Southampton will be keen to bounce back after a disappointing week for the club, but they won’t have it easy against an ever-improving Middlesbrough side. It will be a game that both sides will be looking for a positive result and that could create an interesting match. That said, the two sides are known for their impressive defensive shape, therefore it is likely to be more of a tactical affair, rather than an all-action one.
During the week, Southampton dropped out of the Europa League after a disappointing home draw against Hapoel Be-er Sheva. The Saints needed a goalless draw or better against the Israeli side, but poor tactics on the night cost the Premier League side. They were overly cautious and allowed their opponents to stay in the game, before a mistake from Oriol Romeu allowed them to take the lead. It highlighted the attacking problems that exist at the club right now.
Middlesbrough will be aiming to kick on over the Christmas period in order to move the club away from the relegation zone. They were the one promoted side that many expected to do well and they have impressed at times during the season, but they remain inconsistent. Aitor Karanka is still adjusting to the Premier League and that has been evident in many of their matches.
The home side have won only one of their last six league matches, which will be a little bit of a concern for Claude Puel, especially after dropping out of the Europa League. Last weekend, they were poor against Crystal Palace, with defensive errors costing the South Coast side. Their supporters will be expecting a much improved performance after a very poor week.
Middlesbrough have lost only one of their last six, but their problem has been winning matches. They have taken three points on only three occasions, which is an area they need to work on. They have a good defensive set-up and manage to keep the majority of their matches tight, but they lack the cutting edge to kill matches off.
I expect Dusan Tadic will return to the starting eleven to add some much needed creativity. Jose Fonte should come back in after being rested in the Europa League. Charlie Austin is unlikely to start after being injured in the week, which provides a huge opportunity to Shane Long to stake his claim for a more regular first team role.
Middlesbrough have a settled team and I don’t expect many changes to the side that beat Hull on Monday night. One player that could come in is Adama Traore and that is due to the game-plan that Middlesbrough are likely to use. They will look to counter-attack and the pace of Traore will be an asset in such a game-plan. Gaston Ramirez will be keen to show Southampton that they made a mistake in letting him leave the club after few first team opportunities.
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Charlie Austin is a doubt for the match after dislocating his shoulder in the Europa League. Meanwhile, Jeremy Pied remains on the long term injury list. Dusan Tadic could make his Premier League return on Sunday after featuring in the week.
Daniel Ayala is back in training, but is unlikely to return to the starting eleven this weekend. George Friend will be back during December, but the match on Sunday will come too soon. James Husband remains on the treatment table.
This is going to be a tight affair, with neither side possessing an attack that scores goals freely. A lot will depend on the fitness of Charlie Austin as I have doubts about Southampton’s attack without him. He is their only reliable goal threat and for that reason, he is pivotal to their chances in this match. If he doesn’t start, then I would make Middlesbrough favourites. They were impressive on Monday and have a striker that will cause Southampton problems in Alvaro Negredo. I’m going to predict a narrow away victory.
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