Southampton return to Premier League action on Saturday away to Fulham, who have been given new hope with the appointment of Claudio Ranieri.
The Cottagers suffered a 2-0 defeat to title challengers Liverpool before the international break, prompting former manager Slavisa Jokanovic to leave the club after three years at the helm. Mohamed Salah and Xherdan Shaqiri were on the scoresheet for the Reds in a game that portrayed the lack of chemistry and playing quality within the Fulham team currently.
They sit bottom of the league, having registered just one victory all season in their 4-2 win to Burnley in August. Ranieri’s appointment has given the fans confidence that there could be a chance of keeping their Premier League status for another year if he can employ the same tactics he did when he managed Leicester in their magnificent title-wining season.
Southampton too are relegation contenders, and due to controversial refereeing that sparked Charlie Austin’s heartfelt post-match interview after having his goal wrongly disallowed, they were held to a 1-1 draw against Watford. Manolo Gabbiadini bagged early before Jose Holebas’ equaliser put more misery on the Saints, in a game that really should have gone their way. They’re now winless in their 6 opening home games for the first time in their history in any of the four top tiers of English football.
There is undeniably a lot of pressure on Mark Hughes’ shoulders to grab a win, or his fate as manager for Southampton may end up in the same way as Jokanovic’s for Fulham.
The Cottagers may be on a six-match losing run in the Premier League, but they have not lost seven league matches in a row since a run of 11 between December 1961 and February 1962.
The sides last met in 2014, the last time that Fulham were in the top flight. The game ended 3-0 to the Saints, where former players Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez scored when Mauricio Pochettino was in charge of the South-coast outfit.
Hughes has confirmed that the fitness of Danny Ings is his only major concern ahead of the trip to Craven Cottage. The striker was prematurely withdrawn from the draw with Watford and the manager admitted that the striker is unlikely to be ready in time for the encounter.
“Danny is the big doubt at the moment,” he said. “He’s only just got out on the grass so maybe tomorrow we might be able to integrate him into the group. As we stand at the moment, he has to be a doubt.”
Late assessments will also be made on Mo Elyounoussi and Mario Lemina but the Saints boss suggested that both have a chance of featuring at the weekend.
“We’ve got a few niggles; Mo Elyounoussi has a bit of tightness in his hamstring and Mario Lemina has an issue with his thigh which we’ve been managing for a number of weeks now and we’ve just got to keep an eye on it. Those two should be okay but Danny is our main concern.”
One player likely feature in Saints’ line-up is Matt Targett. The full-back is the “obvious choice” to step into the left-sided gap left by the suspension of Ryan Bertrand.
Meanwhile, Ranieri will be without central midfielders Kevin McDonald and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa for his first match in charge, but could have Joe Bryan at his disposal after the left-back rejoined the group last week.
“He’s training, yes,” the Italian confirmed. “He’s trained every day, training very well, and I’m thinking also about him because he’s a good player.
“He’s a very ambitious player and I believe in this guy. I don’t know if he’s ready to play 90 minutes, but he’s ready for my concept about football, my idea about football.”
Predicted line ups:
Southampton (4-2-3-1): McCarthy; Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Targett; Hojbjerg, Lemina; Gabbiadini, Armstrong, Redmond; Austin
Fulham (4-3-3): Rico; Christie, Mawson, Odoi, Le Marchand; Cairney, Anguissa, Seri; Schurrle, Mitrovic, Sessegnon
Prediction – Fulham 1-2 Southampton
(Quote credits: Southampton FC)