Bring them on, says smiling Southampton manager Ronald Koeman

With the meanest defence in the Premier League, an 8-0 win in his team`s latest showing and the Manager of the Month trophy sitting on his mantelpiece, Ronald Koeman would have been forgiven for allowing himself a wry smile when the inevitable question was asked.

Bring them on, says smiling Southampton manager Ronald Koeman

Southampton: With the meanest defence in the Premier League, an 8-0 win in his team`s latest showing and the Manager of the Month trophy sitting on his mantelpiece, Ronald Koeman would have been forgiven for allowing himself a wry smile when the inevitable question was asked.

How does the reality of life in the league match up to its fearsome reputation worldwide? "It is a really tough competition ... you don`t have an easy game," smiled the Southampton manager on Thursday.

Perhaps Saturday`s 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland temporarily slipped his mind but for sure the irony of that stock manager`s answer was not lost on the Dutchman.

"All the teams are close together ... it is a battle every weekend with a great atmosphere. I expect that and I am enjoying my life at the moment," added Koeman.

Well might he be revelling in his new role on England`s south coast.

Few outside St Mary`s Stadium expected much of Koeman who was thought at the start of the season to have inherited a basket-case of a team and was losing star players on an almost weekly basis.

Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw had followed England team mate Rickie Lambert out of the door, to be followed by Calum Chambers and Dejan Lovren.

This season was meant to be about crisis management, with bookmakers installing the Saints as early favourites for the drop.

Instead Koeman, showing the inspirational qualities he displayed as a world-class defender in the great Dutch side of the 1980s and 90s, has led Southampton into third place after eight games, and those same bookies are now giving a short price on the team being in a Champions League spot at the end of the season.
HAPPY MAN

But with Stoke City visiting St Mary`s on Saturday, Koeman is too long in the tooth to be taking anything for granted at this early stage.

"It`s always difficult after that kind of result because you have to prepare yourself for the next one," the manager told reporters at St Mary`s. "What is in the past doesn`t count any more."

The past may not count for much but Southampton`s performances have put the rest of the league on high alert and for now Koeman is a happy man.

"Everybody knows after eight games the quality of the Southampton team," he said. "They know we score a lot of goals and so if you make it an open game it will be a problem for our opponents.

"But it is up to them. We can`t think about that ... it is up to them how they come and what they plan to do in a tactical way."

For the visit of 10th-placed Stoke, Koeman is not expecting too many surprises.

"They bring a lot of physical qualities, they are strong in defence," he said. "They are one of the teams very dangerous at set pieces."

A main reason for this danger is down to 2.03-metre beanpole striker and former Saints forward Peter Crouch.

"Everybody knows Crouch," Koeman said, "(Stoke) play long balls and second balls and you need a lot of attention but we play at home and we have to do our game ... we like to play our way and that gives the players a lot of confidence.

"My job as a coach is to keep everybody confident and playing freely ... not to be afraid. That is easier when you win but OK that is football. We just need to be ourselves."

Southampton, six points behind leaders Chelsea, host Stoke at 1400 GMT.

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