Sam Tighe looks ahead to Southampton's final Premier League game of the season, against West Ham United at the London Stadium. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
Sunday sees Southampton close out the 2020/21 Premier League campaign with a trip to the London Stadium to play West Ham United.
A win for the Saints could push them to as high as 12th in the table, but the focus for Ralph Hasenhüttl recently has been on preparing for next season and that may well continue to be the priority here.
West Ham, on the other hand, could jump to fifth with a win or drop to eighth if they lose. That’s the difference between guaranteed UEFA Europa League football and nothing at all. Expect the Hammers to go hard.
Here are the three keys to spoiling their day and maximising the 90 minutes from a Saints perspective.
Fight fire with fire
Southampton rarely meet a match when it comes to set-piece prowess, but in West Ham this weekend, they face the only side in the Premier League who have scored even more goals from these scenarios than themselves.
West Ham lead the division for set-piece goals heading into the final matchday, with 16; Southampton sit in second, with just one fewer in 15. They’ve made up the top two one way or another for most of the campaign, consistently finding an edge from dead-ball deliveries.
It would epitomise both clubs’ seasons to finish with a goal of this nature. James Ward-Prowse to Jannik Vestergaard is a well-established connection, as is either of West Ham’s full-backs to Tomáš Souček.
Both clubs are accustomed to dominating set-piece situations at either end, so this adds an intriguing “unstoppable force meets immovable object” wrinkle to the final game.
Off the ball runs
Corners and free-kicks aside, West Ham’s true danger lies in their off-the-ball movements and runs. Michail Antonio and Jesse Lingard are the two main protagonists in this area, but they go about their business in very different ways.
Antonio plays as an off-the-shoulder No 9, making bruising runs into the channels and stretching the pitch. He has a remarkable combination of speed and strength and likes to isolate defenders, dragging them out of position. He also sweeps into the back-post area to finish off chances.
Lingard uses the space that Antonio creates; as the latter stretches the pitch vertically, the former drifts into pockets and spaces between the lines, offering to receive the ball in blindspots of the defensive midfielders. From there he creates or shoots; he has nine goals and four assists since joining the Hammers in January.
Even with the solidity of three centre-backs behind, Lingard’s movement will be a true test of Stuart Armstrong and Ward-Prowse’s defensive aptitude. Meanwhile, Mohammed Salisu could come out of this matchup with Antonio having learned a lot about brute-force striker play.
Last chance to prove
For a handful of players set to take to the pitch on Sunday, this is the final opportunity to show Gareth Southgate they deserve a place in England’s 26-man Euro 2020 squad.
West Ham’s Lingard looks to have one foot on the bus, but a final flourish would do him no harm considering who rivals him for a spot in the team. Declan Rice has played two strong 90s since returning from injury and a third will help.
From a Saints perspective, Danny Ings and James Ward-Prowse are both liked by Southgate and will hope to make the grade. You never know, combining for a goal at the London Stadium might just give them the edge…