There is an increasingly popular opinion, well articulated by Ralph Ellis elsewhere on Betting.Betfair, that Southampton are involved in somewhat of a double bluff. They were written off erroneously last summer and now, when they supposedly should be dismissed, punters are wary to do so for fear of being shown up again.
Last July, the Saints were a shorter price to be relegated at 7.60 than to finish in the top six at 11.0. This year, the gap between the two could scarcely be wider, with their odds of [30.0] to go down much longer than their [3.75] top-six price.
This writer tipped them for a top-half finish last season amidst all the scaremongering on the basis that they were replacing the high-profile abandoners with players of comparable or in many cases superior quality.
Graziano Pelle for Rickie Lambert, Toby Alderweireld for Dejan Lovren, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane for Adam Lallana and Ryan Bertrand for Luke Shaw all deserve a place in the superb Southampton succession strategy hall of fame, and their early actions this window have been similarly promising.
Nathaniel Clyne’s sale to the team that funded Southampton’s journey to the Europa League, Liverpool, is a blow, but an emerging England international has made way for an emerging Portugal international in Cedric Soares, who was a Champions League starter last term.
There has been an effort to paint latest evacuee Morgan Schneiderlin as the club’s one irreplaceable. However, this overlooks the fact that some of their finest 2014/15 displays came in his absence, for instance the 2-0 victory over Arsenal, 3-0 triumph against Everton and 6-1 thrashing of Aston Villa.
In for Schneiderlin comes Jordy Clasie. The Dutch midfielder cost around three times less than they sold the Frenchman for, is almost two years younger and has been an international for longer in a more successful side in that period. He started the World Cup 2014 third-place play-off 3-0 win over Brazil.
Just as significant is the fact that he has played for coach Ronald Koeman before, which was surely a factor in Pelle being instantly impressive last year, scoring nine times before the end of October and earning an Italy recall, after making the same Feyenoord to Southampton move.
Koeman’s experience of upheaval at Feyenoord, where he lost Leroy Fer and Georginio Wijnaldum in his first pre-season and Ron Vlaar and Karim El Ahmadi in his second yet delivered three straight top-three finishes following five years in a row without one, also qualifies him as a specialist in this line of work.