Relegation Looms: Will Swansea Be Able To Hold Back Southampton?
Swansea City host Southampton on Tuesday (kick-off 2:45 p.m., NBCSN) in a match with huge implications for the relegation battle. The two teams are currently tied for the last relegation spot with 33 points apiece.
Right now Southampton remain insulated from the drop only by goal difference, where they stand at negative 19 as compared to Swansea’s negative 26. After the two sides meet on Tuesday, Swansea host the already relegated Stoke to close the season on Sunday while Southampton have Premier League champions Manchester City coming to town. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but there sure is a pretty good chance that Swansea win this weekend and Southampton lose. That means that to avoid relegation, Southampton are going to need a win Tuesday in Wales.
The good news for Southampton is that over the course of the season, they’ve been a significantly better team than Swansea, and oddsmakers — who have Southampton at +139 and Swansea at +225 — agree. Saints have scored 36 goals as compared to Swansea’s 27 and conceded 55 as opposed to Swansea’s 53. And the goal numbers actually make Southampton look worse than their underlying performance suggests.
For much of the season Southampton’s actual goals scored lagged behind their expected goals, but when the team fired Mauricio Pellegrino and replaced him with Mark Hughes, that number normalized, although the pendulum swung in the other direction, and Southampton have now conceded 10 more goals than expected goals predicts. It’s been a wild ride.
As Bad As Their Numbers Suggest
Swansea on the other hand are roughly in line with expected goals on the attacking side of the ball. Their 27 goals scored is tied for the fewest in the Premier League and it lines up with the just under 28 expected goals, which is also the worst total in the league. But, on the other side of the ball, those 53 goals they’ve conceded, the stingiest total of anybody below Brighton in 14th place, has likely been helped by some luck. Expected goals predicts that Swansea should have conceded closer to 59 goals.
The game itself will likely be defined by the fact that Southampton need to win while Swansea would happily settle for a draw. That means that unlike a normal game between two relatively equally matched teams, where the home team tends to carry play and provide more aggression, in this instance it will almost certainly be Southampton who take the game to Swansea. The question is only whether they have enough attacking power to break through.
Weakness vs. Weakness
Southampton simply have no dangerous goal scorers. Charlie Austin is currently in favor at the top of the team’s formation, and he leads the team with seven goals in 876 minutes played. And Dusan Tadic who is playing behind Austin has a new lease on life. He’s Southampton’s second-leading scorer with six goals, half of which have come since Hughes took over the team. If Southampton are going to come away from this crucial match victorious, it will be because Austin and Tadic create something out of nothing for them.
The bright side for Southampton is that their leaky defense is somewhat unlikely to be tested. Usually a team that invites pressure balances it out with counterattacking. But Swansea have been mostly unable to execute on that front. They’ve simply been so anemic in attack that they can’t get take advantage of teams in open play, no matter how vulnerable they might be. Swansea have scored only 15 open-play goals all season. To the extent that Swansea excel anywhere it’s at scoring goals from set pieces. They’ve gotten nine goals from corner kicks, which is the only thing keeping their season afloat.
A Battle of Mediocrity
As relegation battles often do, Tuesday’s matchup will pit one team’s mediocre strength against another’s. Southampton’s not-so-mighty attack will take the ball against Swansea’s mostly average defense. They’ll look to score before Swansea’s truly anemic counterattack can break through against a barely there Southampton defense.
Southampton are statistically the better team here and while they’ve struggled away from home all season (they’ve won only twice), the dynamics of this game shouldn’t make it play out like a typical away trip. If Southampton play to their numbers, they should be able to eke out a victory. The major problem, of course, is that Southampton haven’t played to their numbers all season long.
Photo: Swansea’s Andre Ayew. Credit: Swansea City Football Club