Southampton vs Newcastle United
Venue: St. Mary’s Stadium
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Newcastle travel to St. Mary’s on Saturday with both sides aiming to end their current barren runs; the away side are without a win all season, while the hosts Southampton are winless in their last five.
As pressure begins to mount at the foot of the Premier League table, victory here could be crucial for both clubs in relieving the growing sense of anxiety that surrounds a relegation scrap; a feeling, and a familiar one at that, which both sides have experienced in recent seasons within the division.
Fortunately for Mark Hughes, Mario Lemina is expected to remain in the starting eleven; he was substituted last weekend against Bournemouth due to a knee injury. Lemina is a crucial asset for the hosts and is one of Southampton’s leading players when it comes to retaining the ball with a pass success rate of 86%. The Gabon international provides industry to the Saints midfield and is often responsible for driving forwards and breaking the oppositions lines to formulate attacks.
Despite previously being characterised by their patient build-up play, Southampton have struggled to create an abundance of opportunities for their attackers this season; this has translated into their number of goals scored sitting at just six in nine games.
Danny Ings has proved to be the Saints most likely source of goals, scoring half of their Premier League total thus far; his pace coupled with a strong work ethic make the striker so dangerous when played in behind defences. The Englishman is finally back to match fitness after persistent injury problems, and will no doubt be determined to pick up where his career previously left off, his sole England cap in 2015 feels like a lifetime ago.
If Ings isn’t providing the goals, other sources appear scarce; Charlie Austin is yet to find the back of the net this season, and this may lead to the introduction of Manolo Gabbiadini from the start. Sadly, for Hughes, he appears to be running out of time to find the solution, currently sitting just behind Jose Mourinho as the second favourite manager to be sacked next.
Rafael Benitez finds himself in a similarly frustrating position. Newcastle are yet to record a victory this season and, like the hosts, have a woeful six goals from nine games. Blame is steadily being shifted from the shoulders of the owner, Mike Ashley, towards Benitez as the winless run continues.
The Spaniard is at least fortunate to be afforded a little more understanding than previous occupants of his position; most other Magpies managers would be under immense pressure from the board. Although, there’s a general understanding around the club no manager with equal stature in the game would find Newcastle an attractive prospect at this moment and therefore sacking Benitez might ultimately prove futile.
Fortune hasn’t been favourable to Benitez, the perceived lack of summer investment has left the squad atmosphere stale, which has recently been coupled with a mounting injury list. At present Ciaran Clark, Florian Lejeune, Salomon Rondon and Jamie Sterry all find themselves sidelined. Absentees are especially troubling at centre back; Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez are the only first-team players who remain fit. Newcastle have struggled to prevent conceding as it is and if either of these two pick up injuries, that task will become considerably more difficult.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Yoshinori Muto had a promising full debut against Manchester United, scoring his first goal; however, he was unable to transfer that level of performance against Brighton and ultimately offered little attacking impetus.
Benitez often affords players multiple opportunities, as Joselu hasn’t currently provided the solution in attack, Muto will likely be preferred again. In return for his faith though, Benitez will demand that the Japan international still offers the same work rate, but perhaps better positioning than against the Seagulls, where he was often either too deep in defence or isolated up front.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Southampton: (4-4-2) McCarthy; Bertrand, Stephens, Hoedt, Cedric; Elyounoussi, Lemina, Hojbjerg, Redmond; Gabbiadini, Ings
Newcastle: (4-4-1-1) Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett; Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy; Perez; Muto
Prediction: Southampton 0 Newcastle 1
With both sides already lacking confidence and the fixture representing a much-needed opportunity for a win, expect a tense match. Neither side have been clinical in taking their chances, but Southampton’s expansive style may be exploited on the counter-attack by Rafa Benitez’s team, which could produce a thrilling encounter.