Wednesday 28th December- 19:45-Sky Sports 1HD
Southampton and Spurs complete the first round of the festive fixtures, when they play each other on Wednesday at St Mary’s. Spurs sitting in 5th place will be keen to stay 1 point behind local rivals, and the top 4, Arsenal. While a win for the Saints will lift them up to 7th in the league table. And just 6 points behind Spurs
Southampton come into this game, off the back of a 4 game unbeaten streak in all competitions, having beaten their own local rivals Bournemouth at Dean Court 3-1. When these 2 teams last met in May, Southampton were able to end a 7 match run of not beating Spurs in the Premier League. However in their last 4 games at St Marys, Spurs have won 3 and drawn 1. So Claude Puel will be keen to end this run, in his first match against Tottenham. Southampton also have the 3rd best home league defence (Only Chelsea and Spurs have let in less at home)
Despite having top scorer Charlie Austin still out injured, Southampton were boosted by the 2 goals that striker Jay Rodriguez got against Bournemouth. Rodriguez has had a nightmare 2 years with injury, ironically Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino was in the Saints dugout when Rodriguez ruptured his knee ligaments against Man City in 2014. But the forward looked back to his best, in Southampton’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth as he scored twice, the second a superb long-range strike. Rodriguez showed the type of form that almost earned him a call up to the England squad. Pochettino will be wary of how good Rodriguez is, and made a point to say how happy he was to see him back to his best
“He’s a top player, a top man and we were happy to see him score against Bournemouth. Now though we will suffer him because he will be our enemy and our opponent. But I’m happy he’s back to his level. He’s a top person.”
In terms of team news for the Saints, Oriol Romeu is available again after suspension for Southampton. Jordy Clasie is out with a groin injury, while defender Matt Targett and striker Charlie Austin remain long-term absentees.
Since taking over at Spurs, Pochettino has never lost at St Marys when returning there. Tottenham have won their last 2 games in a row. Spurs boss Pochettino used an unusual version of a 3-4-3 formation against Hull City in mid-December, with Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko either side of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen playing in a deeper midfield role. Given that the visitors have struggled to score goals away from White Hart Lane this season (just six in their last nine in all competitions), Pochettino might be wise to bring back this attacking formation.
Hull City struggled to cope with the sheer volume of bodies in the final third. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose poured forward safe in the knowledge that a three-man defence could cope without them, Kane was given closer support than usual, and Eriksen proved menacing from a deeper position. The Danish international was significantly more difficult to mark because of his late arrival into the box – which should worry the occasionally wayward Oriol Romeu.
Furthermore, using a back three might help to nullify Southampton’s counter-attacks since Nathan Redmond, Sofiane Boufal, and Jay Rodriguez present a three-pronged threat when the hosts break.
The biggest individual battle on Wednesday will be between Harry Kane and Virgil van Dijk, whose phenomenal performances this season have sparked rumours of a £50 million transfer to Manchester City. He wins more aerial duels than any other centre-back in the Premier League (4.6 per match) and will use that physicality to bully Kane, who is prone to being outmuscled by powerful defenders.
The England striker is far better suited to matches in which he can avoid an aggressive physical battle, and having gone three matches without a goal his fragile confidence hands Van Dijk the advantage.
For Spurs Toby Alderweireld is back after missing the win at Burnley with a back problem, along with Mousa Dembele. Danny Rose has recovered from a thigh complaint and Vincent Janssen is fit again, but Erik Lamela remains out.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202