Stoke v Southampton
Wednesday December 14, 19:45
The Potters' two-game winning streak was brought to a predictable end at Arsenal on Saturday but it's been a good few months for Mark Hughes' men. The last 10 fixtures have yielded 18 points to turn around a miserable start to the Premier League season, sitting bottom of the table five games into the campaign. They enter the 16th round of games in 11th and can take aim at another mid-table finish for the remainder of the season, possibly bettering their finest Premier League finish of ninth.
Hughes is still without first-team defenders Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron, and backup Phil Bardsley.
Saints bounced back from midweek Europa League disappointment with a 1-0 defeat of Middlesbrough on Sunday. That result saw them leapfrog Stoke in the table and brought some much-needed cheer after dropping out of European competition at the hands of Hapoel Beer Sheva on Thursday night. Just like Stoke they'll be aiming for another high Premier League finish but their hopes of achieving that are hampered by the loss of leading forward Charlie Austin for up to four months after the six-goal striker suffered a dislocated shoulder while on European duties.
Austin apart, manager Claude Puel can pick from his all of his first choices. The goalscoring onus will likely fall on summer signing Sofiane Boufal, the Moroccan scored his first Premier League goal in the win over Boro.
Given the league table points to two evenly matched teams - this is 10th visiting 11th - I'm a little surprised to see Stoke the significant outsiders in the market at 3.39/4 to back. Saints, winners of one game on their travels, are 2.546/4 to make that two. The draw is 3.39/4.
That just seems wrong to me and the Potters must be considered the value in the market. The visitors are a nuggety side, infuriatingly inconsistent but very capable of picking up a result when on form - I backed them in the editors' battle away to Crystal Palace just a few days after beating Arsenal in the league cup, and they lost 3-0. However, just one win in seven top-flight matches away from St Mary's and recent defeats are enough to sway me towards a bet on the home side.
Stoke's problem may well be breaking down the visitors' rearguard. Hughes' side is not stocked with goalscoring talent and Southampton are one of the better defensive teams in the league. I do think it'll be a close fought game.
Under/Over 2.5 Goals
At 1.728/11 to back the low total is the clear favourite and rightly so. Apart from that bizarre defeat at Palace and a 2-1 loss at Hull, the rest of Southampton's last six had cleared 2.5 goals. Games against Liverpool, Everton and Boro had all gone under 1.5.
Before the Arsenal match, Stoke had been in a good patch of defensive form in recent weeks, too. Like Southampton, four of their last six would have been winners for unders backers. Under 1.5 trades at 3.052/1 and must be considered a possibility.
When I fancy a low-scoring game I'm always drawn to the 0-0 scoreline at the break. It can be backed at 2.3811/8 for Wednesday night's clash.
Anthony Taylor will take charge of this fixture, his 14th of the season. Only Michael Oliver has officiated as many Premier League games as Taylor. Wednesday night's man is a relatively controlled presence, averaging 3.69 yellows per game.
Back Stoke @ 3.39/4
Back 0-0 HT score @ 2.3811/8