Gus Poyet takes his Sunderland side to St. Mary’s on Saturday after finally kick starting the Black Cats’ campaign with their first win against Stoke just before the international break two weeks ago. The Uruguayan will be hoping to carry some of that momentum against high flying Southampton, who have looked very impressive this campaign; they’d won three games on the trot before narrowly losing to Tottenham before the break, and manager Ronald Koeman will be looking to get back to winning ways at home this weekend.
The corresponding fixtures both ended in score draws, with 1-1 and 2-2 being the scorelines in those games. However, Sunderland did beat Southampton in both the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup last season, with scorelines of 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.
Sam Gallagher and Mayo Yoshida could make a return for the Saints, with Jay Rodriguez and James Ward-Prowse both still on the sidelines through long-term injuries. Sunderland will be without the services of Emanuele Giaccherini, Sebastian Coates and Ricardo Alvarez through injury.
Sunderland are unbeaten in this fixture over the past eight games, drawing four and winning four games in that period. Southampton last beat the Black Cats in Jan 2003.
Ronald Koeman’s impressive start mirrors that of Mauricio Pochettino’s side last season; the Saints had 14 points from 7 games this time last year, compared to the 13 points they have now.
Head-to-head: SOU:23 SUN:23 D:15
Southampton – Graziano Pelle
With four goals already in his first 7 appearances for the club, Graziano Pelle already looks to have a major say on where the Saints finally end up in the table this season. He’s worked well so far at the centre of Koeman’s fluid front three, with 1.6 chances created per game and averaging around 3.3 shots on goal per 90 minutes. He already has an entry for the Goal of the Season contender with his stunning overhead kick against QPR, but his link-up play with his teammates is one area that can improve further; he’s averaged 30 passes per game so far with an accuracy of just 70%, and losing possession against a packed Sunderland midfield with Lee Cattermole in a defensive enforcer role could spring the Black Cats on the counter attack through Johnsons pace on the flanks, so it’ll be up to the Italian to take more care with the ball and hold on to possession whenever possible. Since August 2012, Pelle has scored 54 goals in 64 league appearances, and he’ll be hoping to extend that run of form against a stingy Sunderland defense that has only conceded 7 goals so far this campaign.
Sunderland – John O’Shea
The Republic of Ireland international has had a fantastic week so far, and will be hoping to carry that into this crunch fixture. The former Manchester United defender scored a last-minute equalizer against world champions Germany in Euro qualifiers earlier in the week on his 100th international cap, and then followed it up by signing a two-year contract extension with the Black Cats, for whom he has made more than 100 appearances since joining in 2011. The outcome of this game will be decided by how well his partnership with Vergini keeps Southampton’s fearsome front three of Tadic, Pelle and Mane at bay, and Sunderland will need their captain to marshall the defense expertly if they are to get anything from this game.
Projected Starting XIs
Southampton: 4-3-3: Forster – Bertrand,Alderweireld,Fonte,Clyne –Schneiderlin,Wanyama,Cork – Tadic,Pelle,Mane.
Sunderland: 4-1-4-1: Mannone – Jones,Vergini,O’Shea,Van Aanholt –Cattermole-Gomez,Larsson,Buckley,Johnson – Fletcher
Graziano Pelle has been in fine form so far, notching up 4 goals in the opening 7 fixtures, so back him to score a goal @2.33 with TailorBet: http://goo.gl/II3Xv0
Sunderland may have finally chalked up their first win of the season against a resolute Stoke side, but Southampton have been in fine form so far; it’s hard to look past anything other than a home win on this one.