Home opener against Sunderland could be entertaining

Posted by Chris Rann

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesRickie Lambert, middle, rewarded Southampton's traveling support last week at West Brom with his winning goal. Saints fans hope to see more of the same in the home opener Saturday against Sunderland.

Saints open their home campaign with the visit of Sunderland on Saturday and will be looking to add three more points after a great opening victory at West Brom.

It could be stark contrast to last season, when it took 11 games to get to that total during the Saints' awful start. Sunderland, like the Baggies, are a side Saints will feel that they underperformed against last year, losing 1-0 at home and drawing 1-1 at the Stadium of Light.

That draw was a meeting of managers who replaced fired bosses earlier in the season -- Sunderland's Paolo Di Canio and Southampton's Mauricio Pochettino -- and was a relatively drab end-of-season affair. For differing reasons, neither goalscorer will be on the pitch Saturday (Sunderland's Phil Bardsley for disciplinary reasons, the Saints' Jason Puncheon is on loan at Crystal Palace).

-Pochettino: Youth program important

The signs suggest that it won't be the same this time out. Di Canio has made his mark and instilled his beliefs (footballing, not political) at Sunderland and has brought a host of new players to the club over the summer. The stand-out buy is Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus. He could represent a significant threat down the right, something for the Saints' Luke Shaw to get his teeth into.

After last season's terrible run of form to open the season, Saints have to be looking to make up for it, and this should be a game that they expect to win. With potential debutant Pablo Daniel Osvaldo thrown into the attacking mix and the win at the Hawthorns to boost confidence a game like this is the perfect opportunity to make it 2-for-2.

That doesn't mean it will be easy by any means. Sunderland will want to bounce back from an opening defeat to Fulham and the often-eccentric but extremely passionate Italian will have them fired up. With Di Canio at the helm, anything can happen.

Sunderland played 4-4-2 against Fulham, with the Cottagers' Stephane Sessegnon playing off Black Cats striker Jozy Altidore. Despite dominating possession and creating plenty of chances they couldn't convert. If they showed a weakness in that game, it was their ability in the air, winning just 43 percent of aerial battles. It could be rich pickings for Rickie Lambert and Osvaldo given the right service in the box.

Sunderland look to be strongest out wide, with Giaccherini and Adam Johnson providing the width, while Sessegnon will undoubtedly be the main danger man. With Saints often lacking width at times, it could be a test for their young full-backs.

Either way, I think this game could be an interesting one, and one that could surprise a few in terms of competitiveness and entertainment.

Keep the faith.

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