Southampton vs Fulham
Venue: St. Mary’s
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Claudio Ranieri will face a tough battle in this mid-week fixture as Fulham travel to St. Mary’s.
Ranieri’s Fulham (19th) will face Southampton (18th) in a potentially pivotal game within the relegation battle, with three points for Fulham lifting them to within five points of safety, whilst a win for the Saints would haul them out of the bottom three thanks to Cardiff’s recent 3-0 loss to Everton; potentially sinking Fulham psychologically and practically confirming two of the three relegated teams for the season.
Three points would also put them level with Brighton and within four points of 13th place, not the position Saints fans would have wanted at the start of the season, but a position that fans would definitely rather be in than sinking into the bottom three.
Southampton will go in to the game with confidence as they are unbeaten in their last 19 home games against Fulham, winning 13. The last time Fulham won at St. Mary’s was in October 1935 in the second division of English League football. After Fulham’s victory earlier in the season they will be looking to do the double over Southampton for the first time in their history as a football club. However, this may prove difficult as Ranieri’s men are yet to record an away win in this Premier League season, losing 12 and drawing two.
Southampton are a club who are really struggling at this period of time.
The introduction of Ralph Hasenhuttl initially seemed to be the uplift that the club needed. Recent results have contradicted this, however. It could be argued that the Saints have just been incredibly unlucky.
Their draw against Crystal Palace came after their heroic victory against Manchester City, whilst their draw against Burnley came after Sean Dyche’s men ended Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s seven-game winning streak and their defeat to Cardiff came after the tragic loss of Emiliano Sala; a psychological boost for Cardiff.
Circumstances aside, Southampton should have done better in those games if they want to stay in the Premier League, and whilst the fans at St. Marys initially warmed to Hasenhuttl almost instantly, judging by the atmosphere at games some are now starting to turn on the Austrian.
In this position fans really need to get behind a team and their players. Maybe the Southerners have indulged too much in top half positions and exciting football and are expecting far too much. The club needs time to rebuild after losing players, Les Reed and gaining a new manager. Patience and trust are two elements that Saints fans may need to really consider if they want to see their side in the Premier League next season.
Hasenhuttl’s team selection this evening will be interesting as this has been the catalyst for his criticism within Saints fans. Jack Stephens has been a liability for Southampton this season, with his inconsistent performances and shocking individual errors ultimately leading to the loss of points; an introduction for Maya Yoshida may be on hand.
The lack of signings in January may come back to bite Hasenhuttl on the behind as Michael Obafemi is now out injured for the rest of the season. Danny Ings and Charlie Austin are also doubts for the game due to knocks picked up in recent weeks. While the stats do not back Fulham, without a provider of goals it could be a difficult affair for the Saints.
The Cottagers have had no problem with going in front against teams as they have been in front against Leicester, Wolves, West Ham and Burnley, however retaining the lead has been the issue. Out of the 27 games they have played they have only managed to keep two clean sheets, and for a team wanting to stay in the Premier League, that simply is not good enough.
Two players that Fulham will be relying on are Aleksander Mitrovic and Ryan Sessegnon. The Serbian has 10 goals and the young Englishman has five assists under his belt. With Mitrovic winning 175 aerial battles this season he will be the target man up front in an attempt to target their shaky defence.
Predicted Starting XIs
Southampton (3-4-2-1): Gunn; Vestergaard, Bednarek, Yoshida; Valery, Hojbjerg, Romeu, Targett; Redmond, Ward-Prowse; Long.
Fulham (4-3-3): Rico; Odoi, Ream, Nordtveit, Sessegnon; Cairney, Chambers, Seri; Babel, Mitrovic, Schurlle.
Score Prediction: Southampton 1 Fulham 2
Southampton have had a habit of bottling very important games in terms of the relegation battle, and with striking options limited, Fulham will want to take full advantage.
It will be an interesting test of both side’s psychological strength. However, Ranieri has experience in this field and Fulham will have the motivation to carry them through.