Timing is everything.
Take English Premier League club Southampton. The Saints are off to a 4-1-3 start in the Premier League season — good enough to occupy the fifth spot in the table. It’s higher than last year’s champion, Manchester United, which Southampton drew last weekend at Old Trafford.
If Southampton, 14th last campaign, put together this nice eight-game stretch any other time during the season? Eh. It’s probably not much of a big deal, but since it happens at the start when the table is still taking shape we sit up and take notice. beyond that, Southampton gets the late Saturday standalone game this week on NBC against Fulham.
So … what to make of the Saints? Their best result is a win away to Liverpool at Anfield. Meanwhile Southampton drew Sunderland, for the latter’s only point on the season. Southampton is also 2-0 in the League Cup. Even so, a 10 game stretch isn’t much of a sample size.
Instead, let’s talk — for a moment — about the so-called “second season syndrome” in regard to Southampton. The idea here is it’s harder, sometimes for a club to survive in the Premier League. This is Southampton’s, yep, second year in the Prem.
Going back through the last ten seasons, 11 of the 30 promoted clubs went back down. Three notable cases of “second season syndrome” that stand out to me recently are Reading (2006/08); Hull City (2007/09); and Birmingham City (2009-2011). Reading finished eighth their first season in 2006-07 then slumped to 18th — level on 36 points with Fulham, losing out on goal difference. Hull City were a point better than a crummy Newcastle squad their first year and then were poor the following season, dropping back to the Championship. Birmingham City famously beat Arsenal in the League Cup the same year it was relegated.
Southampton seem more in line with a team like Swansea, which gained promotion to the Premier League in 20011 and hasn’t looked back with an 11th place finish followed by an eighth place finish along with winning the League Cup last season and making headway in the Europa League.
The Saints quickly came to an astute decision: sticking with the club that it won promotion with two years ago isn’t going to cut it in the Premier League over a long period of time. Last year the club mad the bold choice to fire Nigel Adkins and hire Mauricio Pochettino as coach.
Instead of falling into the trap many promoted clubs do, of buying castoff players with Premier League “experience” to fill out the numbers, it made smart decisions. Over the summer Southamption didn’t buy a ton of players, but bought three from European clubs with big reputations: Dejan Lovren (Lyon); Dani Oswalda (Roma); Victor Wanyama (Celtic). Take those guys to help round out the cast of guys like Rickie Lambert and Adam Llanana and you’ve got a nice little team.
Helping Southampton all the more is its consistently strong youth academy, which in recent seasons produced Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. 18-year-olds Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse are both homegrown players contributing to Southampton this season.
Again it’s a small set of games, but Southampton does look like an upwardly mobile Premier League club on the go.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND:
Chelsea vs. Manchester City — (Sunday, noon) These were the two clubs most figured, back in the summer, would win the Premier League this term. My pick is still City and I’m sticking with them. Sergio Aguero is in great form, with six goals in seven league games. If the Argentine is knocking in goals, with all the talent behind him, City is going to be hard to stop — unless Joe Hart and the defense completely fall off.
I’m not exactly sure what to make about Chelsea. The Blues win games, but haven’t looked overly impressive. Take Fernando Torres. The easy joke target has three goals in three Champions League matches but is 0-for-6 in the Premier League. … City 2, Chelsea 1.