The Premier League has taken a small break to accommodate international football, which gives clubs the time needed to take stock of their position after Matchday 4. However, don’t expect to get a laid-back feeling from the faithful of 2 squads each off to a bad start.
Southampton supporters are close to the panic-stages already. The blog “Saints Marching” makes the argument that midfielder Mario Lemina should maybe stay on the bench against Brighton, citing the 25-year-old athlete’s struggle to focus on the pitch in fixtures past.
It’s clear why Saints supporters are alarmed. After next Monday, their schedule is going to take a mean turn. Following the Seagulls, against whom the squad is favored to triumph, Southampton faces Liverpool, Chelsea, Bournemouth, defending EPL champion Manchester City (twice), Watford, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, all by December 15th.
That’s a heck of a plank to walk.
It is possible the Saints will wind up even closer to the bottom of the EPL’s standings by January, a situation that they greatly want to avoid.
There is a bright side. The club claimed its first Premier League win of the season last weekend when they beat a highly-competitive Crystal Palace squad 2-0.
Brighton has also had a difficult schedule to deal with. The squad fell to a clean sheet from Ben Watson of Watford on Matchday 1, and later lost to Liverpool 1-0 on a goal from – whom else – Salah in the 23rd minute. Last weekend’s outcome was a 2-2 draw with Fulham that showcased a classic performance from Seagull striker Glenn Murray.
Murray is being called the club’s best goal-scoring attacker of all time, but as usual you should take anything you read about the Premier League with a grain of salt unless it’s written objectively after weeks of reflection. It’s easy to call someone the best ever after he scores 2 goals to singlehandedly produce a point for his team. It is not so easy to say after the unavoidable slump that comes later.
There is no question that Murray’s heroics are giving Brighton a needed boost. The 34-year-old veteran opened the scoring in a match against Manchester United on August 19th that the Seagulls were able to win 3-2. While Brighton had the benefit of playing against a controversy-addled United squad at just the right time with the advantage of playing at Fulmer Stadium instead of Old Trafford, the victory is the club’s proudest moment of a so-far mediocre season.
Goalkeeper Mathew Ryan has not been shining as brightly as many hoped over the opening slate, and too often, the squad has been losing in the possession and shots-against categories. This is to be expected, given the complex schedule and a lineup that has been built around ham-and-egger types like Irish defender Shane Duffy.
Recently, the Saints defeated Brighton 1-0 in the Football League Cup, in a match that was filled with reserves. A repeat result on Matchday 5 will be up to the club’s goalkeeper and backline’s ability to contain Murray and start an attack in the other direction.
Keeper Alex McCarthy is considered a rising talent. The 28-year-old Three Lions reserve started his stint with Southampton behind long-time starter Fraser Forster. McCarthy took over last winter following Forster’s struggles. He has recently signed a 4-year deal that should let him to stay put until at least 2020.
McCarthy was able to stop 6 on-target shots from Crystal Palace, but what handicappers have liked most about Southampton’s effort was their ball possession and passing. The Saints gave up 7 corner kicks but were able to hold the ball 49% of the time and matched the Eagles in quite a few other key statistical categories.
Liverpool loaner Danny Ings scored the winner in the 1st half with 12-Monkeys midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg also added a late tally. There is no word on whether Jumble J. Joneseses scored on a “random cross” in the warm-up.
However, backliner Ryan Bertrand has been a critical dab of glue that has helped hold things together in front of a skilled keeper, and the 29-year-old Englishman knows how to contribute to the attack within Southampton’s 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations.
I’m liking the Saints to carry their energy and momentum through the international break and win the 90+ minute match at St. Mary’s Stadium. It is true that Brighton’s win over United carries weight, and the Seagulls do deserve credit for scoring 3 goals on David de Gea. However, it’s no secret that the underdogs were able to catch de Gea’s squad at a good time, the stats from the match – only a 33% ball-possession and 3 earned corners from the Seagulls – point to Lady Luck probably was spending a day on the beach.
As strong a wager as Southampton looks to be on the money line, a bet on the over (2, 2.5) may be an even better play. It is likely that Murray will score in any match, but his goalkeeper also stands to allow multiple goals unless players like Gaëtan Bong and Lewis Dunk – who returned from injury only to commit a major gaffe against Fulham – have a career day.
The Saints are a (-102) favorite on the 3-way moneyline. I’ll take that bet.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.