Premier League 17/18 Week 36: Southampton vs Bournemouth – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Saints look to pluck safety from a visit by the Cherries as their season hits a defining moment
15:00 BST, Saturday 28th April, St Mary’s Stadium (Southampton, England)
After the brief and forgettable distraction of an FA Cup semifinal, the Saints once more hit a trail which they hope will lead to the promised land of top-flight status. Mark Hughes’s side are only 4 points from safety with 4 games remaining, providing them with every opportunity to climb out of their current predicament. They head into this game looking for their first home win in their 10th attempt (L5, D4) and as the side bottom of the Premier League’s current form table (8 games played) but victory would drastically improve their current outlook.
The Cherries have little left to play for this season, sitting as they are in the relative safety of mid-table obscurity. A single win against bottom-placed West Brom is all they have to show from their last 9 league games, although 4 draws have helped to keep them treading the metaphorical water of mediocrity. A 16th loss of the season from this game will see them suffer a 3rd successive defeat, however, victory will give them real belief they can finish in the top half of the table for the second consecutive season much against many expectations.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 2-0 Southampton (FA Cup)
The Saints failed to shine on Wembley’s hallowed turf as they limped out of the FA Cup and lost the chance of a fairytale final. There was an early warning for Southampton when Willian thundered a shot off the bar, however, this failed to inspire them into upping their level of play. Instead, Southampton looked to hold on to a stalemate rather than chance their arm in going for a win.
Much of Southampton’s weakness stemmed from their midfield, Mario Lemina and Oriol Romeu particularly culpable for poor displays. With Hughes opting to play a 3-5-2 formation to stifle Chelsea’s central dominance, this was a death-knell to the Saints pre-laid plans. While Charlie Austin struck the woodwork later in the game, the match finished with Chelsea firmly on top. Alex McCarthy’s efforts in goal helped to keep an air of respectability to the scoreline, however, it was with a whimper that Southampton left Wembley and the FA Cup behind.
Bournemouth 0-2 Manchester United (Premier League)
Bournemouth gave a good account of themselves but were beaten by an efficiently ruthless United side. United had made 7 changes to their team following a defeat against West Brom but Howe chose to only make 2 despite the short turnaround time in fixtures.
While neither side were dominant during the early exchanges, Bournemouth fell behind inside half an hour when the Cherries defence were left exposed from a precise, through-ball from United’s midfield.
Bournemouth continued to stay in contention with the side placed second in the league and felt they should have been awarded a penalty early in the second half. Luke Shaw took more of Callum Wilson than the ball but protests were waved away by the official. United quickly added a second goal to the scoreline and with a strong lead, Mourinho’s side were able to soak up everything the Cherries could throw at them to leave the home side beaten for a second successive game.
After opting to play an extra midfielder against Chelsea in the FA Cup, Hughes is likely to revert to his preferred 3-4-3 formation this weekend. With only captain Steven Davis missing from the team with an Achilles problem, Hughes will have plenty of options ahead of this fixture.
Tyrone Mings (back) Adam Smith (knee) and Junior Stanislas (knee) will be joined on the sidelines by Harry Arter (Achilles) this weekend which should leave Howe with a similar starting lineup to recent games.
Key Battle: Mario Lemina (Southampton) vs Lewis Cook (Bournemouth)
With both sides having relative problems this season in defence and attack, the midfield players have been each side’s most important. Lemina arrived at Southampton last summer in a surprising £18m deal which took him from Juventus. While he’s shown plenty of promise in the Saints side, he’s also been highly inconsistent which was most evident last weekend at Wembley. If he can bounce back from that display in the right way, the Saints could prosper in this all-important fixture.
Lewis Cook has been Bournemouth’s hidden gem this season, forming a solid central midfield partnership with the previously forgotten Dan Gosling. Cook has both an energy and bite with his tackles and a gift of creativity in making things happen for the players in front of him. The fact he has not scored in the Premier League has helped to conceal his efforts beyond Bournemouth, however, another efficient performance this weekend will enhance his reputation along the South Coast even more.
Although the tag of “a six-pointer” has wisely been removed from much of football’s recent vocabulary, Southampton’s season is very much building in that direction. A run of bad form has left them much work still to do, however, there’s a chance their season could come to rest on one key fixture. This weekend’s game against Bournemouth is crucial for them to win to keep the pressure on the teams above them but more drama will follow if they achieve this.
With an away trip to Swansea still to follow, the Saints need to close the gap to the side only 1 place above them in the table. Southampton’s other fixtures pit them against Everton and Manchester City which makes the game against Bournemouth the most obvious on paper to produce some much-needed points.
The rise and fall of a King
This time last year saw much adulation for Joshua King ringing around the country. His goal-scoring prowess saw him linked with several clubs during the summer months after he seemingly single-handedly dragged Bournemouth up the table into their highest ever top-flight finish.
This season has been a distinctly quieter affair for the Norwegian, however, he’s once again finding his name linked with a move this summer. Although his 6 league goals leave him 10 behind his total from last year, his all-around game has continued to grow. Despite falling out of the limelight and seeming to have fallen from grace, the forward is still one of the most crucial players in Eddie Howe’s Cherry-coloured jigsaw.
Prediction: Southampton 1-0 Bournemouth
The lack of fight in Bournemouth’s play over the past month will be a worry for Eddie Howe but could be a sign of what’s in store for the rest of their season. The Saints will need to raise their own game to take anything positive away from the match but the stakes being so high could well drive them to pick up a win.
(Photo Credit: Reuters/Darren Staples)