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Can Saints Challenge For A European Spot ?
Wednesday, 22nd Jan 2020 10:37

A few weeks ago Saints fans were contemplating nothing other than avoiding relegation, but suddenly after winning 5 out of the last 7 games we are looking up the table and wondering whether we just might be able to mount a challenge for a top 7 place or higher.

Saints have had a brilliant last 7 games in which they have lost just the once winning 5 and drawing the other, indeed if we had held on against Wolves on Saturday we would be amazingly in 7th place and level on points with both Wolves and Manchester United.

So can we realistically challenge for a place in Europe, the answer is yes, on two fronts both FA Cup and the League, but it will be very tough.

In 2016 when we finished 6th we were on 34 points after 34 games so not far off where we are today, so that can give us hope, but back then we had an amazing run at the end of the season to sneak in above several big clubs.

The Premier League is a little like that year in that some of the so called Big Six had awful seasons and that is again happening now.

But the reality is that the team finishing 6th will need to hit the 60 point mark and that is a very big ask for us, but the truth is it is just as big an ask for the other teams around us.

If I am honest I can't see us forcing our way into the top six and a guaranteed Europa League spot, but I could see us sneaking 7th if we were lucky and certainly a top 10 spot.

I have always said that we are a good side, but one with a poor central defence and as good as it has played of late, it is not as good as our rivals and as we showed on Saturday against Wolves, it is vunerable and prone to errors, sometimes we get away with them, sometimes we don't.

Manchester United although in disarray are still likely to beat Burnley tonight and go 6 points clear of us and Wolves and Spurs just ahead of us are still a little more consistent than us.

Therefore I see 8th pace as our most likely highest finish, perhaps 9th if Arsenal rally, but other than that I think we are more than capable of achieving that top 10 finish, I see the top 7 clubs as being Liverpool, Man City, Leicester, Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs & Wolves roughly in that order.

That means we are in a pack of around 6 clubs chasing 8th 9th & 10th, that means a good run could easily see us in the top 10, however the other clubs would see it the same way. but it is in our own hands, of those other we have to play Newcastle, Arsenal & Sheffield United at home, the latter on the final day and Everton away, normally that would be a good sign, but our away form is far better than our home form.

The key therefore will be beating the sides in the lower third of the table and then making sure we don't lose to our rivals.

After the run we had in the Autumn it is a miracle I can even write this story, but a testament to the job Ralph Hasenhuttl has done that we are even remotely near this position.

So I think with luck we could hit 8th at best, but 13th at worst, of course the first task is to get the next two wins under our belts to make sure we are well clear of relegation, I see that 3rd from bottom will be a little higher than usual in that the 34 points that Cardiff went down on last season is usually the norm, indeed in the 7 seasons prior to this we have played in the top flight since our return in 2012 the highest total a club has gone down on was the 37 Newcastle got in 2016, ironically the league table looked very similar to that today after 24 games back then.

So although I have high hopes for a decent end to the season, I do thin our weakness at the back will ultimately have cost us dearly and may still do if we do not improve it this transfer window.

So I thin our best hope of a European place is in the FA Cup, if we beat Spurs then we have a gap of almost 5 weeks before the 5th round and that means we will know by then where our fate lies, hopefully we will be well clear of relegation woes and can prioritise the FA Cup, something the so called big clubs will not be able to do with February packed with European games both before and after that early March midweek 5th round date.

Add to that some of them will also be looking to try and squeeze a top 4 spot and Champions League qualification, so with the right draw we could go far and then you never know, first though we have to beat Spurs.

But the good news is that things are looking up at St Mary's, it is not all perfect, there are still issues both on and off the pitch, but neither are perhaps as bad as some will have you believe.

The lesson we should all have learned in the last decade since Markus saved us from extinction is that things are never over till they are over, back in 2011 we had to play catch up to get into an automatic promotion spot and indeed that looked doomed when we were 1-0 down at Brighton in the run in to the end of the season, but we didn't panic and won that game and the rest as they say is history.

Likewise the awful start we made in 2012/13 we again kept calm and tweaked things to put us on the road to safety a job started by Nigel Adkins and completed by Mauricio Pochetino.

We have had meltdown by some literally every year since the summer of 2014 with some predicting doom and gloom even throughout the Ronald Koeman era, Claude Puel had perhaps one of the top five seasons in our history, yet that wasn't good enough for some.

So let's enjoy this resurgence, enjoy supporting the club, nothing is guaranteed in football, big clubs with plenty of money go down, little clubs who spend little stay up, we have got things right more than most over the last 8 years.

Photo: Action Images

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SaintPaulVW added 10:41 - Jan 22
It's the hope that kills you

saintmark1976 added 10:50 - Jan 22
One game at a time please Nick. After all we are discussing the Saints and as you no better than most, they do have a habit of kicking you were it hurts when all would appear to be going in the right direction.

1970 added 11:25 - Jan 22
The prem is a poor league at the moment in terms of quality its getting like the championship where winning five on the bounce puts you at the top etc.
how can 1st go to 2nd and win 4-0,how can a team lose 9-0 at home and be in the top half etc. only sh***pool have shown any consistency and that's partly done to us with Mane and Van Sh** there star players ,so anything is possible but will we be ambitious enough to go for it,
imagine if we had the above two players still would we be top of the league, I think so coyr

Number_58 added 11:29 - Jan 22
Nick, this obsession with our central defence is becoming boring. We could get into the Champions League and you'd still be slagging them off. With our limited (or non-existent) transfer budget who would you actually get in to replace Stephens & Bednarek?

A1079 added 12:04 - Jan 22
Don't talk about Europe or getting into the top 8 or 6 or anything at all. Don't even mention it. One win does not suddenly make us great, just as the defeat on Saturday did not suddenly make us bad again. Lets just get safe first and then take it from there. As soon as we start obsessing about what position we could finish, things change and we invariably end up disappointed.

I am just pleased with the way we are progressing and the team attitude and the manager and the entertainment value and if we keep doing these things then who knows where it will take us - but lets deal with one step at a time!

SanMarco added 13:19 - Jan 22
We are definitely moving in the right direction. The difference between 14th and 8th or even 7th this season will probably only be a few points so anything is possible in that sense. We are not good enough defensively and do not have enough regular goalscorers to challenge any higher (I am happy to be proved wrong on that of course!!). I believe we finished 7-1-1 under Koeman with Mane playing out of his skin and Fonte/Van Dick in their pomp in the centre of defence. We don't have anywhere near that now, but there is no reason (other than an injury to Ings) why we can't pick up another, say, 17-20 points. We came 8th with only 48 under Puel. My sense is that we will have one more poor run befor the season is out and 41-45 is a more realistic target. We would have jumped at that after that rainy night last October - indeed we wouldn't have believed it!!

PS well done JWP - I, along with many, don't praise him very often but last night he was a key man...

d_ember added 13:44 - Jan 22
That season we finished 6th, we did rally at the end but had a awful run before that picking up only 4 points from 8 games from mid-November until the start of January, and even with the big clubs faltering I do not think they were as weak as they are now.

That said the key to any sort of finish will be consistency with everyone bar Liverpool and possibly City beatable on our run in. We will never have a better chance to nick a 5th place but concede everything you say is probably valid too.

LordDZLucan added 14:02 - Jan 22
I agree with Number_58. The central defence is fine. It's the protection in front of them that is sometimes wanting. It's no coincidence that our solid defensive performance last night coincided with our only holding midfielder, Oriol Romeu returning to the side.

Colburn added 15:10 - Jan 22
Agree with number58 and LordLucan, the improved protection of the back 4 has been the key with Ward Prowses improvement and the reverting back to a back 4. You described our CB's like I would every other teams in the league. All make mistakes, some are punished, some not.. Another lovely forward ball from Jack last night to provide the assist for the all important first goal. I don't see us letting up now and every time we slip up, we seem to use it as a sign to up our game again. In many ways we have used the Leicester nightmare to provide our determination for each and every match til the end of the season and what a brilliant piece of positive psychology Ralph has turned that in to. Before Arsenal equalised yesterday, we had played 5 of the top ten twice and we are also one of them. So anything is possible, certainly a top 10 finish!

dirk_doone added 15:12 - Jan 22
The same people who were moaning that it was impossible for any other team to challenge the big six are now moaning that it's a poor quality league because any team can.

It is, in fact, the best league in the world with the best teams and players it has ever had. The top team are the European and World Club Champions. The Champions League Final was contested by 2 Premier League teams and you'd take every team in the Premier League to beat the team in the same position in any other league in the world.

So, the Premier League is the strongest league in the world, we are 9th in it and have a chance of finishing 5th and that's a good thing.

underweststand added 15:14 - Jan 22
Can't you find something more about the great win at Palace, Nick?
..this thought is a long way off, but I'd gladly come back and comment if we return from Anfield with all 3 points and get a good return from our April fixtures...and a Cup Final too.

geezershoong1 added 15:22 - Jan 22
Let's not get ahead of ourselves...

Peterx added 16:06 - Jan 22
Anything could happen, and if you look at the good football some of the teams in the relegation "area" for example Norwich, Watford and Brighton are actually playing, good teams are going to go down this year. I reckon that the 3rd team relegated might have 40 plus points this year. Lets take it game by game, the sooner we get 42 points or so on the board the better. On the other hand lets give Liverpool a good go in a couple of weeks and see what happens, we can beat anyone on our day the way we are playing .

Jesus_02 added 16:54 - Jan 22
-11 goals will make the difference i'm afraid. That said we will have one hell of a clear out this summer so we should have funds for Ralf to finally start buying players he wants in key positions.

Great to win without Ings too. Big confidence builder

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