Harry Redknapp returns to Southampton for the first time since his acrimonious departure back to Portsmouth after getting the Saints relegated in 2005. For obvious reasons, most of the headlines will be directed towards him and the inevitably frosty reception he will receive at St. Marys. However, the most important thing about Saturday is the game and the three points at stake, which could have massive implications in the relegation battle for both sides. If QPR lose they will stay at least seven points below the drop zone, with Southampton moving a further six points ahead of that, making it almost impossible for the Saints to finish below the R's and would surely put yet another nail in QPR’s coffin. QPR victory would give them belief and Saints fans cause for concern ahead of the final run in.
After the disappointing result and performance against Newcastle, Southampton will be keen to bounce back in front of an expectant home crowd. The pressing game will again be crucial, and it will be important for Saints to employ this in order to dominate possession and create the chances needed to secure victory. Also vital will be the battle in midfield, which, given the recent form of Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin, is one which Southampton will feel confident of their ability to win.
Under Redknapp, QPR have undoubtedly shown significant improvements from their performances under previous boss Mark Hughes, but have still only garnered two wins and remain bottom of the league, with safety looking increasingly unlikely, all of which bodes well for the Saints ahead of this clash. Similarly, confidence boosting is how much better QPR have looked at home than away this season. The small pitch at Loftus Road has meant that teams have struggled to break the Hoops down while playing there since Redknapp’s arrival, but the increased space seen at St. Mary’s should be in the home sides favour and should allow them to pass the ball around the away sides defence creating spaces in order to fashion chances.
With Chris Samba likely to line up at centre back for the visitors, an intriguing battle with the on-form Rickie Lambert beckons. However, despite Lambert’s strength and fantastic aerial ability, I would prefer to see Saints keep the ball on the floor, and look to exploit the slow movement of an unfit Samba and an unfit Clint Hill, which could make runs into the box crucial, therefore making it a massively important match for either Gaston Ramirez or Adam Lallana, while Jason Puncheon will hope to produce a similar display to the one he produced in the reverse fixture if he gets recalled to the starting line-up.
This game is not all about Southampton going forward though, and it is crucial that the defence performs well in order to stop the likes of Remy, Zamora, and the mercurial Adel Taraabt. Hooiveld and Yoshida will feel confident of dealing with these threats given their recent performances in open play, however they will need to be very careful to guard against the threat QPR could possess from set pieces, especially after their performance against Wigan, conceding two sloppy set pieces.
I feel confident that Saints can win the game, and if they continue with the positive style of play they have shown under Pochettino I believe they should win fairly comfortably. An early goal could be crucial though, and it will be important not to let QPR sit back and defend either a lead or a point with a potential for a counter attacking threat to snatch the game late on. Runs from midfield could prove crucial to our goalscoring threat and a top performance from captain Adam Lallana could be crucial to our chances of victory.