Southampton will move up to fifth if they register a third straight victory when they take on a Stoke City side that has never won at the St. Mary’s Stadium in the Premier League.
It has been a fine run of form for the Saints, who after a somewhat tentative start to the season are now looking very much like a side that can challenge for a top-six finish. Another authoritative performance saw them come away with all three points again last time out, as Dusan Tadic’s penalty accounted for struggling Sunderland. Before that, it had looked set to be a frustrating afternoon as their dominance of the game was gaining little reward.
While it can be said that they do not look as defensively secure as they did in 2014-15, they have proved tougher to break down in recent weeks, keeping two successive clean sheets. That will please manager Ronald Koeman, who continues to work wonders with a side that has been written off so often during his reign. Every player the Dutchman has signed has slotted in perfectly; the latest being Jordy Clasie, who is becoming a strong midfield presence.
The visitors will buoyant coming into this one, having become the latest side to overcome champions Chelsea in their last match before the international break. They had to soak up pressure for long periods, but, not for the first time this season, their defence held up remarkably well in front of in-form goalkeeper Jack Butland. It emphasised the importance of having captain Ryan Shawcross back, but alongside him Philipp Wollscheid was immense, producing his best display since first joining Stoke in January.
And in attack they proved menacing, with Xherdan Shaqiri showing flashes of star quality out on the right and giving Chelsea left-back Baba Rahman a torrid time throughout. His trickery helped set up the only goal for Marko Arnautovic, and it certainly suggested that the Potters should approach the rest of the season with a degree of excitement. However, the Swiss international will be needed in a defensive cause here, with the Southampton full-backs never needing a second invitation to come forward.
Jay Rodriguez is missing for Southampton but fellow striker Shane Long is back after playing for the Republic of Ireland on Monday. Virgil van Dijk should recover from a minor injury.
Stoke are unable to call upon goalkeeper Shay Given and defender Marc Muniesa, with the latter sidelined by a hamstring problem.
Played for both – Rory Delap: Known for his long throw-ins, Delap helped both clubs reach an FA Cup final, missing the Saints’ 1-0 loss to Arsenal in 2003 due to injury but playing a part to Stoke’s defeat to Manchester City by the same scoreline in 2011. He was a mainstay of the team in five years on the South coast, scoring five times in 116 Premier League appearances, before helping Stoke establish themselves as a top-flight team later in his career.