Southampton show little sign of stopping in their push for a place in Europe next season and the stats point to another win against struggling Sunderland, who are even more desperate for points in their relegation battle but seem unable to conjure the late-season run that saved them 12 months ago.
Unlike some surprise teams, Southampton have been pretty steady all season – although they were fourth in the first half of the season and have dropped to eighth in the second half, their points per game average has not fallen far from 1.74 to 1.60. Even if they had gone along at the lower rate all season, they would still be on course for a top-seven finish.
Sunderland have also been consistent – consistently below par. In the first half of the season they ranked 14th with a points per game average of 1.05; since then they have got worse, ranking 17th in the second half of the campaign with 0.71 points per game.
Nor have Sunderland improved much for Dick Advocaat. Although the fixture list has been helpful by providing the new coach with three out-of-form teams to play in his first four games, his side have taken only four points out of 12 and scored just three goals.
The only one of those goals that led to a win was the screamer from Jermain Defoe in the 1-0 derby victory over Newcastle, which merely serves to emphasise how few chances Sunderland are creating inside the box.
Goalscoring has been a long-term problem for the Black Cats and that makes them ill equipped to take on Southampton, whose excellent season has been built on strong defence.
The Saints rival Chelsea for the best defensive outfit in the Premier League (not surprisingly, the PFA team of the year had a back four comprised of three from Chelsea and one – Ryan Bertrand – from Southampton) and they have been near impregnable against the struggling teams.
In nine games against the current bottom six, Southampton have conceded only three goals and that solid defensive record has led to an excellent 78% win percentage in this type of match-up (W7 D1 L1). Again, that is very similar to Chelsea’s record in that category.
Not quite so good, but still putting the odds in their favour in the context of Saturday’s match, is Southampton’s W5 D1 L2 away record against bottom-half teams. The two defeats came on the only occasions when the Saints have been shut out in that category, which indicates Sunderland may have to do the same if they are to enjoy success on Saturday.
The one concern with Southampton is that Ronald Koeman’s approach is quite conservative and lacks a plan B, but the Saints have been highly effective at plan A and even at this late stage of the season the odds offer a touch of value.
Back Southampton to beat Sunderland at [2.04] (1pt)
Staked: 74 pts
Returned: 77.65 pts
P/L: +3.65 pts