Premier League 17/18 Week 32: West Ham United vs Southampton – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Mark Hughes takes charge of his first league game in charge of the Saints in what is a huge match for two teams flirting with relegation
15:00 BST Saturday 31st March, London Stadium (London, England)
Tensions will likely run high in East London for this match, a fact not helped by the Hammers three successive defeats in the league in which they’ve conceded at least 3 goals in each of these losses. This has seen them slip to 17th position and only 2 points above this weekend’s opponents who will be highly motivated to escape the relegation zone.
After winning his first game in charge to take the Saints into the FA Cup Semi-finals, Mark Hughes will hope for more bounce to nudge his new club to safety at the Hammers expense on Saturday. While he’s inherited a team technically capable of playing expansive football, Hughes will need to tease goals from his squad.
Last Time Out
West Ham United 0-3 Burnley (Premier League)
While the game will be mainly remembered for the crowd trouble from the home “supporters” which marred the fixture, the match was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests.
Aaron Cresswell was denied a penalty for a cross which caught Aaron Lennon’s arm and could have conceivably been given by the referee on another day. Both Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini were denied by fine stops from Burnley’s keeper while their defence prevented the Clarets from getting any shots on goal in the opening 45 minutes.
Sean Dyche’s switch to two forwards changed the away team’s attacking impetus during the second half and it proved bad news for Joe Hart who returned to the starting lineup for the Hammers.
With none of the West Ham players hitting the standards they’d shown before the interval, the second half became a procession for the visitors. All of this was left with a further distasteful feeling as the fans frustrations boiled over in the stadium, however, this only added to the misery rather than providing an excuse for a limp close-out of the match.
Wigan Athletic 0-2 Southampton (FA Cup)
Hughes’ first game in charge provided a happy outcome as they pushed past the League One outfit to stake a place in the FA Cup semi-finals. While the majority of people expected the Saints to beat their third-tier opponents, they did so with no drama and a professional performance.
Wigan had posed a significant threat during the first half, however, despite having 8 corners they did little to worry the Saints keeper. An increase in intensity form the visitors after the break should have seen a goal on the hour mark but for Manolo Gabbiadini to fluff his lines when clear through on goal and only the Wigan keeper to beat.
Hughes’ choice of fielding two strikers in a 4-4-2 formation pleased many of hi new club’s supporters and it proved more fruitful after half time with a number of chances falling their way. It was midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg who opened the scoring with his first goal for the Saints before Gabbiadini then missed a penalty moments later. Cedric Soares sealed the win near the final whistle and Southampton claimed a morale-boosting victory which could inspire them to turn a large corner in their season.
West Ham United Lineup
Winston Reid (knee) Sam Byram (ankle) Pedro Obiang (knee) and Andy Carroll (ankle) will all miss out again for the Hammers while James Collins (hamstring) Manuel Lanzini (knee) and Cheikhou Kouyaté (illness) all face late fitness tests for Moyes’ side. There is the return of Arthur Masuaku from suspension, however, it remains to be seen whether the manager opts to bring him back into the starting lineup after publicly condemning him for his behaviour in receiving the infamous red card. However, Edimilson Fernandes returns from injury and could well find himself back in the first team this weekend as could keeper, Adrián.
Mark Hughes has no major injury worries ahead of this weekend’s important clash, however, he will need to take late decisions on the fitness of Ryan Bertrand (back) Steven Davis (hamstring) and Charlie Austin (back) who could all potentially feature this weekend.
Key Battle: David Moyes (West Ham United) vs Mark Hughes (Southampton)
Two old-hands at managing in the Premier League will go head-to-head at the London Stadium with a big price placed on any potential failure. David Moyes had done enough to be considered a relative success in East London only a month ago, however, successive defeats to Swansea and then Burnley have put the Irons back amongst the flames of a relegation race. How he inspires his team in what could prove a very trying environment could well go a long way to defining how his six-month term in charge of West Ham is viewed.
For Mark Hughes, he is in the unenviable position of having more to gain than he faces losing. With eight games left to dig his new club out of the relegation zone, he has players capable of performing but will need to find a system which brings goals and motivate his squad to perform better than they have been of late. With a history of bringing a quick impact on teams, if not a beneficial effect a longer period, Hughes could prove a timely appointment for the Saints and may just have the Striker’s nous needed to inspire the club’s under-performing forwards.
Following the dissent aimed squarely at the board during West Ham’s last match, Karen Brady announced this week that the club are currently looking to appoint a new director of football. In a move possibly aimed to tame fans resentment towards the current board and curtail the influence which David Gold & David Sullivan have been commanding over transfer decisions at the club, it remains to be seen who will accept this position.
A fan protest has again been organised outside the ground before kick-off this weekend while the current board may be tempted to interfere in the general running once more considering they were never officially in any capacity under previous internal structures.
With players such as José Fonte claiming he was held at the whim of the director’s children when decisions were made on his future, this is at least a step in the right direction for the club but it will take many more to prove they’re walking in the right way.
Austin to the rescue?
Southampton’s striker problems were temporarily solved at the end of last year when Charlie Austin returned to the fold and scored 5 goals in 7 appearances (5 starts, 2 substitute appearances).
A red card and a hamstring injury curtailed any joy on the South coast but the striker has confirmed he’s due to return any time now. With Hughes lavishing praise on the striker’s natural ability, Austin’s climb from playing non-league football has been hard-earned.
As a striker in the image of his new manager, Austin is likely to be given much support in his return from injury but could find himself thrust into the action soon, especially after Gabbiadini’s poor composure in front of goal against Wigan in Hughes’ first game in charge.
Prediction: West Ham United 2-3 Southampton
With so much at stake for these two established Premier League sides, there could be a lot of entertainment on the pitch in this fixture. Both teams can play good football but both teams are also guilty of falling short of their potential frequently this season. With a new manager at the helm, Southampton may have a slight advantage which could prove significant come the season’s final reckoning.