As the Premier League is drawing to a close with things looking fairly settled in the top half, it’s the bottom end that is set to be more volatile and ever changing, providing the much expected entertainment factor to the neutrals.
So, Sunderland, one of those clubs fighting for survival with a new manager in charge will host Southampton at the Stadium of Light, in what is a vitally important fixture for both sides, but all the more so for the home team that is so precariously placed in the league table in one of the relegation positions with just 5 games to go. They go into this game with just 1 win in the last 10 games and are in dire need of a couple of wins in their next two games at home to pull themselves out of their misery and what better way than to notch up a season-defining win against the side that hammered them 8-0 back in October?
For Southampton, it’s been a really good season where they have defied the odds, silenced their doubters by punching way above their weight, especially in the first half of the season, after a summer of key departures, the effect of which was almost entirely nullified by some shrewd arrivals including the manager – Ronald Koeman. A Europa League finish would mean more revenue and a welcome change for the manager and the club itself, which is something Southampton should be going after in these last few games of the season. They will make the long trip to the North East on the back of a hotly contested 2-2 draw and a win could take them up to fifth, provided Liverpool and Spurs drop points in their respective games.
Sunderland will miss the services of Steven Fletcher (foot), Ricky Alvarez (knee) and Giaccherini (knee) due to long term injuries while defender Wes Brown is a doubt to start the game at the weekend.
Southampton have been quite unlucky this season with injuries to key players at crucial stages of the season often dampening their good run. Ronald Koeman has confirmed that midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin and Dusan Tadic will miss the rest of the season while he’s hinted that long term absentee Jay Rodriguez could return to the fold in about a fortnight.
- Sunderland scored three own goals in that 0-8 defeat and this has contributed to the fact that they have netted the joint-most own goals (5) in the Premier League and Southampton have benefited from the most (5).
- Southampton are unbeaten in their last six league visits to the Stadium of Light (W1 D5 L0), but did lose in both cup competitions at the same gorund last season.
- The Black Cats have scored just five goals in their last 10 league outings and never more than once in a single game in this run.
- Saints have now recorded their best ever Premier League points haul (57), despite having four games to play.
Connor Wickham – Sunderland
Connor Wickham is not exactly firing this season for Sunderland, but then neither is anyone in that Sunderland team. He’s the top scorer for Sunderland with 5 goals to his name in 31 appearances and while that’s roughly 20% of what the whole team has managed, it shows Advocaat’s side clearly needs someone to step up and take the goal-scoring mantle before it gets too late. The English forward has also created 19 chances (including 1 assist), has managed to maintain a respectable 43% shot accuracy but it is his conversion rate that needs an improvement, if Sunderland are to win the next two games at home and give themselves a chance to beat the drop.
Graziano Pelle – Southampton
After an explosive first few months, where he looked to be the best purchase in the summer transfer window in the eyes of many, Pelle’s form dropped and he went through a rough patch and that coincided with Southampton’s decline in form. He’s been integral to the Saints’ revival under Koeman, which also earned him a national team call-up and it looks like the Italian forward is back as he scored a brace last week, recreating some of his early season form. He’s scored 11 goals in his first campaign, a very good return, it has to be said, and also created a good number of chances (37) including a couple of assists. With him finding his scoring boots again, Saints should be largely relying on him to put the chances away in these final games ensuring them finish as high as possible.
To be honest, I think Sunderland will get relegated. But not without a fight. With Southampton arguably playing for one of those Europa League spots, which they should manage to get regardless of what happens on Saturday, a narrow home win is on the cards – just to heat up the relegation tussle.
Sunderland 1-0 Southampton