On Saturday afternoon, St. Mary’s will get see two teams at very different stages of their development as Southampton take on Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Saints are preparing for their first Premier League campaign since 2005, having ended an eight-year stay in the lower leagues by winning automatic promotion from the Championship last season.
Yet for their opponents, it is a completely different story. Wolves lost their top-flight status last term after a dismal season in which manager Mick McCarthy was sacked after a 5-1 defeat to arch-rivals West Bromwich Albion, only for the club’s hierarchy to make a holy mess of appointing his replacement, ending up promoting his number two Terry Connor, who won none of his 13 matches in charge as the club finished rock bottom.
And with the Saints replacing the Old Gold in the top division, Saturday’s meeting between the two sides might be a good indicator of where they are at going into their respective new seasons.
For Southampton, things couldn’t be better. After following Norwich City in securing back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premier League, the Saints are a club buzzing with excitement, much of which is down to their ever-likeable boss Nigel Adkins.
The physio-turned-manager did brilliant things at Scunthorpe United and has continued that at Southampton, where his unswervingly positive attitude has got his team playing an attractive, expansive game and I see them as good things against Wolves here.
Saints are strong favourites at 3/4 but it is a price I’m willing to take, certainly above the 31/10 on Wolves. The draw is 12/5.
Wolves are in transition and their latest managerial appointment appears to a gamble. Not too many people seemed to know who Stale Solbakken was when it was announced he was taking the reins at Molineux – not least of all the Wolves players who tweeted messages to that effect – and it remains to be seen if the squad buy into his methods as they did at Copenhagen, where he won five Danish titles and reached the last 16 of the Champions League, or at Cologne, where he didn’t last a year after poor results and bad morale led to his sacking.
Either way, the former Wimbledon midfielder has taken over at a time when half the players are agitating for a move and he needs to perform a minor rebuilding job while getting results.
I don’t think he will get one on Saturday, as a look down the absentee list – Steven Fletcher, Jamie O’Hara, Matt Jarvis, George Elokobi and Dorus de Vries are all missing, presumed ‘injured’ – shows how much attacking threat Wolves will be lacking.
And with some senior players (Stephen Hunt, Dave Edwards, Michael Kightly) involved in a friendly last night at Telford, I don’t think Wolves stand a chance against the team with the best home record in the Championship last season.
Southampton won 52 points at St. Mary’s last year, winning more games (16) and scoring more goals (49) than any other side. I fancy they might get a few on Saturday, too, and that 3/4 has to be taken.
Recommended bet: Southampton to beat Wolves @ 3/4
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