There's nothing quite like a good story. After suffering the indignity of falling all the way from the Premier League to League One within the span of four years (going into administration along the way to boot), Southampton fans could have been excused for being rather down on their team at the end of the 2008/09 season. A points deduction made it nearly impossible to escape the third division the next year, but the Saints soon turned it around.
A season spent as runners up in League One gave them something to celebrate, even if that was simply a case of meeting expectations, but there was much, much better to come. A blistering start to the next season saw Southampton as surprise leaders in the nPower Championship title race, and although they were overhauled by a spectacular Reading run-in, they still managed to secure promotion to the top flight by late April.
Now they have to stay there.
If they manage it, it'll be thanks to their attack and midfield. The big name, of course, is Ricky Lambert, who's been essentially unstoppable as of late. His goalscoring record is spectacular -- a goal in every 1.7 league games for Southampton, and it's difficult to see those strikes evaporating at the Premier League level. He'll be joined up top by 7M signing Jay Rodriguez, a Suarezy* support striker who'll focus on isolating fullbacks while Lambert occupies the centre. Combined, those two should ensure that the Saints score enough to stay up.
*Personality traits excluded from comparison.
The big guns will need to be supplied, however, and it'll be Adam Lallana who does much of the work in that regard. The 24-year-old winger was one of the better players in the Championship last season, and his ability to both chip in with goals as well as set up play will be invaluable to Southampton as they attempt to simply outgun their opponents.
At some point they'll need to control play, however, and that'll be down to the performance of Steve Davis, making his return to the Premier League for the first time since moving to Rangers in 2008. Davis is a thoroughly underrated all-around central midfielder, more than capable of starting for the majority of the teams in the league. He'll chip in at both ends of the pitch, providing plenty of assists for Lambert and Rodriguez while also breaking up opposing attacks.
And then... well, there's not a whole lot. The defence is painful to look at -- their back line is not Premier League calibre, and although Kelvin Davis is a good goalkeeper, it won't be enough to single-handedly stop teams from ripping the Saints to shreds. The other Davis' midfielder partners don't exactly inspire confidence, either, with neither Jack Cork or Morgan Schneiderlin (perhaps the latter, given the team's expected defensive issues) proven at this sort of level.
So, this is a team with some very good players and a dangerous attack, but one which could easily leak goals like a sieve if put under pressure. That might be enough to excel in the Championship, but it's a very dangerous game to play in the Premier League.
Last year: 2nd (nPower Championship); 26W 10D 10L.
This year: 18th, relegated to the nPower Championship
Key player(s): The burden placed on centre forward Ricky Lambert will be high indeed. Southampton need him to score at a similar rate to last season to have much chance of staying up. But their hopes really rest on new acquisition Steven Davis, who signed from an imploding Rangers team over the summer. If he can have an outstanding season in midfield, it'll help paper over the gaping cracks everywhere else. If he struggles, the Saints are doomed.