What's changed since last season?
Southampton are being taken seriously. Saints pulled off a few performances last season that made people take notice. The club has a young, talented squad and with the additions of Dejan Lovren and Victor Wanyama Saints are really looking to push on. The footage coming out of pre-season shows a squad in great spirits and looking ready for the challenge. It will be interesting to see how Saints respond to not being everyone's relegation favourites. The element of surprise may now be gone, and the high pressing, intense work rate and pretty game will be expected and many teams will have a plan in place to counter it. Hopefully Pochettino will have learnt a few lessons about English football and come up with away to counteract the more 'direct' sides.
Key to this campaign?
Defensive stability and consistency. In midfield and going forward last season Southampton were up there with the best, but some poor defensive displays and some inexperience at the back meant things often went wrong. No excuses this time round. I, like most Saints fans would like to see the club add more firepower, a reliance on Rickie Lambert, capable though he is, is a risky strategy. Should Lambert get injured it is a worry as to where Saints' bulk of goals would come from.
Predicted finish/realistic goal
Always hard to predict where a team will finish, but I think it only fair that I back the ambitions of the chairman and the club. Top ten with an outside shout of the Europa League qualification places. Saints should have finished higher last season, but a mix of a very difficult set of opening fixtures and a horrific run of opening form and goalkeeping instability meant that they gave themselves an almost impossible task for the rest of the campaign. No such issue this time, Saints have been handed a decent start to the season and will be looking to propel themselves into a good position after the opening four fixtures.
Make or break season for...
Nicola Cortese. The chairman has pretty much delivered everything he has promised so far, and only now do his suggested targets seem a little unrealistic. If he pulls it off he'll go down as a true legend.
Mauricio Pochettino. The manager has a full pre-season and transfer window to really instil his philosophies and make his mark on the squad. Everything that happens, good and bad will be on him.
Adam Lallana. The Saints captain has long been the subject of hyperbole from the fans, but last year, when finally on the big stage, he flattered to deceive. Supporters have started to question his merits as a starting player and, something that seems crazy given his form of the Championship promotion season, but he will be looking to show his capabilities can transfer to the Premier League having made a breakthrough into the England setup last season.
One to watch
Callum Chambers and Lloyd Isgrove have impressed in pre-season and could be the next Saints kids to make the grade. I think Victor Wanyama could prove to be shrewd business by Saints and will add some much needed muscle to the Saints midfield. Southampton were bullied by teams with a physical midfield, like West Brom, last season, but Big Vic doesn't look like he will be bullied by anyone.