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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