Back in August, pessimistic football fans would not have envisaged Southampton sitting in the top half of the table, let alone the top four. However, 10 games in and Saints are Chelsea's nearest competitors in the hunt for the Premier League title. The south coast club are currently four points behind the Blues in England's top tier after what has been a fantastic start to life at St. Mary's for manager Ronald Koeman.
Before the season started, however, Saints were not given much of a chance of bettering last season's eighth placed finish. First team regulars Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw departed for pastures new, while key player and captain Adam Lallana left for Liverpool. Their exits allowed Koeman to strengthen accordingly, with the Dutchman bringing in players he was familiar with. Graziano Pellè, who he managed at Feyenoord, came in to replace Lambert, while Dusan Tadic was acquired to cover the loss of Lallana.
Only Lovren (7.32) landed a better WhoScored rating than Lallana (7.24) of all Saints players in the Premier League last season, so replacing the England international was easier said than done. However, Tadic has come in and hit the ground running following his big money switch from FC Twente. Only Morgan Schneiderlin (7.56) has attained a better WhoScored rating than Tadic (7.54) of all Saints players this term, while only Alexis Sánchez and Victor Moses (both three) have earned more Premier League man of the match awards than the Serb (two) in the 2014/15 campaign.
Saints fans were understandably disappointed at the loss of Lallana, but they need not have worried with Tadic excelling in his debut season on the south coast. The attacker's greatest strength is without question his creativity. The former Twente star averaged the most key passes per game (4.0) in the Eredivisie last season and the hope was that he could match these feats in the Premier League.
While that has not happened instantaneously - Tadic is currently averaging 2.8 key passes per league game - he has still played a big role in Saints' great start to the season. Only Cesc Fàbregas (9) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (seven) have registered more assists in the Premier League this term than the playmaker's six. Moreover, his three assists in Saints' 8-0 thumping of Sunderland was the most in a single match in the Premier League this season.
Largely deployed on the left of Koeman's favoured 4-3-3 formation, the Serbia international's unpredictability wreaks havoc in opposition defences, who are unsure as to whether the attacker will use his right or left foot to deliver a potentially devastating cross.
Fellow summer arrival Pellè is the player profitting most from Tadic's exceptional creative skills. three of the latter's assists have been for a Pellè goal. The Italian has netted six times in the Premier League this season and the understanding between the pairing has been essential in Saints' rise up the table. With the team developing a statistically calculated WhoScored strength of 'attacking down the wings', Tadic's role in the team becomes more significant.
The attackers in a 4-3-3 formation are expected to pull wide to receive the ball and with Pellè the ideal target man, this brings out the best in Tadic. Only Kieran Trippier (16) has made more accurate crosses from open play than Tadic (15) in the Premier League this season and the team as a whole are benefitting from his pinpoint accuracy from wide positions.
Koeman put the money gained from Saints' fire sale to good use, with Tadic perhaps the jewel in his signings' crown. Raiding the Eredivisie for talent is a risk - see the likes of Afonso Alves and Mateja Kezman - but is one that can pay off. With Saints flying high in England's top tier, Tadic can be considered one of the signings of the summer and with winnable fixtures like Leicester and Aston Villa approaching, there is no reason why he cannot continue his fine form.
The real test will come when Saints face sides gunning for a European spot, having already fallen to Liverpool and Tottenham this season. Coming up against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United over the course of the next month will assess Saints' European credentials, but the form the players, and in particular Tadic, are in should fill the team with confidence heading into a tough run of fixtures.Suggest a correction