On Saturday in-form Southampton travel to Old Trafford the home of reigning champions Manchester United.
The team from the south coast currently sit fourth in the Premier League table after a recent good run of form.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men will head to Old Trafford in confident mood, with the champions having made a poor start to the season.
One of the major factors in the Saints good start to the season is their defensive record. Last season Southampton’s defence was one of the leakiest in the top-flight, but Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino has set about putting that right this season.
The Argentinian brought in Croatian centre-back Dejan Lovren from French club Lyon for a fee in the region of £8.5million in the summer. It was a lot of money to spend on a player that was an unknown quantity to the Premier League.
However, the signing seems to have paid off handsomely. Lovren has been one of the key players in the Saints conceding just two goals this season. Centre-back partner Jose Fonte and young full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw have also played their parts in the improvement.
Veteran keeper Artur Boruc is suddenly looking like a top-class goalkeeper once again, after going through a rather inconsistent spell in his career. The Saints backline have looked all together far more solid this season, no doubt something to do with Pochettino’s own history as a centre-back.
Pochettino is considered to be a highly-rated young coach. However, when he replaced the affable Nigel Adkins in January there was outrage amongst the football community. It seemed that a well-liked boss was being replaced by a foreign boss with very little knowledge of the Premier League.
However, in the months since Pochettino has set about proving his Premier League credentials in a big way. There must be few Saints fans questioning the appointment of the Argentinian right now.
One of the best aspects of Southampton’s game under Pochettino has been the way his team presses the opposition high up the pitch. This tactic had best been mastered by Barcelona under Johan Cruyff in the late eighties and early nineties.
More recently though, Pep Guardiola used the tactic to great effect with Barcelona, and that team is now considered one of the best teams to ever play the game.
I am sure nobody is naïve enough to claim that Saints are anywhere near Barcelona’s standard, but Pochettino is trying to mirror their successful way of playing and it is certainly working for Southampton so far.
When Southampton visited Old Trafford last season and were defeated 2-1 under Sir Alex Ferguson, The Scot proclaimed Southampton were “the best team to play here this season”, high praise indeed from the legendary Scot.
That game was only very early in Pochettino’s reign as Saints boss and since then the players have got to know their boss and his methods far better. More importantly they seem to understand exactly what their boss wants from them.
Southampton fans must be currently enjoying their team’s lofty position, but I am sure they are not naïve enough to think that the Saints can challenge for the Champions League places. However, a place in the top six would not be completely unrealistic for Pochettino’s men at the end of the season.
Many laughed at Saints keeper Artur Boruc when the Pole stated that he thought he could challenge for Champions League football with Southampton. However, I am sure many of those who laughed at the time are now looking at Southampton slightly more seriously.
I doubt that Southampton have gone to Old Trafford in such good spirits for a long-time. There is definitely potential for an away win. The Saints would probably not usually be given a chance against the champions on home soil, but things have changed this season.
The season has saw uncertainly at Old Trafford and a number of surprise results, including the Saints 1-0 win at then-league leaders Liverpool. This Premier League campaign has produced some of the most surprising results in years.
For that reason I am not completely ruling out a Southampton victory, especially with Manchester United in such indifferent form. However, even in such indifferent form a lot of people would expect a Manchester United victory on home soil.
The fact that we are even talking about the possibility of a Southampton victory at Manchester United shows how far the Saints have come under Mauricio Pochettino. If the Argentine can continue to develop his team at the same rate, then the future is bright for the men from the south coast.
Can Southampton continue good run of form at Manchester United?