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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Struggling Swansea and Southampton are hard to separate at Liberty Stadium

Jordan Ayew is Swansea’s leading goalscorer this season
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Premier League
Sky Sports Premier League, 7.45pm

From a long way back it looked as though it might come down to this – Swansea versus Southampton with Premier League survival on the line.

After a weekend that nobody could have scripted, the stakes are simply sky-high at the Liberty Stadium. Defeat for either side wouldn't be absolutely fatal although both camps are well aware that a triumph for Southampton will be all but enough for them to stay up.

A draw, meanwhile, would leave the Swans still in the bottom three but arguably in a better position to escape the drop given that their last match is at home to Stoke while Saints entertain champions Manchester City, a side who will quite possibly be aiming to reach the magical 100-point barrier.

Throw into the mix Huddersfield, the third team in danger with brutal fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal to come, and the next few days look unmissable.

So nothing will be settled at the Liberty but there is no doubting the magnitude of the showdown in south Wales.

The bookmakers rate Southampton jollies but they may well be fragile favourites.

Surely few punters would want to take a short price about a side who have won just six of 36 matches this season – the joint-lowest tally in the top flight.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Everton saw the best and the worst of Mark Hughes’s men. Much the better side with the ball, and definitely more potent under Sparky than they had been under either Claude Puel or Mauricio Pellegrino, they still struggled to create, or take, decent goalscoring opportunities.

Southampton have improved defensively since Hughes introduced a back three – although key stopper Maya Yoshida is banned after his costly late red card at Goodison Park – and they were barely troubled by arguably the worst Everton side in living memory.

But now they need to score goals, at least one more than their hosts, and that remains an area of weakness.

However, that bluntness in front of goal is also a problem for the Swans, who find themselves back in the bottom three for the first time since March 3.

They have managed just 90 efforts on target this season – the only team in the top flight who haven't reached 100 – and had just three in their 1-0 loss at Bournemouth on Saturday, a match in which they played tamely with little intent.

Manager Carlos Carvalhal insists he’s not worried because his lads perform better at home, but that seems far from convincing.

Admittedly, six of their eight wins have come on their own patch but they’ve also failed to score in a league-high seven home games.

Since beating West Ham 4-1 two months ago they haven't won in seven and have scored just twice.

If Southampton look shaky favourites, Swansea don’t represent much of an alternative.

It all points to a tense, tight occasion with the fear of losing likely to take over, especially if the game is level with time running out.

Historically, matches between these sides tend to be awful. Only two of their previous 11 Premier League meetings have produced more than two goals and seven of the last ten have featured no more than one.

1pt 12-5 Betway

Premier League standings

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Team news
Leroy Fer and Kyle Bartley are long-term absentees. Kyle Naughton should be recalled at right wing-back.

Maya Yoshida is suspended. Steve Davis is injured while Mario Lemina (hamstring) is a major doubt. Sofiane Boufal continues to be overlooked.

Key stat
Southampton have had a Premier League-high 15 draws this season.

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If Southampton look shaky favourites, Swansea don’t represent much of an alternative
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