After picking up only four points from their past five Premier League matches, which extends to just 21 from the last 48 available, few punters will be paying much heed to Southampton boss Ronald Koeman’s claims that his side can still make the top four this term, currently priced at 17/2.
However, now that Saints’ horrendous injury concerns have largely abated, their road to the Champions League may be clearer than it seems.
Against Crystal Palace at St Mary’s, on loan Atletico Madrid utility back Toby Alderweireld returns to Koeman’s squad for the first time since being forced off through injury in his temporary employer’s 1-0 win away to Manchester United seven weeks ago.
With Alderweireld in the starting lineup, Southampton have won 63% of their all-competition fixtures this term, losing just four. Without the Belgium regular in from the off, they’ve tasted victory in a mere 44% of their matches, suffering defeat in seven.
Furthermore, midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin only returned to Koeman’s starting XI in the 1-0 loss at West Brom last time out, having missed seven matches through injury.
It gets even better with both Schneiderlin and Alderweireld on from the start; Southampton have won eight of their 12 matches under such circumstances, losing just twice.
The pair are unbeaten in the Premier League when lining up alongside each other since going down 3-0 at home to champions Manchester City in late November, and although they’ve only turned out together three times following that defeat, those appearances came against Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Obviously Saints will have to see off the likes of the Eagles at home at 7/10 odds if they are to reach the European promised land, with Alan Pardew’s side 4/1 outsiders for an away victory, but there’s a better bet to be had on the south coast.
These two teams have met twice already this term, at Selhurst Park in the top flight and St Mary’s in the FA Cup. Both games have gone over 3.5 goals, which looks meaty enough at 13/5 here.