On Saturday at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton take on Fulham (12:30 p.m. ET, watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) with both teams high in confidence following recent success.
The Saints are sitting pretty in fifth spot, with just one defeat from their eight Premier League games so far, and a terrific last-gasp point away against Manchester United last week. Southampton are this seasons surprise package. As for Fulham, well, manager Martin Jol looked to be on his way out before the recent international break…
But following two-straight wins against Stoke and Crystal Palace, Jol is sitting much easier as his talented, yet aging, squad finally delivered.
So, what has been the key to Saints’ success? Hard-work and pressing high up the pitch has been the mantra for Mauricio Pochettino‘s men and it’s worked a treat so far, with wins against Liverpool, Swansea, Crystal Palace and West Brom to show for it. However Fulham will present a different challenge than most of the other teams as the Cottagers like to sit back and soak up the pressure.
That may force the Saints to change their incredibly successful tactics they’ve employed thus far.
The only worry for Fulham is that they might have used up all their wonder goals in one game on Monday night, as they hammered London rivals Palace 4-1 thanks to a screamer from Pajtim Kasami and terrific finishes from Steve Sidwell and Philippe Senderos.
It will be a close game down on the South Coast, with both teams solid defensively and possessing games changers galore. Don’t miss it.
Team news for Saints is that Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis could miss out, while Luke Shaw has shrugged off a virus and will be fit. For Fulham, Bryan Ruiz will miss out and Brede Hangeland is looking doubtful with a back injury.
What they’re saying
Saints defender Jose Fonte on their maturity: “The stick that we got last year from the critics made us work harder. The whole team has a style of pressing high and keeping the ball high up the pitch which takes some of the pressure off the back so there are a few things which collectively have contributed to the fact that we’re conceding so few goals. I think we’ve matured a little bit and we understand more what the Premier League is about as we are more ruthless, so I think that we are different this year.”
Fulham midfielder Scott Parker on facing Saints: “It will be very difficult. I think Southampton have been very impressive this year, very good side who are good defensively. They also have a very good threat going forward and play a high tempo, so it’s going to be a difficult game for us. But confidence is quite high here, we’re coming off the back of two very good wins so we’re going into the game to try and get something out of it.
Under the lights at a packed out St. Mary’s and a potential chance to break back into the top four of the PL, Saints’ fans can’t wait for Saturday to turn up. However, I wouldn’t be so sure that Southampton’s good run will continue against an in-form Fulham side. Yes, Southampton are at home. But they’ve drawn twice at home against West Ham and Sunderland already as both teams stifled them by sitting back and soaking up the pressure. Fulham will also do that, and I fancy a score draw to prevail down on the South Coast.