How Southampton will have a say in deciding both ends of the Premier League table
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.
|Date||Opposition||Opposition league position|
|25th April||Chelsea (A)||1st|
|29th April||Hull City (H)||17th|
|7th May||Liverpool (A)||3rd|
|10th May||Arsenal (H)||6th|
|13th May||Middlesbrough (A)||19th|
|17th May||Manchester United (H)||5th|
|21st May||Stoke City (H)||11th|
The title race
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.