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Fighting fit Saints reap rewards of Poch's training regime
SAINTS are reaping the rewards of the double training sessions imposed by manager Mauricio Pochettino.
No team in the Premier League threw away more points from winning positions than Saints did last season – but all that has changed now.
This year, there is not a side in the division that have been better at holding onto a lead than Pochettino’s men.
Saints lost 29 points from winning positions during the 2012/13 campaign – the worst record in the top flight.
By this time last term they had already gifted away 11.
However, so far this season, they haven’t relinquished any, claiming victory in every game in which they have taken the lead.
Much of that appears to be down to a vast improvement towards the end of their matches.
In their first eight games last season, Saints conceded ten goals inside the final 20 minutes.
Over the same period this term, they haven’t even allowed one.
“That’s one of the signs that certifies that we’re on the right path,” said Pochettino, when asked about his team having possibly been physically and mentally stronger than Manchester United towards the end of their 1-1 draw on Saturday.
It is clear it is an area that the coaching staff and the players have worked hard on improving.
“From the start of the season, the team has been putting in an amazing effort,” he said.
“They’ve been having double training sessions every day and it’s now, at this time of the season, that we’re reaping the benefits of the effort that we put in.”
Saints have been the best ‘second half’ team in the Premier League this term.
A table showing what the division would look like if only the final 45 minutes of games counted currently shows Saints at the top.
It certainly appears that a full pre-season under Pochettino has had a major impact.
Rather than soaking up pressure late on, they have often been the ones pressing forward, scoring goals in the dying stages of their contests with West Brom, Sunderland and United to earn points.
Their vast improvement at the back – only Roma in the top five European leagues boast a better defensive record – has been a major factor in their success.
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, analysing the club’s start to the season in his role as a Sky Sports pundit, was glowing in his praise this week of the club’s defensive resolve.
“The thing I like about watching this Southampton team is it takes me back to working with (ex-Liverpool manager) Rafa Benítez on the training pitch; that pushing up, dropping off, that back four working together as a unit,” he said.
“We did so much repetition of that on the training pitch, and you can see it in their play as well.
“To be honest, we weren’t brave enough as a team, or maybe it wasn’t that Rafa wanted to do that, in terms of pressing so high from the front and so aggressive.
“But, watching that back four, it just takes me back. There’s no way they can just do that. That’s getting drilled on the training pitch.”
Carragher’s colleague, Gary Neville, was equally effusive when discussing the team’s style, as well as their defending, this season.
The former Manchester United and England right-back, who picked out Morgan Schneiderlin and Dejan Lovren for particular praise, said: “If you put all those components together, of a back four pressing high, winning the ball back early, a midfield player [Schneiderlin] who will get the ball quickly, and you could get the best players in the league, à la Chelsea, City, United, Arsenal, you get a Bayern Munich, you get a Barcelona.
“That’s the level you’re talking about with this level of defending.”
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