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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 28 vs. Southampton

Do We Even Dare to Dream at St. Mary’s?

Southampton FC v Cardiff City - Premier League Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

Just as Fulham stayed the course by keeping Claudio Ranieri as their manager, they also stayed the course with how they have normally played out a full 90 minutes of football of late. First, Fulham would get out to such a brilliant start, you would have figured they would put any Premier League side to the sword. Instead, they only put just the lone goal or tons of grade A chances and gradually let their opposition into the game because of their fearful defense. Before the second half kicks off, Ranieri has so little confidence in his team or the system he wants to implement that he’ll almost use all his substitutions as if he is trying to erase everything bad that happened the first 45 minutes. And because of that lack of confidence, his team reflect that with more inept football and have no answers to closing any losing deficit.

Surely enough, that is exactly how things played out in their 3-1 defeat to West Ham. This time, it was corner kicks and set pieces that did them in and the fact that Denis Odoi was still playing out at right back after so many games being much more successful as an undersized center back. Havard Nordveit and Lazar Markovic made their Fulham debuts, but just like their numbers predicted, they offered absolutely nothing in terms of changing the outcome of the contest and how the team played overall.

Here’s hoping they’ll be able to grab something out of tonight’s fixture against Southampton. Despite the Saints being winless in their past four Premier League outings, Fulham still haven’t won a single top-flight contest away from Craven Cottage. As Michael Buffer would say, one of these “Os” has got to go. And considering what’s at stake, I can not imagine any of these two teams sitting back. Southampton are sitting a full point back of Cardiff City for Premier League survival while Fulham just need anything to get something going. After all, it would be nice to have some points this month before Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City come to this part of the River Thames.

Both teams have some of the unluckiest attacks in the league, but don’t have the shot volume to get themselves much higher than the positions they are in now. With Danny Ings out and a 3-5-2 formation being implemented by Ralph Hasenhuttl, it will be much harder for Southampton to get much going in attack. Unless Nathan Redmond can get his 2017/18 Wilfried Zaha on, I can’t imagine their system working out in complete effect. Then again, this team is playing against Fulham.

Yeah, I’m so depressed about this team, I’d just be happy if they don’t embarrass themselves any further. On that note, let’s look at the three players to watch the St. Mary’s faithful will be hoping to carry them to victory tonight.

James Ward-Prowse

All data from whoscored.com

At 24, we kinda still don’t know what type of player this former academy graduate is. Is he a number 10? How about a wide forward? How about some sort of supporting striker or wingback? Regardless, James Ward-Prowse is amazingly at the prime of his career after debuting at 18 years old in 2013/14. 224 appearances later and we’re still waiting for him to hit his full potential. Granted, Ward-Prowse was pressured to live up to the billing of fellow academy graduates Calum Chambers, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, but 31 under-21 caps for England don’t help in easing those expectations either. But considering the lack of depth this Southampton side has had in comparison to that famous 2013/14 team, Ward-Prowse will be so crucial towards his clubs hopes for playing another season the Premier League as he is among the many Saints players tied for second in goals with three.

Matt Targett

All data from whoscored.com

Next up is a very familiar face. That’s right my friends, Matty Targett is making an impact and has started to get more playing time over Ryan Bertrand, who’s injury record is starting to be too much to bare for the 29-year old. As for the younger Targett, he may not be at his best in covering for his center backs in relation to the rest of his career, but he’s still excellent at getting crosses into the penalty area and getting them in with real quality. With him playing a wingback position, it will be crucial for Cyrus Christie to mark Targett well, but then again, this is Cyrus Christie we’re speaking of. It seemed at first that it made absolutely no sense for Targett to be deemed a 15 million player, but after this season, it’s not the most farfetched estimation we’ve seen.

Jan Bednarek

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, Southampton’s center backs have been dreadful. They’re nowhere near what Fulham delivers on a weekly basis, but the Saints haven’t been doing a lot of chucking and changing for nothing. Wesley Hoedt has left for Celta Vigo in the January transfer window and has been immediately benched by his new club. Meanwhile, Cedric has also left for Inter Milan and Jack Stephens might genuinely be the worst center back in the top flight from a numbers standpoint that isn’t named Tim Ream. If there’s one defender from Southampton that is not only a saving grace for the club but is a potential building block. This season, Jan Bednarek has really put his skills on display and has become much more of a regular for club and country. Of the 22-year old’s eight caps for Poland, seven of them came in 2018 alone. Who knows if he might end up staying with the Saints if they end of getting relegated, but if for anything else, he should be an asset for Southampton’s management board to drive up his transfer fee if the player were to seek a move towards a bigger club.