By Ian Palmer
When Southampton lost several of its top players following the 2013/14 English Premier League season most fans and experts figured the club may end up in the relegation zone this year. The Saints lost English international defenders Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers along with Serbian international defender Dejan Lovren, English international midfielder Adam Lallana and English international striker Rickie Lambert. However, the club has surprised everybody by climbing to third place in the 20-team league by mid-January under Dutch manager Ronald Koeman.
Southampton will earn a berth in the European Champions League for the 2015/16 season if they can finish the current campaign in the top four. They entered the January 17th weekend with 39 points after 21 games on a record of 12 wins, three draws and six losses. The team had scored 35 goals and allowed just 15 against for the best defensive record in the league. They’re also still alive in the English FA Cup following their 1-0 win at Ipswich in a third-round replay on Jan. 14.
However, their chances of FA Cup glory and a top-four Premier League finish have been dampened slightly due to a series of injuries. Midfielder Victor Wanyama was the latest to be sidelined as he injured a hamstring in the win over Ipswich and could face several weeks out of the lineup. In addition, center-back Toby Alderweireld also sustained a hamstring tear and will be out of action for approximately four weeks. This leaves Southampton with just two healthy center backs in the squad and the midfield has also been depleted with injuries to Wanyama and French international Morgan Schneiderlin.
Schneiderlin suffered an abductor strain against Ipswich and will be out for about a month which means Koeman must now fill in the gaps in the lineup without losing ground in the standings. The manager remarked to the media, “Okay, we know we have a tough programme and we don’t have a big squad to resolve that kind of problem with injuries. The depleted lineup means the team will be seriously tested in their upcoming league clash with Newcastle and then their fourth-round FA Cup showdown with fellow Premier League side Crystal Palace just a week later.
Koeman said he was proud of his team at Ipswich as the players battled hard even though some of their stars were missing for the second half. He added that it was a difficult game and the squad showed a lot of character and they’ll have to keep it up until their injured players return. Bet365 has Southampton at 14/1 to win the FA Cup and are 6/4 to finish the season in the top four.