Southampton’s First Test
The last time Southampton played one of England’s elite was in the first weekend of of October when they lost 1-0 at White Hart Lane to a very lucky Spurs side. (The match would’ve ended 1-1 but for Sadio Mane missing a sitter in the match’s dying moments.) Since then Southampton have taken 13 points from 15 while outscoring their five opponents by a combined score of 13-1. If they could somehow keep a clean sheet on Sunday it would mean they would finish the month of November having only conceded a single goal. That’s unlikely to happen, of course, given the form of Sergio Aguero but it shows how hot the Saints have been.
There are going to be two main things to watch in the match. First, how will Southampton neutralize Sergio Aguero? City is close to having a clean bill of health so we may soon see City’s other attackers back in the goals, but until then the Citizens will continue to be extremely dependent on Aguero. Slowing him down will be the responsibility of defenders Jose Fonte and Toby Aldeweireld as well as defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama. If they can limit the number of times Aguero gets the ball in dangerous positions and limit his chances to run at the defense, then Southampton should do OK. But if Aguero continues to get as much time on the ball as he’s had lately it figures to be a long day for Ronal Koeman’s men.
Second, how will Southampton’s front four look? Absent Steven Davis last week they looked a different (and less threatening) side. Dusan Tadic was good but not great while Shane Long struggled. Assuming Davis is fit, he’ll return to his advanced central role with Tadic and Sadio Mane on the wings. Davis is a key player for the Saints because he does a lot of good defensive work, keeps the side organized, and knits the attack together with his movement and short passing. His importance to Mauricio Pochettino’s was generally under-appreciated, a fact which has carried over to the Koeman regime. If Davis plays, the Southampton attack will threaten a City defense that has at times looked quite sloppy. If he’s out, then Southampton could have a harder time breaking City down.
Battle of Europa Sides
At least the “we just played on Thursday” excuse won’t fly this time as Everton and Spurs meet on Sunday three days after both featured in the Europa League. Spurs have some advantage in that they played at home against Partizan Belgrade with a number of second choice players (Vlad Chiriches, Ben Davies, Benji Stambouli, Paulinho, and Aaron Lennon all started for Spurs) while Everton played on the road in Germany against Wolfsburg.
The question for Spurs is how head coach Mauricio Pochettino will set his team up. Nacer Chadli is likely to return this weekend so a 4-2-3-1 with Chadli, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela seems the likeliest set up for Spurs. But who will start at striker? And how will Eriksen be deployed? He looked far more threatening when playing in a deeper midfield role last week, so perhaps that 4-2-3-1 would basically become a 4-3-3 with Eriksen and one other midfielder playing in front of a holder? If that is the set up, Benji Stambouli made a very strong case for starting based on his performance against Partizan. The French midfielder scored a goal, played four key passes, made four tackles, and six interceptions. Don’t be surprised to see Stambouli in the squad based on that performance with Mason and Eriksen playing just ahead of him in a formation that could be described as 4-2-3-1, 4-2-1-3 or 4-3-3. The main point is that Mason will work as a recycler in midfield with Eriksen in a fairly free midfield role.
For Everton, a lot will depend (as usual) on Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas. Both players have given Spurs a lot of difficulty in the past and you have to think Spurs fans are already having nightmares at the thought of those two Belgians running at Federico Fazio or Younes Kaboul. If their Belgian duo can perform, Everton have an excellent shot at getting the win.
Chelsea faces Sunderland
Last time the two faced off in the league the Black Cats handed Jose Mourinho his first ever league loss at Stamford Bridge and dealt a fatal blow to Chelsea’s title bid. The loss was typical of Chelsea last season–tight and well-organized, very good against elite teams, but inconsistent against middling sides due to their poor options at striker and lack of a creative passer. With the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, however, both those problems have been solved. So expect Chelsea to win–and probably to win fairly comfortably. They’ll remember last season, I should think, and will probably win by at least three or four goals. Do keep an eye on Diego Costa though–his ongoing fitness concerns will likely see him play only an hour, assuming Chelsea can sew up the result before the 60 minute mark.