Without a win in the Premier League since November, a run now spanning ten games, Southampton can’t afford to view their clash with Tottenham this Sunday as a ‘free hit’ against one of the division’s most formidable sides. Entering the weekend just one point and one place above the relegation zone, Saints need to take something from tomorrow’s 4pm kickoff and start turning their dismal campaign around.
Of course, easier said than done against a talented Tottenham side that have won eight of their last ten across all competitions. But referee Kevin Friend, who has been appointed to officiate the clash at St. Mary’s, offers Mauricio Pellegrino’s side a vital lifeline that can provide the inspiration for a positive result.
Indeed, the 46-year-old is firmly amongst the most lenient referees in the Premier League, ranking in the bottom five of those to work in the top flight this season for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and yellow cards per game, and Southampton simply must take advantage of that – especially in front of a home crowd.
Robust defending will be vital to stopping Tottenham’s fluid attack – which has already shown a knack of getting bogged down in central areas this season – and Friend’s leniency gives Southampton license to win the ball more aggressively than usual. That could prove to be a key factor on Sunday, should Saints fully exploit it.
And that’s not the only refereeing positive for Southampton either. An incredible 83% of the matches Friend has officiated this season have ended in home wins, which is the biggest ratio of any Premier League referee. Perhaps it’s just a statistical coincidence, but it does also hint at a tendency to side with the home crowd when making decisions.
However, there’s a word of warning for both clubs too; Friend has also awarded the most penalties per match of any top flight official this term – six from his twelve games in charge. Southampton and Tottenham will both have to take that on board heading into Sunday’s game. While Friend may be especially lenient in other areas of the pitch, he’s taken a no-nonsense approach for infringements inside the box.
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