Opinion: Can Southampton reach the top four?

With the turnaround in form, Southampton are still in with a slight chance of reaching the top four.

Opinion: Can Southampton reach the top four?
Image credit: Southampton

Southampton have completely transformed their season around after winning five of their last six matches, keeping clean-sheets in every single one of those games.

Now, there is real belief in the squad that they can better what they achieved last season.

Change of system is a big factor

Southampton have changed their system from 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 formation for many of the recent matches, and the change of set-up has really given the Saints some real solidarity at the back.

This, coupled with the return of goalkeeper Fraser Forster, has breathed fresh confidence and belief into the whole team and has been a contributing factor as to why the team have returned to such a great form.

The change of formation has seen usual left-back Ryan Bertrand switch to a centre-back role, and it is a switch which he has really taken in his stride.

He has developed a fantastic understanding with summer signing Virgil Van Dijk and team captain Jose Fonte, and at times it doesn't look as if anyone will score past them.

Since using this formation in the recent run, no team has had more that one shot on target against the South coast outfit. That underlines Ronald Koeman's tactical awareness, and that he has got the right players to be able to play this way against anyone in the league.

The one game in which they opted not to go for a change in formation was the match against Arsenal, in which they reverted back to 4-2-3-1.

They came under a lot of pressure throughout, but a fantastic defensive showing and a world-class performance from Forster meant that the Saints came away with a point.

Other teams' form gives hope

The Premier League has been incredibly unpredictable this season, as two of last year top three aren’t even in the top four.

Leicester City, who had the greatest escape last term, lead the table by just two points with 12 matches remaining. They only have the league to worry about, whilst the other title challengers have both the domestic and European competitions on their minds.

Southampton have definitely benefited from the struggles of champions Chelsea - who have got just 33 points this season - seven below the Saints. The way things are going at present it would be no shock to see the Saints finish above the title holders.

Koeman's side are playing incredibly well of late, and now sit just one point behind Manchester United and a further six behind fourth placed Manchester City. Even though it is unlikely that they will break into the top four, it can not yet be ruled out.

Both Merseyside clubs, Everton and Liverpool, have under-performed this season and that is something which Southampton have capitalised on. It seems likely that the Saints will finish above both of them. especially with games against the pair still to come.

Fraser Forster has been crucial to the Saints' surge in form. | Image source: The Telegraph.
Fraser Forster has been crucial to the Saints' surge in form. | Image source: The Telegraph.

Lots of competition in the squad

The Saints didn't start the season in the greatest fashion, and also endured a tough Christmas time. But it now looks as if the new players have all settled in well and everyone knows the role which they are required to play - be it from the start or off the bench.

Once more, last summer the club, lost a host of first-team players: Morgan Schneiderlin went to Manchester United, Nathaniel Clyne joined Liverpool and loanee Toby Alderwiereld elected to join Tottenham Hotspur instead of signing a permanent contract at St. Mary's.

Whilst those three players all played key roles last campaign, the Saints replaced all three of them.

Cedric Soares has been a good acquisition at right-back, Van Dijk has been solid at centre-half and the duo of Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie - who came into fill the void which was left by Schneiderlin - have been fantastic of late.

Southampton have got options in every position on the pitch and have got at least one capable alternative for every single position; something which certainly wasn't the case last season.

The bench seems to be getting stronger every week, as last weekend against SwanseaKoeman was able to leave Juanmi, Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and World Cup finalist Maarten Stekelenburg among the substitutes - signaling the strength in depth which the Dutchman is able to call upon.

Full focus on the league

Southampton have been knocked out of both the domestic cups and the Europa League, meaning all their focus is on having a great run to the end of the Premier League season.

Many of the rivals around them, such as Manchester United and West Ham, have got other competitions at the back of their minds and so this may play into the Saints' hands.

Southampton have still got to play many of the top sides, but with the run coming up in the next few weeks - Chelsea (H), Bournemouth (A), Sunderland (H) and Stoke City (H) - It gives the Saints a great chance to really cement their place in the top six of the league.

This would be a remarkable achievement although they will also have a massive say in the destination of the title, facing league leaders Leicester Apri 2nd before taking on both Spurs and Manchester City in the space of two weeks.