With two teams fighting for their lives and two defenses extremely leaky, this match has the makings of being dramatic.
Southampton are in search of a vital win Mauricio Pellegrino so desperately craves. With just two wins coming at home this season, the supporters have very angry at what they have seen this season; a far cry from the team that qualified for Europe a few seasons ago. This has led to many individuals openly criticising not only the manager but the board, who have failed to address the gaping holes that have been left by outgoing players in recent years. Having the most drawers in the league this season (12) the side have found it very arduous to break down sides and be comfortable in games. However, although its been difficult to score goals this season, it has been possibly even harder to keep them out at the other end. With just 5 clean sheets and 10 errors leading to a goal, the team as a unit, has cracked time and time again when being put under pressure.
Although Southampton have found it tough to keep goals out, Stoke have found this area of their game even more challenging. The 54 goals they have conceded this season has contributed to the team having the worst goal difference in the league (-26.) This is an area that is key to any side fighting down the bottom as in a close relegation battle, this could play a significant role in their survival and be the difference of staying up or going down. Paul Lambert has seemed to highlight this, as in the last 5 they have only lost once and there have been notable improvements to the defense, only conceding four.
Southampton’s danger man:
In my opinion, I believe the most important player on Saturday for the Saints is Ryan Bertrand. Having been wearing the captain’s armband in recent weeks, the left back provides the natural width for the side, with so much of the play coming down that left flank. With the most assists within the team this season, the forwards will be heavily reliant on Bertrand delivering quality balls into the box. Having struggled to break teams down at St Mary’s this season, Southampton are dependent on creating chances in wide areas, meaning Bertrand will have significant part to play offensively as well as carrying out his duties when out of possession.
Stoke’s danger man:
Without doubt, the man who the home crowd will fear is Xherdan Shaqiri. Enjoying a good run of recent form, the Stoke Wide player has contributed the most goals (7) and assists (6) for the club this season. The live wire can threaten at any moment in a game through scoring from most areas on the pitch or producing that killer pass for a teammate, especially on a counter attack. Therefore, Saints can not afford to have momentary lapses in concentration, which they seem to have time and time again.
For both sets of supporters, the 90 minutes will be very nervy and tense. With both teams having history of being open and not remaining solid throughout the whole match, I expect the game to be a roller coaster, with both teams having their moments and being on the front foot. A lot will depend on how Southampton will deal with aerials balls as they have conceded many goals from crosses this season. Against a physical Stoke side, this issue could be highlighted once again.
Prediction: Southampton 2 – 2 Stoke City