At the end of last season and throughout the summer, fans of two European clubs were dreading every day the transfer window was open, fearing each announcement would be that another of their star players had left. Both Atlético Madrid and Southampton had excellent seasons with plenty of their players catching the bigger teams' eyes. They were duly snapped up as the summer wore on.
Were it not for Chelsea, then Atlético Madrid may not have fared too badly. Instead, the Blues recalled Courtois and bought goal machine Diego Costa and left-back Filipe Luis. The Southampton exodus, however, appeared far worse, with over half of last season's starting eleven and their manager leaving before September. Both sides were expected to struggle and while Atlético have done alright so far, Southampton have really impressed.
With the money brought in from selling Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Adam Lallana and the rest, Southampton could easily have made at least one big name signing. Much like Angel Di Maria's arrival at Old Trafford, it would have settled a few anxious nerves and signalled their intention to not let the loss of their manager and key players deter them after an excellent year.
Given their progress, the appointment of Ronald Koeman as manager and their financial position, signing a couple of well known players would have been entirely feasible. But would the club really have been better off with someone like Mario Balotelli or Romelu Lukaku up front? Probably not.
The Saints' two most influential players that arrived over summer so far have been Italian striker Graziano Pellè and Serbian midfielder Dušan Tadić. Combining both their fees comes to a similar amount Liverpool paid for Balotelli and around £10m less than Everton paid for Lukaku. Neither were particularly well-known names in England, both peddling their trade in the Dutch league and that lack of pressure seems to have given them an extra boost.
Replacing Shaw with another promising young English left-back in the form of Ryan Bertrand on loan from Chelsea and Toby Alderweireld on loan from Atlético Madrid were also great acquisitions that are paying off. They could have plumped for a higher profile player on the market, such as Ashley Cole, but choosing one player with Premier League experience and another in the versatile Belgian were sensible options that could develop into long term solutions.
The instant success of buying right and not big was summed up best in their recent 8-0 hammering of Sunderland. Yes, Sunderland were beyond woeful, but lesser teams would have failed to capitalise to such a wild extent. Three of Southampton's new arrivals got themselves on the scoresheet with Pellè netting his fifth and sixth of the league campaign, almost half Rickie Lambert's total from last season. The exciting Tadić and Sadio Mane also added to Sunderland's misery.
Southampton have conceded the lowest amount of goals in the league so far, while scoring nearly four times as many. They may not have had the hardest start to the campaign and with their two losses coming at the hands of familiar faces away to Liverpool and Tottenham, tougher tests lie ahead to determine whether they can actually push for a European place as the season develops. They play Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United in a row in late November/early December, which will be a true test of their ambition.
Having gained a reputation for their great academy, many will be hoping this current success from buying wisely won't see the club shift its focus away from youth. As long as they keep producing quality youngsters it's unlikely to, but replacing six or seven key players from last season while also aiming to build on that success would have been nigh-on impossible without outside recruitment.
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