Southampton bring in Manolo Gabbiadini for Steven Davis, with the Italian tasked with partnering Shane Long, who wasn’t fit enough to play for Ireland in the week but has recovered from hip-knock in time to start. Newcastle, meanwhile, bring in Lejeune and Hayden and ease out Clark and Merino.
The team sheets are in, and these are the names upon them:
Southampton: Forster, Cedric, van Dijk, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeu, Lemina, Long, Tadic, Redmond, Gabbiadini. Subs: Hoedt, Davis, Austin, McCarthy, Ward-Prowse, Boufal, McQueen.
Newcastle: Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Manquillo, Shelvey, Ritchie, Hayden, Perez, Atsu, Joselu. Subs: Clark, Murphy, Gayle, Diame, Merino, Darlow, Jesus Gamez.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
So, this is a big game. No, really, it is. Southampton, you see, have 14 more league games to play in this calendar. The final 10 of those include fixtures against all of last season’s top seven and visits to Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. Before that run begins, they play Newcastle (h), West Brom (h), Brighton (a) and Burnley (h). Seventh in the league as we approach this game (and potentially eighth by the time they kick off), they could do with getting some points on the board. “The game on Sunday is really important for us,” said Mauricio Pellegrino. See, I told you. He then added puzzlingly: “Obviously I would like to win as much as we can, but the position right now doesn’t mean anything, because the conclusion has to be at the end, and the conclusion is at the end.”
Newcastle, meanwhile, are enjoying a gentle reintroduction to top flight life. Fully 71% of their opponents so far are in the bottom half of the table, and so are three of the next four (the other being Burnley). A glance at the head-to-head record doesn’t make very encouraging reading for them, though: their last four visits here have seen the Saints win 3-1, 4-0, 4-0 again and 2-0 (the last time Newcastle kept a clean sheet in a top-flight game here was in 1969, 26 matches ago), and Rafael Benitez has a 0% record in his three Premier League games at St Mary’s.
Anyway, and most importantly, hello!