St Marys plays host to a bottom of the table clash on Saturday evening, as South-Coast strugglers Southampton host Watford, with both sides eyeing a crucial three points.
Southampton come into the game on the back of an impressive draw away at Arsenal last weekend, however Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side will be ruing the fact they threw away the lead in the sixth minute of stoppage time. This has left the Saints sitting 19th in the League, with the gap to West Ham now sitting at four points.
Watford sit bottom of the league, and after looking like they’d turned a corner in victory at Carrow Road before the International break, they were brought crashing back down to earth in devastating fashion by a 3-0 defeat to Burnley on Saturday. Goals have been an issue for the Hornets this season, only netting eight, and they will need to see improvements, and quickly, if they are to move away from the foot of the table.
Hasenhuttl has shown tactical flexibility throughout the season, and the Austrian changed his system once again for the visit to the Emirates. Lining up 4-4-2, it was a much more representative approach of what the Austrian wants from his side, and was able to welcome back young striker Michael Obafemi to the starting line-up for his first start of the season. His energy and tenacity up front allows Southampton to play a high pressing game, whilst the switch to 4-4-2 will give them a number of interesting angles of attack ahead of the game on Saturday. They managed to create a much higher volume of chances, and were unfortunate to come away with only a point, as the xG highlighted this, which sat at 2.60 to Arsenal’s 1.61.
Happy to concede possession at the Emirates, Southampton will be more likely to try and control the game against a direct Watford side, and should be expected to see much more of the ball than they are averaging this season. With Watford lining up 5-3-2, there will be space out wide for Southampton to exploit, and it would be no surprise to see the full backs pushing on to provide overlaps for the Saints. Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand provided these effectively at Arsenal on Saturday, and could see an important role in creating chances on the South Coast on Saturday evening. Jose Holebas’ lack of pace can be targeted down the right flank, and with Stuart Armstrong ruled out, Moussa Djenepo should return and cause problems. Averaging 2.8 dribbles per game, and fouled 1.8 times per game, Holebas could be in for a long evening, especially with the defender picking up five cautions already this season.
Watford have been able to welcome back Troy Deeney from injury, as he returned from the bench against Burnley, and it sets up an interesting tactical battle with the Southampton backline as a result. Hasenhuttl opted for Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens against Arsenal, as they were able to guard better against the pace of the Gunners frontline, as opposed to defender Jannick Vestergaard, who has shown his vulnerability to pace in games this season. He could swap back to the Danish defender, who would be better equipped to deal with Deeney’s aerial threat, but this would then leave them susceptible to Gerard Deulofeu’s dribbling ability, and also means Southampton are unable to play the high line they wish to. It will be interesting to see how the Austrian manager adapts to this threat, as an on form Deeney could help revitalise the struggling Hornets.
The 5-3-2 employed by Flores will look to overrun Southampton centrally, and he opted for Will Hughes, Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure in the defeat against Burnley. Although they were dominant on the ball, there was a lack of cutting edge about the Hornets attack, as they relied heavily on the out ball of Jose Holebas and Kike Femenia out wide before crossing, something which the Burnley backline were well equipped to deal with. It would be no surprise to see a similar approach once again from Flores’ side, and Deeney will be confident of causing more problems than Andre Gray managed on Saturday, whilst the hold up play of Deeney could help bring the onrushing midfielders into play more than they have liked so far this season.
Southampton will be confident of causing Watford problems off of set pieces, and Burnley were able to highlight this vulnerability of Quique Sanchez Flores’ side. With all three Burnley goals coming from set pieces, the likes of Vestergaard (if he starts), Bednarek and Stephens will all be a threat from set pieces. In James Ward-Prowse, Southampton have a set piece specialist, and the combination of Ward-Prowse to Stephens provided a goal at City in the Carabao Cup. Certainly an area where Southampton will look to threaten, the overloads out wide should see plenty of crossing opportunities, as well as lending themselves to plenty of corners for the Saints.
The game should be open tactically, with the contrasting systems leaving plenty of space on the pitch for both sides to create. The return of Deeney could be key to Watford’s chances, whilst Southampton will be keen to build on the weekend’s positive result. The underlying statistics for this game are particularly interesting and although it is a big assumption to make, the xG suggests that both sides are struggling to take chances, rather than create over the course of the season. Although chances have dried up under Flores in recent weeks, the game should suit Watford to create more, whilst there will be spaces for the Saints to exploit. Available at 79/100 (MarathonBet), both teams to score takes an appeal in this game.
With both teams expected to see more of the ball than they are used to, it could see the passing statistics of players creep above their averages, particularly for Southampton, who should look to get onto the front foot at home. In Southampton’s central midfield, there is a stand out option of James Ward-Prowse. After completing 46 against Arsenal last week, it took him above his average of 34 per game, and he is well priced at 7/2 (Betfair) to complete 35 or more once again.