After Man United draw are Southampton the real deal?
It was hard to tell which team had genuine Champions League aspirations at Old Trafford
SOUTHAMPTON'S late equaliser at Old Trafford on Saturday means the Saints continue to fly high in the Premier League while the champions linger in mid table. It was hard to tell who were the Champions League aspirants and who were the also-rans on the evidence of Saturday's game. Few would have predicted that at the start of the season.
It was only Sergio Aguero's second-half heroics for Manchester City that pushed Saints out of the Champions League places and into fifth on Saturday night. Meanwhile, United lag four points behind in 8th.
"Were Southampton simply early flash-in-the-pan, high-pressing pretenders?" asked Jason Burt in The Telegraph before the game. After watching it, he decided the answer was an emphatic no.
Saints' rise up the table has focused the spotlight on the club's increasingly impressive manager Mauricio Pochettino, whose use of an interpreter in interviews had largely shielded him from the prying eyes of the media. But his aggressive tactics and canny substitutions are starting to attract praise.
Pochettino was a controversial choice to succeed sacked predecessor Nigel Adkins, who had masterminded the Saints' rise from League One in successive seasons. However, The Daily Mail attributes much of the Saints success this season to the club's ruthless but smart chairman Nicola Cortese and his recruitment of Pochettino.
The Saints players will fight like dogs for their new boss and tore into Manchester United on Saturday in the style that Pochettino has demanded since taking charge last term. Saints' front players harried United's defenders into mistakes, which created an early chance for star striker Dani Osvaldo, which was spurned.
Saints' achievements this season have been built on a sound defence - the second meanest in Europe after Roma. The summer recruitment of Croatian centre-back Dejan Lovren and former Celtic midfielder Victor Wanayama has helped but equally important has been Pochettino's choice of the same back five for most of the first eight games.
While Adkins failed to settle on a first choice goalkeeper last term, vacillating between club captain Kelvin Davis, who had served him well in the lower divisions, youngster Paulo Gazzaniga and Poland international Artur Boruc, Pochettino quickly placed his faith in Boruc. He has been rewarded with a string of outstanding, error-free performances.
After his heroics against Swansea won him the man of the match award in a 2-0 win, Boruc once again laid the foundations for a positive result against United.
He could do little with Robin Van Persie's opener despite keeping out Wayne Rooney's initial shot but he later made outstanding saves from Van Persie and United's new boy wonder Adnan Jazunaj, who signed a five-year deal ahead of this game.
The most surprising thing about Saints' rise up the table is that it has been achieved without their attacking players producing the performances they are capable of. Skipper Adam Lallana has sparkled but strikers Osvaldo, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have yet to gel. Last season's glamour signing Gaston Ramirez, billed as the Uruguayan Kaka, can hardly get in the team.
It was Lallana who claimed the Saints late equaliser, glancing in Lovren's header. It was entirely in keeping with the run of play, as Saints pushed hard for an equaliser after absorbing mid-game United pressure.
"We are not in a false position in the table, the sky is the limit," claimed Pochettino after the game. If his strikers can fire, he might be right. ·