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Football News: West Ham v Southampton preview

West Ham v Southampton preview
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As we all appreciate, its hard to underestimate the importance of today's fixture for both teams. West Ham have lost 4 of their last 5 including heavy defeats to Swansea and Brighton away from home. In that period they've played at home twice and beat Watford 2-0 and lost to Burnley in their most recent outing 0-3. Southampton have lost 2, drawn 2 and won 1 of their last 5 league outings and may carry some positive feeling into the game having won their last game against Wigan in the FA Cup.

The Managers:
That Wigan match was the first in charge for their new manager Mark Hughes, who brings a wealth of experience managing in this league but its yet to be seen whether his appointment will have the required positive effect on the team's performances and results to keep them in the league next season.

David Moyes has had plenty of time at the helm to influence his West Ham team having taken over from Slaven Bilic early in the season. However, after an initial upturn in results, performances have grown increasingly erratic and West Ham find themselves back in trouble at the wrong stage of the season. It is fair to say Moyes has struggled in his managerial posts since leaving Everton and West Ham's erratic performances and results suggest a manager struggling to keep the team afloat rather than an experienced head steadying the ship.

The Teams:
Both teams have technically proficient players and may be fairly evenly matched if both sets of players play to their potential across the park. West Ham, however, have the higher number of injury issues with the absence of Winston Reid being key in the heart of their defence and James Collins struggling to be fit after picking up a muscle strain on international duty. Whilst they do welcome a couple of first team players back into the fold, the Hammers are also sweating over the fitness of Manuel Lanzini who is a real positive attacking influence for them. If he fails to make today's game it could be another blow.

By contrast, Saints have no new injury issues with the first team side and welcome back Steven Davis. Ryan Bertrand is expected to be fit to play after withdrawing from England duty as a precautionary measure. Charlie Austin is in a race to be fit for the West Ham game and fans will likely be torn between their desperation to see the striker return to their goal-shy side and their concern that rushing him back could risk further injury that could see him miss any more games in this crucial run-in.

It can be fairly argued that Saints have the stronger collection of players but if Lanzini is fully fit, West Ham have the mercurial individuals with the talent to turn a match by themselves if they are found in form today.

Other factors:
Aside from the personnel available, the other major factor in a match of this magnitude, and perhaps the most crucial, is the psychological one.
Both managers have emphasised this is a must win match for their respective teams with the players echoing their sentiments. So what feelings will the teams carry into this game, West Ham on the back of a heavy loss and the capitulation of the team and their own fans, or extra motivation to unite and fight?

Saints perhaps buoyed by the appointment of a new manager and a win against a tricky Wigan side or anxiety about taking untested tactics into such a crucial game? Most likely, both teams will easily find the motivation to go out and perform today, but both may suffer from shaky confidence levels if the tide goes against them. The role of the manager could well be crucial in inspiring the players to rise above any anxiety, embrace the pressure and perform to their best.

So its not just a mental test for the players but the managers too. How will they set up their teams today? Do they go for broke or do they set up with the belief that a point from a draw is better than no points and a loss? How will the players react to the tactics? If they don't buy into them whole-heartedly, the team may well underperform. The managers have to get it right and perform today too.

Finally, it is a mental test for the home fans. There has been much talk pre-match about the impact of the crowd at the London stadium and in situations like this, with confidence fragile, their support could be telling. Fans are passionate about their clubs and unreasonable when anxious and stressed but, it would be foolhardy for Saints to travel to East London relying on a repeat of the Burnley events to help their prospects.

Aside from the increased levels of security at the match, West Ham are in a dogfight as much as Saints and the fans are unlikely to be so foolish as to risk their own behaviour harming their team's prospects again. If boos and jeers do come, it will most likely be because things on the field are going spectacularly wrong, rather than simply because West Ham are struggling to score or Saints score one goal. Unless of course there is a kamikaze faction of the home support who believe relegation is the only way to make things better for their club.

This game is so difficult to call because it pitches two unpredictable sides against one another. Both have shown the capacity to play above expectation with their backs against the wall, as well as showing a level of ineptitude in a similar situation shortly before or thereafter. So you want a prediction as to who will win? Toss a coin. But whether heads or tails, it will surely have a telling impact on the fortunes of either side for the remainder of the season.

Written by figodasilva March 31 2018 14:15:48