Both these teams head into this game under very different clouds as both teams look to stop the rot which seems to have set in during recent weeks. Cardiff are in turmoil off the pitch thanks to Vincent Tan’s best efforts to remove talented manager Malky Mackay from the club and the Saints have stuttered since their early season form saw them challenge for the Champions League places, albeit temporarily.
Cardiff might find home soil more forgiving than the dangerous territory that is Anfield – where the Welsh side lost 3-1 to Liverpool last time out but will be buoyed by the second half performance which saw Cardiff threaten the highly placed Reds through numerous set pieces from Peter Whittingham. Southampton struggled last time out too. The Saints lost at home to an Adebayor-inspired Spurs side – although the result was not a disaster with Tottenham the in-form away side in the division.
Cardiff have prepared for this game with an almost fully fit squad – Craig Bellamy is the only absentee from Mackay’s squad. The Welshman has a knee problem and there is no return date set at this moment in time. Mackay will hope he’s back sooner rather than later with Cardiff hovering above the relegation zone.
Southampton, on the other hand, are in a less healthy state. The Southerners have no less than seven absentees from their squad for this game – although one man will face a late fitness test. That man is Nathaniel Clyne who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury but could be back in time for the Cardiff game. If Clyne remains unavailable for the Cardiff game then expect him back for the Everton game on the 29th December. Compatriot Luke Shaw is also potentially unavailable through illness. First choice ‘keeper Artur Boruc continues to be sidelined by his fractured hand, meaning three of Southampton’s normal back four could be missing through illness or injury – surely a factor in their leaky defence of late. Wanyama and Do Prado are both sidelined until at least the second week of January so they’ll miss the whole of the festive period. Fox and Davis are both expected to be out until January although no date is set for a return.
Cardiff have done okay at home so far this season and have picked up three wins and three draws from nine games. Southampton’s away form is somewhat similar with two wins and three draws registered from eight games thus far. As an attacking force there is still a lot of room for improvement from Cardiff’s point of view, as the second Welsh team in the Premier League have mustered just 120 chances so far this season – an average of around seven per game. Of these chances, only thirteen have been taken – emphasising Cardiff’s goalscoring difficulties. Defensively Cardiff haven’t performed too badly, the defence has kept five clean sheets so far this season – the same number as high flying Liverpool. On the ball, Cardiff average just 45% possession so one would expect Southampton to dominate the ball on Boxing Day (the Saints average a much higher level at 57.35%). In terms of attacking passes, Cardiff have played just 1823 passes in the opposition’s attacking third, compared to Southampton’s 2246 passes.
Southampton find themselves on a poor run of form but can still boast six clean sheets – although four of those came in the first five games of the season. That statistic underlines how much the Saints have struggled as one by one their first choice defence has become unavailable. Shaw has been ill, Clyne has been injured and Boruc is in the middle of a long term recuperation. However, the Saints still boast the second best defensive record in the league – level with Chelsea before the Arsenal game on Monday night – with eighteen goals conceded so far this season, Everton are the only team to better that record with just sixteen goals conceded. In an attacking sense, Southampton have done well by taking 53% of their clear-cut chances this season.
Malky Mackay will once again look to Jordon Mutch to supply Cardiff’s engine in the centre of the midfield. The young man only has a 69% pass completion rate but his industry, effort and determination cannot be ignored. Mutch has won 100% of his tackles in seven different games for Cardiff this season – including matches against some of the big boys such as Arsenal, Everton and Newcastle United. To compliment this, Mutch averages a winning tackle once every 57.93 minutes. Mutch also averages a winning challenge, of any kind, every 9.4 minutes. That last statistic, in particular, underlines exactly what Mutch brings to the team. The central midfielder also scored against Liverpool last time out, so watch this space.
Southampton’s key man will surely be Adam Lallana. During Southampton’s recent bad run of form, the captain has lead the line admirably and tried to revive the Saints’ prospects all by himself. The captain has four goals to his name already, operating mostly from the wings and the Englishman has registered upwards of 90% passing accuracy in two games this season – against Liverpool and Manchester United. If I was Lallana’s coach I’d be saying to him that he needs to shoot more because he obviously has the ability to score goals but the Saint only manages a shot on target once every 400 minutes which is far too long a gap. Lallana has also created 29 chances for his team-mates so far this season, with three of those chances leading to goals.
For this game I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw. Cardiff are at home and have had some impressive results there, against City for instance, so I’d back them to avoid defeat against a misfiring Southampton. I also fancy the Saints to nick a goal so I’ve gone for the draw. I think both teams would take it. Cardiff would take a draw against any top half side and Southampton need to slowly rebuild some confidence so I’m not expecting a gung-ho game of end to end football.