Having breathed new life into what looked to be a hopeless plight, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Southampton look to continue further distancing themselves from the drop Thursday when they host West Ham United at St Mary’s.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Hasenhuttl has, in the short term at least, delivered the exact type of new manager bounce Southampton (3-6-9) needed following the sacking of Mark Hughes. The Saints look revitalised playing a 3-4-1-2 formation, and the re-emergence of Nathan Redmond has given pace to what was previously a languid offense.
On defence, it can be argued the three at the back is the proper approach because Hasenhuttl is using Southampton’s three best players. Jan Bednarek, Maya Yoshida and Jannik Vestegaard were all on their respective World Cup sides with Poland, Japan and Denmark, with Bednarek and Yoshida among the starting XIs of those teams.
Southampton have scored three goals in back-to-back league contests for the first time since wins at Watford and Sunderland in 2017 and now have an opportunity for their first three-match winning streak in league play since closing the 2015-16 campaign with four wins on the trot following a 3-1 victory at relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
Redmond opened the scoring on the quarter-hour and Danny Ings added a penalty for his third goal in two matches. Eighteen-year-old Michael Obafemi put the match out of reach on 71 minutes, becoming the youngest Premier League scorer in club history as the Saints climbed to 16th in the table on 15 points, three clear of the bottom three.
Redmond, who had gone 1,500 minutes without a goal before latching onto a through ball from Pierre-Emile Hjobjerg and lifting a shot over Jonas Lossl, has also taken to a mentoring role for Obafemi as Hasenhuttl has opted for using him and fellow youngster Yan Valery to climb up the table.
“Everyone in the dressing room loves Mikey because he’s got a great personality,” Redmond told the club’s official website about Obafemi. “He’s Southampton’s youngest scorer in the Premier League and that’s a milestone for him without even knowing it. He has to stay hungry and naïve and he’ll have a bright future.
“It’s almost come along unexpectedly; the older boys like Charlie and Shane will have the same relationship with me,” the 24-year-old Redmond added. “Mike looks up to those guys and me because I’m closer to his age.”
Hasenhuttl will be forced into one personnel change in this match since central midfielder Hjobjerg must serve a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card in Saturday’s win. Mario Lemina is the most likely candidate to partner with Oriol Romeu after coming off the bench to see out Saturday’s victory.
While West Ham United (7-3-8) have no such relegation worries, they did miss out on an excellent opportunity to bolster their chances for European play last weekend. The Irons were denied a fifth victory on the spin in league play after absorbing a 2-0 defeat at home to Watford, and other results conspired against Manuel Pellegrini’s team as they dropped to 12th in the table.
Still, West Ham are just five points behind Manchester United for sixth, and with games coming thick and fast in the holiday fixture list, fortunes can turn quickly for the East London side.
“I think we created some chances against Watford but, in my opinion, I don’t think you can take any positives when you lose,” centre back Issa Diop told whufc.com. “We are very disappointed because, by winning this game we could have been in the top six.
“But we lost and we now need to move past it, and be focused for Southampton. We have a quick turnaround and it’s a chance to start another run of really good results in the next match. We can go for the win in the next game and hopefully we can put on another big performance when we go to Southampton.”
Pellegrini could be forced into a change in central defence as Fabian Balbuena was forced off with an injury in the first half Saturday committing the foul on Roberto Pereyra that led to Watford’s penalty to open the scoring. Angelo Ogbonna would be the most likely replacement to work in tandem with Diop in West Ham’s back four.
Hammers remain without first-choice striker Marko Arnautovic, who is sidelined with a knee injury. The Austria international, who expressed confidence earlier this week West Ham are capable of winning their first FA Cup since 1980, has been rumoured to be a target for the bigger Premier League clubs in the upcoming January window.
The home team won both matches last term, with Southampton scrambling to a wild 3-2 victory on Charlie Austin’s 93rd-minute penalty. The 10-man Irons – who lost Aranutovic to a straight red card on 33 minutes – got both their goals through Chicharito Hernandez as he erased a two-goal deficit created by Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic in the first 38 minutes.
The Hammers are 3-6-7 in Premier League matches at St Mary’s, including 1-4-3 in their last eight trips.
Per Bet365, oddsmakers appear to be on board with Hasenhuttl as Southampton are 6/5 favourites to make it three on the bounce. The Irons are 12/5 underdogs to capture their fifth win in six matches in league play, and there are 13/5 odds for the sides to split the points.
There are 4/5 odds for the clubs to exceed the 2.5-goal threshold, while it is even money for a goal total of two or less. Oddsmakers also expect both teams to get at least one goal, with 8/13 odds there is at least one goal for each side compared to 6/5 odds for one team to record a clean sheet.
Ings and the teenage starlet Obafemi are joint-favourites to open the scoring in this match at 5/1, with Ings looking to do so for the second time in three matches after staking the Saints to an early 1-0 advantage on Arsenal. Austin is an 11/2 option, with Gabbiadini a step back at 6/1. Hammers veteran forward Andy Carroll and Chicharito are both top picks for the visitors at 13/2 for the first goal, along with Southampton’s Shane Long.
For scoring over the course of the match, Ings and Obafemi are 6/4 favourites, with Austin (13/8) and Gabbiadini (15/8) both better than 2/1. Carroll, Chicharito and Long are all at that marker, followed by Redmond, teammate Stuart Armstrong and West Ham’s Lucas Perez at 11/5. Irons striker Michail Antonio is another step back at 12/5.
With Chicharito the latest to join the ranks of West Ham’s walking wounded, the hedge is Pellegrini gives Carroll the chance to lead the line while reverting to a 4-1-4-1 set-up that featured Declan Rice as the midfield shield for the back four while also allowing Anderson and Grady Diangana opportunities to either pump in crosses from the flanks, or more likely in the case on the right — the chance for Diangana and Robert Snodgrass to overplay on the right to let Snodgrass play balls into the penalty area and let Carroll be a nuisance.
It would not be surprising to see Arnautovic among the reserves for this match, but it is also more likely he is one more contest away from his return.
Free of the offensive shackles put on them by Hughes, Southampton have looked refreshed in their three matches under Hasenhuttl, who himself seems to be enjoying life in the Premier League thus far. The one quick takeaway is the German has engineered his side to be quick on the counter — it is expected to cede more than 60 percent possession to Arsenal, but the Saints allowed Huddersfield to near that mark over the weekend.
Many have waited for Redmond to deliver on the flashes of potential he showed at Norwich City in the Championship and his first season at St Mary’s before taking a major step back last term with only one goal. His production has been exceeded only by Ings’ goal-scoring exploits in the last two matches, and Hasenhuttl will need similar production as the Saints try to make their run away from the drop.
The 0-2 scoreline versus Watford may have been slightly harsh to the Irons last time out, but there was no questioning Balbuena’s penalty, nor the fact Felipe Anderson had one of his poorest outings since they overcame their disastrous start.
West Ham have done well to get to this point without Arnautovic for the last three-plus matches, and losing a player as wily inside the penalty area as Chicharito with his likely unavailabilty means more direct play to Carroll is the most likely option. Another option is to draft Perez up front to play a 4-4-2 with Michail Antonio, but the introduction of the pacy Diangana is thought to be the better play to give Southampton something to think about on their flanks with a three-man back.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 1, West Ham United 1.