Belfast Telegraph

Why Steven Davis is a diamond for Soutthampton and country

By Steven Beacom

Forget aspiring Invincibles Chelsea, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and the brilliant Thibaut Courtois, the best young goalkeeper to play in the Premier League for many years.

The team of the season so far in England are Southampton.

The Saints lost half their side and manager in the summer - Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert moved to Liverpool, Luke Shaw joined Manchester United and Calum Chambers ended up at Arsenal plus boss Mauricio Pochettino jumped ship to dive into the choppy waters at Tottenham.

That did not stop Southampton, however, from playing fabulous football and surging to second place in the Premier League table ahead of all four clubs just mentioned as well as champions Manchester City. Only Jose Mourinho's magnificent men are above them.

And to think back in August some television pundits (is it just me or does it seem there are more of them now than actual players?)had the St Mary's side down for relegation.

While the drum roll arrival of the revered Louis van Gaal at United swept many in football off their feet, another Dutchman, with a fine pedigree, docked at Southampton with barely a mention.

Ronald Koeman, an outstanding defender with a rocket of a right-foot shot which won Barcelona's first European Cup in 1992, is proving to be an impressive manager. As blonde as Barbie, Koeman has never lacked confidence and prides himself on being able to spot a player who can influence a game.

His key summer signings, striker Graziano Pelle and playmaker Dusan Tadic, would suggest that belief is well founded.

Then there's his complete faith in Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis. While rarely receiving the credit he deserves in England, over here fans of the national team are well aware just how crucial Davis is.

Anyone in any doubt realised his importance to Michael O'Neill's team earlier this month in Romania when he was missing due to injury. Before then the skipper had been an inspirational figure as Northern Ireland created history, winning their opening three Euro 2016 qualifiers to jump to the top of Group F.

Cool, calm and controlled in possession, Davis gives his international team-mates confidence. That was lacking in Bucharest as Northern Ireland fell to their first defeat of the campaign.

No Davis. No points. The skipper's absence wasn't the only reason for the loss, but it was a major one.

Davis wasn't fit for Southampton's game at Aston Villa on Monday night either and it showed as the visitors, on the back of five successive wins, laboured to a 1-1 draw against Paul Lambert's strugglers.

Koeman's chain was missing a link - Davis. He is a player who can be trusted with the ball or without it, tracking back to keep the shape of the team, vital for Southampton's defensive strategy, and he has the engine and passing ability to fuse the midfield with his side's dangerous attack. In short, Davis provides the balance that Koeman feels is fundamental to any team.

The Saints have won 11 games in the Premier League and Capital One Cup this season. Davis has played in every single one.

While to many, the quiet, modest, unassuming Davis will only be appreciated when he's not doing his thing on the pitch, canny Koeman knows the true value of the Cullybackey man. No wonder he is keen to have him back for Sunday's showdown with Manchester City.

Belfast Telegraph

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