Claude Puel’s managerial reign of Southampton did not commence particularly well.
After being appointed as Ronald Koeman’s successor, the 55-year-old Frenchman failed to win any of his first four English Premier League matches, as Southampton collected just two points from those games.
Since then however, they have embarked upon a five match unbeaten run, during which Charlie Austin has scored five goals, to prove that he is an ideal candidate to fulfil the void created by Graziano Pelle’s summer departure to Shandong Luneng.
Excellent start in the Europa League
Equally as impressive as Austin’s recent goal – scoring form, is Southampton’s defensive record, since following their 0-0 Europa League group stage draw with Hapoel Be’er Sheva, they have now kept five successive clean sheets, to coincide with their unbeaten run.
That began with a comprehensive 3-0 Europa League group stage win over Sparta Prague, as Austin became the first Southampton player to score twice in the competition, which was formerly the UEFA Cup, since Steve Moran in 1981, whilst Jay Rodriguez also found the net.
The confidence and belief that Southampton’s players withdrew from defeating Sparta to deliver Puel his victory as the club’s manager has subsequently been evident, given the dynamism, enterprise and freedom with which they have played.
Furthermore another positive characteristic of Southampton’s recent performances has been their unwavering togetherness and collective spirit. By virtue of exercising such attributes, Puel’s team were able to earn a valuable away point against Hapoel Be’er Sheva to remain top of Europa League Group K.
Although the game was a largely uninspiring contest, Southampton produced a resolute display to frustrate the Israeli champions, who are now unbeaten in 23 games at their new Turner Stadium.
Southampton possess many fine attributes
As an indication of the quality of Southampton’s squad in terms of strength and depth, they earned their creditable point against Hapoel, despite Puel making seven changes to the team which beat West Ham 3-0 to climb to ninth in the English Premier League.
Therefore at present Puel is operating an intelligent squad rotation system, just as he did whilst managing various French Ligue 1 sides, to ensure that his team meet the demands of competing in both domestic and European competition.
The Saints vividly portrayed their ability to do that by brilliantly recovering from their exploits against Sparta Prague, to beat Swansea City 1-0 in their next league game. In order to do so, they displayed a wealth of determination, drive and perseverance.
Those qualities also illuminated their performance against Hapoel.
Prosperous season awaits Puel’s Saints
By drawing that game to extend their unbeaten run to five matches, Southampton injected further momentum in to their season, which with Puel as manager possesses the potential to be as, if not more, successful than any of those that either of the Frenchman’s two predecessors, Maurico Pochettino and Ronald Koeman oversaw.
Puel will aspire to engineer a continuation of the fine work which he has undertaken in recent weeks by ensuring that his players are suitably prepared, in both a mental and physical sense, for Southampton’s next English Premier League game against Leicester City, following their 6,000 round mile trip to Be’er Sheva.
Ultimately that proved to be extremely worthwhile, as Southampton both, enhanced their prospects of reaching the Europa League knock-out stages for the first time and once again expressed that they are evolving into an excellent team under the guidance of Puel.
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