|West Ham United 3 v 1 Southampton|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 29th February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Saints At West Ham United The Preview
Friday, 28th Feb 2020 09:09
Saints travel to West Ham United on a weekend when if the results all go the right way then we could find ourselves on the cusp of safety and able to look forwards with confidence.
It has been a strange old season, one that has seen perhaps the lowest moment in Southampton FC's history, but in contrast has seen us battle adversity and rise from the ashes to be well within a top 10 finish.
A word of caution though, we are far from the finished article, we have one of the worst defences in the Premier League and that is not by accident, we will still give away points we really should have got and I think that come judgement day in May we will be looking at our performances and those last minute goals conceded, those lapses in concentration and those poor pieces of defending and thinking of just what might have been.
But we can only take every game at a time and hope that this is one of the games when we get away with the above.
There are a couple of decisions to be made for Ralph ahead of this trip, perhaps the most important is who plays at right back, it would be easy to just keep James Ward Prowse there, but that defeats the object of trying to play your best team, yes JWP did a magnificent job there last week, but the reality is that is not his position and we need him in his best spot and that is the centre of the park.
We brought in Kyle Walker-Peters for a good reason, to take a look at him to see if he is the answer for next season, we will only find that out by playing him in games like this.
So for my money that would mean playing him in this game and restoring JWP to the midfield, although Ralph could alternatively play Yan Valery, although his failure to do so last week perhaps suggests that there is more than just fitness involved in that decision.
Another doubt is Moussa Djenepo, his Mother has died this week, but there is no news of where and how she died other than a tweet from the player himself announcing it, what this means to Saints is unclear, so until the team is announced we will perhaps not know whether he has been given compassionate leave or he intends to play.
If he doesn't play then Ralph has a headache, he could opt for Sofiane Boufal, but the Moroccan is perhaps not best suited to either playing in a game like this and especially starting it, his best contributions have been off the bench and his form has been patchy.
That might lead Ralph to think a little out of the box, he could play Che Adams or even Michael Obafemi in a wide right role, he could also incorporate a five man midfield with just Danny Ings up front to take some of the pressure off of whoever does play in this position.
One player I think might just start is Che Adams, he seems to have the faith of his manager and although he didn't play very long against Aston Villa he had a big impact.
Hasenhuttl has played things well with Adams, he has taken him out of the limelight when he was struggling to get a goal earlier in the season, but now he looks set to play him and give him that chance, if he started the game it would be harsh on Shane Long but we need to keep bring in Adams on in his development, when he gets that goal he could well go on a scoring run.
The game itself is a very similar situation to the one two years ago, West Ham are in turmoil with big protests planned, back then they came out like a runaway train scoring in the 13th & 17th minutes to silence the crowd's protests and get them behind them, a third goal on the cusp of half time finished the game as a contest.
We need to avoid that this time, we need to play our normal game away from home, that means keeping it tight early on and making sure that we aren't caught on the break, the longer the game goes on without scoring the more their crowd will get on their back and as we have seen earlier in the season, that will not help their team.
WE have to stop them getting control of the game and when we have withstood what will undoubtedly be an early bluster by them, we can impose ourselves and hopefully win the game ourselves as we have done on several occasions this season away from home.
The way we have set up in last few months will hopefully suit this game, we want them to attack and then we can go on the break, what doesn't suit us is when we spend most of the game in their final third because that gives them the opportunity to go on the break and as has been shown on many occasions this season, we are not great in defending those situations.
David Moyes will know this, but he is caught in a dilemma here, if his team attacks it will please the crowd, but if they don't score and we start to catch them on the break then they it will start the grumbling.
On the other hand if he instructs his side to sit and wait for us that will not please the crowd either and it could create a toxic atmosphere as West Ham supporters will not see the tactical reason for this, they will just see their team being pushed back.
The Hammers are in the middle of a horrible run, they have lost 5 of their last 7 Premier League games and drawn two, but it stretches back much further, their last win was New Years Day, and aside from beating us mid December before that 30th November and then you have to go back to September.
Ironically they won 3 of their opening 6 League games and lost only once, but since then they have won only 4, they have a decent side on paper, but it is not firing on all cylinders and is now on a downward spiral, the self gratifying ego driven posturing remarks David Moyes made when he returned to the club seems not to have ingratiated him to his squad and although they have an easier run in than most and should stay up, it will not be easy.
Much has been made of their result in Liverpool labelling it a glorious defeat but it could easily have been a rout, Liverpool had 70 % possession and 17 shots on goal, the Hammers scored with their only two on target, a similar story at Manchester City where the home side had 77% possession.
So this is not a side in a false position through a few strokes of bad luck or VAR going against them, they have been dropping like a stone since September and without that early burst would be dead and buried.
Our job is to go there and make sure the game goes to form, exploit their weaknesses and put the game to bed and not be open to the kind of mistakes that come the end of the season might have already have cost us dearly in terms of a top 10 spot.
Photo: Action Images
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