One of the big games in the Premier League this week sees Tottenham Hotspur continue their top four challenge against Southampton at White Hart Lane.
When a top team faces one outside the top six, victories are usually a given it seems, especially this season, but Southampton are a side that most of the top six will fear at this stage of the season.
They are no pushovers at the best of times, but now that they’ve recovered from their heartbreaking EFL Cup final defeat at Wembley, Saints can focus on their league form now with no distractions.
Spurs will have to be wary of this, but this game’s referee Andre Marriner may also be cause for some concern among Spurs fans.
Marriner is a referee who likes to let the game flow. Hard but fair tackles are fine, as far as he’s concerned, and although players like Victor Wanyama might relish that in a referee, Marriner’s style is certainly one which can be used as a weapon against top six sides who like to have the ball – especially at home.
When a team likes to keep the ball, as Spurs often do at home, the away side’s best chance of disrupting their build up is to be physical and in their face. It may not be in the nature of Southampton, who are a possession team themselves, to want to be overly physical, but with Marriner’s stats in mind, it might be their best chance of getting into the game.
Indeed, Marriner’s record seems to back that up: away teams win 40% of the games he officiates, whilst home teams win exactly the same amount, the other 20% ending in draws. If that seems fair to you, then remember that home teams usually win in the Premier League, and that has nothing to do with the referee: the fact that Marriner has overseen a high percentage of away wins this season should tell you that he’s a referee who lets the game flow, allowing away teams to disrupt the home side’s rhythm.
There’s always a danger of that physicality spilling over, though, and the fact that Marriner has given more yellow cards than any referee this season besides Anthony Taylor and Roger East in all competitions tells you that it often does. Taylor has also officiated more games, meaning only East has shown more yellow cards per game.
That means Victor Wanyama – who we mentioned as thriving on the physicality – needs to be careful. Marriner will let the game flow, but if any player is going to get overexcited in a physical game against his former club, it’s the Kenyan. Spurs need to keep their cool.