It is a mid-table clash during the week as Stoke City host Southampton, with both teams looking to challenge for European qualification this season. The turnaround at the former has been excellent as there was pressure on Mark Hughes at the beginning of the season and they put up a spirited performance at Arsenal over the weekend. Meanwhile, the visitors to the Bet365 Stadium on Wednesday are arriving after taking three points in their home match against Middlesbrough.
Stoke will move into the top ten with a victory and that is where they will want to be heading into 2017. There has always been talk about the talent in the squad, but there are a lot of mavericks. Hughes has managed to get consistent performances out of his players and that says a lot about how good a manager he is. He is sometimes underrated, but he is doing an excellent job at Stoke and will be hoping for a top half finish this season.
Southampton have one of the worst attacks in the division and that is a concern for them ahead of the Christmas period. They will likely bring in reinforcements in January, especially after the injury to Charlie Austin, but for now they need to get by and somebody needs to step up. Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long have both struggled to score goals this season and that needs to change if Southampton are going to consolidate their position in the top ten.
Mark Hughes has led his side to a good run of form, with Stoke only losing two of their last ten matches. They have been difficult to beat and will be hoping to leapfrog their opponents with a win on Wednesday. The Potters have been good at home this season, barring a freak defeat against Bournemouth and that should give them a lot of confidence ahead of the match against Southampton.
After a good period of form, Southampton have only won two of their last seven matches, but they managed to pick up a crucial three points on Sunday. During those seven matches, they have only scored on four occasions, which shows their attacking concerns at the moment. Sofiane Boufal has shown glimpses of his ability and he may be required to step up over the coming weeks.
Stoke could start with an unchanged line-up against Southampton, but I do see them making changes over the Christmas period when players come back from injury. In Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, they have two players that could unlock a good Southampton defence.
I expect a few changes from Southampton with Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand returning to the starting eleven. Sofiane Boufal is set to continue in the team after his match-winning performance at the weekend.
Stoke City Southampton
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Ibrahim Afellay has returned to training and could feature against Southampton. Jack Butland and Jonathan Walters are closing in on a return, but Stephen Ireland, Phil Bardsley, Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron will miss out.
Matt Targett, Alex McCarthy and Florin Gardos are closing in on a return. However, Southampton will definitely be without Jeremy Pied and Charlie Austin, who are both on the long term injury list.
This is a difficult match to call as they are two very good Premier League sides. I’m not expecting a lot of goals, as Southampton have a great defence and struggle to score themselves. It could be a single goal that decides this match and if that is the case, I’d favour Stoke. They have been better over the past couple of months and can play some great football at home. Southampton’s squad may struggle over the Christmas period as they have already played a lot of matches this season given their involvement in the Europa League.
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