There was a period in September when Southampton lost four matches in a row but they’ve quickly turned their fortunes after going eight matches unbeaten in October and November.
It feels as though the Saints have clicked into gear under Russell Martin, controlling most matches with their relentless possession-based style.
Yet, such is the strength of Leicester City and Ipswich Town at the top of the Championship, Southampton find themselves nine points behind the second-place Tractor Boys.
With this in mind, Martin could use January as an opportunity to bolster his squad and field a lineup that is capable of gatecrashing the automatic promotion spots…
GK – Gavin Bazunu
Gavin Bazunu has started in every game for the south coast side so far but some have questioned Martin’s decision to persevere with the former Manchester City man.
Out of all the 35 goalkeepers to have made an appearance in the Championship this term, Bazunu is rock bottom for goals prevented (-5.17) and the third worst for saves per game (2.3), as per Sofascore.
The 21-year-old, however, is excellent with the ball at his feet so that is why he’s invaluable to Martin’s possession-orientated style.
RB – Kyle Walker-Peters
When Southampton dropped down to the second tier, many expected Kyle Walker-Peters to depart St Mary’s.
However, he remained with the club – to the delight of everyone associated with the Saints – and is shining this season, scoring once and providing two assists in 16 league outings.
His boundless energy and attacking threat are crucial ingredients to Martin’s system, with the 26-year-old completing the most dribbles per game of any full-back in the division (2.1 – 69%).
CB – Taylor Harwood-Bellis
Harwood-Bellis was pivotal in Burnley’s title-winning campaign last term and if Southampton are to gatecrash the automatic promotion spots, the on-loan Manchester City centre-back will play a crucial role having featured in all but two matches so far.
Martin must do everything in January to capture the England under-21 star on a permanent deal from the Etihad outfit.
CB – Jan Bednarek
Bednarek is a colossus at the back and his form this term has warranted a return to Poland’s international squad.
The 27-year-old is vital to how the Saints progress play from the back, averaging the highest pass completion of any defender in the division (95%), while his 7.3 balls recovered per game has bailed his side out on numerous occasions.
LB – James Bree
Since replacing Ryan Manning in the draw against Preston North End in October, the former Luton Town star has never looked back, having successfully completed 80% of his dribbles, 89% pass completion and recovered 3.4 balls per game.
If he continues to be the driving force down Martin’s left flank, Manning will struggle to dislodge him from the starting XI.
CDM – Joel Katongo
Initially a centre-back by trade, the England under-20 international has featured as a defensive midfielder on loan at Peterborough United this term.
If the Saints were able to capture the teenager permanently, he could be their missing anchor in a ship they hope will sail towards promotion.
CM – Will Smallbone
After starring on loan at Stoke City last term, making 43 appearances, Smallbone has returned to the south coast and become a crucial cog in Martin’s machine, demonstrating his energy and dynamism in full throttle.
CM – Stuart Armstrong
An ever-present at the heart of Southampton’s midfield, Armstrong’s all-action displays and effortless ball-carrying are two attributes that often go unnoticed but he’s featured in every match so far and is one of the first names on the team sheet.
RW – Kamaldeen Sulemana
A club record signing from Rennes in January, Sulemana is a direct and explosive winger, but it’s only in recent months that Martin has seen those attributes explode into life.
The 21-year-old has showcased his exceptional ball-carrying by completing the third most successful dribbles in the Championship (3.2), behind only Jaden Philogene and Jack Clarke.
He could move over to the right wing to facilitate a move for the star below.
LW – Ben Brereton Diaz
If the Saints move for Ben Brereton Diaz, as reported by TEAMTalk, the 6 foot 1 Villarreal forward could resolve that issue, with the 24-year-old hailed as the “real deal” by pundit Glenn Murray (ITV, 09/11/2022, 23:38), having already “cracked the Championship”.
Prior to his move to Spain, the towering “goal machine”, as dubbed by Nixon, scored 16 goals for Blackburn Rovers last term predominantly as a left winger – and has 53 Championship goals across his career to date – so clearly knows where the back of the net is.
ST – Adam Armstrong
There is one guarantee in life – Adam Armstrong turning into a goal machine in the Championship.
With an eye-watering nine goals in 16 appearances, the 26-year-old is the division’s second top scorer, who comes alive in the box to clinically dispatch any chance that comes his way, showcasing those predatory instincts with a brace against Leeds United.