Tactics writer Sam Tighe picks out the key battles that will decide Thursday's crunch Premier League clash between Southampton and Bournemouth at St Mary's.
What condition are AFC Bournemouth in ahead of Thursday's clash?
Bournemouth’s strong recent run of results came crashing to a halt on Sunday as they lost 4-0 at home to West Ham.
This was the seventh time they’ve lost a Premier League game this season by three goals or more – but only the third time it’s happened at home, with the other two administered by Arsenal and Manchester City. This makes it something of a shock, as home turf has generally been a safe space for them this term.
This brings the Cherries to a critical moment in their season: their five-point buffer on the relegation zone heading into gameweek 33 could swing either way – from the safety of eight to the peril of two – depending on midweek results.
What went so wrong for Bournemouth at the weekend?
It was a performance that left manager Gary O’Neil crestfallen, but Rubén Sellés – present at the Vitality Stadium – will have been making furious mental notes on how to recreate some of the difficulties the Cherries experienced.
All four goals scored were either from crosses into the box or set-pieces. West Ham are notably strong in this area, but the regularity with which Bournemouth struggled with balls in is the cause of the heavy scoreline. They’ve now conceded 20 set-piece goals this season, by far the most in the division (next is Nottingham Forest on 14).
Goalkeeper Neto is typically reluctant to leave his line and that puts more pressure on the centre-backs to deal with crosses. Looped, higher balls seem particularly problematic – the type Paul Onuachu loves to attack, coincidentally.
The Cherries’ distribution out from the back as a whole suffered too, with the Hammers pressing and pouncing on loose balls from their left-sided build-up. Sellés’s focus on off-the-ball work could pay dividends here if Saints can press their opponents into more mistakes.
What should Southampton be wary of?
First and foremost, Bournemouth are a wounded animal; that defeat will sting all the way up until kick-off, where their chance to put things right begins. The last time they lost heavily (3-0 to Aston Villa) they bounced back with a 2-1 win over Fulham.
Philip Billing’s direct running and ball carrying in attacking midfield is a threat Southampton must find a way to quell, as he can launch Bournemouth into excellent attacking situations single-handedly at times. The striker’s runs off defenders are designed to create space for the Dane.
They have great speed in Dango Ouattara and Jaidon Anthony from the flanks, while Marcus Tavernier has a wicked shot from distance if he’s allowed space to line one up.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Neto; Smith, Mepham, Senesi, Viña; Rothwell, Lerma; Christie, Billing, Ouattara; Moore.
-It would not surprise to see Bournemouth change both formation and playing cast in light of fixture congestion and Sunday’s result
-Philip Billing and Joe Rothwell were arguably the Cherries’ sole bright spots in the West Ham defeat
-Kieffer Moore and Antoine Semenyo will be vying for Dominic Solanke’s spot up front
-Jack Stephens is ineligible to play against his parent club