Southampton and West Bromwich Albion both picked up their first points of the new Premier League season last weekend, with the Saints beating Burnley 1-0 away from home, while the Baggies come off the back of a thrilling 3-3 draw with Chelsea.
Hasenhüttl and Bilic will be keen to carry on the momentum that was earned last weekend in a fixture where both sides will feel there are three points to be won.
Southampton have had a relatively quiet transfer window so far, bringing in two defenders: Kyle Walker-Peters has joined from Spurs, after an initial loan last season, while the highly-rated, young centre back Mohammed Salisu signed from Real Valldolid at the start of the window.
Meanwhile, the Baggies finally completed ‘phase one’ of their transfer window, bring back yet another loanee from last season’s promotion winning team in Filip Krovinovic.
There was some hope among fans that Bilic’s long desired striker could join prior to the trip to St. Mary’s, but any move is yet to materialise.
Team News and Predicted XI
Ahmed Hegazi has returned to training after recovering from a minor injury, while Branislav Ivanovic is continuing to work on his fitness. Both will likely be fighting it out with Cedric Kipre for the centre back slot on the bench.
Kieran Gibbs still has one match left from his three-game ban following his red card in the game against Everton, so Conor Townsend is likely to continue deputising at left back until the former England international returns.
Darnell Furlong impressed in the game against Chelsea, though Bilic tends to favour more defensive-minded right-backs in any back four combination he uses, so it is likely Dara O’Shea will return to right back after three games at centre half.
Kenneth Zohore is still struggling with a calf injury, while Kamil Grosicki and former Saint Charlie Austin will try and force themselves into Bilic’s plans after consecutive omissions from the match-day squad.
It will be interesting to see whether Bilic sticks with the new 3-4-3 formation, or reverts back to his preferred 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 system. Though Bilic cited defensive solidity as reasoning for the extra defender, Albion have conceded 11 goals in three Premier League games, the most ever conceded by any Premier League team in their opening three fixtures.
Bilic may therefore adopt a back four, with a defensive midfielder sitting in front of the centre backs as cover, in the form of either Jake Livermore or Sam Field.
New recruit Filip Krovinovic will want to pick up where he left off, though will likely be lacking in match fitness, which may hand Conor Gallagher his Premier League debut in the number 10 role in a 4-2-3-1.
Grady Diangana, Matheus Pereira and Callum Robinson will retain their places.
The Saints do not appear to have any fresh injury concerns following the victory at Turf Moor, with Nathan Redmond as the only remaining absentee.
Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand are very much first picks at full-back, while Jannik Vestergaard came in alongside Jan Bednarek at Burnley to add a much more physical presence.
In what appears to be a 4-2-2-2, James Ward Prowse sits alongside Oriol Romeu, with Moussa Djenepo and Stuart Armstrong in more advanced midfield roles.
Despite Southampton’s stuttering start to the season, frontman Danny Ings has picked up where he left of last season, scoring two goals against Spurs and the winner at Burnley.
Former Birmingham City striker Che Adams, who adds so much to Ings’ game, will likely continue as his strike partner up front.
The Game Plan
Despite the slow start, Southampton are very well drilled side and could beat any team on their day; towards the tail end of last season, a highly disciplined and clinical performance helped to see off reigning champions Manchester City with a 1-0 victory.
Perhaps even more impressively, their response to a 9-0 thrashing against Leicester City this time last year shows that they are not a side that will lie down easily and cannot be underestimated under any circumstances.
Albion’s ability to keep Ings quiet will be crucial if they are to get anything out the game, so the likely centre back pairing of Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi must carry over their performances from the draw against Chelsea last weekend.
Both sides are dangerous in attack; Adams and Ings complement each other nicely, with Djenepo also looking dangerous so far this season; the Baggies also have Robinson, Diangana and Pereira in attack, all of which have a combined four goals and two assists already this season.
It appears then, that this game could be won or lost, as games so often are, in the midfield. Affecting Albion’s ability to win the midfield battle will be Bilic’s decision on what formation is best to use.
We have already established a back four is likely, so will it be a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1? A 4-2-3-1 could reintroduce the highly successful midfield pivot of Livermore and Romaine Sawyers, with Gallagher sitting ahead of them.
A 4-3-3, however, could allow for two number eights, as was seen in the latter half of the 2019/20 season, with a defensive midfielder sitting in front of the defence.
It is also clear that Pereira is more effective on the right in the latter formation than he is in a 4-2-3-1, as he is given more license to roam and more freedom between transitions.
Southampton and West Brom will both see the upcoming game as their most important of the season so far.
Southampton will be looking to make it two consecutive victories and carry over momentum into the international break.
The Baggies, meanwhile, will be looking to get their first three points of the season, which would do the team a world of good heading into the break, reinforcing Bilic’s strongly-held belief that they deserve to be in the Premier League as a Premier League side.
It will be a tough game and any result earned will not come easy, but Albion might just need this victory more than Southampton, which will be reflected in the eventual scoreline.
Southampton 1-2 West Brom
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