Southampton vs Burnley Preview: Last season's underachievers host the 2017-18 surprise package

Southampton vs Burnley Preview: Last season's underachievers host the 2017-18 surprise package

Saints escaped relegation by just three points whilst the Clarets qualified for European football.

Chris Lincoln

Sunday afternoon provides the first insight into whether Burnley can cope with the added demands of European football and if they can match last season's impressive feat of finshing seventh.

In contrast, Southampton will be looking to kickstart their campaign on the opening weekend after flirting with the drop last year.

An average of less than a goal a game for both of these sides

A major concern for Saints fans has been their lack of cutting edge in front of goal. Charlie Austin topped the scoring charts with just seven goals, closely followed by Dusan Tadic who departed for Ajax over the summer.

Very little transfer activity in that area extended the fear for Southampton fans as concerns were voiced that another battle against relegation could be in store. A late Deadline Day swoop for Danny Ings will go some way towards easing those fears, although the striker has played just 25 games in the last three seasons since moving from Burnley.

Four seasons at Turf Moor saw Ings net 43 times in 130 matches but Burnley themselves did not threaten going forward as much as their final league position may suggest last year. They scored just 36, one less than Southampton, and top scorer Chris Wood is likely to be absent from this contest after being hospitalised with an infected bite.

Embed from Getty Images

Several new faces available

Wood's injury could pave the way for Matej Vydra to make his debut as several new signings prepare to don the crest of their new clubs. Joe Hart is expected to continue in goal for Burnley after making his debut in Turkey on Thursday, although Tom Heaton is available after a minor calf injury. Nick Pope, Steven Defour and Robbie Brady remain sidelined.

Burnley's starting eleven will prove a fascinating insight into how Sean Dyche prepares to juggle the Thursday - Sunday matchday combinations derived from Europa League qualification, although Matt Lowton and Stephen Ward should be recalled after a rest and Ben Gibson could play a part after his joint club record transfer. Aaron Lennon is also likely to feature from the start.

Meanwhile, Mark Hughes has a full squad to choose from and is likely to hand debuts to goalkeeper Angus Gunn, defender Jannik Vestergaard and midfielder Stuart Armstrong. Ings will also be pushing to start, alongside another new face in winger Mohamed Elyounoussi.

First goal is key

Southampton will be looking to produce much better home form this season. They only won four of their 19 games at St Mary's, picking up all three points on just one occasion since November. However, they have not beaten Burnley in their last three meetings, losing the home tie 1-0 last season.

The smart money would be on few goals to be manufactured in this meeting, particularly as there have been two goals or less in five of the last six meetings between the sides. Eight of the last ten league games involving Burnley have seen two goals or less and it is a similar story for Southampton in five of the previous six.

The first goal could be critical and it may set the tone of the year ahead for both of these teams.