Richard Hercock: True test of Saints’ Champions League credentials looming

Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne (right) celebrates with Shane Long after scoring his side's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne (right) celebrates with Shane Long after scoring his side's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

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Nobody is surprised to see Chelsea sat proudly at the top of the Premier League this morning.

A fair few may be startled to see Liverpool – after their flirtation with the title race last season – sat just four points off the relegation zone in 12th place. Oh, how they have missed Luis Suarez.

But I would venture a few quid that the majority of The Yorksahire Post readers would not have predicted who would be sitting just below Chelsea in second spot in the table after the opening dozen games.

A team who lost their manager, the majority of their big-name players and banked millions in the process.

I, like many pundits, thought Southampton would struggle this season and that Ronald Koeman was on a loser when taking over from Tottenham-bound Mauricio Pochettino.

But I have to hold my hand up and say I got that one totally wrong.

With the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw having departed, Koeman has quietly gone about his business, bringing in replacements and tapping into his extensive knowledge of Dutch football.

Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pellè look quality additions, while the persuasive powers needed to keep Morgan Schneiderlin at 
St Mary’s have been impressive.

The Saints have based their success this season on a mean defence, conceding just six goals in 12 Premier League outings while scoring 24 goals. You do not have to be Einstein to work out that with those statistics, you are going to be a success.

What has to be pointed out is that Southampton have had a very easy start to life under Koeman. Yes, they have played Liverpool and Tottenham but these pair are more Europa League combatants than Champions League material.

Other than these two teams – who have both had poor starts in the Premier League – the Saints have played West Brom, West Ham, Newcastle, Swansea, QPR, Sunderland, Stoke, Hull City, Leicester and Aston Villa.

Granted, you can only beat what is in front of you, and their consistency has to be admired.

But we will know if Southampton can be genuine Champions League contenders with their results in the next 10 days. Tomorrow, Koeman’s team play host to Premier League champions Manchester City at St Mary’s.

City are sitting in third spot – two points adrift of Saints and eight behind leaders Chelsea – and look the only genuine threat to the Stamford Bridge club’s title aspirations come May. On Wednesday night, Southampton travel to Arsenal, who will provide a fierce test of their credentials at the Emirates.

Then, Saints conclude a testing spell with the visit of Manchester United on December 8 – a week on Monday – and come 10pm that night we should have a better idea how good Koeman’s side really is.

Do not get me wrong, United are still a team in transition, but there are signs that the Red Devils are coming to terms with life under Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford.

The summer transition on the south coast under Koeman was certainly a lot quicker.

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