Southampton will look to set their Premier League miseries aside when they lock horns with Bournemouth on Saturday in the FA Cup quarter-final.
Following a few weeks of non-stop Premier League and European footballing action, the FA Cup gets back underway this weekend, with the Southampton kick-starting the affair with a quarter-final tie against Bournemouth on Saturday.
In a season that can be roughly described as topsy-turvy, the opportunity to go further in the FA Cup serves as a real boon for Southampton, who are among the worst-performing teams in the league in recent weeks and are still not safe as the race to avoid the dreads of relegation gets closer than ever.
Despite all their difficulties, however, the Saints have done quite well for themselves in the FA Cup. They have beaten clubs like Arsenal and Wolves in their route to reach the quarter-final stage, meaning a game against should serve as a relatively easier challenge, at least on paper.
The Cherries are no slouch, though, despite missing out on the opportunity to earn direct promotion back to the Premier League this season. They did, however, have a far easier route in the FA Cup, having only beaten the likes of Oldham Athletic, Crawley Town and Burnley in the previous rounds.
Overall, it promises to be a tight encounter as one Premier League strugglers go head to head with one of the best in the Championship. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their highly anticipated showdown tomorrow afternoon.
Team News & Tactics
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Bournemouth have been under the leadership of caretaker manager Jonathan Woodgate for over a month now. The former Middlesbrough manager has reinforced the Cherries’ attack with the fluid 4-3-3 that should see the three top scorers in Dominic Solanke, Junior Stanislas and Arnaut Danjuma spearhead the attack.
Stanislas is a slight doubt heading into this game, so there is a chance that Woodgate opts for Rodrigo Riquelme in that wide attacking role instead, especially as key attacker David Brooks has been ruled out due to injury.
Either way, the fluid 4-3-3 will be hoping to unsettle the Southampton backline with their unpredictable movements and ability to use quick interplay to bamboozle the opposition. Woodgate, unfortunately, cannot opt for a plan B by bringing in Shane Long as the veteran striker is on loan from Southampton and therefore, ineligible to feature in this game.
In midfield, the partnership between Philipp Billing and Jack Wilshere has looked quite effective, thanks to their excellent technical ability. As such, both are equally capable of acting as the ball-carrier, should Southampton press high while the midfielders can also drop deep, in case Woodgate gets forced to play with long balls, using the attackers as runners.
Defensively, Jefferson Lerma should operate in the holding midfield role, offering protection for the central defensive combination of Cameron Carter-Vickers and captain Steve Cook. Woodgate does have options in the fullback department, so the usual rotation policy should see Diego Rico make way for Lloyd Kelly at left-back, though the same cannot be said for Jack Stacey on the opposite flank.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Begovic; Stacey, Carter-Vickers, Cook, Kelly; Wilshere, Lerma, Billing; Stanislas, Solanke, Danjuma
Southampton coach Ralph Hasenhuttl is likely to revert to the 4-4-2 formation that has served him quite well in the FA Cup so far. It is also an ideal formation to counter Bournemouth’s 4-3-3 as the Saints will have the opportunity to employ a high press that should unsettle the opposing ball-carriers in the middle of the park.
As such, the midfield duo of Ibrahima Diallo and James Ward-Prowse are going to play a key role in the second line of press. The former, in particular, will have to run the show in the middle of the park with his tackling and positional discipline.
Working towards the weekend 👊
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Ward-Prowse, in contrast, will be dealt with the responsibility of offering the creative essence using his proficiency from set-pieces. The Cherries have other creative outlets, though, including Theo Walcott while midfielders Willi Smallbone and Oriol Romeu are out injured.
Southampton’s primary attacking weapon comes from wider areas and set-pieces, where players like Nathan Redmond, Stuart Armstrong and Ward-Prowse can utilise their ability to whip in crosses into the box. It should serve as a vital supply outlet for the two strikers upfront in Che Adams and Nathan Tella.
Tella, though, may feature in a more versatile role, even dropping in between the lines if necessary in order to aid Southampton in the build-up. The academy product does have the dynamism to cause problems for the opposing defence, although the absence of Danny Ings will be a huge blow nonetheless.
Meanwhile, in the defensive department, Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard may continue at the heart of the backline as Southampton look to fancy their chances in the FA Cup. The duo, however, will need to be much more solid than they have been in recent weeks if the Saints are to have any chances of going further in the competition.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Bertrand; Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Diallo, Redmond; Adams, Tella
- Bournemouth had won their only previous FA Cup tie against Southampton, securing a 3-1 victory in a first round replay in 1953/54.
- Southampton are unbeaten in their last four away games against Bournemouth in all competitions, since a 2-0 Premier League loss in March 2016.
- This is just Bournemouth’s second appearance in the FA Cup quarter-finals, with the Cherries losing to Manchester United’s “Busby Babes” in their only previous such game in March 1957.
- Southampton have reached the FA Cup semi-final in just one of the last 17 seasons, doing so in 2017/18 before being eliminated by eventual winners Chelsea.
- Bournemouth have progressed from just four of their 29 FA Cup ties against top-flight opponents, though they did beat Premier League side, Burnley, in the last round.
Player to Watch
Jack Wilshere is certainly the one worth keeping an eye on, as Bournemouth look to cause an upset to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup. The midfielder himself is well accustomed to the prestigious competition, having won it twice during his time at Arsenal. His experience, therefore, could be crucial as the Cherries hope to remain one step ahead of the opposition.
From a tactical perspective, Wilshere’s presence in the middle of the park should serve as a key outlet for Bournemouth during possession phases. His ability to carry the ball is an ideal antidote to Southampton’s intensive press that will focus on creating turnovers in dangerous areas of the pitch.
At the same time, though, it means Wilshere’s fitness will be tested and it will certainly be interesting to see how the midfielder copes with that challenge.
Bournemouth 2-1 Southampton
This is a tough game to predict, as both the sides are well-matched if we consider their form and injuries heading into this game. The Cherries may just have the upper hand due to their better strength in depth, as well as the presence of experienced individuals like Jack Wilshere and Jefferson Lerma, who should certainly give them the edge in midfield.
Overall, this promises to be a closely-fought encounter, with the result likely to be decided by a fine margin. We predict a triumph for hosts Bournemouth, who are likely to cause problems for the Southampton defence with their attacking play.