It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for English Premier League football but nothing short of blood pumping entertainment! Let’s not babble year-end talk just yet, as we still have two rounds of pulsating football to go until we reach 2017.
As much as most love to idle in front of the television for the weekend while the Premier League thrills with spine chilling moments after moment, we will have to be patient until Boxing Day and beyond as our beloved football heroes spend Christmas with their families.
Enough with the pleasantries and on with the banter – we are here for football. On Wednesday evening, Southampton and Tottenham will lock horns in a match that will likely go down to the wire. The Saints have proved to be stubborn at St Mary’s but Spurs will be determined to claw their way into the top four in the hope of overtaking their arch-rivals, Arsenal.
Southampton are placed seventh on the standings – 10 points off fourth place. To be fair, I highly doubt many would have backed the Saints to make the top four this season, but then again, the same could be said about Leicester City’s unforgettable magical title-winning campaign.
Claude Puel made a rocky start to life at Southampton, but the Frenchman is slowly but surely bringing the best out of the squad at his disposal. Take last weekend for example, Jay Rodriguez scored his first Premier League goals since August – a second half brace – to help his team past Bournemouth with a 3-1 victory.
Goals had dried up in recent weeks for the Saints, with just a measly three scored in their previous seven league games, but the convincing victory over Bournemouth will certainly boost the team morale and confidence of the players, staff and supporters.
Southampton have won back-to-back home games and will be eager to make it three on the spin against Tottenham. They have lost just once on home soil and have been solid defensively, conceding just five league goals at St Mary’s this season.
In team news, Charlie Austin remains on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, while his return date is still unknown. But with Rodriguez back on the scoresheet, the Saints faithful will feel they have a strong chance to claim maximum points.
Shane Long provides the perfect cover with his energetic running, persistence and hunger to prove his worth but the Irishman will have to settle for a place on the bench once again. Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal will offer plenty of support out-wide with their pace, trickery and flair.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men are placed just a point behind their North London rivals, Arsenal, on the table and should the Gunners slip up on Boxing Day, Tottenham will be waiting in the wings to leapfrog their arch-enemy.
Spurs were made to work for their 2-1 win over Burnley at White Hart Lane last time out, coming from a goal down to edge the victory. It took a match winning strike from Danny Rose, while Kyle Walker claimed the Man of the Match accolade. The latter has been instrumental for Tottenham this season, contributing four assists – more than any other Premier League defender.
Tottenham have won four of their last six league games, including back-to-back matches. Their form on the road leaves a lot to be desired, with just two wins from eight encounters and Pochettino’s men will need pick their game up if they are to come away with a point; let alone three.
Christian Eriksen’s creativity, silky passing and eye for goal will also be a key ingredient, while Dele Alli’s intelligent movement off the ball is sure to keep the Saints defenders on their toes. Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama have also been outstanding for Tottenham this season. They may not be as fancy as the above-mentioned players but their technical style of play, tireless running and crunching tackles make them just as important to the team.
Harry Kane has been a cause for concern with his slump in form and lack of goals in recent weeks. The English forward will be desperate to get back to his best in order to help his team earn a place among the UEFA Champions League positions come end of the season.
Forster; Cedric, Yoshida, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Clasie, Hojbjerg, Reed; Boufal, Redmond, Rodriguez.
Lloris; Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele; Son, Eriksen, Alli; Kane.
Prediction: Draw (22/10)
The last 16 meetings between these sides have seen just one stalemate. But as much as I am expecting an end-to-end game of football, I think it will be a tight affair as well. Southampton have been organised at St Mary’s, while Tottenham’s impressive form in recent weeks can’t be ignored. The draw is on the cards.