Premier League | Upton Park | Sat 22 Feb | 3pm
A mid-table battle royal that even a couple of weeks ago would have had slightly more relegatory [is that a word, probably not, but FFT won’t be cowed by the man] connotations.
First, a quiz question. Which team has kept the most clean sheets in this season’s Premier League? Arsenal? They’ve conceded the fewest goals, after all. No. Well, what about Chelsea, Jose Mourinho loves a strong defence. Nope. Perhaps Everton, then? Nah.
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Chelsea 0-0 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 0-3 Man City (LC)
- S'land 1-0 So'ton (FAC)
- Hull 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Fulham 0-3 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Arsenal (Prem)
It’s West Ham. Yes, seriously. The majority of their biggest canings coming in the cups, the Hammers’ 2-0 win against Norwich last time out was their 13th shutout of the campaign and a fourth in a row, the first time they’ve done so in Premier League history. Heady times at Upton Park.
The returns of centre-back titans James Tomkins and, in particular, James Collins have undoubtedly helped – and with the impressive Winston Reid also now approaching full fitness – but the role played by Sam Allardyce’s new keeper Adrian shouldn’t be underestimated. A silky smooth distributor, the Spaniard’s match-winning form has been central to each clean sheet, geeing up the Upton Park faithful and providing a generally more dynamic presence thean the ageing Jussi Jaaskelainen. Throw in Kevin Nolan’s sudden resurgence in form, and not even the absence of the suspended Andy Carroll has unduly affected the east Londoners.
For their part, Southampton keep churning out results, despite boardroom fractures, departures and MASSIVE PRESS CONCERN that Mauricio Pochettino can’t speak English. He can, just chooses not to, for what it’s worth.
There’s a case for suggesting Adam Lallana is the Premier League’s best midfielder on current form. Goals, assists and a lovely haircut are just some of the reasons why pundits are salivating so.
With Jay Rodriguez adding left-wing thrust in front of the ever-impressive Luke Shaw and a starting XI almost entirely rested in last weekend’s FA Cup defeat at Sunderland, the Saints will approach the game with similar confidence. Plus in Morgan Schneiderlin they have the most consistent defensive midfielder in the country.
A clash of football styles, it should be an entertaining contest.
Carroll misses the last of his three-game ban for his part in a hairy wrestle-off with Swansea’s Chico Flores, while Ricardo Vaz Te and Joey O’Brien remain long-term absentees.
Dejan Lovren and Gaston Ramirez are closing in on returns for Saints after simultaneous ankle injuries. However, defender Jos Hooiveld will not feature due to an eye injury.
Key battle: Carlton Cole vs Jose Fonte
Though doubts remain whether it’ll be the hulking Cole or the brain cell-challenged Marco Borriello – an ex-girlfriend once said “he fundamentally lacks intelligence” – who continues to deputise for the suspended Carroll, their battle with Saints defensive miser Fonte is where the battle lines will be drawn. Nolan has proven very effective at working off knock-downs in recent weeks and if Cole, the more likely starter, can beast his opposite number, the Hammers’ unique brand of Allardici-ball could again prove effective.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- So'ton 0-0 W Ham (Prem, Sep 13)
- So'ton 1-1 W Ham (Prem, Apr 13)
- W Ham 4-1 So'ton (Prem, Oct 12)
- W Ham 1-1 So'ton (Ch'ship, Feb 12)
- So'ton 1-0 W Ham (Ch'ship, Oct 11)
Not even three weeks ago, Allardyce was laughed at for suggesting the apparently doomed West Ham could still finish in mid-table. Now, the feeling that a couple of wins could all-but ensure safety is very persuasive. Say what you like about him, and his attitude towards cup competitions, Big Sam does get results in the end.
Though doubts remain over his long-term commitment to the south coast club, Pochettino is supremely aware coach, who, if he stays, has the opportunity to build something remarkable at St Mary’s. One hopes he sticks around to finish the job.
Facts and figures
- All 3 meetings between these teams since the start of last season have been goalless at half-time.
- West Ham have kept 4 consecutive clean sheets while Southampton are unbeaten in 6 matches.
- Saints have drawn 6 of their last 7 trips to middle-third teams.
- All 7 of West Ham’s wins this season have come to nil, including five 2-0 wins.
Both teams are unbeaten in February and there’s little to suggest that’ll change. 1-1.