Bournemouth v Southampton Preview: Saints midfield could be the difference

Austin a threat –

A lot of Premier League clubs have been criticized for appointing the same old British managers with roughly, if not exactly, the same ideas.

Southampton provide a refreshing antidote: last week, they put in a perfect possession performance against Everton in a commanding 4-1 win.

Charlie Austin grabbed the headlines with his clever runs to the near-post, which were rewarded with two goals – and he could have scored a hat-trick in a strong team display.

Steven Davis provided midfield industry and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg dictated play from deep to allow James Ward-Prowse to make runs into advanced areas and link-up with rampaging right-back Cedric Soares, who misses the Bournemouth match through injury.

Sofiane Boufal produced moments of quality and combined equally well with tireless left-back Ryan Bertrand, meaning play was always stretched and chances could be created for Austin and Dusan Tadic, the latter scoring the first goal from a counter-attack.

It has taken Southampton some time to get their football to click but the board – rather than going all out for Sam Allardyce in October – should be credited for sticking with Mauricio Pellegrino, who had not necessarily won over every fan in the first few months.

It will be intriguing to see whether his side can replicate the display against Everton at Bournemouth. The Cherries themselves had 62% possession against Burnley on Tuesday but they were far less effective and perhaps fortunate to only lose 2-1. Eddie Howe’s side rarely looked like scoring – Josh King’s 79th minute goal was  augmented by just one other shot on target.

Howe has done an excellent job in the south-west but he might consider having a tactical re-think, because his current wingers aren’t delivering as well as one would hope.

Since Jordon Ibe’s key impact against Brighton a couple of months ago, he has had little influence and is beginning to look like a costly error. Ryan Fraser and Marc Pugh haven’t offered too much since they got promoted and one does wonder whether the reasons for them staying in the first team extend too far beyond sentiment and loyalty.

Players like Lewis Cook – albeit a central midfielder rather than a winger – wasn’t part of the 14/15 title-winning squad but when he has featured in the Premier League, he has looked like one of their better players. A lot of fans are calling for Howe to build a team around Cook, rather than stick with the same players like Andrew Surman and Harry Arter.

They have an attack that could profit from a few midfield tweaks, now Callum Wilson has returned from injury. While Jermain Defoe is a good finisher he didn’t give them much pace and stamina off the ball or outside the box. By contrast, Wilson provides those things and is clinical in front of goal, as we saw with his hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Huddersfield.

Another plus point of Bournemouth’s campaign has been their defensive record. Having shipped 67 goals in both of their first two seasons at this level, the Cherries are on course to concede just 43 this term if they maintain their current record.

Nathan Ake is proving an excellent signing from Chelsea – his composure in possession and disciplined positioning compliments the more aggressive style of defending we have seen from Steve Cook, who recently grabbed the winner at Newcastle. Equally, the Saints should be solid and we saw how well Wesley Hoedt and co. defended at Man City, where they lost only to a 96th minute goal.

Neither side is in bad form – but Southampton’s superior midfield might give them the edge.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-2