'West Ham way' may be Saints' key
You could be forgiven for thinking that after one point from their first two games Saints had a good chance to get their first win this weekend at Upton Park, but seeing as their recent record against the Hammers is poor, especially at the Boleyn Ground, current manager Ronald Koeman succeeding where both Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino failed would be somewhat of a surprise.
Southampton haven't beaten West Ham since a Championship meeting in 2011, and not in East London since a Premier League encounter in 2002, courtesy of a James Beattie last-minute winner. There were both negative and positive signs in the midweek victory over Millwall. Saints were woeful in the first half, outplayed by a Championship side that had hardly taken the game seriously with their lineup. In the second period, though, the visitors came alive, fresh from Koeman's first half-time roasting. Jack Cork gave the Dutchman something to think about with his performance off the bench, and Graziano Pelle was finally rewarded for his endeavours. The Italian forward looked extremely relieved to have finally opened his Southampton account, and it is his presence on Saturday that could make a difference against West Ham.
It would be too easy to attack West Ham manager Sam Allardyce's style in any preview about the Hammers, and in this case hypocritical. With Pelle up front, Koeman's new-look Southampton side don't mind throwing the odd lump up to the Italian themselves, and that might be the answer the club have been looking for to get a long-overdue Premier League victory at Upton Park.
In the previous two seasons Adkins and Pochettino respectively took their pretty football to West Ham and left with nothing. Koeman's Saints look slightly different; what they have lost in terms of neatness they have made up for in robustness.
It is reasonably pleasing to hear that Kevin Nolan will miss out; the Scouse midfielder always seems to have a field day when facing Southampton, and he has long been the key figure in Allardyce's game plan. This will be no easy ride, though, and it would be a sweet way to take a first league win of the season. The Hammers have had a decent start, and new signings Cheikhou Kouyate and Mauro Zarate have caught the eye already, with some suggestion that the long-ball tactics might be a thing of the past shown in a dynamic victory at Crystal Palace.
It would be some way for Koeman to open his account. Adapting style to suit the opponent was often the downfall of his predecessors; a win at Upton Park could show he is an upgrade.