Southampton vs West Ham: turning point in relegation battle?

Southampton has just come off the back of a gripping 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. This performance saw them demonstrate what the club has been best at in the last three years: showing self-belief against top teams and thriving best when the expectations are against them.

Similarly, to the clubs around them, Southampton has struggled for goals this season. The 3-3 stalemate against Spurs was the first time the side scored three goals in a Premier League match this season. With Che Adams getting his first league goal since November and Theo Walcott assisting and getting on the score sheet, Southampton produced an xG of 2.52, their best in just over a year.

Against West Ham on Sunday, the Saints will have a real chance to prove themselves in a six-pointer. If they take all three points, will they begin to overcome their hurdle of struggling against the teams around them?

Confidence will be gained from scoring three goals at home against a side sitting fourth in the Premier League. However, when the expectation is on Saints to produce, they seem to crumble.

Southampton continue dropping points against the teams around them

This is a stark contrast to the side under previous manager Nathan Jones, winning only one Premier League match in eight attempts. Jones oversaw what seemed an easier run for the Saints. That included home fixtures against teams in and around the relegation zone.

Having already lost to the side away, their 2-1 loss to Wolves at home became a particularly exhausting watch for Saints fans. The Saints threw away a one-goal lead, with the famous Nathan Jones post-match comment: “10 men was to our detriment.”

Against newly promoted Nottingham Forest, center-back Lyanco lost the ball in midfield, providing Forest with their only shot on target in the game. It is also their only league win away from home all season.

Conversely, since Rubén Sellés’ permanent appointment, there has been visible improvement shown by the side, both home and away. In their recent 2-0 loss against Brentford, the Saints still displayed plenty of fight and encouragement between players, factors instilled by Sellés.

In a match that could have seen Southampton out of the relegation zone with a win, they showed little attacking threat with poor over-hit crosses into the box. Southampton deliberated on the ball, lacking confidence in having a shot on goal or taking players on.

This mirrored the side’s last six-pointer, away to Leeds. Saints suffered a 1-0 loss as center-back Jan Bednarek made himself smaller, blocking the site of keeper Gavin Bazunu. That saw Junior Firpo’s shot on his weaker foot to go in. It is fixtures like this that have demonstrated the Southampton’s ability to throw away points through a lack of attacking intent. Too often they let their opponents grow into the game.

West Ham’s failure to live up to their attacking promise

West Ham’s season has shown a sharp decline. The Irons are performing well below standard. They seem down and out one week, but then score four past Nottingham Forest the next.

Although prolific in European competition, big-money signings for the Hammers have failed to make enough of an impact. David Moyes commented that Gianluca Scamacca’s “physical data must be better.” The striker often loses out to Danny Ings or Michail Antonio, who have both proven to be more clinical, better in the air and at their hold-up play.

Notably, January signing and former Southampton striker Ings is Premier League proven. He demonstrated this in the Hammers’ 4-0 win against Forest. The 30-year-old is always in and around the six-yard box, ready and waiting to make runs. Playing a more attacking system, also allowed more passes into the striker’s path.

This season has also seen David Moyes opt for a more possession-based style of football instead of direct. There has been a constant debate about where new signings should be playing. Furthermore, conflict between the manager’s style of play and the attacking quality of the team is also prevalent.

One of the main talking points is if Lucas Paquetá would be best suited in either a number 10 role, where he scored against Newcastle, or as a more defensive midfielder. This would be more like his positioning for Brazil. However, it would show a disparity between why West Ham signed the player in the first place.

Despite the Hammers’ woes of picking up only six points on the road, they are unbeaten in their last four Premier League games at home. In West Ham’s last fixture, a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, Saïd Benrahma was their talisman.

Along with his five shots on target, the Algerian converted a penalty to earn a vital point. The winger could be key to this fixture. He had set up Declan Rice for the equalizer when the teams met previously in a 1-1 draw.

Jarrod Bowen remains the Hammers’ top scorer this season, but only 15 of his 56 shots have been on target. This is a far cry from the performances that earned him his first England call-up last year.

Problems with set pieces

Coming off the back of scoring his third England goal, Declan Rice could potentially get on the score sheet again. The holding midfielder often not being picked up in and around the box. However, Rice has also been tasked with taking corners for the side since January. That is due to set piece specialist Aaron Cresswell barely starting since.

West Ham has only scored four times from set pieces this season. This will only come as a relief to Southampton, who has struggled to deal with dead ball situations themselves. Poor man-to-man marking has only exacerbated this. Harry Kane profited from a Spurs corner in Saints’ last fixture, as 5ft 7 fullback Kyle Walker-Peters was tasked with marking the striker.

With Southampton continuing to build under a new manager and West Ham struggling to utilize their attacking options, will this fixture allow either team to pick up three vital points towards survival? Certain factors have made both sides look capable and exciting this season. Perhaps that is why this season’s relegation scrap is the closest it has been in a long time.

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