15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 19th August; St Mary’s Stadium (Southampton, England)
It’s a popularly touted statistic of late that Southampton have now gone six consecutive Premiership games without a goal, however, against Swansea they looked a much more attack-orientated side.
Despite a rotating door on the South Coast which has seen regular player and manager changes in the past few seasons, Southampton remain one of the Premier League’s wonders in the way that they overcome the odds and finish the season in good standing. They will be confident of breaking their unwanted recent record on Saturday and in doing so, start along the road to another happy ending.
West Ham have experienced their own problems recently, but away form was one of the positives to come away from last season. The board have admirably chosen to back their manager this summer, a rarity in an age of quick-fixes and knee-jerk reactions. Whether Slaven Bilić is able to repay this vote of confidence by fulfilling the promises and reassurances he most certainly made at the end of last season remains to be seen, but this weekend will be a truer indication than the demolishing they suffered at Old Trafford.
LAST TIME OUT
SOUTHAMPTON 0 – 0 Swansea City (Premiership)
The weekend’s only game to remain scoreless was a more entertaining affair than the scoreline suggests. The Saints were well on top for the majority of the game, making 29 shots on goal in comparison to Swansea’s 4. Manolo Gabbiadini glanced a header against the post after only 90 seconds of play for the first of his 5 shots on goal, however, his threat slowly waned before his eventual substitution in the 69thminute.
It was telling that of the 13 corners Southampton won, many of them failed to beat the first Swansea defender and only two of their shots were on target, a lack of execution which could perhaps be put down to early season rustiness. A big positive for Pellegrino, however, was in the solidity of his side at the back.
With Virgil van Dijk missing as his protracted exit continues to be drawn out, Steven Davis and man-of-the-match, Oriol Romeu shielded a largely untroubled defensive superbly and gave a good base for their attackers to perform from.
Manchester United 4 – 0 WEST HAM UNITED (Premiership)
There were four players making their league debuts for the Hammers on Sunday, however, West Ham’s overall display looked painfully reminiscent of last season’s lacklustre campaign. Mark Noble made an industrious effort in midfield for his team, creating three key passes during the hour he was on the pitch.
The captain’s efforts were largely in vain though, as West Ham were over-awed in the centre of the pitch despite Pedro Obiang’s game-high of six successful tackles. On this evidence, Cheikhou Kouyaté’s return to action is badly needed to provide them with some extra steel.
With Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio both unavailable, there was also a severe shortage of creativity in the Irons front line. Javier Hernández was well shackled by Phil Jones throughout and rarely looked threatening against his former club. Bilic will be hoping that with the added creativity of his main playmakers in the near future, Chicharito can show exactly why the club paid £16m for his services from Bayer Leverkusen.
The Saints have no injury worries although defender and captain Virgil van Dijk is again expected not to feature despite the South coast club re-affirming their position this week that he will spend the season as their player. Mauricio Pellegrino is, therefore, expected to name an unchanged starting line-up from last week.
West Ham United Lineup
Cheikhou Kouyate (knee) Manuel Lanzini (knee) Andy Carroll (hip) and Michail Antonio (hamstring) all remain unavailable through injury for the Hammers which could leave them with an unchanged starting eleven from last Sunday. Slaven Bilic is likely to make some minor adjustments following his team’s capitulation, with Aaron Cresswell and Robert Snodgrass the most likely players to be recalled into the selected first team.
Key Battle: Manolo Gabbiadini vs Joe Hart
While Southampton’s wait for a Premiership goal goes on, Southampton fans will continue to watch the confidence ebb away from Gabbiadini’s game. All strikers are fuelled by a mixture of technique and confidence, and Gabbiadini could do with some of the latter in his. With all five of his shots being off-target against the Swans, the good news is that the Italian is still getting himself into shooting positions and with a little more composure and a goal from somewhere, he could again go on a run similar to when he joined the Saints in January.
He will be faced by another player who has a lot to prove after his stock with the public has nose-dived. Joe Hart is back in the Premiership after a very mixed season in Italy last year following Pep Guardiola’s decision to make Hart surplus to requirements. It was a hard day at the office against United given that he picked the ball out of his net four times but he did generally have full command of his area.
Hart claimed all three catches and successfully punched away both loose balls which came his way to nullify United’s balls into the box. He will invariably have better days this season and keeping a hungry Southampton side at bay could be a new start to his season.
A positive atmosphere
There was much frustration from the Saints fans towards the end of last season, something which may have contributed to Claude Puel’s quick exit from the club. This has seemingly been replaced by an optimistic outlook which was evident listening to the away fans in South Wales last weekend.
Many fans are understanding of the manager’s position following a succession of seasons which have seen other clubs plundering their dressing room. This has lead to their current lack of options in attack, with a clinical goal scorer surely their main priority before the end of the month.
What has provided cause for enthusiasm is how Pellegrino now has his side playing. Southampton look like they will commit more men forward in games than they did last season, a philosophy which can keep the positive atmosphere at Southampton alive and well.
Ward-Prowse vs Zabaleta
Another interesting match-up on the field this weekend will see the young English winger taking on the experienced head of Mr. Manchester City. Pablo Zabaleta was consistently exposed for his lack of pace against Marcus Rashford at Old Trafford, but it was his keen positional sense which came to his and the Hammers rescue on more than one occasion.
Signed by Bilic for his experience and leadership qualities, Zabaleta will face a different test this weekend and so have a chance to prove he was indeed a shrewd acquisition for his new team.
James Ward-Prowse is a technical player who uses skill and trickery as his main weapons in the left-attacking position. He is also one of the slower players in the Premiership and will provide a completely different test for Zabaleta than that in facing Rashford. While he is not renowned for being clinical in front of goal, he did provide one of Southampton’s two shots on goal last weekend is the last player to score a competitive home goal for his side.
There was much noise made in the media regarding a possible move by the Hammers for William Carvalho, however, Sofiane Feghouli’s exit has been the only significant transfer news to be issued from East London this week. Despite the investment that the Hammers have made in backing Bilic this summer, they still look a team who are short of a major player.
The Hammers are a team who have also suffered greatly from injuries within the last year and the absence of Lanzini and particularly Antonio is a major blow to the way their side lines-up. With two weeks remaining before the transfer window slams shut, West Ham are again expected to plunge into the market and whoever they buy could have a significant impact on their season’s fortunes.
PREDICTION: Southampton 2 – 0 West Ham United
Despite not scoring, Southampton looked in good shape for most of their match against Swansea. They appear to have a good balance throughout their squad and a competent manager in the form of Pellegrino who will surely put their current win record right sooner rather than later. West Ham by contrast, still look short of quality largely due to their most creative players remaining on the physio table. They will certainly be more of a threat than they posed at Old Trafford but I think ultimately they will still be found lacking.
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