After going three games without a win in the past couple of weeks, Southampton know that nothing less than a win against Stoke City this weekend will do as both teams look to break into the Europa League this season.
Southampton are hoping to give their fans some more smiles after a disappointing couple of weeks, which have seen them slip to 9th place, just one point above champions Chelsea.
Late goal last weekend helped matters
Last weekend Southampton were moments away from falling to defeat against Sunderland at St Mary's, only for Virgil Van Dijk to come to the rescue in the dying moments to preserve a point for his side. Although they only got a point against lowly Sunderland last weekend, in the end it was somewhat of a achievement to get a draw given how late the Black Cats scored and that the hosts were down to ten men after having skipper Jose Fonte sent off in the second half.
It gives the Saints great momentum and confidence to take into this weekend against a Stoke City side that have been in some good form of late, winning three of their last four matches in the league whilst also picking up a draw last weekend against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The whole side have never lost their spirit or morale this season despite having a number of losing runs but, also having a couple of stages where they went unbeaten for a number of weeks. Summer signings Van Dijk and Oriol Romeu have both really found their feet in the Premier League across the past couple of weeks and have been key performers for the Saints so far this season. Stoke also scored a late goal to preserve a point last weekend and so both sides come into this match knowing that they grabbed late equalising goals, however Stoke's was by far the better result.
Nothing in it
Stoke currently lie just a place and two points above the Saints heading into the match and so both sides know just how important it is to get the win but, they both also know that it's vital that they don't lose the game as it would hand the initiative to the other side and they are competing with some high quality sides to get into the Europa League including Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester United, so a defeat for either tomorrow would really dent their hopes of qualifying for the Europa League this season.
The sides met earlier in the season at St Mary's Stadium, where an early goal from Bojan set Stoke on their way to a narrow win, which came at the time which the Saints were going through their most difficult part of the season - they won just one game in eight across the period of November and December.
Whenever this two sides meet it's always close and since the Saints boss Ronald Koeman has been in charge of the club, he has come up against the Potters on four occasions and in every match the team which has won has done so by just the one goal, which shows just how close it us likely to be. The Saints' last visit to Stoke City came last April when they narrowly lost out 2-1 after taking the lead through Morgan Schneiderlin. Stoke's style has somewhat changed over the past couple of years under Mark Hughes who, has done a brilliant job at the Britannia and has been able to attract some extremely exciting talents to join the club something, which never seemed possible before.
For Stoke, defender Ryan Shawcross could return on Saturday after eight games out with a back injury. Erik Pieters is a doubt because of a calf problem, while Glenn Whelan is set to make his 300th Stoke appearance.
As for Southampton, captain Fonte serves a one-match ban following his dismissal last week, while Victor Wanyama completes a five-game suspension.
Charlie Austin is out with a hamstring problem but fellow striker Shane Long is fit after a knee injury. Long-term absentees Jay Rodriguez and Florin Gardos are closer to returning but, aren’t quite ready for action yet. Rodriguez will appear for the club's under 21's against Middlesbrough on Monday evening before a decision will be made as to whether he can be part of the squad for the visit of Liverpool next Sunday. Gardos is still a couple of weeks away from being able to return back to competitive action, Koeman confirmed yesterday in his press-conference.