Southampton make the 600+ mile round-trip journey to the North East of England this weekend where they will face a rejuvenated Sunderland side looking to continue their recent revival. After 2 clean sheets, 4 points and 4 goals in their last two games, Moyes’ men will enter this weekend’s fixture in a positive frame of mind - intent on securing a win that could potentially lift them from the relegation zone.
Southampton have had a torrid time away form home so far this season amassing a pretty meager 9 points from 12 games - only 2 points better than our own poor return. That being said, their home form is relatively solid and has cemented their position in the middle of the pack; add a League Cup final into the equation and so long as results don’t slide dramatically it will have been a relatively successful maiden campaign for Puel and his side.
In the midst of NBCSN’s release of a 45 minute documentary entitled, Never Lose Faith - The Sunderland AFC Story, recent results have certainly provided a tangible ray of light that could offer a path to Premier League survival. Here’s hoping that the Lads can maintain their improved levels of performance this weekend.
A worrying slide in form has seen Southampton record 6 losses in their last 7 games, and this weekend’s trip to the Stadium of Light will be no stroll in the park. Recent defeats away to Swansea and at home to West Ham last weekend epitomise the stop-start nature of Southampton’s season thus far.
Puel has been active in the media this week, noting that:
The squad is angry with the last results. We have to correct this and give a good answer. We have to keep a good ambition. We cannot accept this position and the last results. It's not us. I saw all of this week a good level. For the first time in a long time, we had a whole week to prepare for the game. (Sunderland) have confidence from their last result. We will need to show strong character.
Just whether the anger felt by his players will be enough to allow them battle their way to victory this weekend remains to be seen; however, Southampton are a capable side who will be looking to this fixture as an opportunity to reignite their own Premier League campaign.
Fans on the South Coast have been frustrated by the manner in which Puel has constantly chopped and changed his starting line-up, with many arguing his tinkering is preventing the team from gelling into a confident side. Factor into the equation the sale of Jose Fonte to West Ham whilst failing to find a suitable replacement, and the lengthy injury lay-off faced by captain, Van Dijk, and forward, Charlie Austin, and you can understand some of the furrowed brows.
A cup final is a great occasion though, and that should surely be enough to placate the more vocal of the Puel detractors who have seen several managers consistently improve Southampton’s league position for the last several consecutive years.
David Moyes on the other hand will come into this game as confident of a win as he could have been all season. Two fantastic performances within two weeks has totally shifted the negative atmosphere that was choking the club, enabling the team to gain important ground on relegation rivals.
We had a great run in the first half of the season, that gave us a real lift. I feel like we need to do something similar in the second half of the season. I hope this can be the start. Great point against Spurs, three points against Palace. We need to find another one of those runs to remain a Premier League team.
Moyes must receive some credit with regard to the manner in which he has been able to combat criticism from every angle, and fathom a basic system that gets the best out of the players available to him.
Didier Ndong and Lamine Kone will both play important roles in any potentially positive outcome as they look to stifle Gabbiadini and Romeu, who will look to dominate proceedings.
The emergence of Adnan Januzaj as a genuine creative outlet was a joy to behold during last week’s annihilation of Crystal Palace; his vision and technique are magnificent at times. I’ve mentioned a few times this season that Januzaj needs to step up to the plate and deliver - if he can replicate last week’s performance, we could be in for a treat.
Moyes has managed to implement a system that has enabled his men to be tight at the back whilst offering a genuine threat going forward. Wing-backs and a number 10 offer the creative outlets, whilst Defoe continues to score goals for fun. Now is not the time to meddle with a winning formula - Moyes must continue to put trust in those who have delivered in the last couple of games.
David Moyes waxed relatively lyrical about last weekend’s performance, suggesting that the team have discovered a new found sense of self-belief, which they are eager to prove this weekend.
We had a great result last weekend and the players showed everyone what they could do. It was a great team performance. We’re in a good mood but we have a long way to go. The players have shown the standard they can play at. I’ve sensed that we want the next game. I hope that proves to be right but we have to play well. Lets continue it.
Moyes is the king of lowering expectations, but even he had to admit that the mood around the squad had improved thanks to last weekend’s stellar performance. He was quick to point out that despite the positives to build upon, the players selected must fight for the win against a Southampton desperate to find their stride again.
Harrying the Southampton midfield and defence will be crucial to a positive result. Southampton are a team renowned for their possession-oriented gameplay - a fact duly noted by our own Karl Maguire in his Scout Report.
As we've come to expect from Southampton, they're very comfortable in possession of the ball. Their average of 53.6% possession is the league's 6th best, while their 80.6% pass accuracy is well inside the top 10.
If Sunderland’s midfield can be resolute and stubborn whilst also enabling Januzaj to find time and space on the ball, then a win could certainly be on the cards. It’s over to the Lads now to prove their praise justified and secure a vital win.
Moyes gave a brief injury update in the pre-match presser, stating that both Jack Rodwell and Jordan Pickford will be unavailable for a few more weeks.
Jack Rodwell isn’t available. Not as bad as we first thought but it’ll keep him out for a few weeks. Jordan is back but the medical team want him to complete the time the surgeon said for his recovery. He won’t be involved.
Thankfully, John O’Shea and Adnan Januzaj are fit and available for selection after impressive displays last weekend. Darron Gibson will most likely be the man to fill the vacant central midfield slot left by Jack Rodwell, though Jan Kirchhoff and Lee Cattermole are on the road to recovery. Victor Anichebe, however, is still a long-term injury while Papy Djilibodji will face two further games on the sidelines.
Southampton will miss the aforementioned Van Dijk and Austin as well as creative midfielder Sofiane Boufal, but still boast an impressive level of squad depth, supplemented by their seemingly endless cycle of gifted young players from their renowned academy.
Predicted XI: Mannone, Oviedo, Denayer, O’Shea, Kone, Jones, Larsson, Gibson, Ndong, Januzaj, Defoe.
Score Prediction: If Moyes can get the lads going again, I think we could take the much-needed points. The defence will need to be tight, and the midfield must stifle Southampton’s possession game whilst supplying Januzaj and Defoe in the final third - a task they duly managed last weekend. If we can play to those levels, I’ll go for an impressive 2-0 win.