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Sainthood Awaits

Southampton have defied expectations of late, and their momentum seems to know no bounds.

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In Catholicism, the practice of miracles is required to be formally declared a saint.

The Champions League is an exclusive club. In the last seven seasons, only six teams have managed to qualify, usually by finishing in the Premier League top four. Southampton have never been likely contenders: they finished 8th last season, with Stoke City their closest neighbours, and were 14th the year before. The seasons before that, they were finishing second in the Championship to Reading, and in League One to Brighton.

It's been an implausible rise, but this glass ceiling seemed a step too far for the Saints, especially given the nature of their competition.

Chelsea are stronger than last season. They raided Spanish champions Atlético Madrid for Costa, their top-scorer, Luis, their starting left-back, and Courtois, the best keeper in the division. They then added a proven playmaker, Arsenal hero Fabregas, and two more proven strikers, Remy and club legend Drogba. That's about £85 million of quality imports.

City are stronger than last season. Despite the limits of financial fair play, they brought in a £30m centre-back (Mangala), £12m defensive midfielder (Fernando), another goalkeeper (Caballero), and Premier League veterens Sagna and Lampard from rivals Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. In total, they spent approximately £50 million.

United are stronger than last season. They splashed their wealth on Shaw, Rojo, Blind, and Herrera, before breaking the British transfer record for £60m Di Maria. That's a massive £146 million.

Arsenal are stronger than last season. They avoided selling their best players, and instead followed up Ozil with £30m Sanchez from Barcelona, as well as Welbeck, Debuchy, and Chambers, for a combined £74 million.

Saints did sell their best players, to teams now their rivals. They lost perennial top-scorer Lambert to Liverpool, alongside Lallana and Lovren, with defenders Chambers and Shaw heading to Arsenal and United respectively. Even their manager, Pochettino, left for Spurs.

Southampton are currently fourth in the league, one point below United, and looking down on Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs. They brought in a new manager, Koeman, from the Dutch league, whose record there was hardly exceptional. He can be unfavourably compared with United's new manager, Van Gaal: after the latter led AZ to a rare championship, he left for Bayern He was replaced by a deeply disappointing Koeman, who was fired within months after losing half of his games.

The Dutchman brought with him an £8m Feyenoord striker (Pelle) and an £11m midfielder from Twente (Tadic), and also brought in Forster, Mané, and Long from Celtic, Salzburg and Hull respectively. In total, they spent under £50m on little-known players, despite receiving £95 million for starters Lambert, Lallana, Lovren, Shaw, and Chambers.

As a recently promoted team, who had sold all of their best players and barely replaced them, for Saints to be competing with (and beating) established top teams, who had spent millions on improving their squads, is pretty miraculous. If they enter Europe's elite club competition, which is looking increasingly possible, they will have truly earned their name.

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