How Southampton's performance at Old Trafford, and this season, puts them in good shape for Europe

Ronald Koeman

Southampton's win against Manchester United was reminiscent of a side putting in a performance away from home in European competition away from home, and it was ideal.

There was something striking about Southampton's win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was hailed as one of the best Premier League defensive performances for several years by commentators and pundits shortly after.

Ronald Koeman's side won with their only shot on target, something which isn't uncommon in the tactical wars of attrition that you see in the knockout stages of the Champions League, or at the business end of the group stages.

At the start of the season, people were writing off the Saints with the departure of so many of their players departing the club. Several came in in the first place, but predictions of relegation for this team because the players were relatively unknown to those who only watch Premier League football, were frankly ignorant.

Their defensive record this season is the best in the league. In the era where defensive problems at clubs seems to be the norm, Koeman has his side so well drilled it's uncanny. But you look at the sides that have been proficient going forward entering the Champions League - like Liverpool and Manchester City this season, they have both struggled, though the latter managed to get through their group.

Chelsea, without an in-form goalscorer last season, managed to get to the semi-finals of the competition. They knew how to play the percentages under Jose Mourinho, and knew how to be disciplined and not make the daft errors that others teams do, wasting their potential of getting to the latter stages of Europe's biggest competition.

Here is a look at the stats among the the sides who could be challenging for Europe this season: 

  Clean SheetInterception WonTotal Tackle GAMEError Lead To GoalAppearances
Chelsea 10 214 21.48 1 21
Southampton 10 324 22.62 2 21
Man City 7 297 19.95 3 21
Arsenal 6 383 20 7 21
Liverpool 6 257 21.71 6 21
Man Utd 6 364 19.48 1 21
Tottenham 5 372 22.62 4 21
West Ham 4 293 17.48 3 21
Everton 3 238 16.38 11 21

The Saints are the joint highest when it comes to keeping clean sheets this season, with league leaders Chelsea matching them, while one statistic that doesn't feature on that table is that they've conceded the least amount of goals in the league this season.

They're among the most proficient tackling outfits, win their fair share of interceptions and there are only two errors that have led to goals - all of which show signs of a very solid defensive side.

There will be those that say the side may not have the numbers to cope next season but there has been a fair bit of talk from Koeman about the need to strengthen the squad, so it looks as though they will add regardless. But Southampton's academy has managed to produce players season on season, while the side ran out winners at Old Trafford had Saido Mane and Maya Yoshia away at the Africa Cup of Nations and Asian Cup respectively.

Then there is the European pedigree of their manager. He has been in charge of sides at the top European level, and oversaw the Benfica side that dumped Liverpool out of the Champions League in 2006 when they were holders, and has managed both Ajax and PSV Eindhoven in the competition. He isn't a manager alien to the big time.

If the Saints build on their impressive performance after 21 games so far this season, and sustain their challenge for a place in the Champions League, then despite them being in the lowest pot when it comes to the seedings, few will relish coming up against this side.

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