The Saints are flying high. 11 games without a loss (8 wins, 3 draws, 27 points of a possible 33), they've matched their longest unbeaten run since February 1995. And most importantly off the pitch, there is a real buzz in the fanbase, galvanized by manager Russell Martin's affable character and attractive style of football.
It was hard for Southampton to sink any lower after their relegation from the Premier League last season. The coaching was a carousel, the ownership made gaffe after gaffe, the players looked lost, and the fans were completely checked out. The future of the club looked dire.
Fast forward 6 months and the turnaround has been drastic. And much of the credit has to go to Russell Martin. He has the Saints engine purring, and the sky is the limit for this young, oozing with potential squad. No game in the EFL Championship is easy, and after beginning a 3 game week with a disappointing 1-1 home draw to Huddersfield, a response was needed.
And respond they did. An (admittedly nervy) 1-0 win against Bristol City was followed up with a dominant 2-0 win over Cardiff City that could've easily been 5 or 6 nil. We learned a lot about Southampton FC this past week -- lets dive right in.
1. Adam Armstrong is real, and he's spectacular
When Southampton have been in need this season, no one has answered the call better than Adam Armstrong. He leads the team with 12 goals, and has also chipped in 4 assists. Nothing is more important in football than goals, but this past week has revealed Adarmas critical importance to the next step in Southampton's evolution: he is Saints primary runner in behind. We wrote previously about Southampton's unwillingness to play long balls, but of late the Saints have evolved (I'll graciously only take some of the credit). Armstrong is 1st on the team by a mile in progressive passes received (145 to 2nd place KWP's 110). The added dimension to Southampton's buildup play makes them incredibly difficult to defend, and will be fun to watch during the congested Championship holiday fixture list.
2. Ché Adams needs to rediscover his form...or else
As Adam Armstrong's star has risen, Ché's has fallen. The Scottish international has now not scored a goal since August. For the record, his longest dry spell for Saints in the Premier League was 4 months. We are getting scarily close to equalizing that, and given it is against Championship competition, it is not a good sign. Ché's issue is likely schematic. Martin's system relies on strikers to score goals, not create them. But Ché is not a clinical finisher and wants to be a progressive passer, not receiver. Adams is out of contract at year's end, and if a renewal does not come by January, he could be tabbed to leave St. Mary's, although Ross Stewart's injury may throw a wrench in those plans.
3. Shea Charles will be incredibly important going forward
Shea Charles had a great week. A productive 11 minute cameo against Huddersfield was followed up by starts in the wins against Bristol City and Cardiff. Interestingly, Flynn Downes was in the lineup both games! Shea showed Russell Martin this week that he is fully capable of playing the more advanced midfield position previously taken up by Will Smallbone. This will be key for Southampton's depth going forward, as one injury could leave the Saints mighty thin at this all important position. Expect Charles' minutes to continue to climb as he regains his confidence after a slow start to the season.
4. Russell Martin has a mean streak to him
Russell Martin has done everything right in his public facing activities. Courteous, affable, and generous with praise, the Saints boss has won over fans and pundits alike. But we saw a new side of Martin this week. On his usual post victory lap of honor, he reminded remaining Cardiff City fans exactly how many times he has beaten them in a row. It's nice to see some bite underneath his fun exterior, and the lads on the pitch are starting to reflect their manager.
5. Southampton need to avoid flying too close to the sun
In Greek Mythology a father-son duo, Daedalus and Icarus, build wings to escape imprisonment. Daedalus flies responsibly, focusing on the escape. But he can only watch in horror has his son Icarus, giving in to his hubris, tries to fly higher than the sun. The sun melts the wax holding his wings together, and he falls to his demise. The Saints are in danger of following in Icarus' footsteps. They are eleven unbeaten and 4th in the Championship table, but only have a goal differential of 4. They are a few lucky bounces or lapses in judgement from being further down the table. Cardiff City was a step in the right direction: a multiple goal margin of victory and a dominant performance, but the Championship is a brutal league, and every match is difficult. Southampton need to keep their foot on the gas pedal, and continue to focus on dominating games, not winning by the odd goal. Promotion is at stake.