10 years ago, the question ‘are Southampton the new Leicester?’ probably wouldn’t have been as enthralling as it is today. And for all that Leicester are indeed achieving, they’re still sub-two points per game, which is my benchmark for excellence.
In most years, that gets brushed off and a title challenge is scoffed at. But, it’s perhaps the consistency with which Leicester are able to finish off games that’s most impressive about them.
When you see Man City struggle to get past Brighton, Man United needing a Paul Pogba deflected volley to down Burnley and Liverpool’s back four resembling to Berlin Wall after Glasnost took hold, you have to wonder if Brendan Rodgers’ efficiency can take them to those dizzying heights again?
Then as soon as you finish praising Leicester, you look further down the table and see Everton, Spurs and Southampton just a single result behind them. We’re not really sure what wins mean in the context of this campaign – but performances are perhaps the biggest indicator of a team’s staying power, whenever that kicks in.
This might not be knockout, but it feels like it, doesn’t it? Here’s your three best bets for what could be a defining Premier League fixture – at least in the minds of these teams.
Saturday 20:00 – Leicester v Southampton
BT Sport 1
If that tension is palpable, we could easily see Leicester’s free spirit come undone before our very eyes. As much as I believe Brendan Rodgers to be one of the best managers in Premier League history, Ralph Hassenhuttl is the early front-runner for Manager of the Year.
It’s not down to the limitations of his playing squad, but more his ability to reset his side psychologically. After dropping a 2-0 lead to Man United and ultimately losing the game thereafter, the Saints have conceded just three times in their last seven fixtures in the competition.
Those goals were a penalty and strikes from Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Raheem Sterling. Fair enough says you. A run of three clean sheets in-a-row might indicate their blueprint going forward and I trust the Austrian to make it work.
Leicester’s success in recent times has been dependent on them scoring the opening goal. They haven’t taken a single point from a Premier League game in which they’ve not scored the opener since September, when they walloped Man City at the Etihad Stadium.
Conversely, they’ve opened the scoring in eight of their 17 games this season and won every single one of them. If they struggle to break down Southampton like I believe they will, they’re unlikely to have the space they’re normally afforded late in games to put the result to bed.
Southampton haven’t scored a second half goal since December 13th’s 3-0 win over Sheffield United – and as we know, unless you’re Newcastle, everyone knocks a few past them. Interestingly, each of Leicester’s four goals have come in the second halves of games, failing to score in the opening half since Ashley Barnes’ strike against Man United.
If the Foxes think they can be this cautious in the opening half and play reactive football, it could easily fall into place for Southampton, making this a value play.
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