It may sounds like a peculiar argument to make for a side entering their fourth consecutive season in the Premier League, but for Southampton, this campaign could well represent their first proper encounter with “second season syndrome”.
During their first season back in the top flight in 2012/13, the popular Nigel Adkins was sent packing midway through, replaced by the little known Mauricio Pochettino. Despite the groundswell of opinion that this would bite Southampton on the backside, the Argentinean steered his new club to safety and more, finishing in 14th.
Despite finishing in relative comfort, Southampton were still – in hindsight now unfairly – being viewed by many as a club in some turmoil off the pitch, with questions being asked about the owners’ decisions and ambitions.
Because of the murmurs, the Saints continued to go under the radar somewhat on the pitch, and few would predict the impact that they would have the following season, with Pochettino’s pressing game thrilling St Mary’s and causing many upsets along the way. Eighth place was the reward, but it came at some cost.
Out went Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren, not to mention their now highly-prised manager. In one summer, Southampton went from feared opponents to being perceived as relegation cannon fodder all over again.
Now, following another stunning season that saw them incredibly improve on their previous season by finishing seventh, Ronald Koeman is the first Saints manager since their promotion to be in charge at the start of successive seasons.
Unlike last summer, Southampton have restricted their outgoings to just two players, they’ve kept hold of their manager and crucially, for the first time since promotion, retained their reputation.
The clubs who have been bitten too many times before by this talented young side will now enter into games warier than before.
One such side is Everton, whose three visits to St Mary’s since the Saints’ return have heralded just one point, without a single goal being scored.
The Toffees looked particularly vulnerable at home to a Watford side buzzing with attacking verve and vigour last week, and the worrying thing for Everton fans is they’ll know they can expect similar attacking intent from Saturday’s opponents.
The Saints put three past Everton on the south coast last season and one of the goalscorers that day, Graziano Pelle, is already off the mark for the season, along with likely partner Shane Long, as both scored in their opening draw at Newcastle.
With Jay Rodriguez also fit again, a visiting defence that looked so rusty last week could be in for another tough time of it. Southampton are 19/20 to beat Everton, with Pelle 4/1 to score first.
There is some good news for the visitors though, with Gerard Deulofeu’s return from injury at least offering hope that if they can’t keep them out at one end of the pitch, they may at least be able to score more at the other.
The tricky Spaniard is back on Merseyside after an initial loan spell in 2013/14 when he made nine league starts, scored three times and registered four assists. Things happen with him on the pitch and he’s 19/5 to score at any time.
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