Southampton - Sunderland preview: Can Saints get back to winning ways against an improved Black Cats?

04-02-16 Saints aiming to dent Sunderland's survival hopes, knowing a win will put them right back in the mix in the race for European football.

Southampton - Sunderland preview: Can Saints get back to winning ways against an improved Black Cats?
Photo: Getty Images

After losing out to nearby Bournemouth during, the week Southampton know nothing less than a victory will do against lowly Sunderland when they make the long-trip to the South Coast on Saturday afternoon.

Southampton are hoping that they can give their home fans something to cheer about once more as they haven't tasted defeat at St Mary's since a loss to Tottenham Hotspur on the 19th December.

Time to get back to basics

The Saints have hit a blip in their season after losing two matches in the space of four days against Chelsea and AFC Bournemouth, results which saw them drop down in the table all the way to 9th only a point above Chelsea. The Saints were unlucky to not claim at least a point against Chelsea last weekend, but on Tuesday evening when they made the short trip to Bournemouth, they were completely outfought as the hosts thoroughly deserved their victory.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman must decide what his sides best formation is. In the past couple of months they have mainly played with a 3-5-2 system, which has largely been effective. But in the last couple of games it just hasn't worked and has fallen into the oppositions hands on both occasions to allow them to take advantage and beat the Saints.

It's true that having the ability to adapt between a couple of formations is a great option to have, but you also need to know when the right time is to play a particular way. And just because one has worked the week before it doesn't mean that it will instantly work in the next fixture.

The Saints went on a great run prior to the Chelsea and Bournemouth games, which coincided with the return of Fraser Forster from a long-term knee-injury. While he hasn't be at his best in the last couple of games, his return has certainly made the team a stronger outfit.

No other distractions

The Saints should be one of the freshest sides for the run-in as they won't have anything else to worry about other than the remaining 10 Premier League fixtures as they are already out the FA Cup and don't have an European commitments.

Other teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool are all close to the Saints in the table and are all still heavily involved in other competitions. This is something which could play into Southampton's hands as they look to get back into Europe after getting there last season.

Although players always want to play the fact that the Saints will have a full week in between every fixture which is surely something which will only help them. They have also got great competition in the squad which enables them to be able to chop and change the players on a regular basis whilst still having a strong level.

Also many of the summer signings like, Virgil Van Dijk, Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu have all settled in and are up to the pace of the league and looking strong heading into the final 10 games of ther season. Clasie, in particular, has been a great player of late and has been one of Southampton's signings of the season. 

Team news

For the hosts, January signing Charlie Austin has been ruled out for up to a month. Fellow forward Shane Long, who had a kick on Tuesday evening, should be back for next weekend’s trip to Stoke City. Both Florin Gardos and Jay Rodriguez are in full training, but are building up their match fitness before returning to the squad.

Koeman said yesterday that he is hoping that Rodriguez will feature for the u21's on Monday evening in hope that he will be available for the trip to the Britannia Stadium next Saturday. Victor Wanyama serves the fourth game of his five game suspension and so he will also miss out.

Sunderland's Lee Cattermole will be absent after suffering a head injury against Crystal Palace in midweek. John O'Shea should overcome a calf problem but Jeremain Lens is still recovering from hernia surgery. Other than that Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has a strong squad to choose upon for the trip down to the south coast.