The early kick-off in the latest round of FA Cup matches is a mouth watering all-Premier League clash between high flying Southampton and relegation threatened Sunderland. In terms of league results, both these teams have picked up in recent weeks with Southampton now undefeated in six Premier League outings with three victories to their credit, whereas Poyet’s Sunderland side have been defeated just twice in their last ten league games – a monumental improvement which has also coincided with their journey to the League Cup Final. It remains to be seen if Poyet values this competition enough to give Southampton a run at his full strength side but we’ll find out soon enough.
Both these teams have similar looking injury lists with three players out for both teams. Southampton have Ramirez (ankle) and Lovren (foot) out for at least one more game but both can be expected to be back in the squad for next weekend’s resumption of Premier League football. Centre back José Fonte is out for the foreseeable future with a calf strain.
Sunderland are much the same with Carlos Cuellar missing for at least another week with a troublesome thigh injury. Fletcher and Westwood are slightly more long term with calf and shoulder injuries respectively.
Southampton have won the FA Cup just once in their long history – that success came in 1976. The Saints have appeared in a further three finals but lost them all – they were runners-up in 1900, 1902 and 2003.
In comparison, Sunderland have won the FA Cup twice with their successes coming in 1937 and 1973. The Black Cats were finalists a further two times in 1913 and 1992.
Sunderland’s Adam Johnson won the FA Cup in the 2010-11 season and the Black Cats also have three more FA Cup medals in their midst, with John O’Shea winning the competition once with Manchester United; likewise, Wes Brown won it twice with the Red Devils.
The first six meetings between these two clubs all came in the FA Cup between the years 1931-1951. With both clubs winning two games each.
These two most recently met in the FA Cup back in 1985 when the Black Cats ran out 4-0 winners in early January.
The young English attacking player is enjoying a rather fine season and has been one of Southampton’s best players in a standout season for the Southerners. Rodriguez has certainly been Southampton’s most impressive attacker this season with 10 goals scored in the league so far – making him Southampton’s top goalscorer. The World Cup hopeful has also taken the most clear-cut chances in the Southampton squad with six. The England international is Southampton’s leading assist-maker from set pieces with two assists from dead ball situations – he’s also created the most clear-cut chances for his teammates with five. On the slightly negative side, Rodriguez could use the ball a little more wisely as he’s had the most unsuccessful touches (68) and the most ball overruns (9) in this Southampton squad. The England wideman has also won 79% of his 27 tackles this season – showing how hard working he is in the Pochettino pressing system.
The fact I’ve chosen a goalkeeper as Sunderland’s key man is both a clue as to how well the former Arsenal man is doing and also to how I think this game will go. The Italian ‘keeper has made 74 saves since his switch from Arsenal was finalised and he has completely left fellow Black Cats’ stopper Keiren Westwood in the shade with his fine form. Mannone has made zero errors which have led to a goal so he’s dependable as well as an able shot stopper. Mannone does have a rather low pass completion rate of 55% but he’s still way ahead of fellow ‘keeper Keiren Westwood who is currently sitting on a 37% pass completion rate. The Italian will be key this weekend as he looks to shut out talented attacker such as Lallana, Lambert and Southampton’s key man – Rodriguez.
Southampton are just starting to pick up results again so I expect them to win this game with Sunderland to field a slightly weakened side. Hopefully it’ll be a real humdinger of an FA Cup tie but I don’t think it will be. I’ll go for a simple 2-0 win for the Saints.