Both these teams head into this game having won their previous matches so confidence should be at a good level when Pochettino’s Saints role into the Stadium of Light. The Black Cats beat Fulham 4-1 last time out in what was arguably Gus Poyet’s finest Premier League moment so far. It’s been okay for the Uruguayan since he took over from Paolo Di Canio, with two wins and a draw in Sunderland’s last four Premier League games, this decent run, coupled up with a run to the League Cup semi-final and a win in the first leg of that tie against Manchester United, has seen confidence rise after a gloomy start to the 2013/14 season.
For Southampton the opposite can be said. The Saints were flying high during the first ten games of the season and looked set for a potential challenge for European qualification but that challenge has faltered during the busy November/December stage of the season and the Southerners have lost six of their last ten games in the Premier League – winning just two in that same period. For Sunderland, this is a real chance to leap out of that bottom three with 15th placed Norwich a realistic target should results go their way. For Southampton, this is simply a must win given the club’s slide in form and the recent turbulence surrounding Nicola Cortese and his resignation as chairman.
Sunderland have a pretty healthy squad compared to some of the other teams in the league despite the recently damaging festive period. Poyet has just the two injuries to contend with and neither of these players are in-line for a return this weekend so there isn’t much of a headache here. Defender Carlos Cuellar is out until late January with a hip problem whereas Kevin Westwood is out with a shoulder injury.
Southampton are doing fine as well with just two injuries hampering their squad – however, unlike Poyet, Pochettino may have these two back for the game on Saturday. Calum Chambers has been ill but could make the squad if he’s deemed healthy enough and defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama will be handed a late fitness test as he bids to shake off a calf strain.
Sunderland might be languishing in the bottom three but (sitting in 19th position) they are only six points shy of Hull City who are sitting pretty in tenth position. Credit where it’s due, Sunderland and Palace have done well to close the league up when it seemed they were literally dead and buried after the first ten games of the season.
The first game between these two ended 1-1 with Southampton defender Fonte scoring an 88th minute equaliser after a 3rd minute Giaccherini opener. These sides met again in the League Cup with Sunderland victorious at the Stadium of Light – the Saints scored another 88th minute goal but it wasn’t enough to stay in the competition.
Sunderland have kept five clean sheets this season – most notably away to Everton – compared to Southampton’s eight – six of those clean sheets came in the first nine games of the season.
Southampton have three players who have all recorded over 85% in their pass completion so far this term. These players are Morgan Schneiderlin (88%), James Ward-Prowse (86%) and Jack Cork (85%).
Wes Brown may only have played nine Premier League games so far this season but he’s definitely helped Sunderland go up a level since his return. His performances have been of a really high order so far this season and this is emphasised when you look at his 100% tackle success rate. I find it quite remarkable that he hasn’t lost out in a tackle yet. However, Brown would do well to contain himself as the defender has been sent off twice already this season – although the sending off away at Stoke was contentious to say the least. Personally, I think if Sunderland are going to get anything from this game, then Brown has to start and he has to play well because, despite their current run, Southampton can be really dangerous and there are little signs that the Saints are coming back into some sort of competitiveness.
Southampton’s captain has been the man trying to restore some consistency back into the Saints’ play. Their captain has already scored five goals this season and scored last weekend as Southampton beat West Brom 1-0. Creativity-wise, Lallana has collected four assists so far this season from just three clear-cut chances created – the fact he’s been directly involved in nine of Southampton’s 27 goals (33%) shows you how important he is to the team. The attacking midfielder is also prepared to put a serious shift in for the good of the team with the Englishman competing in a squad high 255 ground duels and winning a squad high 123 of those duels.
I can’t really see a winner from this game and I think both teams will take a draw with Sunderland playing a team from the top half and Southampton playing away from home. I think a draw suits both teams and Poyet especially will see more important games on the horizon, such as the League Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester United. I think this game will end 1-1 with Lallana opening the scoring for the visitors.