during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on January 23, 2016 in Manchester, England.

What is the ceiling on Southampton’s season this year

As you may remember, the summer of 2014 was not kind to Southampton. Following a very impressive 2013/14 season for the newly promoted club, they were promptly raided for many of their top young players, and their manager by the bigger Premier League clubs. Every pundit around thought they had lost too much and the club would be relegated following the 2015 campaign. Instead Southampton surprised everyone and actually improved on that 2014 season, this time finishing seventh and earning a spot in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.

The poaching of players from Southampton wasn’t done in the summer of 2015 as several more players left the club. Among the players that left this time was the heart and soul of the team, French international Morgan Schneiderlin, and one of the best defenders in the Premier League in Toby Alderweireld. Certainly this time around the losses would be too much, especially when you combine them with the losses from the previous year.

But apparently no one told that to Southampton.

The part of Southampton’s 2014/15 season that caught everyones attention wasn’t that they finished seventh. It was that for most of the season, they hung around the top four before fading a bit down the stretch. Prior to this season the biggest question was who would be this year’s Southampton, especially since we all thought it wouldn’t be Southampton due to all the injuries.

At this point, we know the answer is obviously first place Leicester City but the truth is Southampton aren’t exactly far off from where they were last year. Despite another summer of turnover, and a lot of injuries to replacements, Southampton started the season pretty strong, losing just twice in their first 12 games.

On November 21st, the Saints were sitting in seventh place, the same spot where they finished last year but still higher then anyone expected. What happened next was hard to see coming. From the 21st of November until January 2nd, Southampton lost six of their eight matches, with their only win being a 4-0 aberration on Boxing Day against Arsenal.

During their very rough stretch of December, Southampton fell from seventh to 12th in the table and it was apparent to everyone that their magical run had come to an end. Their problems were starting to get exposed, as their already shaky defense started conceding plenty of goals, and their already frail attack couldn’t seem to ever find the back of the net. No one really thought they would fall into the relegation zone, but it was certain that their days of competing for a Europa League spot were over.

That was just three short weeks ago and already that line of thinking looks ridiculous. Since their 1-0 loss to 15th place (at the time) Norwich City on January 2nd, the Saints have run off three straight wins, keeping a clean sheet in all three matches. They have risen right back to eighth in the table, and their plus eight goal differential is tied for the best in the league of anyone outside of the top four.

At this point one thing is clear. Southampton are back and the only question we should be asking is, what is their ceiling for this season?

It’s a wide open league this season and things are certainly on the rise for Southampton. Not only is the squad finally getting healthy, but it’s getting reinforced as well. Dutch midfielder Jordy Clasie, who was brought in to replace the departed Schneiderlin, is finally settling into the team after injuries delayed the start of his season. After taking a few matches to settle in to the team, Clasie is now making a noticeable impact in the midfield, helping to protect the Saints back four.

Of course the biggest move Southampton made was rescuing striker Charlie Austin from the abyss of the Championship. The English striker scored 18 goals for relegation bound QPR last season but was unable to leave the club over the summer. Established Premier League goal scorers are not always easy to find, and the Saints securing the striker for a reported £4 million is nothing short of a coup. His arrival is paying dividends for Southampton immediately as he scored the winner at Old Trafford on his debut this past weekend.

Following a horrific December it was only natural to begin to question how long Southampton could last. It looks like Southampton began asking the same questions of themselves, and in January they went about to fix it. Three matches later Southampton’s defense is back to looking like Southampton’s defense has looked over the past few seasons. The addition of Charlie Austin makes their attack that much more dangerous and far more consistent.

The club has won nine games so far this season, which is just four fewer then league leaders Leicester City. In a wide open and inconsistent Premier League season, if you take out the disastrous month of December, the Saints have actually been remarkably consistent. With no other competitions to worry about anymore, there’s no reason to think that Southampton can’t do exactly what they did last year, which is be right in the thick of things to compete for a Europa League spot.

It should be a very fun second half of the season.

About Pauly Kwestel

Pauly is a Producer for WFAN in New York and the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has been writing about the beautiful game since 2010 and can be followed on twitter @pkwestelWFAN