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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Southampton

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be looking to retain the bragging rights when they host Premier League neighbours Southampton at Vitality Stadium on Sunday (2pm kick-off).

Goals from Nathan Ake, Harry Wilson and Callum Wilson earned Eddie Howe’s team a 3-1 win at St Mary’s in September as the Cherries registered an historic first away win against the Saints.

Just a few weeks later, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team suffered a 9-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester, a result which left them in the relegation zone. 

But under the Austrian coach’s leadership, the Saints won seven of 11 Premier League games in a three-month spell before and after Christmas, propelling them to ninth at the end of January.

Since the top flight restarted in June, the Saints have been one of the most in-form teams, winning three and drawing three of their seven matches.

The victories came against Norwich, Watford and Manchester City, while the Saints head to Vitality Stadium on the back of successive draws with Everton, Manchester United and Brighton.

Ahead of Sunday’s clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Dan Sheldon, who covers the fortunes of Southampton for the Southern Daily Echo.

afcb.co.uk: Briefly summarise Southampton’s Premier League form since the season restarted?

DS: In one word, it’s been excellent.

They had one blip against Arsenal where they didn’t perform and lost 2-0 but, aside from that, they have been very good.

They kick-started it with a comfortable win at Norwich and pulled off another win at Watford which was a great performance. That was followed by a shock home win against Manchester City.

They have had three draws since then, at Everton and Manchester United and against a Brighton team which is still fighting to stay in the Premier League.

All in all, I think it’s been exactly what the manager would have been after and the players look like they have been enjoying it as well.

afcb.co.uk: What has been behind their dramatic upturn in fortunes, considering they had lost four of their five games before lockdown?

DS: Lockdown gave Ralph a chance to sit back and assess what was going wrong because they were in a bit of a malaise before the season was suspended.

The manager keeps stressing how much fitness work went on during the break and, from everyone you speak to around the club, they were quite strict with how the players had to stay in physical condition and Ralph said he was amazed how fit they were when they came back.

The fitness side of it has really helped them push on. Ralph pointed out last week that in the one game they didn’t outrun their opponent, they lost so I think that says everything.

afcb.co.uk: Did you think Southampton were nailed on for relegation following the 9-0 defeat by Leicester?

DS: The Leicester game always comes up but, in my opinion, I think they were even worse in their next home game against Everton when they lost 2-1.

The Leicester result will always be talked about but it was a total one-off.

Don’t get me wrong, it looked bad and you started to fear the worst but then they went on a great run before and after Christmas.

It started with a 2-2 draw at Arsenal after the international break in November and they ended up winning at Leicester in January and they haven’t looked back since.

afcb.co.uk: Who has been Southampton’s standout performer since the restart?

DS: You can only say one man – Danny Ings.

He’s a man on a mission. He scored his 20th Premier League goal of the season against Brighton to become the first Saints player to do that in the top flight since James Beattie in 2002/03.

Everything runs through him in this Southampton team. Being a former Bournemouth player, I’m sure they will be well aware of his talents.

afcb.co.uk: How key was a change of goalkeeper to the revival?

DS: That’s an interesting one.

Angus Gunn came in for fairly big money for Saints, around £13.5m.

He played a bit last season and was made number one by Ralph at the start of this season. But he just couldn’t save a thing and the number of goals he conceded during their poor run at the start of the season was incredible.

I don’t think Ralph had any choice but to replace him. Angus is good with his feet which is what Ralph wants from a goalkeeper but they are there to stop the ball going in the back of the net and Alex McCarthy (pictured above) is a much better shot-stopper.

McCarthy brings a bit more confidence to the defence when he’s between the sticks.

afcb.co.uk: Do Southampton have any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?

DS: Sofiane Boufal, Moussa Djenepo and Yan Valery all have knocks and are unlikely to feature again this season. There are no suspensions.

afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?

DS: Bournemouth have no choice but to go all out for the win.

But in the run of form Saints are on, especially away from home, I think they will have too much for them so I’m going for a 3-1 away win.

You can follow Dan on Twitter – @dansheldonsport

Match officials: Craig Pawson (referee), Dan Robathan (assistant), Peter Kirkup (assistant), Tim Robinson (fourth official), David Coote (VAR), Lee Betts (assistant VAR), Mark Russell (replacement official).

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