If there is a Hitchhikers Guide to the Premier League it would no doubt describe Southampton as ‘mostly harmless’. Like the city they represent the club is largely unremarkable with just a solitary FA Cup win to show for their trouble. I worked in Southampton for some years and it is about as interesting as watching a reality TV show of a group of Belgians putting their CDs in alphabetical order on a damp Sunday afternoon. A club like ours, and its supporters, who are dreaming dreams would unlikely list the Saints as one of their main competitors. Yet over the past few seasons they have performed rather better than us; and this at a time when their demise has been repeatedly forecast as, time and again, players and managers have looked for a speedy exit up the M3 towards the brighter lights of London and the North West. The likes of Clyne, Lovren, Chambers, Shaw, Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Bale, Mane, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain have all eschewed the unfashionable red and white stripes, and a picnic in the New Forest, for something more exciting. Southampton come into the game on the back of a first League win (Home to Swansea) and an EFL victory against Palace. The ‘resurgent’ Hammers will be flying high after seeing off the mighty Stanley.
“We have two massive games coming up and this is a great opportunity for us to get out of the trouble we are in. The reaction has been there in training and we always train hard. We have to do that in games and for 90 minutes. I am expecting us to be really good on Sunday.”
– Slaven Bilic
Last season’s home game was the quintessential ‘game of two halves’. Southampton completely dominated an abysmal West Ham in the first half and should have had the game easily won at half time but went in just one goal to the good. The introduction of Carroll and Lanzini at half time helped turn things around and West Ham went on to record their only Payet-less victory of the season with a 2-1 margin. The game also witnessed Antonio’s first goal for West Ham when a clearance rebounded from his head and into the goal; I wonder if this strike is counted in his headed goals statistic?
Head to Head
The head to head situation between the two team is a relatively even one with West Ham just shading it overall but with a very strong home record. Of the last 12 encounters Southampton have won 4, West Ham 3 with 5 draws. The last home draw was the Championship game in 2012 where Matt Taylor was needlessly sent off in the melee that followed West Ham being awarded a penalty.
Arthur Masuaku has joined the other long term injured on the treatment table and so we are once again without a left back. The worst case scenario in unfathomable team selections would Arbeloa moving to the left and Antonio taking his place on the right. I have heard some say that Ogbonna can play at left back but he doesn’t look like one to me. The threat and pace of Shane Long (rarely given the credit he deserves) should not be underestimated. Last season it was playing Jenkinson at left back in the first half that contributed to our poor first half showing. Arbeloa on the left and Byram on the right looks the best option.
“He (Payet) is a very good player on the free-kicks, but our players also have many qualities and it will be difficult for West Ham to defend these players.”
– This Year’s Southampton Manager
For all the difficulties at the back, the balance in the midfield and a striker who looks capable of scoring also occupy the mind. Noble and Kouyate sharing defensive midfield duties clearly doesn’t work and it is surprising the manager doesn’t see this or the importance of a specialist holding player in a setup where the fullbacks are meant to push forward. Upfront neither Zaza nor Calleri look like they have seen a goal before. It is difficult to explain away their performances off as settling in problems but some perseverance is necessary.
My predicted team:
Adrian (last life)
Byram Reid Ogbonna Arbeloa
Antonio Payet Kouyate Lanzini
Southampton are without Rodriguez but have Charlie ‘Dodgy Knee’ Austin available who is guaranteed to score; albeit in a 3-1 defeat for the Saints.
The Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire who was branded as the League’s most error prone official last season. Moss took charge of West Ham on 5 occasions during 2015/16 (including the Blackburn cup game) and sent at least one player off on each occasion; 2 West Ham players and 4 opponents. He was the referee for the away game at Leicester which was packed full of inconsistency and controversy. In 4 games this year he has brandished 19 Yellow and 1 Red card. The odds on seeing a penalty and red card today would seem to be high.