Southampton are in a good position to qualify for the next round of the Europa League, but will need to record a goalless draw or better against Hapoel Be’er Sheva to get there. A score draw won’t be good enough for Saints as the Israeli side would go through on away goals. Claude Puel’s men have performed well in the Europa League and deserve to go through, but poor finishing has let them down throughout the group stage.
They will be desperate to bounce back with a positive result after an awful defensive display against Crystal Palace at the weekend. There were numerous mistakes made during the match and it was surprising considering Saints have been one of the better defensive sides in the Premier League this season. Claude Puel will want his players to show that it was a blip rather than anything more serious. The Europa League is a competition that has caused lots of debate in England, but Southampton are taking it seriously and will be desperate to reach the next round of the competition.
Only Schalke have conceded fewer goals in the competition than Southampton and that is an encouraging stat for a club that has had only limited involvement in European competitions of late. Their attack needs to be worked on and Puel may be looking at bringing in a more reliable goal-scorer in January. The club haven’t adequately replaced Graziano Pelle and that has really showed in Europe. If they can add firepower to what is already a very good defence, Southampton could be real contenders to win the Europa League this season.
Southampton have won only one of their last six league matches, but they have been much better in the cup competitions. Last week, they managed to qualify for the semi-finals of the EFL Cup with an excellent victory over Arsenal. Meanwhile in the Europa League, they have struggled away from home, but at St Mary’s they have recorded two victories. They will be confident of making it three on Thursday night.
The Israeli side have been in excellent form of late. After just 12 league matches, they already lead the Israeli Premier League by ten points. They have won their last ten league matches and will be full of confidence ahead of a no-lose match against Southampton. If they win, they will qualify for the knockout rounds of the Europa League, while if they lose, they have done a lot better than expected in a tough group. They have beaten Inter Milan twice already in this competition and will be hoping to put in a similar performance against Southampton.
I expect Southampton to play a strong side as they have done throughout the competition. There will be some rotation though as it is important that Claude Puel manages to keep his players fresh for a busy festive period. Sam McQueen, Steve Davis and Jay Rodriguez are all contenders to start on Thursday.
Hapoel played a 5-4-1 formation in their last Europa League match against Inter Milan and they could play a similar way on Thursday. They have attackers that can threaten in Lucio Maranhao and Tony Nwakaeme, while Ben Sahar will be a good option from the subs bench.
Southampton Hapoel Be’er Sheva
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Jeremy Pied will be missing for the rest of the season, therefore will not features on Thursday night. Alex McCarthy is still struggling with a hamstring injury and is not likely to play a part against Hapoel. Dusan Tadic is close to a return from a broken nose and will face a late fitness test ahead of Thursday’s decisive Europa League fixture.
Hapoel will travel to England with a fully fit squad, which will give them a boost ahead of the game. They will look to frustrate Southampton before trying to threaten on the break, a strategy that worked twice against Inter Milan.
It won’t be an easy match for Southampton, especially as they have shown their inexperience in European competition dropping points when they shouldn’t have. They have the home advantage on Thursday and that should be enough to see them through to the next round. The test will come if Southampton aren’t leading late on, as the pressure could become too much, which is why it is important that they score a couple of early goals. Hapoel are by no means a bad team, but Southampton should really be beating them.
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