If anyone had said that Southampton vs. West Ham in February would have top connotations they may well have been carted off for some serious psychological examinations… but, alas, the two sides are now set to embark on a ‘six pointer’, which may have a massive impact on the table in a few months’ time.
Southampton currently occupy third, but with the chasing pack of Man United, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool all closing in, wins are essential, while West Ham are in desperate need of points to keep pace after slipping to eighth. So what factors may decide this one…
Since the turn of the year to 2015 West Ham’s top four push has stalled. The Hammers’ impressive results seem to be drying up, and the pressure is now really on following the loss to rivals Liverpool and the draw with Manchester United. Another defeat will leave them eight points adrift of the fabled spots, and with the likes of Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal all resurgent, the gap may be too large to bridge.
With just 17 balls having hit the Saints’ net, Ronald Koeman’ side are, by far, the best team defensively in the Premier League. But their rearguard will be a little patched up tonight, with Ryan Bertrand’s suspension added to Toby Alderweireld’s injury absence. Matt Targett may step in, but even he has some fitness issues, which will put a lot of pressure on the South Coast side.
While goals have not been coming at the wrong end, they have also been a relatively rare occurrence in the final third. The Saints are the lowest scorers in the top six with 38, and Graziano Pelle’s early season form appears to have slipped a little of late. Southampton have also hit the post more times than any side in the league (14), of which six have been courtesy of Pelle.
With just one win in their last seven trips away from east London, a journey down to St Mary’s is not likely to have been one Allardyce has been relishing. The Hammers have been imperious at Upton Park, but their high tempo, physical approach has not been so present outside of the capital, which has been an issue. However, they can take some solace from the fact Southampton have won only two of their last six home games.
The big Senegalese star has been impressive since moving to West Ham from Anderlecht, with his power in midfield alongside Alex Song having formed a solid bedrock at the Boleyn Ground. But, with injuries an issue he’s been moved into a centre-back berth, in which he again shone against Man United. Can he maintain that form? Or will his rustiness – he has played at CB in the past – be an issue?