It’s been a successful start to 2022 for both Wolves and Southampton as the two sides prepare to meet for the second time this season in the Premier League, and ahead of the 3pm kick-off on Saturday there are plenty of pre-match talking points.
#1 Goals, goals, goals
Wolves will arrive at tomorrow afternoon’s match having overcome both Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League and Sheffield United in the FA Cup at Molineux, but not only have Bruno Lage’s side started the new year with two wins from two, they’ve also managed to find their shooting boots, putting three without replay against the Blades last Sunday. Goals have been something of a struggle for the gold and black this season, but although a dominant performance against the Red Devils last week was not matched by the number of chances which hit the back of the net, the side were much more clinical in the cup, scoring from three of their opportunities.
In the opposite dugout this weekend is a Southampton side who also struggled to find the back of the net on several occasions in 2021, but they look to have turned a corner this week, having also notched three goals in their FA Cup third round match against Championship opposition – Lage’s former club Swansea City – before following that with four goals in their 2022 Premier League opener in midweek at home to Brentford. However, unlike Wolves who continue to keep it tight at the back, with seven clean sheets in their last nine outings, Southampton have shown their vulnerabilities at the back, with Swansea netting a double ahead of the Bees getting themselves back on level terms at St Mary’s before falling apart in the second-half.
#2 301 days on
Those of an old gold persuasion will have many happy memories of the last time the two sides met at St Mary’s back in September, but they won’t ever be forgotten by one man, as Raul Jimenez’s solo effort – his first since recovering from his traumatic fractured skull injury which occurred just over 300 days previously – clinched a typically narrow victory for Lage’s men. The Mexican striker had not scored in the opening five games of the season but demonstrated that he hadn’t lost any of his touch and composure to leave two Saints defenders reeling before rolling the ball calmly past Alex McCarthy.
Many thought they would not witness the striker ever play again after he was stretchered off the pitch at the Emirates back in November 2020, and the scenes of jubilation would have been enough to lift the roof of the stadium on the south coast. The result left Southampton without a victory in their opening six games of the Premier League season, but gave Wolves just their second, with Lage’s side earning the first of many 1-0 wins this campaign – with two of their last three results in the top-flight ending this way.
#3 Saints go with a back five
It would not be a surprise if Lage was to stick with his tried-and-tested system, despite this being the first Premier League outing in which Romain Saiss is going to be missing. Without another senior defender available – although Dion Sanderson has been brought back from his loan at Birmingham City and was on the bench on Sunday – Lage is likely to rely on the versatility of his more experienced players once again at Molineux. Against Sheffield United last weekend, Marcal was the man who moved over from left wing-back into the more central role, before being replaced in the back three by midfielder Leander Dendoncker at half-time, but a switch to a back four could possibly be on the cards.
A right-back crisis saw Ralph Hasenhuttl revert to a back five of his own against Brentford on Tuesday night, and it had the desired effect, as the Saints recorded their biggest win of the season. A Jan Bednarek goal from a set piece set them on their way, while strikers Armando Broja and Che Adams also found the back of the net on a pleasing night for the side. However, with the chance Kyle Walker-Peters could return from Covid isolation and Yan Valery back from his one-match ban, Hasenhuttl has the tough decision to stick with his new-fangled system – matching up that of Wolves – or switch back to his more familiar set-up.
#4 A selection headache for Lage
Ahead of last weekend’s FA Cup win, Lage said he was going to go with his strongest possible line-up in the competition, and that is just what he did. The only players who came into the side without many minutes under their belt this season was regular cup keeper John Ruddy and Fabio Silva, with the inclusion of the Portuguese enabling Jimenez to have a rest – albeit for the first 68 minutes of the match. Both players did enough to put themselves in the reckoning for a second start on the bounce, although with Jose Sa picking up his second Castore Player of the Month award for his performances in December, it is likely that he will be back between the sticks on Saturday.
The performance of Silva would have given Lage more to think about, with the young forward being a revelation in the first-half, as his crisp passing, clever interceptions and leading the high press of Wolves which was pivotal for the opening goal. He also set up Adama Traore for what could have been an early second before having the opportunity himself to double the score when he played a clever one-two with Daniel Podence before seeing his chipped effort turned around the post. Thanks to his two goals, it would be a surprise if Podence was to lose his place for Saturday’s match, but his sixth-sense like partnership with Silva which blossomed last time out could give Lage one or two things to think about heading into the weekend.