Premier League experts predicted doom for the Saints this season. Last year's eighth-place side sold away player after player, and Morgan Schneiderlin tried his hardest to make it one more. Team morale sank down into the River Itchen and the future certainly looked bleak.
And yet, today Southampton sit behind only Chelsea in the league table, and they eliminated Arsenal in a tough early draw in the League Cup. The team brought in a brand new attack led by typists' nightmares Dušan Tadić, Graziano Pellè, and Sadio Mané, and each attacker has exceeded all expectations.
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Adam Lallana was the most devastating sale of the summer, leaving for £25 million to Liverpool. Lallana joined the Saints Academy at 12 years old, and he had just been named the Fans' and Players' Southampton Player of the Year. The crowds at St. Mary's will now insist, in a clever revision of an old pro-Lallana chant, that "Dušan Tadić makes Lallana look sh**e," but the fact remains that he was a beloved and successful homegrown player.
It remains to be seen whether or not he'll find success with his new club. Lallana hurt his knee during pre-season and has only featured in three matches. He played the full ninety as part of a disappointing Liverpool performance in the League Cup against Middlesbrough, and then again against Everton. He has looked full of energy and effort but has no goals or assists so far, and the Liverpool offense sans Suarez and Sturridge isn't making anyone look good at the moment. The childhood Everton fan Lallana will need more time to show his stuff at Liverpool.
Southampton let target man Rickie Lambert's contract expire, and he ended up signing with the club that released him as a youth player, Liverpool. It has been an emotional reunion for him, but not exactly a glorious one so far.
Lambert has appeared in every match besides the Champions League tie against Ludogorets, but he has had to come off the bench in all but the League Cup game. He can only be disappointed with losing minutes to Fabio Borini, who Liverpool desperately tried to sell during the summer. Lambert was influential as a substitute against Southampton in his first league appearance, drawing away defenders and opening up space for a Sturridge goal to give his team a win, but he has failed to make a mark on any match thereafter.
Liverpool signed yet another Saint in Dejan Lovren, the Croatian defender. Lovren has played every minute of every match alongside either Skrtel or Sakho, and WhoScored.com gives him the best average rating of any of the ex-Saints in this article: 7.28.
Last year, Liverpool were widely considered a team that couldn't defend, and simply had to attack relentlessly to ensure they outscored their opponents. This year, the team is still allowing plenty of goals: 3 to Manchester City, 3 to West Ham, 2 to Middlesbrough. Lovren is at least partially responsible, especially for a number of mistakes during the Man City game.
Lovren does at least look like an upgrade over having to play Sakho every week, but he cost £20 million, and he hasn't yet noticeably improved Liverpool's problems with defense.
Arsenal bought 19-year-old defender Calum Chambers from Southampton for "up to £16 million," a lot of money for a young man with only 26 senior appearances under his belt. Chambers had been with the Saints since age 7, another disappointing loss of an academy prospect. His value certainly lies in his future potential, but how has he played so far?
Chambers has appeared in six matches for Arsenal, all in defense. All six appearances have been quietly strong, albeit with 4 yellow cards already. It was speculated early on that Chambers might play as a defensive midfielder for Arsenal, but they have yet to use him there despite a rash of midfield injuries and the fans' frustrations with Flamini. Without a clear replacement in defense, Chambers will continue to play there for the time being. He's having a solid season, but his price tag reflects a further development of class that has yet to come.
Southampton's more preeminent 19-year-old defender went to Manchester United for a staggering £30 million in a widely criticized transfer. Many commentators thought this was too much to spend on a left-back, regardless of quality or potential. Shaw had been with Southampton since age 8, and he had come all the way with them to make the PFA Team of the Year last season.
The chaos ongoing at Manchester United is well documented, but Shaw has mostly not been a part of it. United signed two other players who can also play left-back, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, but they played defensive midfield and center-back respectively to give Luke Shaw a start against West Ham this week. Shaw played the whole match and earned a 7.11 from WhoScored.com, but that has been his only appearance so far for the Red Devils.
Given Southampton's success and the relatively poor performances of their departed players thus far, the Saints fire sale is starting to look like good business. Bertrand, Clyne, Alderweireld, and the new attackers have been more than suitable replacements for the sold players, and the club turned a profit with its combined transfer business. It is still very early in the season however, so we will check back on the performances of these ex-Saints as they settle in to their new teams.