record shows that he knows how to win and has methods that are proven to bring success.
“That builds a lot of confidence within a squad. He has brought a sense of calm that has been behind what we’ve done this season.”
Maintaining that level of success will depend on rediscovering the attacking form of earlier in the season. “They still have the best defensive record in the league so that is something to build from,” Le Tissier said. “The one thing missing in the last few weeks is goals, and if we’re going to continue to fight for that top-four spot we’ve got to create more chances as well.”
Koeman, though, had anticipated that a dip in scoring would come. “I knew it would be more difficult to score that number of goals,” the manager said. “People were surprised in the beginning in how we reformed the team but now it is difficult because opponents are more focused. But maybe when we finish fourth in the table people will stop being surprised.”Reuse content