2018-19 EPL Match Day 23 Preview — Southampton (4-7-11) vs. Everton (8-6-8)

After making a positive response to owner Farhad Moshiri’s demands for improved play, Everton look to make it three wins on the spin for the first time this season as they go for the double over Southampton on Saturday at St Mary’s.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Moshiri aggressively courted Marco Silva while the Portuguese manager was at Watford and eventually secured his services – along with former Watford striker Richarlison – during the summer. But after a middling opening half of the season in which Everton (8-6-8) had the same amount of points (27) as they did last term while burning through three managers, Moshiri made his voice heard in no uncertain terms last week.

The majority owner of the Toffees is still fully backing Silva but also noted to shareholders at the club’s general meeting, according to The Times, that when “I look at the table … it is not good enough.”

Those words carry weight considering Moshiri has already plowed approximately £250 million pounds into the club and likely will be the driving force behind a new proposed new stadium on the banks of the River Mersey.

To Silva and his side’s credit, there has been a response. The Toffees followed up their FA Cup victory with a 2-0 win at home over Bournemouth last weekend, but it was one without much panache or flow. Defender Kurt Zouma snapped a scoreless deadlock as he met Lucas Digne’s cross from six yards just after the hour.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin added the insurance marker in the dying moments of the match, but with Everton also racking up five yellow cards with a sixth arguably missing that would have resulted in Andre Gomes’ dismissal, it is clear Everton are still sorting themselves offensively at the bottom of the top half of the table.

“It is a process when a new manager comes in and I think he’s doing a really good job at the moment,” midfielder and Iceland international Gylfi Sigurdsson told SkySports in defence of his boss. “Not just as a club, but as players and for the fans we would want to be higher up in the league.

“When we were sixth in the league, I don’t think any of the players were happy because it’s about where you finish the season, and we kind of feel the same way at the moment and we’re not happy. Our aim is to finish the season in a strong spot.”

Everton likely will not spend on a true striker in the January window since that is almost always a seller’s market, but the Toffees might have to fend off Paris-St. Germain from poaching defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye.

The Ligue 1 leaders have not made direct contact with Everton about his availability – Gueye still has two-plus seasons left on his current deal – but some PSG players have not been shy about lauding the Senegal international’s play to French media.

Southampton (4-7-11) are in the thick of the relegation scrap but making progress under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Saints are technically unbeaten in four matches across all competitions (1-3-0) but were dumped out of the FA Cup on penalties Wednesday by Championship side Derby County after the teams played to a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes.

Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond scored two minutes apart to give Southampton a seemingly safe 2-0 lead with 20 minutes remaining, but the Saints squandered a two-goal lead to Derby County for the second time before Redmond’s miss on their second penalty attempt wound up being decisive.

“It’s a nightmare, I think, because we had again a big chance to be in the next round and gave it away. If you have two times a chance to win and don’t do it, then you don’t deserve to be in the next round, so congratulations to Derby County. We have to concentrate on the Premier League now,” Hasenhüttl told the club’s official website.

“After the 2-0, we were maybe thinking about what happened in Derby and then at 2-1 you could feel that the guys were a little bit nervous and they got the second goal. It was too easy. In extra-time there were three great chances for us, also for Derby too, but both teams were struggling and in the shootouts it’s always about luck. But they deserved it more because they fought back twice.”

Hasenhuttl continues to go back and forth between three and four-man backs, with central defender Maya Yoshida on international duty for Japan at the Asian Cup. The FA Cup replay did have one benefit for Southampton, as wide back Yan Valery will be available after sitting out Wednesday for his two yellow cards in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Leicester City.

Even with the missed penalty, Redmond continues to be in fine form and bagged his fifth goal in Southampton’s last seven overall matches. Hasenhuttl will also have midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who completed a three-match ban last weekend and was held out of the FA Cup match.

Theo Walcott and Richarlison scored to power Everton to a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture, though the Saints did get a measure of revenge by ousting the Toffees on penalties in the third round of the Carabao Cup.

Everton, who have just three wins in 19 Premier League matches at St Mary’s (3-6-10), last did the double over Southampton in 2001-02.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are slight favourites at 17/10 compared to Southampton’s 7/4, with a draw the longshot at 12/5. Oddsmakers are uncertain how this game will shake out, offering 10/11 odds on both sides of the 2.5-goal threshold. The odds of both teams scoring, however, are a clear favourite at 4/6 compared to 11/10 odds for at least one clean sheet.

Despite a four-match goal drought, Richarlison leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 11/2, followed by teammate Cenk Tosun and Southampton forward Charlie Austin and young Saints striker Marcus Barnes — all of whom are 6/1. Sam Gallagher is a 13/2 option to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, while Everton’s Calvert-Lewin and Southampton’s Shane Long are both 7/1. Gylfi Sigurdsson is another step back at 15/2, followed by the in-form Redmond (8/1).

For any-time goal-scoring, Richarlison leads the line at 7/4, with Tosun, Austin and Barnes all joint-second at 15/8. Calvert-Lewin and Long are 9/4 picks, with Sigurdsson a 12/5 option followed by Redmond and Stuart Armstrong at 13/5.

PREDICTION

This is a test for Everton’s top-seven ambitions: The Toffees are clearly capable of winning this type of match, but their season-long lack of consistency has diminished external expectations to take them seriously enough to win this game.

Silva continues to try and find the right attacking options around Sigurdsson, again moving Richarlison to lead the line from his other spot on the flank. Ademola Lookman perhaps did enough to get a second consecutive league start on the right wing over Theo Walcott as he assisted on Calvert-Lewin’s goal after scoring in the FA Cup, though there is also a point where one wonders if Silva will put Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison together again as starters for the second time in three league matches.

Lineup juggling aside, these are the matches Moshiri wants to see Everton win to believe in his investment in this club, and frankly, it is a justifiable request. The Merseyside club has long been considered one of the “sleeping giants” of the Premier League. Or if you prefer a backhanded compliment, Everton are a more stable version of Aston Villa given their struggles to return to the top flight since being relegated to the Championship after the 2015-16 season.

The Gueye situation will be one to monitor during the January transfer window. Silva is keen to keep the Senegal international, and the last thing he and Everton need at this point is a distraction that takes away from consolidating their top-half status while kicking on to a higher level.

Thoguh disappointed about crashing out of the FA Cup in such a fragile manner, Hasenhuttl may find that elimination a blessing in disguise in his bid to keep Southampton above the drop. The German gaffer has done well mixing and matching his squad around blooding younger players, and has picked up another offensive option in Redmond to go along with Ings, Long, and Austin.

His decision to turn back to Alex McCarthy in Southampton’s last league match was an interesting one considering Gunn’s standout performance in his Premier League debut versus Chelsea. Hasenhuttl is likely not trying to foster a debate for the No. 1 shirt, but without the FA Cup for Gunn to gain further match time, the situation offers plenty of intrigue as the Saints grind out points to stay out of the bottom three.

The want is to see Everton play on the front foot in this game and burnish their top-seven credentials, but that is going to be easier said than done. This has the feel of a disjointed match in which a scruffy goal could wind up being the difference.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 1, Everton 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 23 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (8-5-9) vs. Leicester City (9-4-9)
Liverpool (18-3-1) vs. Crystal Palace (6-4-12)
Manchester United (12-5-5) vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-10)
Arsenal (12-5-5) vs. Chelsea (14-5-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 — Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)

For a man who has two of the biggest league victories of the season over Big Six sides, Leicester City manager Claude Puel appears to be treading on thin ice.

The embattled Foxes boss looks to keep the Midlands side atop the pack for seventh on Saturday when they host Puel’s former club Southampton at King Power Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Leicester City (9-4-8) are currently “the best of the rest” in the Premier League on 31 points, seven behind resurgent Manchester United. Seventh place carries the potential of a Europa League qualifying berth based on Carabao Cup and FA Cup results, but supporters were hoping for a deep run in the FA Cup after a respectable quarterfinal exit on penalties in the Carabao Cup versus current holders Manchester City.

Those hopes, however, were dashed with a shocking 2-1 loss at League Two side Newport County on Sunday, a side 74 places below the Foxes in the English football pyramid. Marc Albrighton handled a cross on 85 minutes that allowed Newport’s Under-16 coach, Padraig Amond, to slot home the winning penalty.

“A lot of disappointment and frustration,” Puel told The Times after making seven changes to the first XI that powered a 1-0 win over Everton to ring in 2019. “But it’s a cup game and we didn’t find the solution to score more goals. We have had a good team with eight who had played winning the title with Leicester. I don’t want to look for excuses.”

Puel’s man management has left him open to criticism that has canceled out the goodwill that should have been fostered with wins over Manchester City and Chelsea on top of the way he kept the side together following the tragic death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in October.

Puel and top striker Jamie Vardy – who did not even make the trip to Wales – have not seen eye to eye on multiple occasions this term, and leaving midfielder James Maddison on the bench until after intermission was another talking point in the Midlands.

“The good thing about football is that you get the chance to put it right as quickly as possible,” Albrighton told Leicester City’s official website. “We’ll aim to do that. We’re at home, so it makes it even better for us, we’ve got the crowd behind us and we’ll look to start well in the game and put last week to bed.

“We’ve had two close games against Southampton (this season). I know they’re probably a different task now with a new manager. They play differently and they seem to be playing with a lot more confidence.”

Southampton (3-7-11) are now three managers removed from Puel, who guided them to an eighth-place finish and a League Cup final in his lone season in charge in 2016-17. Mark Hughes was barely successful in keeping the Saints above the drop last term after replacing Mauricio Pellegrino, and now Ralph Hasenhuttl is trying to do the same after a miserable start this season led to Hughes’ sacking.

Southampton have improved since the German took over, but they did themselves no favours in the FA Cup on Saturday, having been held to a 2-2 draw at Derby County that will result in a third-round replay at St Mary’s. Nathan Redmond continued his purple patch of scoring with a brace on either side of halftime, but Tom Lawrence set up a goal and scored a second for Frank Lampard’s side in a three-minute span of the second half.

The match did allow Hasenhuttl a chance to observe more of Southampton’s younger players, with midfielder Callum Slattery making his senior team debut.

“I think he won a lot of balls from this position and also has the technique to look in front and give the last pass. I was happy with his performance and he showed he is always an alternative for me,” Hasenhuttl noted to the club’s official website about the 19-year-old.

Keeper Angus Gunn could be in line for a third consecutive start in all competitions after turning in a clean sheet in his first league start – a 0-0 draw versus Chelsea in which the 22-year-old made a pair of quality saves to deny Eden Hazard.

Up front, Hasenhuttl will be without top-choice striker Danny Ings through injury and Charlie Austin through suspension, with the forward being given a two-match ban by the FA for making an insulting gesture in Southampton’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Dec. 30. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will serve the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given late in that contest.

Austin will miss this match and the replay against Derby County next Wednesday. The absence of Ings and Austin puts more pressure on Redmond to continue producing. He has four goals and two assists in his last six matches across all competitions.

Leicester City ran out 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture at St Mary’s in August, with Harry Maguire’s strike in stoppage time cruelly denying 10-man Southampton a point. Demarai Gray and Ryan Bertrand traded goals four minutes apart early in the second half, and the Saints played a man down after 77 minutes after Hojbjerg received a second booking for diving.

The teams also played to a scoreless draw in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup before Leicester advanced on penalties after an 85th-minute goal by Southampton’s Steven Davis was overturned by VAR for a handball on Redmond in the buildup.

The Foxes have not done the double over Southampton in the Premier League since 1999-2000.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Leicester City are 19/20 favourites to bounce back from their embarrassing FA Cup exit and claim all three points, while Southampton are 10/3 underdogs to claim a road win and heap further pressure on Puel. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/2.

Oddsmakers are predicting a low-scoring contest, with 8/11 odds offered for under the 2.5-goal threshold compared to 11/10 over it. It’s a toss-up as to whether both teams will score or a shutout will be recorded in either direction with 10/11 odds for both.

In a bit of a surprise, the Foxes striker leading the list for first goal-scorers is Kelechi Iheanacho at 15/4, nudging out Vardy (4/1). A trio of Leicester players — Maddison, Demarai Gray, and Shinjo Okazaki are all 13/2. Long was originally among that group, but with his suspension, the top Saints to make it 0-1 are Shane Long (9/1) and Redmond (10/1).

Iheanacho is a 6/5 pick to score during the course of the match, with Vardy in close pursuit at 13/10. The aforementioned Foxes threesome are each 11/5 picks to score a goal while Long is a 10/3 pick. Redmond and Stuart Armstrong both check in at 7/2.

PREDICTION

This space finds nothing wrong with the Leicester supporters being aggrieved about a potential FA Cup run scuppered with poor man management by Puel in terms of the in-match moves. It’s questionable to not bring Vardy, sure, but Puel has been consistent in that regards with the striker — even at considerable angst to gaffer, player and fan base.

A must-win sounds harsh, but a not-lose sounds more accurate. The good news is there appears to be such a margin of error regarding this chase for seventh with a rotating cast of characters among Leicester, Wolves, Everton, and West Ham United that one loss — even to a relegation-threatened side in Southampton — does not sound a death knell for those hopes. But a loss definitely adds to the irritability of those in the Midlands.

With Hasenhuttl not naming a starter between the sticks at his Friday news conference, the hedge is Gunn is going to be the one on the top of the team sheet when it is handed over. He looked calm and composed against Chelsea, and while it was smart to give him his Premier League debut at home, at some point, Gunn has to start on the road.

Why not here against an opponent playing in front of edgy home supporters? Why not now, because Southampton have played better as Hasenhuttl has blooded the kiddie corps. The Saints’ lack of offence up front and from anyone other than Redmond will probably be their undoing in this match, and not having Maya Yoshida (Asian Cup) in the back is going to be a problem against the irrepressible and tireless Vardy.

This is a game where his graft plus Maddison’s creativity separate the sides, who have already played two very close matches this season.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 1, Southampton 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 21 Preview — Chelsea (13-4-3) vs. Southampton (3-6-11)

Chelsea’s needs to find a centre-forward during the January transfer window have intensified as they must make do without Olivier Giroud for the immediate future, starting with Wednesday’s match against Southampton at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues (13-4-3), who are provisionally two points clear of Arsenal for the fourth and final Champions League spot, have had only two true centre-forwards on their roster this season – Giroud and Alvaro Morata. While neither has filled up the back of the net – they have combined for six league goals and 11 in all competitions – coach Maurizio Sarri has been able to get by at the position by usually playing the more in-form of the two or by using Eden Hazard as a false No. 9 in his 4-3-3 set-up.

One of those options, however, has been removed in the short-term after Giroud limped off in the second half of Sunday’s 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace with an ankle injury after having a goal chalked off for offsides, and his timetable for a return is unknown. The World Cup-winning France international may not have the goal haul desired of a centre-forward, but his nous and industry in the box – often knocking down long balls for Hazard and the other Chelsea wingers to run onto – is keenly valued by Sarri.

“In the last two days we were a bit unlucky. Yesterday in 10 minutes we had three injuries: (Cesc) Fabregas, (Ruben) Loftus-Cheek and (Danny) Drinkwater,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “Now today Giroud, and we were already without Pedro and (Callum) Hudson-Odoi, so now we are in trouble because in January we have to play every three days.”

That puts the onus on the 26-year-old Morata, who has not scored since Nov. 4 in any competition, to take some of the scoring burden off Hazard, who has a team-best 12 goals overall. The Belgium international had factored in all of Chelsea’s previous five goals in the prior four matches before N’Golo Kante took a weighted pass from David Luiz and scored the match-winner on 51 minutes Sunday.

Chelsea have been linked to AC Milan forward Gonzalo Higuain and Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson as possible moves in the impending transfer window, but there is also the possibility the Blues could recall Michy Batshuayi from Spanish side Valencia or Tammy Abraham from Championship club Aston Villa from their respective loans.

Southampton (3-6-11) continue to scrap in the relegation mix and are 2-0-3 since Ralph Hasenhuttl took over following the sacking of Mark Hughes. The Saints were outclassed 3-1 at home by reigning champions Manchester City on Sunday, though there continue to be glimmers of promise that could help them avoid the drop.

One such moment came in the 37th minute when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, playing the high press Hasenhuttl wants to use after he can get more practice time in with the club, was able to dispossess a City player and beat Ederson for a short-lived equaliser. Hojbjerg, though, was not around at the end of the match, getting a straight red on 86 minutes for scything Fernandinho with a two-footed challenge and will miss the next three contests.

Hasenhuttl has not been afraid to give everyone a chance to earn minutes as 18-year-old Kayne Ramsay was the latest to make his first-team debut at right back. Hughes had only turned to fellow youngsters Yan Valery and Michael Obafemil shortly before being shown the door, but both – along with Ramsay – are being given every opportunity to win minutes as Southampton need all hands on deck to avoid the drop.

“It was one goal to have a view on all the guys who have practiced under my management and for the young players to have a good experience against a fantastic team,” Hasenhuttl explained to the club’s official website. “That’s what we tried to do and we are always demanding to give these players a chance. I think it was a very important game for Kayne and I think he did a good job.

“It’s our future and we have to work on that. For me, it was an interesting pressure because now the transfer period comes and I have to know which players I can count on.”

Hojbjerg’s absence means Mario Lemina will again be drafted into the midfield. After going to a four-man back against City and giving defenders Maya Yoshida and Jannik Vestegaard off Sunday, Hasenhuttl could opt for the three-man defence he has primarily used since his arrival at St Mary’s.

Chelsea have won seven on the bounce in all competitions between the clubs after a 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture at St Mary’s on Oct. 7. It was Ross Barkley’s coming out party for the Blues as he set up Hazard’s goal on the half-hour before scoring one on 57 minutes. Morata added gloss to the scoreline with a tally that finished a 31-pass movement.

Southampton are 3-5-11 at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League era, with the most recent win coming in 2015. Last season’s 1-0 Chelsea victory was the first time in the last seven matches in London there was a clean sheet.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are overwhelming 1/4 favourites to pick up another three points, while Southampton are 9/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/1.

Given Southampton’s frailities at the back against better squads, there are 8/15 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals scored in this match compared to 6/4 odds on them finishing under that threshold. The odds of Chelsea posting a clean sheet make the “No” option on both teams scoring a slight favourite at 3/4 compared to even money for “Yes.”

With Giroud expected to be unavailable, Hazard is a strong choice for first-goal scoring honours at 11/4, followed by Alvaro Morata (4/1) and the suddenly in-demand Hudson-Odoi at 9/2. Willian is a 5/1 pick to score first, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another step back at 6/1. Ings is Southampton’s top option at 10/1 while Austin is a 14/1 pick to mak it 0-1.

Hazard’s overall form makes him a 4/6 selection to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Morata even money to put one past McCarthy. Chelsea’s wingers — Hudson-Odoi, Willian and Loftus-Cheek — are all better than 2/1 odds, ranging from Hudson-Odoi at 6/5 to Loftus-Cheek at 8/5 with Willian in between (13/10). Ings is an 11/4 pick to score for the Saints, with both Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini both 4/1 options.

PREDICTION

If ever a match called for graft and grind for Chelsea, this is the one as they limp into the end of the holiday fixture list. The Blues have a chance to emerge with three wins on the bounce before likely overturning most of this starting XI for their FA Cup match versus Nottingham Forest.

At the moment, though, means another leaning on a moment of magic from Hazard to secure three points. The Belgium international has seemingly been a part of every key goal — save Sunday — and with the walking wounded seemingly growing with each passing day, Hazard might be the only in-form goal-scorer Sarri has at the moment.

Which, of course, brings us to Morata. The lack of available bodies has forced Sarri’s hand to the point he must start the Spaniard up front. With only 14 minutes under his belt after a four-game absence due to injury, Morata might only be effective for an hour in this match, but he may need to play all 90 minutes out of necessity. There are limitations throughout Chelsea’s roster due to injury — it does not seem out of the question Ross Barkley could wind up in an advanced wing role or that Victor Moses gets a rare start, transfer rumours not withstanding for the one-time Nigeria international.

For Southampton, this is a chance to be obstinate, play behind the ball and try to hit Chelsea on the counter in the bid to take at least one point from this match. The high-pressing style Hasenhuttl wants to use could be in play here since Jorginho is not the swiftest, and playing a triangle attacking style with the playmaker in the hole under the two forwards has proven effective at times versus the Pensioners.

The issue for Southampton is how much of the ball will they see in the attacking third. If the Saints sit back, the answer will be not much since it would turn into the kind of match where Jorginho will be spraying passes and Hazard will look to dart into pockets of space against the Saints’ back three. If Southampton are adventurous and press, it is possible Hazard pick them apart as well, but if they can dispossess Chelsea’s midfielders, there could be goal-scoring opportunities as well.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 1, Southampton 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 21 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (11-5-4) vs. Fulham (3-5-12)
Wolverhampton (8-5-7) vs. Crystal Palace (5-4-11)
Newcastle United (4-6-10) vs. Manchester United (10-5-5)
Manchester City (15-2-3) vs. Liverpool (17-3-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 20 Preview — Southampton (3-6-10) vs. Manchester City (14-2-3)

Whether it is delusion or defiance, Pep Guardiola is not showing any outward signs of panic ahead of Manchester City’s seemingly must-win matchup Sunday at Saint Mary’s versus Southampton ahead of their monumental clash versus table-toppers Liverpool.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning title-holders have lost back-to-back league matches for just the second time since Guardiola’s arrival in 2016. Manchester City (14-2-3) exceeded their loss total for all of last term’s record-breaking 100 point season with their 2-1 Boxing Day defeat at Leicester City. The setback also dropped them into third place and seven points adrift of frontrunners Liverpool – whom they face Thursday at the Etihad in what could be a make-or-break contest in their bid to repeat as Premier League champions.

“The less important issue is Liverpool,” Guardiola insisted to ESPN. “We have to think about Southampton, recover mentally and recover what we are like a team. I don’t forget who we are.

“How good a team we are. How exceptional these lads I have in the locker room. But the reality is we lost three in four games and the last two. If you want to be real contenders you have to win again, if you don’t, it will not be possible.”

Guardiola also raised eyebrows with his proclamation City will not be buyers in the January transfer window. If that were to be the case, City would be passing up a chance to sign 21-year-old Ajax midfielder Luuk de Jong, a potential successor to Fernandinho and considered one of the top prospects in Europe.

For the wealth of options in attack Guardiola possesses, it has come to be that Fernandinho is the linchpin to City’s title hopes. The 33-year-old central midfielder serves as the link from defence who allows City’s attacking players to flow forward, operating as a one-man shield in front of the back four.

His availability for this match is again uncertain due to the thigh injury that has sidelined him the previous two contests, but his absence has magnified City’s shortcomings at the position as first centre back John Stones and more recently Ilkay Gundogan failed to serve as adequate replacements.

With Liverpool looming, it seems more likely Guardiola will hold out the Brasil international and again turn to Gundogan and rely on his creative midfielders David Silva – who just returned from injury – and Kevin De Bruyne – himself also not far removed from a knee injury – to help overwhelm and outscore relegation-threatened Southampton.

“‘What we have to do is try and change the dynamic to winning games. We are able to do that but I have to reflect myself, think about what the team needs and try to help them,” Guardiola told The Daily Mail. “‘That is what will concern me for the next few days. Good results are miracles for the mind and I have to help the players come back, change something and try to win again.”

Guardiola will be enforced to one change at left back since Fabian Delph will begin serving a three-match ban for his straight red card issued late in the loss to the Foxes. Oleksandr Zinchenko is expected to slot in as first-choice left back Benjamin Mendy continues to recover from a knee injury.

Southampton have seen some of those good results following the managerial change to Ralph Hasenhuttl as they have split his first four matches in charge after the sacking of Mark Hughes. Like Manchester City to a degree, the Saints were done in by a quality strike last time out as Felipe Anderson’s brace consigned them to a 2-1 defeat to West Ham on Thursday.

At some point, Hasenhuttl wants to convert Southampton into a high-pressing side that utilizes a 4-2-2-2 formation similar to what Watford employ under Javi Gracia, but the compressed holiday fixture list means the Saints will likely stick with their three-man back until at least the middle of January when they can get significant uninterrupted practice time.

In the interim, though, Hasenhuttl is concerned that an angry City side are coming to St Mary’s having pumped six past Southampton in the reverse fixture in November.

“They can be (more dangerous). It’s not normal for Manchester City to lose two times in a row,” Hasenhuttl said at his Friday news conference. “They also have a few injury problems but there is so much quality in this squad.

“Maybe they lost a bit of self confidence after being in the lead and losing two times. We expect the most difficult challenge that is possible. If we want anything out of the game then we need the perfect performance.”

Hasenhuttl will regain the services of central midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who sat out the loss to West Ham due to yellow card accumulation.

“Pierre is a very intelligent player, and he is very important for me. He reads the game very well and we need that,” Hasenhuttl noted.

The manager is also hoping Nathan Redmond can continue his resurgence, having scored in back-to-back contests after giving Southampton a short-lived lead Thursday and factoring in three of the club’s seven goals since Hasenhuttl took over. Teenager and winger Michael Obafemi is a question mark after picking up a knock in training, which would likely make Shane Long the first attacking option off the bench for a second straight match.

Raheem Sterling had two goals and two assists to power City’s rout in the reverse fixture, their fourth win on the bounce over Southampton. The Citizens are 8-1-1 in the last 10 league meetings between the teams, racking up 27 goals with only nine in reply by the Saints.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, City are 3/10 favourites to turn things around with a victory, while Southampton are 10/1 underdogs to send Guardiola to his first three-game losing streak in league play since taking charge of the Citizens. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/1.

Given the six City smashed past Southampton in November, it is no surprise there are 8/15 odds on the final goal total being over 2.5. There are 6/4 odds on the final score having two or fewer goals. Oddsmakers also feel a clean sheet is more likely than both teams scoring in both fixtures, with a “No” for both teams scoring at 4/5 and edging out “Yes” at 19/20.

All told, there are eight City players deemed more likely to score the first goal of the match than the Southampton top option of Danny Ings at 9/1. Sergio Aguero leads the way at 5/2, followed by Gabriel Jesus (10/3), and Sterling (9/2). After being held out of the starting XI against his former team, Riyad Mahrez is an 11/2 pick to make it 0-1, followed by Leroy Sane (6/1) and the trio of Brahim Diaz, Silva and De Bruyne — all at 8/1.

In terms of goals over the course of 90 minutes, both Aguero and Jesus are even money picks at 4/7 and 4/5, respectively. Sterling is just off that standard at 11/10, with Mahrez (7/5) and Sane (8/5) giving chase. Diaz, Silva and De Bruyne are all 11/5 picks, with Ings again the top Saints option at 5/2 along with City’s Bernard Silva.

Redmond is a 9/2 pick to score for a third straight match and a 16/1 longshot to open the scoring for a third straight Southampton contest.

PREDICTION

One of the details of City missing Fernandinho worth being scrutinised is how the Citizens have switched off immediately after taking the lead in their last two contests. It took six minutes for Crystal Palace to equalise last weekend, five for Leicester City to draw level with arguably their first scoring chance of the match.

Another point obscured with Manchester City’s staggering depth is that Guardiola’s preferred midfield trio — David Silva on the left, Fernandinho central and De Bruyne on the right — have yet to play one minute together in league play. It’s hard to feel any pity for City given their vast fortunes — more so if the allegations of skirting Financial Fair play are ever proven accurate — but it does also speak to the quality of a side that is still on pace for nearly 90 points.

Guardiola can pick his attackers with an eye on saving those who he wants to start for Liveerpool, with the expectations Jesus and Mahrez are in the starting XI up front flanked by Sane in a bid to jump-start the Germany international ahead of Thursday’s crunch encounter.

There are some things a new manager bounce cannot overcome, and a gulf in talent is one of them. Hasenhuttl has done well with what he has, quickly made some needed tweaks, and has Southampton playing better. The talk of being defence-first is not surprising from the new boss given how City razed the Saints to the ground last month, but one hopes it does not become the same sort of hang on for dear life mentality that was apparent under Hughes and ultimately contributed to his demise.

This is the match where City right themselves, but watch how they perform after scoring a goal — something that should happen multiple times. A good week of practice will have resulted in Guardiola’s side not sitting back and eager to recover the ball repeatedly against what should be an overmatched Southampton club.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 0, Manchester City 4.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 20 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (15-0-4) vs. Wolverhampton (7-5-7)
Liverpool (16-3-0) vs. Arsenal (11-5-3)
Watford (8-3-8) vs. Newcastle United (4-5-10)
Manchester United (9-5-5) vs. Bournemouth (8-2-9)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 19 Preview — Southampton (3-6-9) vs. West Ham United (7-3-8)

Having breathed new life into what looked to be a hopeless plight, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Southampton look to continue further distancing themselves from the drop Thursday when they host West Ham United at St Mary’s.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Hasenhuttl has, in the short term at least, delivered the exact type of new manager bounce Southampton (3-6-9) needed following the sacking of Mark Hughes. The Saints look revitalised playing a 3-4-1-2 formation, and the re-emergence of Nathan Redmond has given pace to what was previously a languid offense.

On defence, it can be argued the three at the back is the proper approach because Hasenhuttl is using Southampton’s three best players. Jan Bednarek, Maya Yoshida and Jannik Vestegaard were all on their respective World Cup sides with Poland, Japan and Denmark, with Bednarek and Yoshida among the starting XIs of those teams.

Southampton have scored three goals in back-to-back league contests for the first time since wins at Watford and Sunderland in 2017 and now have an opportunity for their first three-match winning streak in league play since closing the 2015-16 campaign with four wins on the trot following a 3-1 victory at relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Redmond opened the scoring on the quarter-hour and Danny Ings added a penalty for his third goal in two matches. Eighteen-year-old Michael Obafemi put the match out of reach on 71 minutes, becoming the youngest Premier League scorer in club history as the Saints climbed to 16th in the table on 15 points, three clear of the bottom three.

Redmond, who had gone 1,500 minutes without a goal before latching onto a through ball from Pierre-Emile Hjobjerg and lifting a shot over Jonas Lossl, has also taken to a mentoring role for Obafemi as Hasenhuttl has opted for using him and fellow youngster Yan Valery to climb up the table.

“Everyone in the dressing room loves Mikey because he’s got a great personality,” Redmond told the club’s official website about Obafemi. “He’s Southampton’s youngest scorer in the Premier League and that’s a milestone for him without even knowing it. He has to stay hungry and naïve and he’ll have a bright future.

“It’s almost come along unexpectedly; the older boys like Charlie and Shane will have the same relationship with me,” the 24-year-old Redmond added. “Mike looks up to those guys and me because I’m closer to his age.”

Hasenhuttl will be forced into one personnel change in this match since central midfielder Hjobjerg must serve a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card in Saturday’s win. Mario Lemina is the most likely candidate to partner with Oriol Romeu after coming off the bench to see out Saturday’s victory.

While West Ham United (7-3-8) have no such relegation worries, they did miss out on an excellent opportunity to bolster their chances for European play last weekend. The Irons were denied a fifth victory on the spin in league play after absorbing a 2-0 defeat at home to Watford, and other results conspired against Manuel Pellegrini’s team as they dropped to 12th in the table.

Still, West Ham are just five points behind Manchester United for sixth, and with games coming thick and fast in the holiday fixture list, fortunes can turn quickly for the East London side.

“I think we created some chances against Watford but, in my opinion, I don’t think you can take any positives when you lose,” centre back Issa Diop told whufc.com. “We are very disappointed because, by winning this game we could have been in the top six.

“But we lost and we now need to move past it, and be focused for Southampton. We have a quick turnaround and it’s a chance to start another run of really good results in the next match. We can go for the win in the next game and hopefully we can put on another big performance when we go to Southampton.”

Pellegrini could be forced into a change in central defence as Fabian Balbuena was forced off with an injury in the first half Saturday committing the foul on Roberto Pereyra that led to Watford’s penalty to open the scoring. Angelo Ogbonna would be the most likely replacement to work in tandem with Diop in West Ham’s back four.

Hammers remain without first-choice striker Marko Arnautovic, who is sidelined with a knee injury. The Austria international, who expressed confidence earlier this week West Ham are capable of winning their first FA Cup since 1980, has been rumoured to be a target for the bigger Premier League clubs in the upcoming January window.

The home team won both matches last term, with Southampton scrambling to a wild 3-2 victory on Charlie Austin’s 93rd-minute penalty. The 10-man Irons – who lost Aranutovic to a straight red card on 33 minutes – got both their goals through Chicharito Hernandez as he erased a two-goal deficit created by Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic in the first 38 minutes.

The Hammers are 3-6-7 in Premier League matches at St Mary’s, including 1-4-3 in their last eight trips.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers appear to be on board with Hasenhuttl as Southampton are 6/5 favourites to make it three on the bounce. The Irons are 12/5 underdogs to capture their fifth win in six matches in league play, and there are 13/5 odds for the sides to split the points.

There are 4/5 odds for the clubs to exceed the 2.5-goal threshold, while it is even money for a goal total of two or less. Oddsmakers also expect both teams to get at least one goal, with 8/13 odds there is at least one goal for each side compared to 6/5 odds for one team to record a clean sheet.

Ings and the teenage starlet Obafemi are joint-favourites to open the scoring in this match at 5/1, with Ings looking to do so for the second time in three matches after staking the Saints to an early 1-0 advantage on Arsenal. Austin is an 11/2 option, with Gabbiadini a step back at 6/1. Hammers veteran forward Andy Carroll and Chicharito are both top picks for the visitors at 13/2 for the first goal, along with Southampton’s Shane Long.

For scoring over the course of the match, Ings and Obafemi are 6/4 favourites, with Austin (13/8) and Gabbiadini (15/8) both better than 2/1. Carroll, Chicharito and Long are all at that marker, followed by Redmond, teammate Stuart Armstrong and West Ham’s Lucas Perez at 11/5. Irons striker Michail Antonio is another step back at 12/5.

PREDICTION

With Chicharito the latest to join the ranks of West Ham’s walking wounded, the hedge is Pellegrini gives Carroll the chance to lead the line while reverting to a 4-1-4-1 set-up that featured Declan Rice as the midfield shield for the back four while also allowing Anderson and Grady Diangana opportunities to either pump in crosses from the flanks, or more likely in the case on the right — the chance for Diangana and Robert Snodgrass to overplay on the right to let Snodgrass play balls into the penalty area and let Carroll be a nuisance.

It would not be surprising to see Arnautovic among the reserves for this match, but it is also more likely he is one more contest away from his return.

Free of the offensive shackles put on them by Hughes, Southampton have looked refreshed in their three matches under Hasenhuttl, who himself seems to be enjoying life in the Premier League thus far. The one quick takeaway is the German has engineered his side to be quick on the counter — it is expected to cede more than 60 percent possession to Arsenal, but the Saints allowed Huddersfield to near that mark over the weekend.

Many have waited for Redmond to deliver on the flashes of potential he showed at Norwich City in the Championship and his first season at St Mary’s before taking a major step back last term with only one goal. His production has been exceeded only by Ings’ goal-scoring exploits in the last two matches, and Hasenhuttl will need similar production as the Saints try to make their run away from the drop.

The 0-2 scoreline versus Watford may have been slightly harsh to the Irons last time out, but there was no questioning Balbuena’s penalty, nor the fact Felipe Anderson had one of his poorest outings since they overcame their disastrous start.

West Ham have done well to get to this point without Arnautovic for the last three-plus matches, and losing a player as wily inside the penalty area as Chicharito with his likely unavailabilty means more direct play to Carroll is the most likely option. Another option is to draft Perez up front to play a 4-4-2 with Michail Antonio, but the introduction of the pacy Diangana is thought to be the better play to give Southampton something to think about on their flanks with a three-man back.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 1, West Ham United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 19 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (3-3-12) vs. Everton (6-6-6)
Liverpool (15-3-0) vs. Newcastle United (4-5-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (14-0-4) vs. Bournemouth (8-2-8)
Leicester City (7-4-7) vs. Manchester City (14-2-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Preview — Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)

Jose Mourinho has never been one who worries about style points, but at the same time, Mark Hughes could find himself out of a job come Monday if he fails to get Southampton three points from Saturday’s match versus Manchester United at St. Mary’s.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Mourinho stole the limelight for his water-bottle tossing antics following Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time goal that secured a spot for United (6-3-4) in the knockout round of the Champions League with a match to spare, but Hughes enters this match hanging onto his position by the barest of threads.

Southampton (1-5-7) are at the top of the drop on eight points, ahead of both Cardiff City and Fulham on goal difference, and winless in their last 11 across all competitions (0-6-5). Saints supporters were expecting something better when Hughes was tasked with rescuing the club from the drop last term.

He nearly performed an ignominious double of getting two teams relegated as he was sacked from Stoke City prior to his arrival at St Mary’s, where he took eight points from the final five matches to get them three points clear in 17th.

That poor form has carried over to this term, which makes the three-year contract he signed before the season all the more of an albatross. Southampton have gone 3-7-12 in 22 league matches under Hughes’ watch, and the gaffer has claimed just 31 points from his last 39 Premier League contests.

The Times has reported former QPR and Leicester City manager Paul Sousa could be a candidate to replace Hughes. But the current boss, who is a staggering 1-to-8 favourite among oddsmakers as the next manager to get sacked, struck a combative tone in Thursday’s news conference.

“It’s water off a duck’s back. In this day and age there are media outlets that find it’s in their interests to try to set the agenda,” said Hughes, who could be the first manager in Premier League history to be sacked by two different clubs in the same calendar year. “I’m not the only manager of a club down the bottom, maybe underachieving at the moment, but I seem to be the only one getting the brunt of the speculation.

“The reality is if people surmise a manager is under pressure almost every sports agent in the country will put forward clients and try to get in contact with the powers that be, saying ‘This is the right guy if you are thinking of making a change.'”

The irony of Hughes losing his cool in their 1-1 draw versus Watford, in which Southampton had a goal incorrectly chalked off for offsides on a call VAR would have easily overturned had it been in use, made a tight circle Tuesday in their scoreless Carabao Cup tie versus Leicester City.

Steven Davis had a goal disallowed after VAR ruled Nathan Redmond committed a handball in the build-up, and Southampton’s luck went from bad to worse just before the spot kicks when Leicester keeper Danny Ward nudged Manolo Gabbiadini’s free kick onto the woodwork. Gabbiadini’s miserable day concluded and Southampton’s stay in the Carabao Cup ended when Ward saved his attempt from the spot in the sixth round of penalty kicks.

Hughes made five changes to the starting XI that suffered a 3-2 loss at Fulham last weekend that added to the inquest about his future. The manager is hoping top goal-scorer Danny Ings will be available for this match.

Ings, who has four of Southampton’s 10 league goals, was forced off in the first half of the draw against Watford and missed the last two contests.

As Hughes twists in the wind, Mourinho defiantly spits into it. Manchester United’s rollercoaster season continued Tuesday at Old Trafford in a turgid match versus Swiss side Young Boys, with Fellaini – the throwback player Mourinho has protected like a son from the critics – controlling a cross from Romelu Lukaku at the top of the box and scoring in the 91st minute for a last-gasp 1-0 victory.

Mourinho, who had cut a frustrated figure in the coach’s box much of the match, had a celebration that was as much catharsis as happiness, swinging a crate of water bottles and slamming it onto the ground. And ever ready to remind reporters of his track record of success, Mourinho was quick to point out he retained his 100 percent mark of advancing to the final 16 of the Champions League.

“For some of my lovers I just want to say for the ones that like stats: 14 seasons in the Champions League, 14 times qualified through the group phase,” Mourinho crowed. “Never one of my teams stay behind in the group phase. The season I didn’t play Champions League, I won the Europa League.”

Yet the track record also hides lineup decisions that continue to confound as United enter this match in seventh place and seven points adrift of fourth. Lukaku and Paul Pogba both started the match on the bench, with Fellaini and Fred the preferred choices to flank Nemanja Matic. Alexis Sanchez did not make the 18-man squad as rumours of an irreparable rift between the Chile international and Mourinho persist.

And all of those decisions would have been ripe for second-guessing had keeper David De Gea not made one of the top saves of his career for either club or country in the 70th minute, diving to his right to claw out a shot by Ulisses Garcia that took two deflections and seemed destined to bounce inside the left post.

“From my position I think David’s save looks a phenomenal save,” said Mourinho two days before the team exercised an option to keep De Gea between the sticks through next season. “A save that only the best goalkeeper in the world does and gives his team the possibility to win the match. He’s a world-class player. He’s the best goalkeeper in the world and we need the best goalkeeper in the world and you need also some other players who are the best in the world. In this case, we have the best goalkeeper in the world and I know that he wants to stay.”

The win also served notice Mourinho prefers Phil Jones to partner in central defence with Chris Smalling over Eric Bailly while Victor Lindelof is sidelined. The Sweden international is not expected to be back until at least Boxing Day with a hamstring injury.

United are unbeaten in their last five (3-2-0) against Southampton in all competitions and carry a 363-minute shutout streak in league play since Charlie Austin scored an 87th-minute winner for the Saints in a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Jan. 23, 2016. The Red Devils won 1-0 in last season’s corresponding fixture on Lukaku’s first-half goal.

Manchester United are 28-6-7 versus Southampton in the Premier League era and are unbeaten in nine (7-2-0) in all competitions at St Mary’s since a 1-0 defeat in 2003.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, United are 10/11 favourites to claim all three points and perhaps begin a climb up the table. There are 13/5 odds on the sides splitting the points, which still may not be enough to save Hughes, and Southampton have 7/2 odds on pulling off a win that could prevent a stay of execution for the gaffer.

Oddsmakers are unsure which way this match will trend offensively as both over and under 2.5 goals have 10/11 odds. They seem to be leaning toward there being goals, though, as there are 3/4 odds on both teams scoring compared to even money for a clean sheet by one or both sides.

Despite a goal-scoring drought that has now spanned United’s last 14 matches, oddsmakers are offering Lukaku as the top option to open the scoring at 9/2 odds. The Belgium international is followed by a trio of teammates as Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are all 6/1 picks. A well-rested Austin and Michael Obafemi are joint 7/1 as Southampton’s top picks along with Pogba.

Lukaku and his teammates also lead the toteboard for scoring over the course of 90 minutes, with the centre forward at 11/8 and his teammates at 15/8. Austin, Obafemi and Pogba have 9/4 odds to put one in the back of the net, while snake-bit Gabbiadini has 13/5 odds to score a goal.

PREDICTION

It was borderline comical to hear Hughes be so defiant during his press conference Thursday, especially considering he could not confirm he had the backing of the club’s board. Southampton have been an abject side for most of this term save Ings, and while Austin was properly incensed when the disallowed goal cost the Saints two points, there has been far too little of that fire throughout the side.

Speaking of Ings, the belief is he will be on the bench for this match, hence the belief Southampton will open in a 4-2-3-1. If Hughes does put the Liverpool loanee in his first XI, the Saints would probably open in a 4-4-2.

Yet all of those lineup choices and formations could be rendered moot if United play the match they are capable of playing. While problems still persist at Old Trafford — through Mourinho’s creation and otherwise — there was probably a huge weight lifted off the players collectively by qualifying for the Champions League knockout round with a match to spare.

That break will loom large heading into the holiday fixture list, especially since Mourinho is already down one centre back physically (Lindelof) and apparently a second in trust (Bailly). Then there is the issue of Sanchez, who is probably livid he didn’t make the mid-week 18 and will probably be a fringe player in this contest and get a half-hour at most off the bench.

What United need is a United-type goal, one that answers the cries of “Attack, attack, attack” that will come from the road supporters. The empty seats at Old Trafford versus Young Boys was something Ed Woodward and the board likely took notice, and after a scruffy finish by the publicly underappreciated Fellaini, this team needs a jolt.

Unfortunately for Hughes, that jolt will likely lead to the pink slip that will not be a shock for anyone involved.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 0, Manchester United 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)
Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)
Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)
Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)

The Tinkerman has much, much work to do.

After engineering the most unlikely story of the Premier League era with his title at Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri faces perhaps a more challenging task in keeping Fulham in the top flight starting with Saturday’s six-point belter with Southampton at Craven Cottage.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Ranieri is known the world over for his stunning Premier League title less than three years ago as his Midlands club built on counterattacking, a steel spine, and the 1-2 punch of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez overcame 5,000-to-1 odds to end the hegemony of the “Big Six” that dated to the days of Blackburn Rovers’ title in 1995.

Ranieri, though, failed to see his title defence through the following season, getting sacked as the Foxes struggled under the weight of the lofty expectations. The Italian, though, has been lured back to the Premier League by way of owner Shahid Khan, who sacked Slavisa Jokanovic after Fulham (1-2-9) limped into the international break last in the table with five points and a crushing minus-20 goal difference.

Ranieri, who is now with his third Premier League team after being the Chelsea manager when Roman Abramovich first bought the club back in 2003, completed one other successful rescue mission in 2007 with Serie A side Parma in Italy.

“When I arrived in Parma at the end of the February it was the same. All my friends said, ‘you are mad to go there, it’s not possible to save this team,'” Ranieri said at his introductory press conference last Saturday. “And I saved the team. At Cagliari, we went 1/8Serie 3/8 C, B, A. I love this kind of battle.”

The battle to save the Cottagers starts at the back, where they have shipped a league-worst 31 goals – the most of any side in Europe’s top five leagues. Their goal difference after 12 games is the third-worst in Premier League history, as is their five points. Fulham’s lone clean sheet in any competition this term was a 2-0 victory over League Two side Exeter City in their first Carabao Cup match, and they have yielded two or more goals in 10 of their 12 league contests.

“The objective at Fulham should never be to merely survive in the Premier League,” Ranieri said. “We must at all times be a difficult opponent and should expect to succeed. This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table. I know this team is very capable of better performances.”

How he gets those better performances will be the mystery. Ranieri does have a precocious talent in winger Ryan Sessegnon, whose confidence has taken a battering this season as the teenager has just one goal and one assist. He also has a reliable target forward in Aleksander Mitrovic and winger Andre Schurrle, who have combined for nine of Fulham’s 11 goals.

The Cottagers, though, have gone 326 minutes in league play without a goal and 416 in all competitions since Sessegnon’s marker against Cardiff City on Oct. 20. Fulham have lost six on the spin in league play and seven straight in all competitions.

Had Southampton (1-5-6) been less patient with Mark Hughes, it would not be totally implausible that Ranieri would have wound up in the opponents’ coaching box for this match. Hughes has been under fire most of this term as the Saints are above the drop only on goal difference over Cardiff City, yet they are only one point behind 14th-place Newcastle United.

Hughes and his side have been stewing throughout the international break, properly aggrieved at being denied a victory over Watford on an incorrect offsides call on Maya Yoshida in the 66th minute that negated Charlie Austin’s goal and would have given Southampton a 2-0 lead. Given the lifeline, the Hornets took full advantage with an equaliser eight minutes from time that left both goal-scorer and gaffer incandescent with rage post-match.

“We score a perfectly good goal, make it 2-0, game’s done and dusted. The officials cost us two points today,” Austin said immediately after the final whistle. “It’s a joke. We go on about VAR (video assistant referee) this, VAR that – help the officials out, clearly they need help.”

Hughes lamented the goal but also took the league to task for their choice of Simon Hooper – in charge of just his fourth Premier League match – as referee, saying, “Apparently, he (Hooper) thought Maya Yoshida had headed the ball in from an offside position, which is obviously ridiculous. If he thought that he shouldn’t have been there. He was an inexperienced referee . . . not up to the standard required. I hear they’ve admitted they got it wrong, but that’s no consolation to us.”

While it does them no favours now, the end result of the blown call is the Premier League have moved up their timetable to introduce VAR for next season.

Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal in the 20th minute ended a 615-minute drought without a goal in the run of play for Southampton dating back to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s goal in a 2-2 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Sept. 17. The Saints’ two goals in league play during that stretch came courtesy of Danny Ings from the spot.

Hughes will be forced into one change to his starting XI for this match as talisman and left back Ryan Bertrand will sit out after picking up his fifth yellow card in the draw versus Watford. Matt Targett is the expected replacement there, while midfielder Mario Lemina picked up a knock on international duty with Gabon and is questionable.

Southampton ended Fulham’s FA Cup run last season with a 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage in the third round on a goal by James Ward-Prowse just before the half-hour. The Saints have won three on the bounce over Fulham and are unbeaten in the last six (3-3-0) overall. Southampton did the double over the Cottagers the last time both teams were in the top flight in 2013-14.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Fulham are slight favourites to make Ranieri a winner in his Cottagers debut at 31/20, with Southampton getting 17/10 odds to put some separation between themselves and the drop with a needed three points. A split of the points is the longshot among the options with 23/10 odds.

Though both teams have struggled to score of late, there are still 7/10 odds on both teams to find the back of the net in this contest. Accordingly, a Cottagers draw with more than 2.5 goals has 3/1 odds, with a 0-0 or 1-1 draw the second-most likely outcome according to oddsmakers at 13/4. A Saints victory over 2.5 goals is right behind that at 10/3, while a Fulham win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count has 19/4 odds. A reverse scoreline of the previous listing offers 5/1 odds for Southampton supporters, and a 2-2 draw or higher has 10/1 odds.

Mitrovic leads the line for the first goal-scoring choices at 9/2, followed by his teammate Schurrle and Southampton striker Ings at 5/1. Ings’ strike partner Austin has 11/2 odds, while Fulham’s Aboubakar Kamara and Southampton’s Gabbiadini are both 13/2 options.

The Serbian international is also the top choice to find a goal over 90 minutes at 8/5 odds, with Schurrle and Ings again joint-second at 7/4. Austin lurks just off the pair at 19/10, and Gabbiadini is at 11/5 — just ahead of Kamara at 23/10.

PREDICTION

Usually, the Vatican requires proof of two miracles before canonization can take place. If Ranieri is able to rescue Fulham from their plight and keep them in the top flight for next season, then at the very least he should be referred to as “St. Claudio” for the rest of his football coaching days.

Make no mistake, this is a desperate situation for the Cottagers, who to Jokanovic’s credit, went down swinging on their identity to the very end until it became untenable. One can argue Fulham were hard done at Anfield as Mitrovic’s goal was disallowed by being offsides by a sliver before Alisson’s restart caught everyone off guard, but it still would have been a matter of “when” Liverpool score as opposed to “if” Liverpool score.

It is going to take Ranieri at least three matches to figure out what he has in terms of defence and midfielders. The attacking flanks are actually fairly well off with Sessegnon and Schurrle, and Mitrovic is a load up front. Comparisons to Leicester, however, cannot apply to Fulham since Ranieri does not have a keeper anywhere close to the quality of Kasper Schmeichel, and there are no twin towers in central defence similar to Wes Morgan and Robert Huth in the Midlands.

On the other side are Southampton, still far from safe both in terms of the table and Hughes’ job security. Whether the officiating debacle that led to their draw last match turns into a stay of execution is uncertain, the truth is the Saints are severely struggling offensively beyond Ings — himself on a dry run save his conversions from the spot. Southampton’s defence have been serviceable when not playing the “Big Six,” and that needs to continue to avoid the drop.

Still, it is hard to make any other conclusion other than Hughes could be gone by the turn of the calendar year if they do not make a move up the table.

Adrenaline from the coaching change may be enough to see Fulham scrape out a point, but how they defend — or do not defend — will be the talking point coming out of this contest.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Fulham 1, Southampton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)