The Biggest Match Of The Weekend? Why Brighton Versus Southampton Might Finally Be A South-Coast Game To Look Forward To
The Premier League returns with a bang after a fortnight’s reprieve following the international break.
A total of 15 fixtures are to be played between Saturday 30th March and Wednesday 3rd April, and the pick of the bunch may well come all the way down on the south coast.
Brighton & Hove Albion host Southampton at the AMEX Stadium in a fixture that could provide another twist in the relegation ruckus.
The two teams are balanced precariously just above the drop in 15th and 16th, respectively, and separated by just three points.
Two of the spots that will force clubs to descend into the Championship are occupied by Fulham and Huddersfield Town, the Terriers' destiny to be conclusively confirmed this weekend with a loss to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Cardiff City currently take the last spot, two points from safety but a game in hand on 17th-placed Burnley.
However, both Brighton and Southampton, and respective managers Chris Hughton and Ralph Hasenhüttl, will be wary not to rest on their laurels with the last sprint of the season now here, and any failed hurdles having the potential to prove costly.
Saints winning by a three-goal margin will allow them to leapfrog the Seagulls and take another vital step towards safety, with a long-term record that works in their favour; Brighton have won just four of their last 30 matches against Southampton in all competitions, having lost just under half (14).
Their past Premier League history admittedly leaves a lot to be desired. All three EPL meetings between them have ended in draws - 1-1, 1-1, 2-2 - and a stalemate tomorrow will make it the fourth fixture in the Premier League’s history to have ended in a draw in their first four meetings.
Yet, with the stakes high, the potential for spectacle is elevated.
Both teams come into the matchup with promise belying their lowly status in the league. Brighton have won their last two Premier League games, more than they had in their previous 12 whereas Southampton have lost their last two Premier League away games but produced a morale-boosting 2-1 win over third-place Spurs at St. Mary’s last time out.
Furthermore, the match before was a decent showing at Old Trafford, putting the frighteners on Manchester United until Romelu Lukaku popped up with the winner and snatched all three points for the hosts at the death.
That result added to the ignominy of Saints having lost more points from leading positions in the Premier League than any other side this season, with 20, including dropping five over their last three away games in the EPL.
Southampton have scored a league-high ratio 32% of their Premier League goals from outside the box so far this season, with 11 of their 34 total, thanks in part to James Ward-Prowse’s exquisite set-pieces. The 24-year-old, who was awarded his second international cap for England by Gareth Southgate during the international fixture has six goals in his last nine games, with Saints winning four and drawing one in the games in which he’s scored.
His teammate, striker Charlie Austin, loves Brighton as an opponent. The former Burnley and QPR man has scored more goals - in all competitions - against the Seagulls, seven, than he has against any other side since his debut a decade ago in October 2009.
The 29-year-old has missed 11 Premier League games through injury this campaign, and has struggled to adapt to Hasenhüttl’s pressing style, but remains the side’s highest scorer this season in all competitions, though Ward-Prowse is now hot on his heels.
Brighton & Hove Albion versus Southampton kicks off on Saturday 30th March 2019 at 15:00 (GMT).