At the beginning of the Premier League campaign, most folks predicted that Southampton would drop right back down to the npower Championship after two successive promotions. However, most Southampton fans were cautiously optimistic that the Saints would avoid the relegation battle and finish in the mid-40s in points like Norwich City and Swansea City ultimately did in 2011-12.
Now more than halfway through the season, it's time to reflect on the first half and revise expectations for Southampton in the second half.
There have certainly been positives: The draw last game out against Arsenal in which Southampton maybe should have gained all three points. November's 2-0 win against Newcastle at St. Mary's. The 4-1 thrashing of Aston Villa that marked the Saints' first win in their Premier League return.
But there have definitely been disappointments as well, with the squad suffering from numerous blown leads. The shocking 6-1 defeat at Arsenal and 4-1 loss to fellow promoted side West Ham United were setbacks as well.
It feels like Southampton should be in a better position than they are, which is just outside the relegation zone via goal difference.
With 18 matches to go, it's time to take a look at what to expect from Southampton for the rest of the campaign.
Saints Aren't Selling Anyone Important
While there are some rumors about players leaving St. Mary's. most notably Luke Shaw leaving to join Arsenal, Southampton aren't going to be in a selling mood.
Unlike in their earlier history, Southampton have no financial pressure to sell off young starlets like Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In those times, Southampton was struggling in the lower divisions, needed the financial help and just couldn't stop young players from moving to the Premier League.
Now with the Liebherr estate providing solid financial backing and the club in the Premier League, Nigel Adkins and club chairman Nicola Cortese have no reason to sell players that are useful to the squad. While a couple of players that are surplus to requirements and can't find their way into the squad may be sold, don't count on Shaw, Rickie Lambert or Adam Lallana going anywhere.
Southampton Will Bring In Reinforcements
After spending £33.4 million in the August transfer window, it would be surprising if Southampton didn't spend some money to strengthen the squad in the January window.
Granted, Nigel Adkins seems to have settled on a steady lineup for the most part. But as Adam Lallana's absence has proved, the Saints could definitely use some more depth. Most of the second-choice XI have little Premier League experience.
Southampton could definitely use a midfielder, defender and even a goalkeeper as Kelvin Davis, Artur Boruc and Paulo Gazzaniga have all failed to take command of the goalkeeping position.
The Southampton Defense Will Continue to Improve
In the first 10 games of the Premier League, Southampton had the league's worst defense, giving up 28 goals. Such a leaky defense resulted in Southampton only earning four points and the Saints having a league-worst minus-14 goal differential.
That started to change when Luke Shaw was inserted into the lineup, and the back four started to gel. Over the past 10 games, Southampton have only conceded 10 goals and have a plus-3 goal differential. That improvement has gained Southampton 14 points from those 10 games and a three spot leap in the table.
While Nathaniel Clyne is currently sidelined with a knee injury, the Saints did concede three against Stoke City, but Adkins' decision to drop Jack Cork to right back and restore the center defensive pairing of Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida paid off against Arsenal.
Southampton Will Survive the Drop, But Just Barely
The second half of the Premier League schedule doesn't break kindly for Southampton. In their 18 remaining games, the Saints will hit the road 10 times.
Take a look at the remaining fixtures:
From the home games, only QPR and West Ham stand out as probable wins. A few draws are possible against the likes of Liverpool, West Brom and Stoke City. But that's only nine points from eight remaining home games, meaning Southampton will have to do their heavy lifting on the road.
The road games at Aston Villa, Wigan and Reading look like must-wins. Southampton certainly can come up with a result against Newcastle, Norwich, and Sunderland. That would be 12 points on the road in the remaining 10 road games.
With nine points from the remaining home games and 12 points from the remaining road games, that would give Southampton a total of 39 points on the season. While 40 is the accepted magic number of points to avoid relegation, it looks like 36 will probably be good enough to survive this season.
You can expect Southampton to be in the Premier League next season, but it won't be without some nervous moments in May.
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