West Ham vs Southampton preview - 'Back to the grindstone'

Saturday 31st March

How Southampton have got into the FA Cup semi-finals during this dire spell of Premier League form is a mystery. That freedom from the pressures of relegation seems to work wonders for a team with little to no confidence.

29th Mar 2018

Southampton match preview

But we’re back to the grindstone this weekend for a huge game against West Ham, placed immediately above both us and the drop zone.

Mark Hughes will be under huge pressure for his first league game as Saints manager – defeat will see us cut adrift in the bottom three and, with games against Arsenal and Chelsea to follow, with little hope of clawing our way out.

Saving grace

The only saving grace for the Saints is that West Ham are enduring a similar barren spell. Three straight defeats have seen them tumble to 17th place, and another would see both clubs trade places.

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What’s more, recent fan unrest has caused something of a toxic atmosphere at the London Stadium, so the Hammers should see little benefit from being the home side on Saturday.

Hughes will no doubt be looking to exploit that by scoring early, but making their mark on a game has been something Southampton have struggled to do all season.

Hopefully he can harness the new-found confidence in securing an FA Cup semi-final berth to do the double over the Hammers, trade places with them in the table and grab this final opportunity of a six-pointer to gain some breathing space at a relegation rival’s expense.

Attacking intent

Though neither of them scored against Wigan, I think Saints fans wholeheartedly approved of Hughes’ attacking intent by fielding Manolo Gabbiadini and Guido Carrillo together upfront – something Mauricio Pellegrino was reluctant to do.

Cedric Soares was a regular in the back four anyway, but he and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg did their prospects of lining up against West Ham no harm at all by scoring their first goals for the club in our away win at Wigan. In fact, I expect to see the same line-up Hughes employed at the DW this weekend.

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Predicted line-up

McCarthy; Soares, Hoedt, Stephens, Bertrand; Boufal; Lemina, Hojbjerg, Tadic; Gabbiadini; Carrillo.

Key battle

Our defensive midfielders – probably Mario Lemina and Hojbjerg – will be charged with snuffing out the danger posed by the hosts' creative players.

Aaron Cresswell and Manuel Lanzini have been the Hammers' most prolific providers this season with six assists each, while Michail Antonio and Javier Hernandez provide the pace to get behind defences.

We need to keep these four in check as well as nullify the threat posed by target man Marko Arnautovic. 

Opposition danger man

Hughes will be only too aware of the danger the big Austrian can pose after their time together at Stoke. Hopefully he can use that experience to employ Jack Stephens and Wesley Hoedt effectively against him.

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He’s got good control for a big man, and is dangerous in the air, but it’s probably no coincidence that West Ham’s recent poor form has coincided with his own – his last goal came four games ago, in West Ham's last win against Watford.

If we can keep him quiet, we’ll keep the Hammers quiet.

Betting tips and predictions

First goalscorer flutter

It’s been a quiet season for Antonio. But with two goals in his last three games, he is a good bet to break the deadlock.

Get Antonio to score first @ 15/2

Bet with your head

Gabbiadini will grab the only goal in a 1-0 win for the Saints.

Get Southampton to win 1-0 @ 7/1

Go with your gut

The Hammers and Saints will trade second-half strikes but ultimately have to settle for a point.

Get a 1-1 draw @ 11/2

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