Stoke City will be aiming to extend their unbeaten run to five games on Saturday when they host Southampton, who they have only lost to once in seven previous Premier League meetings.
It has been an impressive response from the Potters, who just weeks ago were being questioned in several quarters amid fears that their season could just fizzle out. Three successive wins and an impressive performance to earn a more than deserved draw at Chelsea last weekend have silenced those doubts and ensured that a record Premier League points haul is very much within sight, while they are well in the race to qualify for Europe for next season.
The game at Chelsea saw manager Mark Hughes field a very attack-minded line-up, and the mentality of the team was similarly ambitious as they created enough chances to win it. As it was, they needed a late equaliser thanks to Mame Biram Diouf, who had been enduring a frustrating afternoon. The Senegalese is still a very important player for Stoke, and will hope to have gained some confidence from that goal having found the going tough over recent months.
Only a last-gasp leveller from defender Virgil van Dijk saw Southampton avoid a third straight defeat at the hands of struggling Sunderland in their most recent outing, which represented a strong show of character after they were reduced to 10 men after the sending off of captain Jose Fonte. The defender will be a big loss to the side for this one as they come up against the energy of Diouf as well the quality from wide areas provided by Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri.
In order to gain anything here the Saints will have to come up with an improvement from their last few performances, and going forward they certainly have the personnel to test the Stoke defence and goalkeeper Jack Butland, who will be involved in a fascinating battle with his fellow England national team understudy Fraser Forster. Both have proved themselves to be very able, and will have a large say in deciding the outcome of what appears set to be a tight clash.
The home side are boosted by the return of captain Ryan Shawcross from a lengthy injury lay-off, but have doubts over left-back Erik Pieters.
Shane Long returns for Southampton, but they have Jose Fonte and Victor Wanyama suspended, while Charlie Austin is absent with a hamstring problem.
Last Meeting: The home side came from behind to triumph by two goals to one and end a four match winless run back in April 2015, with Charlie Adam continuing his fine form by volleying in from close range with six minutes of normal time remaining. Morgan Scheniderlin had put Southampton ahead from close range, but that goal was cancelled out by Mame Biram Diouf, who turned the ball in after Steven N’Zonzi’s cross hit the woodwork.