The FourFourTwo Preview: Southampton vs Norwich
The neutral's favourite take on Chris Hughton's relegation-threatened battlers.
Southampton currently find themselves at a Premier League crossroads. Having promised so much in the season's opening salvos, they are now locked in an upper mid-table position, seemingly too good to drop into the bottom half, not quite strong enough to push for a Europa League spot, though that can be considered good news given the competition's gruelling schedule.
- Palace 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 So'ton (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 So'ton (FAC)
- Hull 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 1-0 Spurs (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Prem)
The flip side is that Saints' season will finish without a trophy. The FA Cup was their best shot, but Mauricio Pochettino's weakened team for the defeat to Sunderland suggested his priorities were with Europe at that time. With hopes for qualification all but diminished, he can now experiment for next season. Meanwhile, a clutch of his players are looking to make Roy Hodgson's England squad, so there is every motivation to play.
For Norwich, their precarious position in the table means this is not quite the dead rubber fixture it might have been had both teams met later in the campaign. Their recent win over schizophrenic Spurs would have given Hughton hope his side possesses both the smarts and desire to avoid the drop. But their 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa would have delivered a sobering slap to the cheeks.
With six-point fixtures against Sunderland, Swansea and Fulham in the coming weeks, a draw here would prove a vital and confidence-boosting outcome.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel played his first game against Stoke last week since returning from a knee injury. His improving fitness might be good news for Saints: it's been 19 hours and19 minutes since he last scored for Norwich. Leroy Fey's hamstring problems will force him out of this fixture. For Southampton, an ankle injury to Jack Cork is expected to bench the midfielder for up to six weeks.
Player to watch: Adam Lallana (Southampton)
Lallana has been a driving force behind Southampton's success this season, operating on the left flank with effective, attacking menace. His decisive assist for Daniel Sturridge during England's recent friendly against Demark was his season in a nutshell: a deft flash of control, followed by an accurate, inviting cross that was headed home by the Liverpool striker.
Norwich, most notably right-back and captain Russell Martin, will have to shackle Lallana if they're to snuff out Southampton's attacking intent. But that could be tough work. Lallana knows with a World Cup place up for grabs in Brazil this summer, eye-catching displays against struggling sides such as Norwich are a must.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Norwich 1-0 Saints (Prem, Aug 13)
- Norwich 0-0 Saints (Prem, Mar 13)
- Saints 1-1 Norwich (Prem, Nov 12)
- Norwich 0-2 Saints (L1, Feb 10)
- Saints 2-2 Norwich (JPT, Dec 09)
Since starting the season on a flier, Southampton have come into a worrying run of form, winning only once in the last eight games - though this is slightly less unsettling than Norwich's stats. In a season shadowed with the threat of relegation, they have lost their last four games on the bounce. Hughton will be enforcing a strict defensive policy though, as Saints have scored first in their last four matches against teams operating in the bottom six. Given their looming fixture list against fellow relegation-threaten teams, Norwich would presumably be happiest should history repeat itself: this match has ended in a draw five times in the last seven meetings (in all competitions).
The Canaries' gaffer has backed captain Sebastien Bassong to play a crucial role as the bid the beat the drop, saying: "Overall I have not been disappointed with his performances. He is a big character and we need as many big characters as we can for the challenge ahead. He is a big player for us."
Facts and figures
- The 3 meetings between these teams since the start of last season have seen just 3 goals in total.
- 13 of Southampton’s last 16 home games against bottom-half teams have had fewer than 3 goals, with 10 being level at half-time.
- Southampton’s last 6 home wins against bottom-half teams have all been 1-0 or 2-0.
- Norwich have failed to score more than once in 14 consecutive games, with 11 matches being level at half-time.
- Only Stoke have a worse second-half record over their last 20 away games than Norwich.
Best Bet: Southampton win by 2 goals exactly @ 4.85
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Southampton's attacking flair will be too strong for Norwich. A 2-1 win to the Saints.