Kyle Goldsmith looks ahead to West Ham’s trip to Southampton tomorrow night, with both sides bettering expectations so far in 2014-15…
The two surprise teams this season meet as Southampton host West Ham on Wednesday looking to pick up three more points in their quest for Champions League football next year.
At the start of the season most people thought that these two would be battling relegation but they have both shocked and sit comfortable in the top half of the Premier League.
The Saints sold most of their star players in the summer transfer window, losing the talents of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Ricky Lambert, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers. They also lost their manager Mauricio Pochettino to Spurs. At this point, they were already being written off as relegation certainties. They left their buying until late in the transfer window, a tactic which has proved risky in previous seasons. New manager Ronald Koeman didn’t panic buy though and has instead bought astutely. Signings such as Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle were bought for not much money but have been key players. They sit third in the table and this has not been any kind of fluke. In previous seasons we have seen teams get amongst the big boys and reach this point but they have all fallen away, yet you can’t see that with this Southampton side. They are scoring goals and have the best defensive record in the Premier League. Koeman must have a guilty smile at the fact that none of the five outgoing players listed above are key players at their teams. At this point, you have to say that it is a league of 18 (due to Chelsea and City being on another level to the rest of the league), and there are only two Champions League places. It is a race for these two places, and the current contenders are Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, maybe West Ham and Southampton themselves. The Saints will hope to keep their current position as the leaders of this pack, and a win here would certainly help to cement that role.
Meanwhile the visitors West Ham may have more conservative aspirations, consisting of Europa League football, yet even these may seem a little too ambitious. Unfortunately for them one of their best seasons in recent times has fallen on a season when there are many teams who can also claim this. Like Southampton, the Hammers were not expected to make too many waves this years, with most fans hoping for a calm season. They’ve done much better though, and have moved on from the ‘dross’ of last season, instead playing a much more entertaining brand of football. They play with two very attacking full backs in Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson, who can put in crosses or play delicate through balls, depending on if it is Andy Carroll, Enner Valencia or Diafra Sakho.The signings have been very good, in particular Sakho, who is their top scorer with 8 goals in 14 games. They’ve stiffened up at the back too, conceding the fifth least in the Premier League. A point at St. Mary’s would be a great result for the Hammers, and I’m sure that if Sam Allardyce was offered it right now he wouldn’t bother getting on the coach.
Southampton – Sadio Mane
Mane arrived in the summer for £13 million from Salzburg and has been superb in the months since. He has pace and power and has scored six goals and got quite a few assists so far this season. With such attacking full backs, West Ham can be quite open on the counter and you can guarantee that Ronald Koeman will tell Mane to attack these spaces with pace and verve.
West Ham – Diafra Sakho
The Senegalese striker will probably start with either Enner Valencia or Andy Carroll up top. It could be tough due to Southampton’s incredible defence, but Sakho looks to have the quality to find these little spaces and West Ham will need him to do this if they are going to get anything from this game.
In August, Morgan Schneiderlin scored twice as Southampton picked up a first Premier League win under Ronald Koeman with a comfortable 3-1 victory at West Ham.
In the previous 65 meetings of these two teams West Ham have won 21 and Southampton have won 23, with 23 draws.
I think Southampton will win comfortably again like they did in August, perhaps running out 2-0 winners. Southampton’s superior defence and quick countering will prove the difference.