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How Southampton will have a say in deciding both ends of the Premier League table

ANALYST
Feature
754   //    18 Apr 2017, 12:44 IST
WATFORD, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: Nathan Redmond of Southampton (C) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his Southampton team mates during the Premier League match between Watford and Southampton at Vicarage Road on March 4, 2017 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Southampton have a say in deciding the final league table for this season

The stakes are ever on the rise with the end of the season approaching in the Premier League. Chelsea’s recent loss to Manchester United not only preserved Jose Mourinho’s impeccable record of never letting an opposition team complete a double against his, but also reignited the title race with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham now being just 4 points behind and with a comparatively easier fixture list.

The top four fight is going on intensively as well with Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal embroiled in a mini-battle and Everton being the outsiders. On the other end of the table, Sunderland’s great escapes season after season are looking likely to end this year.

Meanwhile Hull City, Swansea and Middlesbrough are engaged in a battle of their own to stay up at the expense of the other two sides.

In the middle of the table, West Brom looked set to finish in the top 8 until they suffered a dip in form recently. Southampton’s good run of form in recent games have helped them climb to 9th in the table and are 4 points behind the Baggies with 2 games in hand.

Also Read – Southampton's Puel aiming for top-half finish

Now, out of all the fixtures for the 20 teams in the league, Southampton are best-placed and are capable of deciding the fortunes of teams at both ends of the table. A look at the below table depicting Southampton’s remaining fixtures at the end of Gameweek 33 shows why.

DateOppositionOpposition league position

Southampton's remaining fixtures (after Gameweek 33)

25th AprilChelsea (A)1st
29th AprilHull City (H)17th
7th MayLiverpool (A)3rd
10th MayArsenal (H)6th
13th MayMiddlesbrough (A)19th
17th MayManchester United (H)5th
21st MayStoke City (H)11th

The title race

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 16:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks dejected after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on April 16, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Southampton have a good record at Stamford Bridge and can hurt Conte’s side.

Firstly, at the top of the table, Southampton can bring Tottenham within a point of Chelsea (provided Spurs beat Crystal Palace on 26th April) when the Saints take on Antonio Conte’s side the days after the latter’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham.

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Coming off the back of a major loss against Manchester United, anything other than a victory at Wembley will dent Chelsea’s morale and Southampton will look to inflict further damage.

Also Read – As Chelsea wobble can Spurs surge to Premier League title?

The Saints have lost just once in four visits to Stamford Bridge since returning to the Premier League in 2012, and have won once and drew the remaining two. Thus, Claude Puel’s team have the edge against the Blues in recent past and can split the title race wide open after what looked like a foregone conclusion for the last few months.


The battle for Champions League spots

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Nathan Redmond of Southampton celebrates as he scores their first goal during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Southampton have prevented Liverpool from scoring in all 3 matches this season so far.

Talking about the race for Champions League spots. Southampton have already lost to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in gameweek 33 and are yet to face Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.

While Tottenham can be considered as a relatively safer bet for the top four given that they are chasing Chelsea with a desire unlike last season, where they fizzled out towards the end and finished third behind North London rivals Arsenal.

Liverpool are first of the teams fighting for top 4 that the Saints face and both teams share a recent history, not only on the pitch, which includes the recent EFL Cup semi-final loss but also off the pitch, as Liverpool have pilfered Sadio Mane, Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert from the south coast.

On the pitch, Southampton currently hold an edge against Liverpool, having shut-out Jurgen Klopp’s brilliant attacking side thrice this season, including in the EFL Cup semi-final over both the legs. While Liverpool seem to have found the mentality to grind out wins in recent weeks, Southampton can definitely trip them up at Anfield, giving Manchester United and Arsenal a better chance.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal (L) embraces Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) after he is subbed during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Arsenal are currently looking likely to finish outside the top four for the first time under Arsene Wenger

Southampton’s next match after returning from Merseyside is against a stuttering Arsenal who are currently going through troubled times, both on and off the pitch, with performances faltering, thereby leading to dissent among fans. Further, Arsene Wenger’s future is up in the air and so is the status of Arsenal’s two biggest superstars in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

While Arsenal deal with these issues, they have another in the form of their record at St. Mary’s since Southampton returned to the Premier League in 2012. The Gunners have never secured a Premier League win in the south coast in four attempts, with two draws and two losses.

Claude Puel’s side will be relishing the opportunity of maintaining this record while ensuring Arsenal finish outside the top four for the first time since Arsene Wenger took over in 1996.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates as he scores their third goal  during the EFL Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Manchester United led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic beat Southampton in the EFL Cup final in February

Manchester United on the other hand have a good record against Southampton in the Premier League with three wins and one draw since 2012. Further, the Red Devils recently won the EFL Cup in February by beating Southampton 3-2, that included a late winner from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

While United definitely hold the edge, the unpredictable nature of the Premier League still offers a chance for an upset which will dent the hopes of Jose Mourinho’s team from making it to the top 4.


The relegation battle

HULL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06:  Claude Puel manager of Southampton during the Premier League match between Hull City and Southampton at KC Stadium on November 6, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Claude Puel’s side get to have a say in the relegation battle as well

Southampton get to not only play king-maker and top four decider, but also get to play a part in the relegation battle. They play Marco Silva’s Hull City at the end of the month at home. They have beaten the Tigers both times in recent years. Hull City are currently on the borderline at 17th place with a two-point safety from Swansea who are in 18th place.

The Tigers have a goal difference of -33 compared to Swansea’s -31. Also, Hull City have struggled on the road throughout the season. Thus, goal difference could play a crucial role and Southampton can hurt Marco Silva’s side on both fronts, giving Swansea a lifeline.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Adama Traore of Middlesbrough and Oriol Romeu of Southampton battle for the ball during the Premier League match between Southampton and Middlesbrough at St Mary's Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Middlesbrough are one of the possible relegation candidates for this season

The Saints play Middlesbrough in May and if Boro continue their bad scoring form, they can see themselves getting relegated at St. Mary’s against a strong opposition, boasting of the likes of Shane Long, Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond.

While Southampton may not win every game, it is clear that they definitely have a chance to be not so saintly and influence the final league table at the end of the season and in the process, secure a top 8 position.

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