Points weren’t coming as easily early in the season as they did last campaign for Southampton, but after defeating last season’s champions and weathering draws against two other clubs in the top half of the table, they face a string of promising fixtures that could put them in similar shape before the end of November.
That begins Sunday against Bournemouth at St. Mary’s Stadium as the Saints open a stretch of three top-flight matches against clubs in the bottom seven.
Southampton (3-5-2), the darlings of autumn 2014 with eight wins in their first 11 matches, didn’t have quite that start this season – totaling six points from six matches as they saw their Europa League season end before September.
They’ve since beaten Swansea City, defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and split points with top-five Leicester City and Liverpool at Anfield. Ronald Koeman’s club followed up last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with the Reds by beating foot-of-the-table Aston Villa 2-1 on Wednesday with seven changes to progress to the League Cup quarterfinals.
It amounts to a 4-2-0 span in both competitions with the Cherries’ visit followed by a trip to Sunderland and a home meeting with Stoke City. Eighth in the table on 14 points, now might be the time to make a move, and Koeman thinks the side he played in the cup have the depth to continue pushing for league minutes.
"The total performance was positive, and each player who started today has enough level to play for Southampton," Koeman told the club’s official website. "That’s how we’d like to continue. We have more competition in our squad."
Graziano Pelle scored his fifth goal in his last eight matches across both competitions as Sadio Mane served a ban picked up from gathering two yellows in the closing minutes against Liverpool after scoring the 86th-minute equaliser. He has five goals in the five matches he’s played on the club’s unbeaten run, and the duo is pacing the Saints’ 17 goals scored in that time. Their 16 in 10 league matches trail only Manchester City (24), West Ham United (22) Leicester (20) and Arsenal (18).
Bournemouth (2-2-6), are tied with Newcastle United for the division’s most goals conceded (22) and worst goal differential (minus-10), almost all of which has been accrued in consecutive 5-1 losses home against Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday and at Manchester City on Oct. 17.
"There definitely won’t be any finger pointing or blame attached to any one individual," manager Eddie Howe told the club’s official website. "It’s very important that we take collective responsibility through both success and failure. That said, there is a need going forward not to give goals away. It’s been our Achilles heel all season, even in games that we’ve won, which is obviously frustrating for everyone."
The Cherries, 17th in the table on eight points, were eliminated from the League Cup with Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Anfield, running their winless span in the run of play to six in both competitions. They progressed to the cup fixture with Liverpool on penalties over Championship side Preston North End back on Sept. 22 and got a point from a home match with Watford on Oct. 3, but they haven’t gotten anything out of a match with anyone on Southampton’s level since a 1-1 home draw with Leicester on Aug. 29.
Bournemouth could have some order back with Harry Arter in the midfield. The Ireland international, who started 43 Championship matches last season and scored nine goals, had been sidelined all season with an ankle injury and went 71 minutes against the Reds. The next step is the first Premier League match of his career.
"My main concern was just to come back and try to be a positive influence on the team," Arter said. "I am sure the manager will put me back in when he feels that I am completely ready and can do something for the team."