Southampton and Brighton are both facing a tough run of fixtures in the weeks following this clash, and so both would be targeting tonight as an opportunity to build upon reasonable starts to the season.
The Saints go into this match on a two-game winning streak, which started with victory over Brighton in the Carabao Cup. In a game where both teams fielded largely second-string sides and neither team were hugely motivated to expend much energy, a late Charlie Austin goal was the difference almost three weeks ago.
Chris Hughton is still searching for a solution to his side’s problems away from home. Brighton remains without a league win on the road since November last year, with goals continuing to elude them.
Mark Hughes may have hoped to start with the same eleven who performed well and claimed three points at Selhurst Park, but minor injuries to Shane Long and Charlie Austin, which have seen them miss training all week, may force him into a change.
Saints fans would be pleased with the progress that has been made on the pitch so far this season. Pellegrino’s flair-less style was predictable for opposition teams. Southampton would pass around teams without the intent to pass through the lines, which nearly lead to the club’s relegation. This season under Hughes, a manager known for bringing a more attacking style,
Southampton’s passing seems to have more purpose and tempo and is culminating in the creation of more opportunities. Danny Ings has attempted fourteen shots so far, the fourth highest in the league; a sign that Hughes’ side are attacking more effectively.
Having begun the season playing a 5-4-1 formation, Hughes now appears to have settled on a 4-4-2 system that depends upon the central midfield pair delivering a sensible attack-defence balance. Ex-Bayern star Hojbjerg and ex-Juventus man Lemina were impressive in this role against Palace and should continue against Brighton. They are both mobile, dynamic footballers, but with neither a defensive specialist, they must ensure they aren’t exploited if Brighton are to field an extra central midfielder.
The addition of giant centre-back Jan Vestergaard went under-the-radar largely in the summer, despite a £22m fee. He partners Dutchman Hoedt in Hughes’ first-choice defensive pairing and already looks to have shored up the Southampton back-line. Physically, Vestergaard appears a great match for the Premier League; his dominance in aerial duels is a key strength. However, Monday’s game may provide an opportunity to utilise Vestergaard’s height in attacking set-piece scenarios. The Dane scored seven goals in two seasons at Borussia Monchengladbach and would be aware of Brighton’s fragility in their own box.
Predicted line-up: McCarthy, Cedric, Vestergaard, Hoedt, Bertrand, Redmond, Hojbjerg, Lemina, Elyounoussi, Ings, Gabbiadini.
Florin Andone, who is finally nearing match fitness, and Jose Izquierdo remain the only absentees from the Brighton squad. Pascal Gross has shaken off a knock sustained in Brighton’s last match at home to Fulham, although last season’s talisman was benched in the Seagull’s previous away fixture and has been withdrawn before the sixtieth minute in two of the three other matches so far.
New recruit Yves Bissouma, a dynamic midfielder signed from Lille in the summer, was preferred to Gross away at Liverpool and Hughton may make this switch again tonight. The German’s influence is weaker away from home and has never scored away from the Amex. Bissouma could start in Gross’ usual number 10 role or in a deeper central midfield role; his athleticism and ability to dribble the ball forward make the Malian a more mobile alternative to link the midfield to the attack.
Other changes to the Brighton starting XI are unlikely. The manager rarely tinkers with reliable central midfield pair Stephens and Propper who aren’t given much license to influence the attack meaning that Brighton relies upon wing play to create opportunities. Hughton reiterated last week that he is content with the performances of wingers Knockaert and March. The latter would need to improve his delivery from the left if he is to keep his place once Izquierdo is fit to return. March created plenty of crossing opportunities for himself against Fulham but lacked the precision to pick out a teammate.
The form of Lewis Dunk will concern Hughton. The Englishman returned to the starting XI against Fulham despite concerns over his fitness, displacing Leon Balogun who was impressive in his absence. Mitrovic was happy to profit from Dunk’s indecision two weeks ago and on Monday and Danny Ings would hope to prey upon similar.
Elsewhere in the Brighton back-four, Martin Montoya and Gaetan Bong should retain their places at full-back. Both have Hughton’s trust and excel at combatting pace on the flanks. Montoya also appears to have struck a good understanding with Knockaert on the right from which Brighton can build attacks.
Predicted line-up: Ryan, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bong, Knockaert, Propper, Stephens, March, Bissouma, Murray.
Watch out for: Brighton added depth to their squad in the summer and have various attacking options on the bench. Hughton has been making his substitutions earlier so far this season, so the likes of Jahanbahksh, Locadia or Gross may be introduced soon after half-time to strengthen the Brighton attack.
Prediction: Southampton 2 – 1 Brighton