With six Premier League games left and nothing but mid table obscurity possible, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the end of the season may peter out for Southampton’s players. Yet, propelled by a strong English contingent hungry for even greater recognition, the campaign’s climax may constitute an exciting finish with the World Cup lying in wait.
First and foremost it has to be acknowledged that Newcastle were appalling on Saturday; devoid of both passion and unity with their temperamental manager still sat up in the stands. But take nothing away from the way the Saints who, spearheaded by their English representatives, completely dismantled the Magpies to produce a 4-0 result that actually flattered the away team.
Adam Lallana illustrated again why he is such a crowd favourite by capping a memorable display with two assists and a memorable third goal. Southampton’s captain and one of the many academy products has been widely regarded as one of the stand out players of the season with his brilliant running from midfield drawing comparisons with Andres Iniesta. Before the international friendly against Denmark his name was being uttered in the same breath as those of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as certainties to make the plane to Brazil. Now, a month on, his form has been so exceptional that he is being heavily tipped to start the first game against Italy on the 14th June. In Lallana’s case the talent has always been obvious, with the same applying to attacking maestro Rickie Lambert who, at the age of 32 and having played throughout the English divisions, just keeps on giving.
But it has been the emergence of two younger players that has really caught the eye this season. Jay Rodriguez signed for a hefty fee from Burnley in 2012 and initially struggled to adapt in a challenging first season at St. Marys. This campaign, however, has proved to be completely different with Rodriguez scoring 15 goals and four in his last four games. Between Rodriguez, Lallana and Lambert, the three Englishmen have contributed 36 of Southampton’s 49 Premier League goals this season and apart from Daniel Sturridge, no other Englishman has benefited as highly in the league scoring charts as Rodriguez has. The 24 year old’s unconventional forward play cutting in from a left wing position, similar to the role Danny Welbeck plays at Manchester United, makes it extremely hard for flat lines of defence to track his inward runs. His pace and ability in the air attracted Roy Hodgson’s attention enough to include him in the last two England squads and he earned his first cap in that forgettable 2-0 home defeat to Chile.
The other’s performances have already instigated rumours of a potential £30 million move to Chelsea or Manchester United in the summer. I was at St. Marys last month when the Saints hosted Liverpool and despite their eventual defeat, the running power and composure of Luke Shaw at left back astounded me. For an 18 year old to represent such maturity and awareness was incredible and he already looks a ready-made replacement for Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines for the next decade at least. With regard to full back positions, clubs rarely change them and, as shown by Cole’s career at Chelsea and the likes of Pablo Zabaleta at Manchester City, players tend to be a long term investment rather than a flash in the pan. Shaw could prove to be something similar if a bigger club come in for his services in the summer months.
In an academy that has produced the likes of Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott the next generation are looking to replicate the success of their predecessors and it doesn’t stop at the current first team. Nathaniel Clyne and Callum Chambers are currently competing for the first team right back slot, James Ward-Prowse is already established as one of the finest set piece takers in England and striker Sam Gallagher is tipped for big things after his first Premier League goal last month.
Southampton as a club may be set for an uncertain transfer period, particularly after the departure of chairman Nicola Cortese and rumours of debts of up to £27 million. Their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, has also been linked with the managers jobs at Tottenham and Real Madrid as bigger clubs recognise his attractive coaching philosophy.
But for their English players, the future looks more than bright. English fans and pundits have called for Hodgson to pick his England team on current form rather than experience which may see Lallana and Rodriguez get the nod over the likes of Cleverly and Welbeck. Fans want to see players who can change a game in an instance which the Southampton contingent have been doing all season long. Certainly if the England manager was forced into selecting his 23 man squad now, the South Coast club would arguably have up to four or five representatives on the flight to Brazil.