Southampton will be hoping to start the Premier League season with a bang as they welcome Swansea City to St Mary’s tomorrow afternoon.
A new era is underway, with Saints keen to kick on under Mauricio Pellegrino and achieve greater things than his predecessor Claude Puel managed to.
However, the opening test is sure to be a difficult one, with Swansea also keen to improve upon what was an underwhelming campaign for them last term. Paul Clement’s arrival inspired them to reach safety, but it was only fine margins that kept them afloat in the top flight.
Both sides have quality, and both will put up a good fight tomorrow. So, just where are the key battles going to be found between the two?
I’ve taken a look at four.
Gabbiadini vs Mawson
As ever, Manolo Gabbiadini will be a thorn in the sides of whichever defender he comes up against. His movement and killer instinct make him one of Saints’ key players and he’ll be keen to open his account for the season against Swansea.
However, Alfie Mawson is a defender who has gone from strength to strength under Paul Clement. He’s a powerful centre-back with an eye for a pass, and excellent composure.
It’ll be interesting to see if Gabbiadini can get the better of Mawson on the day, providing that he is the man leading the line for Saints!
Romeu vs Fer
Oriol Romeu will undoubtedly be a key man for Saints tomorrow, as he always is. He’ll be the linchpin in the side’s defensive setup and will be keen to stifle Swansea’s attacks through the middle.
However, he’ll be up against a similar animal on the day, with Leroy Fer expected to be the most attacking midfielder that Swansea play, given the absence of Gylfi Sigurdsson. His pace and power are sure to give Romeu a good test in what could be a rather physically orientated game.
Stephens vs Abraham
Former England Under-21 teammates will be going head to head here. Jack Stephens has looked superb since coming to the fore for Saints, and has cemented his place in the first-team given the current absence of Virgil van Dijk.
However, he’ll face stern competition from Tammy Abraham, who will be keen to make an impression on his competitive Swansea debut. The forward will look to use his pace, power and eye for goal to get the better of Stephens, who he’ll know from their time playing together at international level.
Abraham is a player that can decide a game with a moment of brilliance, but Stephens is also a defender that just keeps on getting better and better. It’ll be an exciting battle between the pair.
Cedric vs Olsson
Cedric Soares is set to start for Saints after demonstrating his fitness in recent times, and he’ll certainly be keen to show his quality at both ends of the pitch. He’s by far Saints’ best right-back, and is surely now looking to establish himself among the best in his position, with regards to the league as whole.
Martin Olsson has been a steady player for Swansea since arriving from Norwich, but could find himself in trouble with Cedric down the flank.
It’s sure to be a full-blooded encounter between two incredibly quick wide players, and the battle down the wing could be an open one.