15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 9th September; St Mary’s (Southampton, England)
Its sixth-placed Southampton against fifth-placed Watford this weekend in a headline which I didn’t expect to be writing.
While the Saints have not yet set the Premier League alight, having failed to score in two of their first three games, they remain unbeaten and look a well-drilled team.
This is more likely to be a hangover from last season than a sign of things to come, but they have not scored in seven of their last nine league fixtures and it’s a trend which Mauricio Pellegrino will be eager to curb sooner rather than later.
Watford, too, remain unbeaten at this early stage, with their opening day draw against Liverpool highlighting their newfound mentality under new coach Marco Silva. They’ve failed to beat Southampton in their previous seven games, though, the most recent of which was a classic seven-goal thriller back in March.
This game is unlikely to provide quite the same levels of excitement, although, in the world of Premier League football, anything is possible as the teams’ current placings go to prove.
Last time out
Huddersfield Town 0 – 0 SOUTHAMPTON
The Saints looked solid but uninspiring in a game against this season’s early surprise package.
While Southampton enjoyed slightly more possession, based on their more accurate passing ability, the Terriers were the team to cause more goalmouth threat than the more established Premier League side.
Oriol Romeu suffered a particularly poor game with only a 29% success in tackling, usually a strong feature in his game and the way Southampton typically perform.
It was in front of goal where the Saints looked poorest though, with first Manolo Gabbiadini and then his replacement, Shane Long, looking ineffective at the tip of the Saints front-three.
While Ryan Bertrand almost snatched a win at the end, his display was one of the team’s few positives, but the result summed up the game perfectly.
WATFORD 0 – 0 Brighton
While the game itself was largely uneventful with both teams displaying a lack of ambition, it was a game marred by a horribly reckless lunge from Miguel Britos.
His 24th minute, two-footed lunge at Anthony Knockaert rightly drew the red card from the referee’s pocket, however, the manner in which Watford stood firm with ten men for the majority of the game was one solid positive for Silva and the Watford fans.
With Christian Kabasele and Sebastian Prödl standing tall in the centre of defence, shielded by the industry of both Nathaniel Chalobah and the ever-impressive figure of Abdoulaye Doucouré, Watford proved a hard nut for Brighton to crack.
What was more impressive was that they managed eight shots on goal in this game, with half of them coming after the 74th minute.
This spirit was the fight which Silva demands of his players whereas the fight which Britos exhibited should’ve seen him receive an extended ban from the game.
Despite having trained with the first team earlier this week, Virgil van Dijk is the only player likely not to be available for selection this weekend.
José Holebas is still banned, while Miguel Britos is also suspended and looks unlikely to step back into the first team any time soon after his most recent sending off. However, Younes Kaboul (leg) and Daryl Janmaat (knock) are rumoured to be in line for a return for the Hornets.
Roberto Pereyra (groin) is not expected to be available to play, with Craig Cathcart (knee), Sebastian Prödl (hamstring) and Mauro Zárate (fitness) also doubtful to make the starting lineup. Further to this, new winger Andre Carrillo should make his starting debut for Watford after being introduced into the game against Brighton early in the second half with Marvin Zeegelaar also likely to start.
Key Battle: Mauricio Pellegrino vs Marco Silva
Despite all the potential match-ups across the pitch in this fixture, it is the managerial battle which could well be the most decisive in terms of the result.
Pellegrino has arrived at Southampton from Alavés with a solid reputation which was formed under the tutelage of Rafael Benitez at both Liverpool and Inter Milan, and then notably taking the reigns at Valencia after cutting his teeth managing in his native South America.
While he is yet to realise his attacking and hard-working influence over his new team, the early signs are showing and his tactical nous will be at the heart of how the Saints approach this match.
Meanwhile, opposing him will be Marco Silva, a manager who was relatively unheard of on these shores last year before seeing his reputation blossom after taking over at Hull in January despite being unable to prevent them from relegation.
His use of fast, tricky wingers to push his team up the pitch is now in place with the summer additions of Richarlison and Carrillo, however, he is a modern coach slightly different from his peers. Silva firmly believes in educating his players how to think on the field and use the available spaces to their advantage.
One Step Closer
Virgil van Dijk can now be sure he will remain a Saint for the rest of this year. While Southampton fans will hardly view him as a figure of great virtue, he will have a considerable amount of work to do to win back their trust in him.
After reports this week showed him once more training with the first team, there have been several rumours he is back in contention to play this weekend’s fixture against Watford, however, this may not be the case.
Mauricio Pellegrino has repeatedly stated that the Southampton captain would not be swapping clubs this summer, and he continued to leave the door open for van Dijk to return to his starting lineup.
This came with the condition that the Dutch defender could prove his frame of mind and mentality was back in the dressing room and it’s likely to take more than a couple of training sessions to convince Pellegrino that this is the case, especially with plenty of quality options available to cover this position on the pitch.
The Prophetic Peruvian
Andre Carrillo found his image going viral in his home country this week after his side leapfrogged Argentina into fifth position to give themselves a good chance of qualifying for the World Cup next summer.
Whilst celebrating the first goal in a 2-1 win over Ecuador, his celebration with the scorer, Edison Flores, resulted in a photo in which their shirt numbers formed 2018, which is hoped to be a symbol of what the future has in store for the country.
While he may not be a fortune teller, Carrillo is a player who possesses an insane amount of pace in his play.
He is likely to terrify many Premier League defenders during the coming months, but Silva will hope that he can develop more of an end product and that his poor miss with the goal begging against Ecuador isn’t equally a sign of things to follow.
PREDICTION: Southampton 0 – 1 Watford
While Marco Silva’s teams have always shown a preference for playing at home and a weakness on the road, I can see Southampton’s lack of threat in attack being a defining feature of this result.
The Saints are likely to be the team with more possession and more chances created throughout the 90 minutes, however, I can see someone in a yellow shirt sneaking a goal to provide a shock away win in this match.
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