Southampton vs Wolves
Venue: St. Mary’s Stadium
Referee: Graham Scott
TV: Amazon Prime
Sunday kicks off with a heated clash between Southampton and Wolves, with The Saints looking to build on their midweek FA Cup win and find a way to escape their terrible league form of five losses in a row. Wolves, meanwhile, have found an encouraging vein of defensive solidity in their last two games and Nuno Espirito Santo will be looking to exploit a fragile Southampton team and continue their rise up the table.
Recent fixtures between these two at St. Mary’s Stadium have been fiery affairs, with both teams winning one of the last two, and nine goals scored between these games. This history, combined with the current unpredictable nature of both teams’ form, suggests that we are in for a tie that could go either way.
Saint’s magic man nears record
James Ward-Prowse’s sublime free-kick goal against Newcastle last weekend added yet another to his impressive collection, bringing his tally for the season up to four. Only David Beckham and Laurent Robert have scored more free-kick goals (5) in a single season and, with 15 games left in the season, Ward-Prowse is on track to absolutely smash this record apart.
To do a quick prediction on just how many he could rack up; if he continues at this current rate the English midfielder will find himself with seven free-kick goals by the end of the season (the actual figure is 6.6, but since he’s so clinical I’ve rounded this up).
He is a vital piece to solving the puzzle Southampton have found themselves in, on the end of a five-game losing streak and a world away from the first-place position they had pulled themselves up to at the beginning of the season.
While Saints fans have certainly heard enough about nine-goal scorelines at this point, the suffering of that result and the losses that have followed puts Southampton in a dangerous place. While Ralph Hasenhüttl could try to blame their recent fixtures for their form, as four of their last five have been against teams above now above them, their most recent loss against Newcastle compounded the fact that they are in a slump.
They could be in for a reverse of their trajectory last season when they started poorly but finished strongly, as any continuation in their current run of losses threatens a complete collapse in squad morale. What the Saints need, more than James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick, is a pick-me-up. A convincing win against Wolves, after securing a spot in the FA Cup quarterfinals, maybe just what they need to push them away from dire straits and back towards the revolutionised squad Hasenhüttl has built them up to.
Wolves working themselves back up
Wolves followed their end to an eight-game winless streak with a solid draw against Leicester, building a steady platform upon which they can look to build up some form and start to climb back up the table. Nuno Espirito Santo will be aware of the good work his side have already done – and also of the opportunity that this game presents for them to work back towards being the team that we have seen in the last couple of seasons.
Although Wolves’ attacking output has almost severed by the loss of Raul Jimenez to injury, it is not the lack of goals that will be concerning Nuno. Instead, it is the number of goals they are letting in. Wolves have conceded a total of 31 goals so far this term at a rate of 1.34 per game, which isn’t a terrible return thus far, and looks like it’ll add up to 51 goals by the end of the season. But, when compared to last season, Nuno will know that it is just not good enough. In the 19/20 season, Wolves only let in a total of 40 goals, a rate of 1.05 per game. These stats may seem marginal – but with how many close scorelines Wolves have had, it really begins to add up over the course of the season.
That is why his last two results, and only one goal conceded between them, will be so pleasing to Nuno, especially considering the calibre of side they came up against in those games (Leicester and Arsenal). But now this foundation is laid, Wolves need to capitalise on it. Reverting to a back three against the Foxes gave them defensive solidity, so expect to see a return of it for the Saints game, and expect for their priority to be on preventing goals – not scoring them. Nuno knows that once they have a solid base, his team have the quality in the likes of Neto, Traoré, Moutinho, Neves to make the difference.
Southampton welcome the return of Kyle Walker-Peters and Jannik Vestergaard to their defense, as their list of injuries starts to grow shorter and shorter. Stuart Armstrong is also able to play, leaving their absences to only Ibrahima Diallo, Theo Walcott, Will Smallbone, and Michael Obafemi – allowing Hasenhüttl to field a strong starting 11.
Wolves saw Marcal to the training ground this week, but it is likely to be too early to see his return to the first team. This means Nuno has an identical list of players to choose from as he had for the Leicester game, including left wingback Jonny, who returned to action sooner than expected and whose substitution looks to simply be a precaution. Wolves miss Raul Jimenez, Daniel Podence and Willy Boly through long term injury.
Predicted Starting XIs
Southampton (4-2-2-2): McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, Bednarek, Bertrand; Ward-Prowse, Romeu; Armstrong, Minamino; Adams, Ings.
Wolves (3-4-3): Patrício; Dendoncker, Coady, Kilman; Semedo, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Traoré, Willian José, Neto
Predicted Score: Southampton 0-1 Wolves
I think Wolves have recovered themselves enough now to come here and win away at Saint Mary’s, especially considering the Saint’s poor form. Both teams will be seeking to be defensively solid, but I see Wolves just nipping it near the end.