Two points up, yet West Ham feels miles behind Southampton and for all the wrong reasons. Off-pitch issues have ground the season to a halt for the Hammers, and hosting Southampton this late in the season could see relegation staved off again, or all but confirmed.
For Southampton they have two big boosts to their team. New manager Mark Hughes has taken over the manager position from Mauricio Pellegrino. Playing a characterless style of play, Pellegrino didn’t take the Saints to the next level as many thought he could. Hughes stepped in at the beginning of the three week international break and has had time to drill his squad into shape.
The second addition is the reinstalling of striker Charlie Austin. Austin, who scored a penalty against West Ham in their early season victory over West Ham, is rejoining at a time where his squad needs him. Manolo Gabbiadini has left the Saints missing Austin at striker, and the script really writes its self, doesn’t it?
For West Ham they have two similar positives heading into this match. The first is Mark Hughes, yes Southampton’s new manager. Having been sacked by Stoke City earlier this season, Hughes was visibly pissed off at former star Marko Arnautovic who facilitated his move away from the Potters in the summer transfer window. Arnautovic steamrolled Hughes former team to the delight of West Ham fans and hopefully can do so again.
After a hotheaded performance that ended in an intentional elbow to Southampton defender Stephens, Arnautovic took his team to ten men early in the match. Chicharito tried his best to drag the teams level again, but just fell short as the game ended 3-2.
Southampton has yet to see the in form Arnautovic, and that could be West Ham’s secret weapon in this match.
The perfect wingback for Moyes’ unchanged formation returns for West Ham. After a loogie gone awry against Wigan, Arthur Masuaku has had a six game ban to think about his actions. Since then his team has fallen out of relative safety into the Kenny Loggins Danger Zone. What he brings in his return to the lineup is speed, shiftiness, and some impressive crossing skills he showed off against Dag & Red.
This game is almost too close to call really. New manager bump may carry Southampton over the line, where as fan unrest at West Ham may force the team to perform. Whoever wins, should three points be awarded, will secure one of the necessary games remaining for both sides against relegation teams.
The true defining factor for this match will come down to managing. Will Moyes have the guts to abandon his back-5 and implement a formation that will fit all of his of his offensive options? And will Hughes be able to inspire his new squad out of the bottom three?
Good lord, relegation is fun isn’t it? Horrifying, but fun.