13:30 BST, Sunday 12th August, St. Mary’s Stadium (Southampton, England)
A late run of four unbeaten games — W2, D2 — saw Southampton climb out of the relegation zone last season to finish fourth-bottom of the table before their final day defeat to Manchester City.
Looking to continue building and climbing, the Saints can now take encouragement from that run along with a bite of reality the predicament provided. With only two wins from their previous 19 opening day league fixtures, Mark Hughes will need to break with a tradition if he’s to build quick foundations for the South coast side.
Sean Dyche’s Burnley, by contrast, were expected to struggle last season, but an opening day win over then-champions Chelsea set them on their way to a top-seven finish. With the extra baggage of European football to carry through this season, the Clarets are again expected to find problems lying in wait for them this term.
With three competitive draws — one of which being an extra time win over Aberdeen — having already been played out and a Thursday night trip to Turkey this week, fatigue could already be the biggest factor affecting Dyche’s plans to recapture last season’s success.
Last Time Out
Southampton 0-3 Borussia Monchengladbach (Friendly)
The Saints were comprehensively beaten in their final pre-season friendly with a display that was flat and uninspired.
They had Alex McCarthy to thank for keeping a level of respect in the scoreline, the 'keeper making several huge saves to deny the German visitors.
Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough Hughes’ side were caught out by defence-splitting passes on far too many occasions and this is something he will definitely address on the training ground this week.
With nine substitutions made by the home side during the second half, the match did lose a lot of its flow, but the Saints adapted well and finished the match with their most fluent and threatening football of the game.
Burnley 0-0 Istanbul Basaksehir (Europa League Qualifying)
A solid but toothless display gave the Clarets a good foundation to work from but no away goal to ease their nerves. Not only did Burnley not score, they failed to put any shots on target during a match which Dyche only had 17 players to choose from.
Joe Hart made his debut in goal and was called into action with one good save from Manuel da Costa but it was the only shot of the Turkish side’s 18 efforts that was goal-bound.
REUTERS/Murad Sezer With only 29% of possession, Burnley sat deep and generally looked comfortable in doing so. It could have been much worse for the visitors with Jeff Hendrick appearing to handle the ball towards the end of the match, but no penalty was awarded against the Irish midfielder.
The return game at Turf Moor take place this Thursday, and Burnley will still be favourites to progress, but they will need to find more adventure in their play if they’re to become the threat of last season.
Cedric Soares is the only player not expected to be available for selection this weekend as he slowly returns to full fitness after resuming pre-season later than his teammates.
There should be starts for new signings Jannik Vestergaard and Mohamed Elyounoussi, but both Angus Gunn and Danny Ings may have to wait a little longer before they get a chance to establish themselves in their new team.
Hart will begin in goal for the Clarets but fellow new arrival Matej Vydra could be given more time to settle into his new team before the striker makes his club debut.
Chris Wood was rested on Thursday evening due to a reaction from an insect bite, but is expected to be fit for this match.
Steven Defour (calf) and Robbie Brady (hamstring) are close to fitness after their respective long-term injuries, but Dyche should have no further concerns this weekend.
Key Battle: Charlie Austin (Southampton) vs James Tarkowski (Burnley)
The Saints' firepower has been lacking for several years now, but they come into this season with three strikers who can potentially enjoy a big season.
While Manolo Gabbiadini has played the most minutes in pre-season, Hughes is an admirer of Charlie Austin and may begin with the striker who delivered most in attack last season.
Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough With only seven goals and a single assist against his name for last season’s 24 league appearances, he will be hoping to get off to a quick start this time around.
Both Ben Mee and James Tarkowski proved the rocks around which Dyche planned his team last season and they will both again be vital in this coming campaign.
Tarkowski, in particular, was unlucky not to travel to Russia this summer, though that could be a blessing in disguise for the defender who now has many fixtures lining up ahead of him.
The last of his species
Last season saw the decline of several established British managers in the Premier League due to a lack of results and accusations of bringing an outdated style to the table.
As a manager often put into this category, Hughes’ appointment at Southampton was something of a surprise and saw him come close to overseeing two clubs to relegation in the same season.
But while Hughes’ credentials are often questioned by many onlookers, he does have a habit of bringing good results to clubs during the first year of his managerial reigns. He also seems to have recruited wisely this summer, targeting areas in the squad which needed addressing.
With Neil Warnock back in the English top flight this season, attention could be diverted away from Hughes during the opening months. If he fails to get his team off to a fast start in the league, the criticism will mount on the Welshman’s shoulders very quickly indeed.
3 x 1 = ?
The cut-price signing of Joe Hart could prove to return the investment almost immediately if he helps Burnley progress through their European qualifiers to reach the Europa League proper this season.
As for the longer vision of their goalkeeper situation, Dyche has a very interesting conundrum he must resolve looming on the horizon.
Nick Pope’s injury will almost certainly see him miss most of this season but his return to fitness will provide three England goalkeepers in the squad to choose between.
Considering that Burnley arguably have insufficient depth in their squad in several other key positions for the huge amount of potential fixtures they face in this campaign, it does put question marks over the recruitment policy Burnley have executed this summer.
Prediction: Southampton 1-0 Burnley
This is undoubtedly Dyche’s biggest challenge to date and will test his demands for player stamina to the limits. It is a challenge which he should negotiate on a roller-coaster ride for Clarets fans, but he may find a bumpy start to his domestic campaign.
Southampton come into this match with a lot to prove and if they play with enough energy and composure, they could find themselves with a narrow victory.
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