Southampton v Stoke City
Sunday May 21, 15:00
Football can often feature a plethora of "sliding doors" moments, when fans are moved to ask "what if?" as a season reaches its conclusion. For Southampton manager Claude Puel, those moments have been mounting up for some time. What if his team had edged a close EFL Cup final against Manchester United, instead if falling just short at Wembley? What if they hadn't blown a huge opportunity to reach the knockout phase of the Europa League? What if the players had accepted a rotation policy that has infuriated so many of them?
Ultimately, Puel has seen many of these moments go against him, and despite his assertion that he has overseen a decent first campaign, there is widespread speculation that he will be replaced at the end of the season. Chairman Ralph Krueger has refused to confirm whether the former Lyon, Monaco and Nice boss will have the reins come pre-season.
Saints will finish eighth if they win on Sunday, but they go into the weekend 15 points adrift of seventh-placed Everton, and only 12 points above the bottom three. They'll secure their worst points tally since 2013, and for a club that prides itself on constant improvement and progress, that's a jarring statistic. Puel's supporters will justifiably point to the club's transfer policy, and suggest the manager hasn't been given the tools to deliver more than he has this term.
However, criticism about playing style is proving difficult to bat away. Saints haven't scored in any of their last four home games, they've only won once in the league at St Mary's since the start of February, and they go into this clash having won just one of their last seven matches. No team in the top 13 has scored fewer goals, and no side in the top ten has fewer victories.
Having finished ninth in their last three Premier League campaigns, Stoke City will dip below that level this season, although a result on Sunday will at least drag them up a couple of places from 14th. Opta tell us Stoke are a point shy of their worst ever tally in a full Premier League season. Unlike Claude Puel though, Mark Hughes seems to be safe in his position as manager, and is freely talking about plans and personnel decisions ahead of next season.
There seems to have been something of a collective sigh of relief and slump after the Potters picked up a vital 3-1 win over Hull City in mid-April. Since then they have taken two points from four games, and they were smashed 4-1 at home by Arsenal in their last outing.
Away from home, Hughes has big problems to solve ahead of next season. Despite having some very talented and technically gifted attacking players at his disposal, he has seen his team fail to score in six of their last seven away games, and they have collected a pitiful two points on the road since a 3-1 win at Sunderland in mid-January.
Southampton are odds-on favourites here at [1.81], but despite Stoke's awful away form that's not a price I can get excited about. Saints aren't playing well, and aren't scoring at home. I'm looking elsewhere for my recommendations.
I know it's an end-of-season matchup that doesn't mean very much, so you might think the shackles will come off, but I'm amazed to see Under 2.5 Goals trading at [2.08]. Saints aren't scoring at home, Stoke aren't scoring away from home, and the sides have managed just 81 goals between them all season, at a collective average of 1.1 goals per game. I'm going with unders, especially with Stoke reportedly missing key forward Marko Arnautovic because of injury.
It's also worth a look at backing No in the Both Teams To Score market at [2.08]. That bet has paid out in six of Stoke's last seven away matches, and seven of Southampton's last ten games overall.
2016-17 Kevin Hatchard English Football P/L
Points Staked: 56
Points Returned: 53.31
P/L: -2.69 points
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